Thursday, 4 April 2019

D is for Débrouiller

#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary blogging from A to Z challenge letter 

This is one of those words that covers  many possibilities.

In it's plain form, it simply means to untangle something, straighten a thing out, whether it's a ball of string or a misunderstanding.

But alongside that, it has the sense of fending for yourself, of getting by.

Slip in the reflexive se and you have a phrase that is so useful.

You can manage, you can get by, you can sort it out.

You'll be OK, you won't need a helping hand, you'll muddle through.

 You'll deal with it.

Tottering out of the supermarket, two tins of anchovies and a tub of olives in my coat pockets, a bag of frozen peas under my hat, two bottles of wine under my arms and a pile of boxes balanced under my chin. I forgot my bag again (absolutely no giveaway bags in French supermarchés), but je me débrouille.

I spent the week in bed with flu, there's nothing in the fridge and the cat is glaring at me. My friend calls and asks if I need anything, but guess what? Je me débrouille.

A plumbing emergency has me dashing to M Bricolage but they're fresh out of the widget I need. Never mind, je me débrouillerais with an empty yoghurt carton and some black tape.

Je me debrouillerai. It's my blog, I'll do it my way.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

B is for Bon

Who could ever tire of the fabulous French habit of wishing you all kinds of bon?

We are all familiar with bonjour, we learnt it in school. We may even have ventured into bonsoir and bonne nuit. But who knew there is a whole lexicon of other times and experiences for which a well wisher can cheer us on with a bon?

Out shopping, the shopkeeper will send you off with a smile and a bonne journée, a bon après-midi or a bonne soirée. They might even be more precise, with a bonne fin matinée or fin après-midi.

The bank manager once ushered me off the premises at 12 on the dot with a bonne appétit, the assumption being that at that hour of the day, everyone will be hurrying towards their midday repas.

There's the familiar bon voyage and it's more pragmatic cousin bonne route. Or you could be hailed a bonne promenade as you set off in your walking gear along a hiking trail.

We welcome a bon weekend, or at the least a bonne dimanche, and heave a sigh of joy at the sound of bonnes vacances.

Of course, we expect to be wished a bonne anniversaire, and a bonne fête for whatever we might be celebrating, not forgetting a bon fin d'année as we approach a New Year and bonne année as we launch into it, although interestingly, Christmas is always joyeux and never bon.

(And as a quick aside, it is quite acceptable in France to continue wishing folk a bonne année right up until the end of January. Great news for those of us whose Christmas cards remain unsent well past the 25th of December.)

But one of the quirkier expressions you hear a great deal in France is bon continuation. I've never been able to put my finger on a good enough translation (Google suggests helpfully 'good continuation' but I think we could have worked that out for ourselves). It's used in many different scenarios, and loosely means 'keep up the good work' or 'good luck with it'. It implies an ongoing thing - a project, a problem, a conundrum - and is a hearty wish of moral support.

Finally, the one that always makes me smile. We host French kids in the summer and sometimes a parent will deliver their child then beat a hasty retreat down the path, offering a cheery wave and the words 'bon courage!' We don't need Google translate to help with that one.

So as I reach the end of day 2 of the A to Z Challenge, there remains just one thing for me to say - bon lecture à tous et toutes!

Monday, 1 April 2019

A is for Alors!

Alors, what a great way to start this latest A to Z challenge! 
#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary blogging from A to Z challenge letter

It's such a useful word. It slips out easily, as you draw breath, ordering your thoughts in a conversation.

It is a clarion call to action when you've finally finished dallying and are ready to go. "Alors, let's get in the car".

Alors is a way of confounding your adversary, as you are poised to make your killer point. "I spoke to the facteur as I was hanging out the washing and we both remarked on the new church bell chiming ten. Alors, I could not have murdered the vicar!"

And it is the best way to round off a conversation, as you drain your espresso and rise to go. "Alors, things to do, places to be!" (with a quick bisou for good measure.)

Alors, that's enough for now. I'll see you tomorrow for the letter B!

Monday, 9 November 2015

Three French Hens

Gertie, Ida and Flo arrived about a month ago, dragged from a pen of 50 hens, randomly selected from 900 intensively reared birds now surplus to commercial requirements. Contemplating the destiny of the other 897 breaks my heart.
Rescue Hens

For I have discovered that hens are delightful creatures.

My grandmother kept them, and was largely the inspiration for this foray into poultry keeping. She took a dim view of them, called them ‘silly things’ and 'daft birds’. Not a bit of it. Buff brown feathers and frilly knickers, my hens are full of personality and charm.

I could spend hours watching them: manhandling a large lettuce leaf, flinging it about themselves like someone battling with a pashmina in a high wind; racing each other to the tasty morsels like blousey girls after the bride’s bouquet; hurrying over to me like middle aged ladies running for a bus.

My three were from an intensive egg farm. Nothing could have prepared me for the sight of them when they arrived. Scrawny, bald backs and bottoms, wattles and crests bleached almost white, nails like talons where they had never had the chance to scratch the earth.

On their first morning, they were in what we laughingly call our wild-flower garden. They moved slowly, unsure of what to do. They had had a whole a year of life with no access to the outdoors, kept under artificial light.

Apparently, commercial egg producers keep their layers for one year only after which they are replaced by new, young hens. Once they have laid an egg a day for a year, they are considered redundant and are destined to be turned into animal food.
It is a sad reflection on our morals and priorities when an animal is viewed as an automata, not even afforded the dignity of a normal, natural life.
So spare a thought for all the millions of Gerties and Idas and Flos when you buy your eggs. Maybe you can find a local producer where you can see for yourself that the birds are happy, well nourished and allowed access to daylight.
Better still, give a few hens a home.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Its our anniversary!

It's exactly two years since we arrived to take up residence here in France. And in that weird way time has, it feels both like an eternity and as if it were only yesterday.

We haven’t tired yet of the stunning views out over ‘our’ bay; the vast stretch of sky visible from the windows, with its ever changing moods; the satisfyingly large expanses of countryside and forest surrounding us; the myriad birds who sing in our garden and the woods where we walk;

  the clifftop paths and rocky coastline.

Geoff is in daily pursuit of sighting the otter who is resident in the river by our house. We have seen deer, hares, badgers, stoats and once, a giant white water rat, the size of one of the dogs.

Besides the wildlife, we have our own menagerie who keep us entertained and active. The dogs, brought over from the streets of Sri Lanka adore their daily walks, the rabbit holes, the mole hills, the sheer exuberance of cantering across and empty beach.

There is Sid, the ‘cat who can do no wrong’, who, also rescued from the streets of Colombo, now sleeps on our pillows and basks in the first faint rays of Spring sunshine. He is a cat of such immeasurable sweetness, who graces us with warmth and love.

Unthinkable before we came here was the prospect of donkeys. Lolly, Biscuit and Delaney have transformed our outlook and our daily lives. Extraordinarily loving, they are guaranteed to lift the spirits. Putting your arms around the woolly neck of a donkey, or having their heavy head resting on your shoulder is a moment of such intimacy and affection. They are fun, too. Lolly in particular likes to tease us, picking up a tool bag and running up the field or holding Geoff’s sweatshirt aloft in her teeth, defying us to be cross. I love donkeys!

And now we have the hens. I had no idea one could love a chicken, but in the ten days since they arrived, they have captured my heart, especially Gertie, the bolder of the three, who dives towards me when I open the door and follows me around the garden, fighting me for the weeds I have just upended. They are supreme garden clearers. 

In less than one week they have decimated much of the weed population of one part of the wilderness that is our back yard. In addition, they take care of all my vegetable peelings and leftover rice, PLUS they give us fresh eggs every morning. What a blessing they are.

In the two years we have been here we have hosted over a hundred children and around twenty adults for language immersion holidays. Its a job we both love. What other occupation requires you to sit on the beach one afternoon a week throughout the summer, and to go walking with the donkeys or horse riding or playing croquet on the lawn? We have met some wonderful people and had the great satisfaction of knowing that most of our clients have left with great memories and an even greater enthusiasm for the English language.

And of course the biggest bonus is the tracts of time between ‘working’ when we can focus on our real vocation - writing. In the two years since we arrived here, I have finally published my first book and have a quiver of novels underway. Geoff is tantalisingly close to finishing his second book, Quimper Vannes and has a shelf of other projects lined up.

One of our principal motivations for coming to France was to give Toby the opportunity to learn French. Now presque bilingual, he is roaring away at school, achieving high marks, even in French!

In all, these two years have proved productive beyond all our expectations. They have taken us on a journey we had not anticipated but have brought us to a way of life that is rich in so many ways. Long may it continue!

Monday, 19 May 2014

All around the houses

I have yet to find a phrase in French to express 'all around the houses.'

A very nice man in the office of the Greffe de la Tribunal la la la la la used the phrase 'vous avez baladé' which touches on it but doesn't quite capture the frustration and futility.

Let me explain. I need to declare my earnings from last year. To do this, I must register my activité and get the ball rolling. Once I have done this, someone will send me my Siret or Siren number (no idea what the difference is but I don't think it matters) which I can then put on my declaration des revenus and all shall be well.

Simple, providing you can find the right place to register.

So far we have been to five different offices, all in different towns at least 30 - 40 minutes drive from home (in opposite directions). At each encounter, we have been met with much scratching of heads. Finally, we found a helpful young lady in the Centre de Impôts in St Brieuc who directed us to the nice man I mentioned above.

He, it turned out, is not the right person either but he did at least have the right form for us to fill in and furnished us with the address of the office we should deliver it to. In St Malo. A brief look at a map will tell you that St Brieuc and St Malo are approximately 100 km apart.

You can see why I am searching for a French equivalent to 'all around the houses'.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014


We have acquired a donkey.

I have long hankered after one but never thought I would ever actually own one.

Lolita comes to us with a bit of a sad history from a family who can no longer keep her due to ill health.

She is utterly lovely and I am in awe of her.

She's way stronger than me and could break my toe just by stepping on it. She has huge teeth and a proclivity for nibbling pockets and sleeves, presumably in search of edible morsels, but you never know.

As I was leaving, she followed me up the field and gave me a hearty nudge on the bottom. I am taking it as a gesture of friendship. I have learnt from the screeds of information I gathered on the internet these last few weeks, that donkeys communicate with each through nudges and shoves.

I hope we learn to be friends very soon. I'll keep you posted!