Saturday, 28 February 2009

Westward ho! St-Lizier and Bastide-de-Serou

Whee! Look at me! I'm just hangin' out in the sunshine.

The weather was forecast to be hot and sunny today, so we loaded up the car with gadgetry and set off for St-Lizier, which is in theory about 45 minutes drive away. We were following a route that we have travelled before, heading towards St Girons. About half way there the satnav told us to go right left right in very quick succession, which is not easy on a relatively straight road. We never found the road that Michelin advised that they road traveller take either.
The road into St Girons is so twisty and stupid that I don’t know why people bother. We had probably gone wrong again, but we eventually found ourselves at a busy junction and took a right turn and found St-Lizier with little trouble. Parking was a bit of a problem. We continued to climb the road into the town, following the P signs. There is a smallish car park, but most of the land up there is being remodelled into a bigger car park at a cost of 440,000 euros. This is where the entrance to the main attraction of the town is, the citadel. Unfortunately it would seem that it has been closed to the public since Sept 2006. Strange that I did not find a mention of that before we set off.
St-Lizier has been designated as one of the most beautiful villages in France.
It is easy to see why. There are many half-timbered houses, quaint narrow, cobbled streets, the Pyrenees mountains, some of them snow-capped, can be seen across the valley.

We popped into the tourist information centre for a few leaflets, then went into the church. This proved to be rather gloomy, but there were interesting ceiling tiles and a very unconvincing trompe l’oeil window to admire, as well as the usual statuary.
A hot air balloon could be seen through the trees, in the direction of the mountains. There were several interesting stone carvings or gargoyles. One little chap still has his willy intact. This would not happen in the UK, where many women like to "take a chip off the old bloke"

The Villa Belisama looked like a nice B&B to stay at. It has a panoramic pool, but we were not able to see it.

There were many interesting bits and pieces to photograph and I shall stick a few onto this flickr link for you to see.

After about 2 hours of wandering, we headed back home, but stopped for a look round another, smaller town, which we hear mention of quite a lot. Bastide-de-Serou.
Now this was a disappointing place. Much of the property is in a dilapidated state, there are no shops to speak of except a Doreur (Gilder) which had it’s shutters down so I don’t know if it is still in business, and there was a saddle and harness makers showroom.
The church, with its strange, thin bell tower, was gloomy and dark. There was a covered market place which still had the remains of three stone vessels, formerly used to measure quantities of grain.

The link to the Serou photos is as above.

No sign of Leonard Cohen, but Michelle might have enjoyed it all the same.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Foix castle and night manoeuvres

A beautiful day today, so the washing got done and hung out to dry. Then it was off to Leclerc for the weekly shop, and to pick up some of the wine bargains which we spotted in yesterday’s “pub” literature. More specifically the wine boxes, which have plummeted in price. J P Chenet, which comes in wonky top bottles is one of my favourites, so I bought 3 x 3 litre boxes of red for a total of about £16 or about £1.20 per 75cl bottle. (I think it is usually £4 - £5 per bottle in the UK.) The syrah and the cabernet boxes. They had the white and the rose too, but I’m not greedy.
As it was such a nice day, we had some lunch and then set off for a visit to the medieval castle which dominates the town.
We found ourselves walking into rather a cold wind, but we persevered. It was that or I would be going to my French “lesson”, so it was a toughy.
We climbed up the hill to the castle entrance, paid our entrance fee and then ascended the winding cobble road up to the castle itself.
There are 3 towers. The round one is probably the best, and there are largish rooms in which to stop and draw breath on the way up the spiral, stone steps.

The grey, metal object is a hoist that they use to bring building materials and other heavy objects up to the castle from the bottom of the castle hill.
More of todays photos can be found by clicking right here

At one time in the more recent past than the 13th century I think it was used as a prison.
From the top there are good views of the town and in the distance the Midi Pyrenees mountains glistened with snow in the distance.
The middle tower can also be climbed and has rooms that can be visited on the way up. One appeared to be badged as Henry IV’s bed. I bought a guide book on the way out of the castle but I haven’t read it yet. It had an exhibition about the Cathars and their relation with surrounding towns and villages.
It is a narrower tower and there is no view from the top as the walls are too high to see over.
The third tower houses the bell tower and was not accessible to the public.
This is the bell that we can hear from my house. Unfortunately this is the one we would need to climb to stand a chance of seeing my house.
The wind had died down and the temperatures in the sun must have been well into 60s Fahrenheit, which can’t be bad for February ( unless of course you live somewhere like Australia.
We pottered about town for a bit, and then headed home. As we approached there was one of Bee boy’s friends cars in the parking. There he and Madame were, standing in front of our locked main door.
The young man was carrying a section of honeycomb in its frame. He wanted to leave it for Bee boy to see. I let him in and he came up the stairs and leaned it next to Bee’s door, wedging a note under it.
Before I entered the building however, Madame asked if I had activated the outside light ready for the evening. I told her that I hadn’t yet, but would be doing so very shortly.
I don’t know much about bees, but the slice of hive looks in a pretty bad state. I hope that Bee boy does'nt open a hospital for sick bees during the summer.

In my mind's eye, I can see a queue of people waiting patiently clutching their lidded jam jars, containing sick bees, already forming....

Dusk fell and S and I spent about 20 minutes trying to get the new security light positioned so that it would pick up human traffic, rather than light aircraft or someone standing directly below it.
We managed to get the motion sensor to pick S up before the second flight of stone steps, but it was a brief triumph which we never managed to duplicate.
Now it sometimes activates the light when you reach the 3rd and final set of steps. As Mr Royale from the TV sitcom might say “30 metres my arse!”

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Let there be lights!

Party night was very quiet. Madame reports that she had about 12 guests and they were all very quiet because they were working hard, either making or listening to a broadcast about Palestine.
My carefully parking was a waste of time as only one of her friends parked in my car park.
Yesterday at Mr. Bricolage we bought two double ceiling mounted spot lights and some long life spotlights. 30 percent off the sign said, but we seemed to pay full price. When I queried it, the lady on the till said that it was taken off automatically. Either way, the price on the label was what we paid.
While I was out perfecting my French yesterday afternoon, Madame had dropped the solar powered, motion activated outside light in to S, who was studying in the flat.
As it was a bright morning, I got my tools out and switched off the power and flicked off the appropriate fuse.
Much swearing and about an hour later, I have both sets of lights wired up and screwed on to ceiling beams. When the power is switched back on all the lights work. In the living room they go off again almost immediately. I just cannot understand what has gone wrong. Fortunately before I start dismantling the unit, I discover that my assistant has turned off the lights at the wall switch.
Next job is the outside light. This will require the drilling of 5 holes so the drill and extension cable are required, as is the folding step ladder.
The inside lights were fitted using S as my “hand-me-that” assistant. It is a matter of seconds before Madame materialises and starts giving advice over where the unit should be placed.
The main light unit goes up on the door lintel without much problem, although S soon gets bumped off the “hand me the screws” etc position by Madame.
In fact at one point it is not even me on the ladder, but Madame, who wants to make sure the unit is switched to the off position for 24 hours as she has now read the instructions.
There is also a separate small solar energy panel to install. This is to get attached to the main light via a thin wire.
Madame tells me that this must be placed as far to the right of the light as possible. This is okay because that is where I was going to put it anyway.
The positioning of the ladder is trickier as there as the ground is not level, but we get there eventually. The solar panel was balancing on the folded window shutters of the window, above which the unit will be placed.
Of course I forget this and move the shutters causing the unit to plummet earthwards. Fortunately it is still wired up to the installed light unit and it does not crash onto the concrete. Hopefully the wire will not have been damaged…..
I had been going to use staples to hold the wire against the wall, but Madame thinks that if I disconnect it from the main unit I should be able to thread it behind the drainpipe, using its bracket as a support.
I dutifully disconnect and reconnect as instructed. Another millimetre of separation and this would not have worked.
Job done, I announced that it was lunchtime and we tidied up all the equipment.
I would have just left the unit on the on position, but perhaps a grand switching on tomorrow evening will be better.
Madame knows where all the controls are now, so perhaps she will spend many a happy evening hour adjusting the angle of light, sensitivity of the motion sensor and the length of time it stays lit per activation.
I can see her whizzing up and down the ladder, approaching the house at varying speeds, or crawling slowly to see if she can reach her front door before the movement sensor can activate. Happy days!!

Monday, 23 February 2009

Madame’s damp patch

I foolishly went under the stairs again today. There is woodworm damage to other areas in the lower set of stairs and more little piles of sawdust. “Thank you so much!” as Basil Fawlty might say.
I did a bit more gardening this morning in the picking up twigs and weeds department. While I was just about to call it a day, Madame came down the steps clutching some Publicity dating from December. This contained details of some wall radiators as I had discussed with her yesterday. She also had the latest small catalogue from a firm which brings it’s stock in a big van to a location just outside the town, where you can go to pick up items that you have pre-ordered from the catalogue, or shop on site. Tomorrow is one of those exciting days. Madame says she has bought lots of items from them in the past. In the UK it would equate to stock held by Kleeneeze or Betterware or Scotts of Stow. Cleaning products and household / garden / car gadgets that might be useful, but when you get them they don’t quite work as well as expected or which turn out to be very much smaller in size than you expected.
I have now commissioned her to pick me up a solar powered, motion sensor activated outside spotlight to illuminate the concrete steps up to the house. She assures me that it will be powerful enough and not feeble like her existing solar lights. At approx 44 euros I hope she is right.
At about 6.30pm my doorbell goes and I go downstairs to the front door. There is a flood in the ceiling of her bathroom she says. Having gone up her twisty stairs I am disoriented so she will wait until I get up to my flat and bang on the ceiling so that I know where the problem is.
Banging duly takes place and I look at the sink unit in the bedroom and pull out the washing machine. The floor is dry. I check the bathroom next door and that is dry too.
I go back downstairs, and upstairs into Madame’s bathroom again. Steps are found so that I can feel her ceiling. It is bone dry. We decide that it must be condensation because as we know none of the ventilation fans except for the ones in my flat, work. It is one of the problems that my workmen were supposed to be investigating and resolving, but they have not been back since about November last year. I hope my evening will be Madame-free.
What excitement will there be when she has her party tomorrow night?

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Rude Stairs

The bottom two steps of the main staircase in the house have been a bit on the loose side, and two of the boards on the first turning / landing is worryingly bouncy. As I do not really get on with DIY I have been avoiding tackling the problems. Bee-boy has been absent for quite a few days so it was with reluctance that I dragged the lawn mower and some other items out of the cupboard under the stairs so that I could squeeze through the gap at the back and into the understairs world. Using a broom handle, I knocked aside the years of cobwebs and armed with torch and camera I entered the unknown.

left: brick bits and wood left to (not)support the bottom step by the brilliant builders
Right: munched support and small pile of sawdust poo.

The findings were not encouraging, with one of the wooden side supports for the second step having been lunch for some wood munchers. The walls are not conducive to knocking in a few bits of wood as supports.
We met Madame as we were leaving he building and I have found out that her Tuesday celebration is not for some national event, but is a get together for some of her former work colleagues from her hospital auxiliary days, before a back injury invalided her out of the service.
I asked her if she had contacted her friend/cousin about dismantling the rickety outbuilding at the bottom of the garden, which seems likely to fall onto the cars parked in my parking area anytime from yesterday to a few years time. She reminded me that she reminded me that the downstairs of her duplex apartment is single glazed and said that her friend would be able to give me quotes for replacement double glazed units (these are the equivalent of two patio door units) as well as a quote to replace the glazing in the downstairs studio. He also would be able to replace the bottom stairs with bricks or recommend a carpenter or any other tradesmen that I might need.
My apartment is the only one where the ventilation works. Madame says that the English builder bodgers that the last owners employed and who buggered up the electrics etc were supposed to come and fix the ventilation as part of their contract, but they never did. She says that the lawyer should be able to chase this work up (assuming as S suggests they are still in business).
It is now 11pm on Sunday and Madam's building contact did not appear for a chat.
Are there any decent chippies in France? (a food pun there just to show that I haven't lost my sense of humour)

Friday, 20 February 2009

Going to Halle and the importance of putting commas in the right place

Just before we set off for a walk into town this morning, my mobile phone played its merry tune. I answered and it was the man from the underground river phoning to let me know that he had received my CV etc but that the post has already been filled. So no underground gondolier work for me. The discerning females and no doubt males will not get the chance to marvel at my loin cloth, bulging, baby-oiled muscles in my role as chief punter and guide, lit only by flickering light reflecting off the water.

Very nice weather today, but cold out of the direct sun. The market and the town were much busier than usual, due no doubt to the school holidays. The traffic even more clogged than usual.

Our only purchase was some fresh pasta. A mixture of spinach and 3 cheeses tortellini. 300gms for 6 euros 50. At that price it’s a good job that he threw in one or two extra bits.
Many of you will be dying to know how the Halle aux Grains restoration work is progressing. Some of you may remember that I spoke about it last year. The steel work has been cleaned, soldered, re-painted and the slate roof is on.
Two weeks ago the wooden roof planks began to appear.
One week ago the slates began to be deployed.

Today the majority of the slates are on and some fancy painting has appeared on the steel work.

I suspect that it may even be ready for use by the 2 nearby cafes, whose business must have nosedived since the space and the road between them and the Halle was fenced off. The food market traders will start to use it again on Friday mornings once it re-opens in a month or so.

We returned home and I cut the remaining shoots/branches from the tree in front of Madame’s patio. Then we dragged out a couple of garden chairs and sat in the sunshine reading.
Madame appeared later and let me know that next Tuesday evening she is having some kind of celebration and that there will be lots of strange cars in the parking area.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

A bit of a long punt

We have been suffering from some kind of virus for a couple of days now, but S seems to be over it and I am getting there.
Yesterday we went on another fruitless trip to leClerc to see if the copies of the keys (which still didn’t work) could be refined. Unfortunately the young lady decided that nothing could be done, and she gave me my money back.
I think that the real key-cutter / boot mender is on holiday, as she said that if I really wanted the key copied I could come back the next day, when the bootmaker would be there.
Next stop was the Renault garage to see about the onboard warning message “vidange a prevoir” (oil change) keeps coming up on the dash board screen.
It is also due its free 2,000 km service.
First stop the main garage office. Redirected to the mechanics office. A works order is printed off, That will be 165 euros. It is supposed to be free, I say.
More discussion and they decide that when the car was serviced prior to sale to me, someone forgot to enter the fact that the oil had been changed then, into the computer.
Redirected again to a garage behind, to find Richard to book my free service.
We stand around like lemons by the paint shop office waiting for Richard to appear. Eventually one of the mechanics uses their mobile to locate him.
I explain our presence and a service is booked for next Tuesday morning. What could go wrong?
As it was a nice day, I took a detour to find the location of the Rivière Souterraine de Labouiche which claims to be the longest navigable underground river in Europe. Discovered in 1909 and open to the public in 1938. Guides take groups of visitors in boats along 1,500 meters of it to admire the stalagmites, chalk formations etc Prehistoric and Gallo-Roman remains have been found there. Okay, I knew it was closed until later in the year, but there was a job advertised for there in last week’s free paper. I might be well suited to paddle the boats loaded with passengers as I am sure that people have muttered admiringly in the past about me being a complete punt.

We inadvertently took the long route, but had marvellous views of the snowy mountains en route.
It was my Instep meeting today, so my advisor drafted a letter of interest and faxed that and my CV off.
I don’t hold out much hope, but it will be interesting to see if anything happens. The job lasts 8 months.
However the mobilisation towards employment is not about getting a job, it is about finding out what job you would like to do, as my advisor reminded me….

Sunday, 15 February 2009

If you can't beat them, join them

This afternoon France beat Scotland at le rugby. I did not really watch the match, but it was on. I thought that I had better watch the match because the French love le rugby. Even my female French “teacher” gets very, very excited when she talks about rugby. Her and her husband were invited to visit the Queen. Something about a rugby match not at Tweekinam but at a smaller ground, a beeg car and someone in robes. And they say understanding French is hard. Pfaff!
Anyway back to the potager (plot , gettit?). A flier inviting me to attend the “Assemblee generale du Cardie” for l’assebmlee generale ordinaire which was taking place at the local primary school in the next road to mine.
The agenda was:
Rapport moral
Rapport financier
Montant de la cotisation 2009-02-15 Election des members du bureau.

Election des membres du bureau

The meeting was due to start about 10 minutes after the match finished. Thankfully I togged up warm. When I reached the school, there were 6 people huddled inside the door which led to a very large room. A bit like a concrete garage, where the kids probably do assembly, gym and art judging by the contents of the room.
No heating of course as it is the school holidays!
The start time was 6pm, but being France people were slow to appear. Eventually the meeting started with an audience of 30 or so citizens.
Before it started, everyone had to shake hands with or kiss everyone else. I also paid 8 euros to join the association. I now have a cardboard membership card.
There were no surprises at the meeting. The committee have to step down and no one was keen to take up a vacant post. I said that I was too new and didn’t speak French well enough.
After the meeting the small quiche and the pizza slices (cold) appeared and the wine was opened. My friend Rene was there with his wife J, (who is in the choir with me) so I was not alone. I spoke to a few people and found out that I was supposed to attend the next meeting on 5th March (I had thought it was just for the new committee), which would not be in the school, but in a little chalet somewhere near. Did I know it? I said that I did not know it, but would follow the crowd on the night. Do the French do this kind of sarcastic humour?
I can now look forward to a range of organised activities over the year. These will range from communal meals, to a car treasure hunt, belote (card game which was not a success last year, so why do it again??), cinema show (on a local topic held in the school (Last year’s local theme of mountains was a great success), etc. If I have any ideas of what they could do, I have to tell the committee.
The three questions most asked of me were, How long have you lived here?, Which part of the commune do you live in?, Are you married?
Now I just have to contain my excitement until 5th March. Hallelujah!
Oh! As an afterthought, the French could not understand the concept that we do not have similar local area community associations organising events for their community, in the UK. In the UK no-one talks to anyone else unless they have kids. They only organise community events for royal weddings, funerals etc

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Snow school like an old school

I collected S from the airport last Wednesday and we enjoyed good weather for a few days. This has now changed
From this

To this in the last two days.

There is even less going on than usual, which is probably due to it being school holidays. Perhaps everyone has headed to the slopes for a bit of skiing?
After a night of heavy rain, today at around noon the rain turned to snow.
Yesterday I spent the afternoon at my institution of learning, where I sat at my small table and started from the beginning of the French text book. I have many days of orthographie ahead of me before I even get to the grammar. Yesterday the room was almost full to capacity, but today it was just me for at least the first hour and a half.
The Monsieur is obsessed with hunting. He also seems to be looking to change his car, and spends his time phoning and receiving calls and telling them that they are charging too much or that he has no intention of buying a diesel car. He is also due to be in Paris tomorrow and changed one of his flights, ending up with a cheaper one as a result. It should be much quieter at “school” if he does go tomorrow, as the husband and wife team who preside over the establishment burst out into vigorous arguments over the slightest things. For example he had not received any faxes, perhaps the fax was broken. She said something along the lines of so what if it is. He was then able to tell her in lots of loud words, including some merdes, why it was important that the fax worked.
I walked into town in my big walking boots which was a good move, as my feet would have got soaked in the slush on the way home. Some of the cars were wearing their snow chains on the wheels of their cars which finally slowed the traffic down to a reasonable town speed.
I got a couple of new front door keys cut at the LeClerc supermarket. Of course they do not work, so I will have to take them back once the roads resume a more normal texture. The lady grinder did not give me a receipt but I have kept the bag that she handed the keys to me in. Has anyone ever got non-Yale keys cut that work first time?.
Tonight would have been choir practice but the choir is also on school holiday. However the ladies (alti and soprani)are having an extra practice tonight and I suspect that it may be cancelled due to the weather. The men are not to be outdone and there is now a practice scheduled for tomorrow evening at someone’s house outside the town. I will wait to see what the weather is like tomorrow before I make a decision whether to go. One can have too much of a social life you know! There is even the English language version of that Benjamin Button film (starring my lookalike in the lead role) coming to the cinema early in March.
For those who enquired whether my sister from Canada ever reached Scotland after being stranded by the snow in London. Yes she got a flight the next day. After staying with my parents for a few days, she was due to go to stay with sister no. 2 and family in Aberdeen 60 or so miles away. When the day came to leave my parent's the roads were not easily passable so the plan was to go by train. Of course being the UK it was probably the wrong kind of snow and the trains were going nowhere. She caught a bus which eventually got her to her destination.
After a day or so in Aberdeen she managed to catch her flights to London and Canada. Now she is back in the land of cold and the right sort of permasnow. There is nothing quite like a relaxing week's holiday!

Friday, 6 February 2009

Rubbish and misunderstanding

I have been looking out of my front window. Yesterday a car whizzed down the road, jammed on its brakes and reversed to the parking of the flats opposite. Passenger got out, opened the boot, took out a big rubbish bag and put it into the big brown bin belonging to the flats.
The next day a different car did exactly the same manoeuvre.

Do they not like having rubbish in their own bins? Are they dumping toxic waste? Why would people travel around with a full rubbish bag in their boot (bit of the car from rear windscreen to rear number plate).
I thought that perhaps it could be that they live where there is so much snow, to refuse collection could not get to them. Also I remember seeing this happen last summer.
“Cherie, can you take me for a drive around town this afternoon?” “Doen’t be stupide Matilde, you know I always take the been bag out for a speen on Mercredis. Regardes
-toi the calendrier on ze wall”
While I have been talking rubbish, a couple of fellow bloggers Michelle and JNNR whose travails I follow have been agonising over weightier topics ranging from kitchen rehab, middle agedness / of the roadness, and looking like their mothers. I have been letting the side down.
GREAAAT! That is what blokes are for. We provide the light relief that make life worth living. The light, to the shade etc.

To clear up a recent case of mistaken identity.
This is a photo of my neighbour’s wife

This is a photo of Madame. It is easy to tell them apart as my neighbour’s wife does not have a bush. If you look carefully in
the top left you might be able to see Madame's dil

and some of her other herbs.

I would like to take this opportunity to warmly welcome a new lurker to my blog. Hello to NB, whose son O saw his first snow recently. Ah! The excitement of it all.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

I'm officially unusual

I kept my appointment at the ANPE, handed over another copy of my CV and my letter of motivation. Details were typed into the mighty computer, paperwork was generated and duly signed. I expressed some misgivings about my first impressions of the teaching establishment. She said that it did not surprise her. We will see what happens. I am now officially permitted to go on a paid for course of learning French with the establishment. After I departed, she would send them the authorising paperwork by fax. It is less than 3 minutes walk away so thank goodness for old technology.
She said that she did not know my Instep advisor so perhaps she was new there. It would not surprise me as she seems to be unaware of the administrative procedures required prior to my missions thus far. On verra.
As I seem to be breaking new ground every time I speak with the ANPE bods, I asked how British people who had limited or no French coped with all the forms and the interviews. Mrs ANPE said that their organisation never saw them as most came across having bought Chambre d’hotes or gite complexes and had an income from that.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

What the Dickens!? I couldn’t be happier

Blog entries are just like buses. There might be none for days, or even weeks, then two or more come along together. Look on this one as a bonus treat, or decide that you will not waste your life reading it. The choice is yours. Money for nothing or your blogs for free, as Mr Knopfler might have sung.

Phone and internet went down early this morning just as I was speaking to my mother to see if my sister, (who arrived at Heathrow from Canada yesterday and due to the snow was unable to fly up to Inverness and had to stay in a hotel overnight) had managed to get a flight north this morning. So now I still don’t know.
Anyway it was time to walk into town to meet with my French language teaching establishment. I walked passed it in the street as it looks like another abandoned medieval building. A grubby notice in the grubby window had the word “Formation” on it. I crossed the building threshold and into the huge, dim corridor. On the wall on my right was a white buzzer above which was the faded name of the teacher. Press and enter the first door on your right.
I pressed. Don’t you just hate it when you press a doorbell and hear nothing? There are old stone steps leading up to a very ill-fitting and old plank door., from behind which light leaks out everywhere.
I open the door and see a smallish room with a long table running up the centre of the room at which about 16 teenagers are sitting, books open and notepads akimbo, writing notes. There is also a smaller table at which an older lady and a teenager are sitting.
Imagine a room in Dicken’s time, and you would be right. The lady speaks to me, then a man comes into my vision from my right.
I tell him my name. Ah yes he remembers. There is then an altercation between the man and the lady, did she not know that I was coming he says.
This is France. They have not received any paperwork. The lady gets up off her chair and I have to sit facing the girl, who seems to me writing notes from a book about French history.
They begin phoning to find out why no paperwork has arrived. The lady gives me a very old, rebound French grammar textbook. I have to read the page, then do the exercises. My first task is to count the words in the sentence. My next tasks involve counting the number of syllables in various words etc. I now know that if a word has e.g. two “f”s in it, and it is too long to fit all of the word on one line, you split the word with a hyphen between the fs, putting the latter half of the word on the next line. No really I am very happy.
It seems that I cannot start a course with them due to the missing paperwork. The Instep lady cannot sanction a language course, it has to be the first ANPE person who saw me. (One stop shop my arse!!!).
Who had I seen first? This is France so I have a sheaf of papers with me just in case.
This person is phoned and I have to go and see her at 13.40 today. Do I have a letter of motivation? He asks rhetorically. He then dictates a letter of motivation which states that I wish to have French language lessons to help me in my mobilisation towards work. Such letters are handwritten, which is just as well. They have light, a microwave, a fax phone and maybe a computer but I didn’t see it. There is heat though which is a good thing.
Next they want to see a copy of my CV and I need to write down my name, contact details. Date of birth.
I cannot be taught today because there is no paperwork. Taught!! I did not see any taughting going on the whole time I was there. Once the paperwork comes, probably tomorrow, he will contact me to arrange when I can start. The learning facility (ahem!) is open every day from Tuesday to Friday. I think they said from 9am to 5pm. Would I be coming in the morning or the afternoon? I said that it was all the same to me. They thought that as afternoons were not as busy, that would be my best time.
If this is the French educational style I am so happy. I really couldn’t be happier.. Who wants to build up aural comprehension skills, modern vocabulary, engage in debate when you have an ancient grammar book and two of Dickens’s finest teachers. Shock and awe is what I want. “P-Please Sir. C-Can I have some more Sir?”

Instep part deux

Monday saw my second meeting with my “mobilisation vers emploi” advisor.
We chatted and she decided that the first thing that I need to do is improve my French. Unlike last week when she thought that I spoke quite good French, this is now my priority.
She made a phone call to a different course provider who would be better than the one that the first ANPE lady had phoned. They could tailor the course to my needs and I would not have to pay for the lessons. I have to go and see the trainer tomorrow. Fortunately their premises are in the centre of town.
Having told me last week that I had no chance of finding library work in France, she seemed heartened when I said that I had no objection to trying something different. Notes were scribbled on a piece of paper.
What did I want to do instead. Was I good with my hands? I said that I was not a DIY person. What else did I fancy doing? I suggested that perhaps I could help people in some way. No this was not an option, there were not many old people in the area who needed help.
Once again she said that this was the poorest area of France and that there were no jobs. Had I searched their database for jobs in the whole of France and not just the Midi-Pyrenees? Could I go and live in another part of France?

She had an idea and whizzed over to her computer. They have an online skills audit programme (similar I suspect to the one in the UK). You answer the multiple choice questions and eventually it hawks up (polite expression for pre-spitting) the careers that would suit you best.

Unfortunately it would not work on her machine. She phoned someone and they said to use one of the PC’s upstairs which had the software loaded onto it.
Up the stairs we went and she tried for a couple of minutes to unlock the door with her bunch of keys. No success. She tried the door, it was already unlocked. We entered a room which contained about 7pcs. Then the three bears syndrome kicked in. The software was not on the first pc, not on the second pc, but it was on the third pc. The software is programmed to only work in the mornings….. We will return to this option next week she says.
We discuss coaching as a career option and she tried to find local coaches in the area. She found one in Blagnac. Perhaps I could talk to them she thought.
Next I was given an A3 piece of paper, with columns. I have to decide what I want to go for, what I want to continue with, what I want to drop, what I would like to start doing etc etc. So this, with my French lessons is to be my homework for our next meeting in a fortnight.Finally she decided that she did not like my CV, it was not clear she said. I said nothing. I had copied the font and format direct from one of their many CV examples. This could be a long haul. I have to see what I can do with it, and we will work on it together next time……

Tomorrow I go to see a man about a French course.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Gardening and cinema

Another pleasant day and time to do a bit of weeding in the garden to see if any of the bulbs that were planted late last year are still there.
We must have planted well over 100 but only about 20 are poking their heads above ground.
When I reached Madame’s erb jardin, there was barking and something small and grey rushed out the greet me. No, it wasn’t Madame, but her small dog. The dog was however, followed by her mistress. She inspected what I had done and joined in, borrowing my secateurs to chop back some shrubs. By 1.30pm I had had enough and was hungry. Madame had finished trimming her bush, so it was a good time to stop. (Ah. The old jokes are still the best).
Tomorrow I will do some tree snipping if the rain holds off, as the green waste collection comes very early on Tuesday morning.
Late afternoon I walked into town to the cinema to see “Frozen River”. It was a reasonable little film, with no names that I recognised in it. It was however VO, which means version originale, i.e. a USA film in English with French subtitles. This continues my movie theme of yesterday. Bonne continuation, even if I do say so myself.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Hot stuff and French films

All of a sudden on Friday someone has decided to give us a blast of summer weather. Thankfully not as hot as the Australians are experiencing at the moment. I drove to LeClerc supermarket in 21 degrees C. It was all I could do to stop myself turning on the airconditioning. It is amazing how a burst of sunshine can lift the spirits and get the old arse in gear.
I had spotted that they had bargain fluorescent jackets at 2 for half the price that I had paid for one (just before it became law to keep them in the car for occupants in case of car breakdown on the road) and I now have 5 yellow and one orange jacket. They also had a special on warning triangles (which you must also have with you to deploy in case of accident). I now have 2 triangles. Perhaps I could start my own percussion band “Rigsby and the fluorescents”?
Most French music is really dire, so I would be coming in at the top end.
I believe that 2 triangles and jackets are compulsory car luggage in Spain, which is probably an hour or less drive south.
Spurred on by the sun’s golden glow, I decided to wash the stairs and to wash my car.
Washing small cars is much more fun than washing cars with big bonnets (the bit of the metal between the windscreen and the front number plate, before JNNR asks). In fact I was going to apply car polish / wax to the car, but I could not find any in amongst my supplies.

On Saturday evening there was nothing worth watching on the TV, so I unwrapped my DVD of “Jean de Florette”. I saw this film at the Glasgow Film Theatre when it first came out and of course its sequel “Manon des Sources”.
I also taped it from the TV onto video. Time to watch it on DVD then. Thank goodness for subtitles. The language spoken is not French as most of us know it, but a regional dialect.

Merde! I can feel a list coming on J
Top French films wot I have seen. In no particular order, probably.

1) Diva
2) Les Rippoux
3) Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources
4) Pauline at the beach (Pauline à la plage)
5) One deadly summer (l’été Meutrier)
6) Les Visiteuses
7) Cop au vin
8) Death in a French garden
9) Betty Blue (37 degrees 2 in the morning)
10) Romaud et Juilliette
11) Chocolat
12) Amelie
13) The hairdresser’s husband
Un moment d'egarement (A Moment of Distraction) remade later in the USA as “Blame it on Rio”
Trois hommes et un couffin (Three Men and a Cradle). Remade in the USA as “Three men and a baby”

I have a backlog of films to watch which may add to my “favourites” list

Pot Luck (L’auberge espagnole), Russian Dolls (Les poupées russes), The road to Corinth; The Breach; Pleasure party, Innocents with Dirty hands, The flower of evil, An Autumn tale, Le rayon vert, Indochine, A very long engagement, The nest, Le Boucher, Love etc.

My favourite films in languages “other” than English

1 My life as a dog (Mitt liv som hind) by Lasse Hallstrom
2 The postman (Il Postino)

Are there any other “”must see” French films? No pretentious crap please, just good story lines that merit repeat viewings.