Monday, 21 November 2011

Chestnuts at dawn

I attended another annual event this weekend. A chestnut festival. Last year as well as munching on chestnuts there was a group of storytellers to provide the entertainment, this year it was a group of 9 French female "Country" dancers. Line dancers to you and me.
When I arrived the dancers were already ensconced at a table, kitted out in their cowboy hats, boots, scarves etc. They were keen.
Last year the venue was full, with kids running about all over the place. This year the crowd was at least halved, but the 3 children who did attend, ran about non-stop for the duration of their stay.
We started with the roasted chestnuts, which were nowhere near as nice as the ones that we ate last year. This year they were dry, some were bad, and some had dead bugs inside them. In addition to the roasted nuts, there were boiled chestnuts. These were difficult to open and even more difficult to eat. The flesh of the nut was reduced to a white paste. Yuck! not to my taste.
There were pancakes and various drinks that you could buy, and there was also a plastic cup of mulled wine for the adults.
The dancers were very keen and after dancing to several of their pre-recorded songs they invited people to join in. I managed to stay in my seat. Having been a "Square dancer" for a year in the mid 90's I know to look down on this inferior form of dancing.
I left at about 10 past midnight, but the dancers were still going strong to their selection of about 10 songs and some local ados had arrived to bulk up the dwindling numbers.
Here is a short video of the dancing, The teeny-tiny lady in the white trousers is the school and town hall cleaner and although she was struggling to keep up, she was having a whale of a time. Good on you Z!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

The two marquises

Nothing much to I have started at my new school and have done 2 stints of 3 hrs 20 mins each time. The little office that I work in is also the head teacher's office. Her admin day is Tuesday, but she was busy elsewhere for most of that afternoon. Unfortunately there is no internet access in the office, although a new pc workstation was installed the morning before I arrived. Hopefully the internet access will not be long, the town hall needs to do a bit of cabling work. The school staff, teachers and ALAE staff all seem pleased to have me there, but as the classrooms are on the first floor and I am on the ground floor next to the school's main doors I am rather out of the way of them and the life of the school, unless the phone rings and I have to go and find the relevant person. It is  going to take me a while to get settled in.
Last Friday one  of Madame's friends friends came to help me install two perspex porches over the two front doors. All was going well, and my side of the porch support for the "marquise" was safely screwed into the wall. Unfortunately things were not going well on the other side of the door, as two of the screws broke off in the wall as he tightened them.
We continued with the marquise over Madame's door, and that was installed without any problems. Of course Madame (who had pestered me for months to buy and install this object) immediately lost interest in the proceedings and had to go and lie down on her canapĂ©. I offered to test the porch by getting her to stand under it whilst I poured a bucket of water out of an upper window onto it, but she declined. So the next morning I was at BricoDepot  to try and buy or blagg replacement screws and raw plugs to restart the failed installation. I was passed from person to person and finally the 4th person indicated which bits and pieces I should buy.
I returned home, Madame phoned her pal, and the bloke returned. Fortunately all went well, but some of the screw covers have disappeared.
Do they stop Madame getting water into her flat when she opens the door when it is raining? I have no idea as it hasn't rained for about 2 weeks now and we have had to put up with temperatures in the 80s. At last summer has arrived!

Friday, 9 September 2011


Yesterday afternoon I received a phone call from the college that controls my school admin post contract. The lady told me that my contract was now ready to sign and gave me the name of the schools that I will be working at until my contract runs out at the end of March 2012.
I am staying at my current school for 10 of my hours, and the remaining 10 hours in a school in a village which joins on to the outskirts of my town, about 12 - 15 minutes drive away depending on the traffic. I could walk there in about 50 minutes.
So on Monday afternoon I will be going to visit my new school and the directrice, staff, kids etc. This school was built in 1994, so it will make an interesting contrast to the old school buildings where I have spent my time so far.
I am still waiting for confirmation of my 20 or so hours teaching English in a nursing college. I am due to start my first session of the teaching year in about 2 week's time......
So that is the way my working life is shaping up at the moment. Someone has asked me if I will give some English tuition to a lad of 14, who has been doing English for 3 years, but who for some reason during the last year attended hardly any English lessons. I met him briefly.
"What's you name?" I asked. He thought about it for about 30 seconds, during which I repeated the question slowly several times. In the end I had to ask him his name in French.
I then tried "How old are you?" "I'm fine" he eventually replied. The 7 year olds in my school can answer these two questions without any problem. I think that he will need to put in an awful lot of work if he wants to reach the required standard for his year...... I am not sure if I will do it or not.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Dancing Queen

The fete was due to continue at 9pm with a procession with majorettes, old cars, marching bands etc but it had been raining almost all day. What to do? I put on my pac-a-mac, slung my camera round my neck and set off into town. Rigsby is not afraid of rain.
As I neared the centre of town I knew that something was wrong. There was traffic coming towards me. Usually the road is blocked off to allow the procession to take place.
It was raining quite heavily as I arrived at the Halle. I sat at a table and drank a couple of beers while some of the bands played under cover of the Halle's new roof.
Finally it was time for l'orchestre Mission to take the stage.
Yesterday there had been a little old lady dancing to the music with the whole floor to herself. She was back again. As the music began a shuffling figure complete with her shopping trolley and clutching a band publicity sheet. She was hot to trot once again.
Dancing with your shopping trolley can be tiring, luckily the wheels makes the transition turns quite smooth.
However she got tired of trundling it about and attempted to park it behind the security barrier, through a convenient gap, which was just not big enough for her to squeeze it through. The lead guitarist was watching her as she switched to plan B and started trying to lift the trolley over the barrier. He gave up playing and came to assist her.
She decided that her dance partner would be safer on the stage, so this is where it ended up.
Now unencumbered, she was able to shuffle about and wave her arms, she even shouted noises into the proffered microphone from time to time
Finally, just like a scene from Mama Mia she was hoisted up onto the stage to join in the band's final song.

So a very successful night for the dancing queen. Thankfully France is full of characters. (and I should know, I'm one!)

Meanwhile the rain was hammering down. The band stopped at 1.30am but the rain didn't so Rigsby paddled home in his new shoes.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

What’s new pussycat?

Since January a lot has changed. I still have my 2 tenants. Madame has erected a huge pergola on her terrace and had purchased chairs and an extremely heavy table (mosaic tiles on top of a concrete table top). There are strips of cloth, weighted at each end that can be draped over the pergola to provide shade. Due to the weather this summer though, a month of constant rain, followed by a month of rain or temperatures between 90 – 100 degrees F, here new ensemble has hardly been used. She recently acquired a bicycle, which is now kept in the hall cupboard inside the main part of my building. She has not used it as she is too fatigue, and as she recently fell over and injured her legs, it is likely that the bike will stay blocking up my cupboard. I doubt if she will purchase a storage box to keep it on her cluttered terrace. The Portuguese man arrived back from his holiday early on Friday morning. He too seems to have acquired a bicycle which he keeps in his studio on the first floor.
The French family that I used to go on outing with, or to their house for BBQ’s and for crepes etc have put their house on the market and moved to a small town 3.5 hours drive from here. After 2 years of unemployment Monsieur a short fixed term contract, which he hopes might be made permanent, so the family of 5 has all been uprooted to go and live in a small apartment with no garden.
I may have mentioned that I don’t intend to join the choir this year. I feel in need of a rest from it. I had not been enjoying it and as my move to France has been a life change, why do things that you are not enjoying if you can avoid it.
This past choral year was a nightmare as far as I was concerned. I cannot write too much here about the many reasons I have as there is always a chance that my blog will be stumbled upon, and there are French people who speak a fair bit of English. The last straw for me was when the choir’s public performances were announced about 5 weeks before the first concert. By that time I had already found other things to do on those dates. I must state that the choir members are lovely, friendly people and I will miss their company.
Now I have my guitar, choir time may be replaced by guitar lessons if my newly arrived CDrom course doesn’t move me along towards guitar god status.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Outdoor fireworks

On Friday night at 22:10 I set off walking into town to claim my usual spot to watch the firework display from. The pavements on both sides of the roads had cars parked on them, leaving only the road to walk on. The French tend to park anywhere that there is, or isn't a space.
The display began a few minutes late, which is good for this part of the world, where usually at least a quarter of an hour Ariege lag is added.
It was a perfect evening and the thunder storm rumbling in the distance held off until the early hours of the morning.  
We only have a population of 10,000 but no expense seems to be spared for the annual fete fireworks.
The display was 17 minutes long and it was made up of 14 or so different tableaux. The usual section of fire dripping down the castle walls was not included this year, but the display was as spectacular as ever, with hearts, arrows going through hearts, I am sure that I saw the letter J inside a heart or a circle. All very clever and greatly appreciated by the crowds, lots of "putain"s of admiration.
Here is a video of the finale.
After the display I wandered up to see the fun fair which has taken over all the parking areas in the centre of town. The crowd was too dense to make any progress, so I crossed the main road, weaving between the gridlocked cars, and went to watch the "orchestre" which had wisely been set up under the roofed Halle au Grains. As usual, the musicians and the various singers were very good.
Enough blogging for today. I must get my guitar out and play, or rather, practice. My finger tips are still burning and I am finding out that it is not going to be as easy to learn as I had hoped. Perhaps if I had a music stand....

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The clear white light

On Thursday morning I went along to my local College for my reunion. We sat at desks while a man, new in post, introduced himself and then commenced on a history of les handicapes in France and their integration into the national education system, which began in earnest in the 1970's. Then there was a section on what was and what was not the remit of someone assisting a enfant handicapes in the classroom. Fortunately the man spoke clearly so I could understand most of what was said. He was followed by a young lady who was something to do with the Psychologues who spoke very quietly and although I was in the front row, the constant chatting of the two women behind me made following what she said almost impossible.
The meeting finally drew to a close. Did anyone have any questions?
A lady asked, where am I supposed to go now? I do not know what schools I am working in. Lists were consulted. You are working with x at y school, but I don't know yet where else you will be working.
This opened the floodgates. Of the 60 or so staff in the room 70 to 80 % did not know where they were supposed to work. The panelists looked embarrassed and it was suggested that a queue be formed so that the admin staff could consult their lists. The majority of them, me included left the room none the wiser. So I just went to the one school tthat I did know. I am still an admin assistant, not an assistant to one or more enfants handicapes.
When I asked when I might find out where else I was working, the lady smiled and shrugged. It was not for her to say, it was the responsibility of M l'inspecteur....
The following day all the teachers and then the head teachers had an audience with M l'inspecteur.
My head teacher had M L'I on one side and the lady to whom I had posed my question the previous day.
"It is M L'I's" decision she said, "It's not anything to do with me" he said.... 
Personally I think that there might be a slight delay before I find out where my second school is.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Ticking away to the big bang

My 2 month summer holiday is nearly over and on Thursday or Friday I will be going back to school, or rather schools. My directrice telephoned me this morning at 9.30am. She phoned the College at 9am and was lucky enough to have the phone answered.
She has found out that 10 of my admin assistant hours will be spent at her school until my contract ends 31 march 2011. My directrice told the lady about the letter that I had received from the college, inviting me to attend a meeting at the College on Thursday morning.
"Why did they send him that letter? This meeting doesn't concern him. But as he has received the letter, he had better attend."
So I am teed up to look a complete plonker on Thursday. My directrice asked which school I would be spending my other 10 hours in. However the Inspectors have not yet decided. Still 2 days is plenty of time, if they send out a letter first class today or tomorrow......
The weather has been good for the last few days, but rain clouds are on the horizon.
The town's annual fete starts on Friday evening with live music and of course the highlight of the year, the 17 minute firework display which is due to kick off at 20:30. and which is well worth coming to see.
I expect that all 4 of my  readers will be dropping in to visit me for the weekend.  Don't forget that the fig festival is on the first weekend in October in a town only 20 minutes away.
A bientot alors.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Night after night, who treats you right?

Of course you all remembered this song by David Gates so you will probably guess what is coming next.
Before moving to France I made a list of things that I wanted to be, do and have within a certain timeframe. One of the items on the list was to learn to play the guitar and have or be in a band.
Last year I bought a blu-ray copy of Jeff Beck performing live at Ronnie Scotts. I had of course heard his name over the years, but I didn't know any of his music. Amazon reviews gave the DVD 5 stars, some hinting that he blew Eric Clapton out of the water (I disagree). It is a very good DVD and most interesting too. I also bought Rainbow live in Munich 1977, Queen rock Montreal and live Aid and Roger Hodgson's take the long way home live in Montreal.
Subconsciouly I was exploring guitar playing.
Having just returned from Ottawa's Bluesfest I had been subjected to many different types of guitar and styles of guitar music. Buddy Guy, Peter Frampton, Steve Miller, the Flaming Lips etc etc
Everyone has to start  somewhere, so after some research I am now the owner of an electric Squier black and white fender style strat, practice amp, headphones, 2 picks, clip on tuner, bag, useless starter CD, an allen key, a spring and an enormous cardboard box.
I have bought the "learning guitar for dummies" DVD, Guitar all-in -one for dummies 8 books in one.
I have ordered a 2 year guitar course on cdrom, and I am investigating online course too, possibly  as a future avenue to follow. There is a guitar teacher who lives a few miles away, so that is also a possibility.
For now though, the fingers on my left hand are too sore to "play" for more than 5 minutes or so at a time. It looks easy. People play without looking at their fingers don't they? I am still struggling with my first 3 chords..........
So there you are. You are one of the first to know about my latest venture and perhaps that knowlege will keep me practicing. Meanwhile I am available for parties who require "Frere Jaques" or "Row,row,row your boat", both requiring only the E chord, Baby it's the guitar man!
Even better news is that there are all kinds of guitar gadgets on the market....

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Out to lunch

Yesterday I went out to lunch with the head teacher, maternelle teacher and one of the school's EVS helpers. They all drove into town (market day so parking is scarce) but I walked in to meet them. Of course just before I set off it started raining. The French weather, like elsewhere in the world has been all over the place. The wettest July since records began and not much improvement in August, except that last weekend we had a canicule (heatwave) over most of France.
The temperaratures soared up to 40 degrees C, with only a small reduction during the night. I don't have air conditioning, except for the draught that prevail during the winter months. I did buy a fan on a stand 2 years ago, so after more than a year of being redundant, it was put into service for a few nights.
Back to the present, and the promised sunshine shyly peeks out from behind the mass of grey cloud after a night of heavy rain.
Back to lunch. We went to the town's Leo Legrange centre, where the choir usually have their practice days. I had chicken paella (very small portion with a rather dried out piece of chicken carcass on top) while the others had steak frites (steak and chips), so not very adventurous. In fact I find that the French are not very adventurous when it comes to food. For example they don't seem to like curries, mexican food, traditional chip shop fish and chips........  Normally steak frites is a small piece of very chewy meat with hard, stick thin chips. Of course this time the steak was big, the chips fresh and chunky and it came with salad.
During the meal the head teacher said that she doesn't think that I will be returning to her school, and that it is possible that I will be assigned to a pupil with some kind of disability in one of the schools. She said that she will do some phoning around on Monday to see if she can find out anything for me.
There is a meeting for all EVS on Thursday to which I have received an invitation to attend so I may have to wait until then to find out my fate.

Friday, 26 August 2011

The waiting game

Hello to anyone still out there. A lot of things have happened since my last blog and perhaps I will get round to adding some of them to this blog. However as a blog is supposed to be an up to the minute account of one's life as it happens, perhaps it would just confuse folks and / or just be tooo boring. For example I have been on holiday to Canada, spent a few days in New York, visited Niagara Falls, been to the 2 weeks of music that is Bluesfest in Ottawa.
There, you are all nodding off already.
I am still alive and kicking and back in France again. Some of you may recall that I was working as an AVS (assistant vie scolaire) as an admin assistant. The French government continues to make big cuts to the education system. As well as closing schools, shutting down classrooms and thus getting rid of teachers, cutting the number of EVS posts (people who asist one or more children with disabilities in the classroom) the number of AVS posts have also been cut.
I am lucky because they are honouring the last 9 months of my 2 month contract, but I will have to split my 20 hours between two schools, instead of spending all my time at one. For the first 2 months of this final stint of my 2 year contract, the schools have been closed for the summer holidays. I therefore start work again for the last 7 months, on the 1st of September. The only question is WHERE???? I will not necessarily work 10 of the hours at the primary school where I have worked up until now. I could be put anywhere within the area covered by my regional school board from some small village up in the mountains, to one of the towns.
I am lucky as I have my own car, but there must be many others out there who have to rely of the almost non existent public transport system and who will now possibly have to double the number of journeys that they have to make per week. Travel costs are not paid by the state or by the education department.
Hopefully I will get some instructions as to where to go before I start next Thursday.... so I sit and wait.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Putting the clocks back in time.

Many of you will be wondering whether the renovation of the clock tower in the village where I work was refurbished in time for Christmas. With a week and a half to go, the clock faces suddenly reappeared and the scaffolding came down and the bells began striking the hour and the half hour once again.
I didn’t have enough time to climb the hill to make a closer inspection of the works before the end of term, but perhaps I will get a chance soon this year.
Anyway it looks very nice from the main road with its new creamy coat of paint.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Not a rockery then.

On the 8th of December I was sitting in Rigsby towers when I heard a loud “Beep! Beep!” reversing noise coming from the main road. Grabbing my trusty camera I looked out of my window.
Yes it was a load of earth in a big tipper lorry.
It was the most exciting thing that had happened all day so I felt that I had to monitor its progress.
The soil was tipped and a few days later some small bushed appeared. Lovely!
Surely this is the end? Don’t worry, as your reporter on the spot I will keep you posted.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

I talk to the trees. Is it a dinosaur?

Walking into town I noted that many of the trees lining one bank of the river had been chopped down. Looking more closely I saw an animal looking back at me.
Is it a horse? I asked myself, “or is it a dinosaur?”
Happy New Year!!!