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 fa├žade 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...