Tuesday, 28 December 2010

All in all it’s just another brick (in the wall)

Perhaps some of you will remember the saga of my neighbour’s wall, which has been ongoing for a few years now. Well I thought that it was all over and done with, but no.
A few months ago I was having a siesta when a loud rumbling noise disturbed my slumbers.
After a period of “surfacing” I made my way to the window.
There was now a number of large boulders in my neighbour’s garden.
Over the next few days a new trench was dug, foundations laid and two more walls and a gap appeared.

Where will it all end I asked myself?....

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas

Hello everyone. The castle and I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas. Now stop reading blogs watch some festive television instead. Here is a recent photo of the castle to prove that it is still standing. It has been too cold in the evenings to go out and take photos of it bathed in blue light from numerous flood lights, golden lights at the windows and twinkly chasing lights on some of the turrets. The lighting will cost around fourteen and a half thousand euros this year.
Quite who is looking at the castle at night, I do not know. Everyone closes their shutters as soon as it starts getting dark, and there are no tourists around.....

This photo is unique. Someone had splashed the plant in the foreground with fluorescent green paint, loverly!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Tenants – Gawd bless ‘em

Mason man still has no electricity in his flat. This does not really matter much as he seems to have vanished taking everything with him last Saturday afternoon. He has also removed his name from his post box. As far as I can tell he has not paid any rent since October. His next rent day is the 22nd of December so it will be interesting to see if any money comes in to my account then.
There is still a pair of his work boots under the steps outside. There used to be two pairs there.
I sent an email to the lettings agency about two weeks ago, after I saw him putting his television and various bits of furniture into an old car. The car battery was knackered so it wouldn’t start and he had to push it backwards onto the main road and then push it down the road to get the engine started.
I got an email back from the agency saying that they had not heard anything from him, but that they would let me know if they did hear from him. Nothing quite like having a proactive team looking after your lettings.
In France it is illegal to put tenants out into the street from some time in October until about spring the following year, so even if he doesn’t pay any rent I can do nothing about it.
The flat does not bring in much money per month, but a little is better than nothing at all....

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Christmas is coming

Excitement over Christmas has been mounting over the last month, but at a much reduced level to the excesses of TV and shop advertising seen in the UK. No Christmas tunes blaring out in the supermarkets is a blessed relief.
The school recently held a Christmas market which raised just over 1,000 euros. This means that all the children will be able to go on at least one outing next year, without the parents having to dip into their pockets for more cash.
On Thursday we had our special canteen Christmas meal. The venue was the community room under the town hall.
At ten to 12 a crocodile of around 90 adults and children set off on the 5 minute walk to the venue.
The staff of the CLAE (out of school hours support staff) were on duty to serve up the food and to clear up afterwards.

There was no music blaring out here either, just the excited chatter of children’s voices.

See the menu here if you want to know what we had to eat.
At twenty to two, coats, hats, scarves and gloves were put back on and we set off back to school for the penultimate afternoon.
The excitement was not over however. I had spent several hours wrapping up a book for each pupils as a present for Pere Noel to dish out during the afternoon.
When P.N. arrived he spoke fluent French with an thick Ariegeoise accent.. It had never crossed my mind that Santa would be able to speak foreign languages.
We started off in the Maternelle classroom and the awestruck children took it in turns to snatch their present from his hands.
The other three classrooms also received a visit with the coolest reception being received from the 10 -11 year olds.
Once Santa had gone, it was time to have cakes and juice to say goodbye to 3 pupils who are moving away from the area and who will therefore not be returning to us next term.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Occitan dancing

Last Friday our local societe amicable for the local quartier held an evening of Occitan dance. It had been a beautifully warm day with temperatures around 17 degrees C, but by 8.30pm the temperature had plummeted to below freezing. Fortunately the event was being held in the local primary school in the next street.
The event was free for anyone to attend, so it seemed reasonable to expect a fair turnout.
There was a huge vat of vin chaude heating up on a gas ring, soft drinks, coffee and slices of cake, again at no charge.
At the height of the evening there were around 29 people there, including the 4 band members, adults and children. Of those, only 14 were from our society (2 of those were in the band). This was a very disappointing turn out, and once again the question will be asked, is it worth all the effort for such small numbers?
Occitan music all sounds the same to me, although I am sure that to the cognoscenti I expect that there us a huge difference between the different tunes.
I felt it my duty to help drink as much of the vin chaude as possible, but by the time that the evening fizzled out, there was still half a vat left.
The next event will be in January, when there will be a new year celebration with galettes and will also be the evening of the agm where the assembled throng will vote for the association’ next year’s President , secretary, committee etc.
In February we will have a visit from the region’s top storyteller. He has a huge following so there will be a lot of competition for the limited amount of tickets available to all, whether they are in the society or not. ...

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Manifestation – even Rigsby is revolting

It has been a difficult year for the French Government and for Mr Sarkozy in particular. The latest news is that he wanted small in stature body guards for a foreign visit to India and this bears out once again the fact that he is very conscious of his small stature. If he had lived even 50 years ago he would have been above the average height of 5 ft 3 inches, but now his 5 ft 5 inch height (1 inch shorter than Napoleon) leaves him 2 inches below average. This really should not matter as everyone knows that performance is more important than size.
The government’s performance regarding the primary education system has always been controversial. A few years ago the school week was reduced from 4 and a half days, to 4 days. This has lead to increasing discontent as the long school days are tiring the children out, and their performance is suffering as a result.
The schools appoint people to accompany children with disabilities during 20 (I believe) of their hours at school. These contracts used to be for 6 years, now the maximum contract is for 2 years, divided into parcels of 6 months, 9 months, and then a final 9 months. There is no job security and you can be made redundant at the end of any parcel of months.
There are also people like me as admin support, on similar contracts. The government decided to cut the admin posts and many disability support posts to save money.
Fortunately in my department they did not cancel any contracts, they just didn’t replace anyone whose contract had reached the end of their 6 or 2 year term.
The EVS, AVS and Directors/ Directrices of the region were invited to a meeting to discuss the situation, so you might expect that at least 180 people might turn up.
I was one of 19 people who attended. Of those at least 6 were Syndicat (union) officials. One was a directrice, and the rest were people coming to the end of a 6 year contract.
Part having your contract renewed (of course filling in forms, signing multiple copies of renewed contract in advance) is having taken part in training and having some kind of project. This is difficult for an admin assistant. It’s okay if you don’t know how to use a computer, there are courses. It seems that most of the courses on offer are deleted or cancelled, so it is difficult to meet any training requirement.
Even better is that no travelling expenses are paid to attend the training.
People complained about the chaos of their management and the rudeness of the staff managing their contracts.
The next part of the morning was a “march” to the Prefecture. People drifted off and only about 10 of us remained. We set off, impeding the traffic in the narrow streets. We then stood on the pavement and in the road outside the prefecture, while reporters poked their micros at the various union officials, someone took some video footage and two reporters took some photos. Our numbers had swelled again counting the 7 reporters, we must have been around 20 or so. I thought that we had demanded an audience with some educational bigwig, but after 30 minutes of standing around, I followed the example of several others and drifted off into the sunshine. Here is a link to the Depeche article with a photo containing Rigsby himself. If you click on the photo it will enlarge to see me better.

Getting back to the president, described in a recent Wiki leak as “thin skinned and authoritarian personal style” and “an emperor with no clothes” he does himself no favours by allegedly appearing drunk at a television conference during the recent G8 summit.

I think that he is just a bit out of breath myself.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Gordon Ramsey, Jamie Oliver are just cooks

Compared to me. I have been thinking of expanding my culinary range for some time and accordingly I recently bought myself a flan circle which has a glass base with the intention of making my first quiche. After all, how hard could it be? I couldn’t be bothered looking up a recipe but I had heard rumours that a quiche Lorraine required the following ingredients.


Lardons (bacon bits)

Crème fraiche

5 eggs

I also added some pepper and a desert spoonful of moutarde a l’ancien

I unwrapped my packet of pastry, delighted to find that it was already in the shape of a circle. No rolling necessary. I greased the inside of my ring and the glass base with margarine to stop the pastry from sticking, then I fitted the pastry into the flan case.
Into the oven at 190 for 10 minutes.
It was a bit of a shock when I opened the oven and retrieved my pastry, to find that the pastry had puffed up rather a lot.
I pushed it back down as much as I could without breaking it, then poured in my quiche mixture containing the other ingredients before popping it all back into the oven.
Twenty minutes later I retrieved a slightly crispy cooked quiche from the oven. The quiche mixture had risen to give a light, fluffy texture.
It was time to release this mouth-watering meal, so I removed the scalloped ring. I reached for a wooden spatula and marked out 6 slices. I then attempted to remove two of the slices onto a plate.
The quiche was welded to the glass. Those of you who have watched these cooks on the television will know just how important presentation is.
Well at least it tasted like a proper quiche and not like the runny shop bought ones.
I phoned up S and told her about my pastry balloon. You are supposed to put in greased proofed paper and pour in rice or pebbles to stop the pastry rising, she said. You never told me that, I said. “You never asked” came the reply.....

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Snow motion

The weather forecasts or “meteo” have been fairly grim recently and most of the staff at the school had begun talking about changing their tyres for winter ones “pneu neige”. Snow was forecast for the following weekend and the following week, so I decided to bite the bullet and buy my first ever winter tyres. I set off with F and J-M to the nearest branch of FeuVert (Green Light) which is some 25kms away. I opted for 2 front winter tyres which after fitting, balancing TVA (VAT) came to 176.78 euros. The report on the fitting warned that my front brake pads would need replacing very soon.
The promised snow never came, so I do not know how they will cope with a snowy trip to school. I am hoping that any snow that does fall will come during the Christmas holidays.
This week I went back to FeuVert to get my brake pads done and to replace the original car battery.
I now have a fidelity card, so future purchases will give me as yet unknown benefits.
The cost of this latest outing was 211.39 euros, so a costly week car-wise.
Whilst I was there I enquired how much it would be to have a tow bar fitted to my car, as most of the bike racks seem to require one to fit on to. Okay, so I don’t have a bike, but it could be my route to peak fitness. The quote was for 348.90 euros.......Cycling is a mug’s game anyway.
We still have not had any snow, although most of the rest of France is covered in the stuff. Hooray!