Sunday 6th January

Happy New Year! I know it’s been a while since I last wrote but we spent Christmas in Paris chez les parents-in-law and I was banned from mentioning it as Olivier has this crazy notion that it is not a good idea to announce your holiday plans to the internet world, particularly when your address is plastered all over your website and magazine. I grudgingly accepted that he may have a valid point!

Olivier bought me a Dictaphone for Christmas as he was fed up of me saying “Remind me to write that down when I get home” and later blaming him for not reminding me, even though we’ve both forgotten what I wanted him to remind me about in the first place. Those of you who are fifties and sixties babies will no doubt remember the joke that went round when Dictaphones were in their heyday. I am just waiting for somebody to come up to me and say “Do you use your Dictaphone?”

The weather is somewhat murky at the moment – not quite raining but there’s certainly spit in the air. Bisou, who is nearly back to her perky and halitosis-breathy self, is very happy to bounce around the vineyards and cherry orchards in this type of weather as she doesn’t like the weather too warm. She was shocked right down to her hairy snout last week to discover that we have some new neighbours – Mr Bull, Mrs Cow and family moved in next door but one just before Christmas and the air is redolent of the pretty tingle dingle of the bells around their necks and the sweet smell of dung! They are very cute. They come to the fence for a chat every morning. Must remember not to wear my red jumper!

A little further down our road, the ‘cowmeisters’ are building a kind of enclosure which must be to channel the cows into for milking or whatever cows need to be channelled for. Yesterday, believe it or not, I got knocked over by their dog and grazed my knees and elbows quite badly. I do have a photo of that but decided last minute not to post it as I haven’t shaved my legs for a while! Anyway, the dog, a gorgeous black and white collie, saw Bisou glued to my legs as always and came zooming over to play with her, taking me out via a ‘thwack’ to the front of the knees and flooring me completely! Olivier of course found the whole incident highly amusing and keeps giggling to himself and saying “knocked over by a dog….knocked over by a dog….” It could happen to anyone for Heaven’s sake!

Since Lucien turned into a fifteen year old alien from the planet Ado, I have tried to rent him out, give him away or just ignore him all without success! Where do your children go when they reach adolescence? Very occasionally, through a curtain of grunts and three letter words, (and assuming he has managed to get up before 14h) we have a one sided monologue, usually on the subject of scooters or PS3 which invariably ends in a shouting match when I happen to mention ‘clean’ and ‘room’ in one sentence! However, over Christmas, chez Mamie and Papie, he actually helped out in the kitchen on the odd occasion. Fortunately I had my camera handy and snapped him in the act – an act which will surely go down in posterity!

New Year’s Eve was fun although we were unable to do the 80€ per person fee that we paid for the Maureillas village knees up justice (ie eat and drink ourselves into oblivion) ‘cos it was the day that we drove back down from Paris and all we really wanted to do was go to bed and sleep for a week! Here you see Olivier watching the dancing with not a lot of interest!! We missed out on the onion soup at 5am and snook home around two.

Finally, a little about penis extensions (no photo included). I came back after Christmas to 295 emails, the majority of which were offering me a penis extension, asking “Hey sweetie, you wanna attract chik at the club” or “Ladies always gigled at me and even guys did in the public toylets! Well now I lauff at them because I took megadik for 6 months” May I just say now, loudly and publicly “No thank you – and by the way your spelling is appalling”

Thursday 10th January

It’s been rather pleasant today – warm enough to go out without a coat, a pale halo of a sun squinting through light cloud…. yes, very nice indeed. However, I woke up this morning to 88 offers of viagra and penis extension. I am so fed up with receiving these spammy proposals that I am thinking of sporting a pink dangly addition, just so they’ll leave me alone!

Anyway, great excitement chez la vache family. Madame la Vache had a calf yesterday and we watched it being born. Absolutely amazing! I must say that she made a lot less fuss than any human I know, particularly bearing in mind that the calf that dropped out of her bottom was nearly the same height as me!!

We went to Leclerc at Le Boulou to do our shopping today as they’ve extended it and I do like to check out a new supermarket. After half an hour of serious and concentrated shopping, with me leading and Olivier trailing behind with the trolley and a hangdog expression, the fire alarm went off and we had to vacate the premises, leaving our carefully selected shopping at the checkout. After 20 mins of waiting outside they still weren’t letting us back in so we abandoned ship and went home with no shopping. Doh!

Monday 14th January

Brrrrr. The weather continues to be rather murky with a definite nip in the air, despite a couple of lovely, sunny afternoons in between. The photo here was taken on Saturday morning – a fabulous day for walking or cycling (tho’ we did neither!).

On Friday evening we went with John, the P-O Life reviewer, to try out the catering college restaurant at Moulin à Vent just outside Perpignan. At a price of 11€ per person, it really was excellent, both in terms of service and quality of food. I would thoroughly recommend it. Our waiter, Kevin, was smart and clean (I must admit I had visions of being served by some of the monsters I have taught in the past, with grubby hands and green runny noses) and it was all very posh. Here is what John has to say about it

“Along with some friends I recently accepted an invitation from its director to dine at the Public Restaurant at the Lycee Leon Blum,which is tucked away near the University in the Moulin a Vent area of Perpignan,on Av de Villeneuve,immediately opposite the Swimming pool in the Sports complex.

Fundamentally this restaurant is where the students at this catering college put their studies into practice, and the general public are welcome to come along as paying guinea pigs. Having been to a couple of similar establishments in the UK, I was intrigued to see how their French equivalents fare. For example the British ones I’d visited were rather “college canteen” in their décor and ambiance,but Leon Blum is rather different, with a wood-panelled bar at the entrance, an open fire at the other side and twenty or so tables of varying sizes dotted around the warm, recently decorated dining room.

Clearly presentation is high on the list of priorities here. The tables are sumptuously decorated with starched linen, up market cutlery and quality glassware/porcelain. Upon arrival you are shown to your table by your own personal waiter, in our case, Kevin, a personable young man of 17, who was delighted to be able to practice his English on us.

Basically the restaurant offers a fixed 4 course meal, consisting of a light starter, a fish course, meat, then a dessert. In our case it was macedoine of vegetables and tomato salad, followed by mixed shellfish with American sauce, with roasted chicken in saffron cream and various patisseries/gateaux to finish. Of course the actual dishes vary from day to day, but it must be stressed that there is no choice or vegetarian option, so this place is not recommended for those with special dietary requirements.

All the food on offer was superbly prepared, very tasty and impeccably presented and served by Kevin. Perhaps as one would expect from young people who are embarking on a chosen career in hospitality, every effort is clearly made to ensure that the customer’s dining experience is a memorable one.

However it is the price of this meal that makes the whole thing all the more remarkable. Dinner is 11 € , with lunch on offer at 10€ . Of course what would be a superb French meal like this without wine? This area is not neglected, with local Roussillon wines at bargain prices (average 8-12 €) ,and a wide (for this area) choice of vintages from other French regions at equally tempting prices.

It was explained to us that,being an educational establishment,The Leon Blum is not allowed to advertise .That is why you’ll not find it in the paper,magazines or restaurant guides,so its fame is spread by word of mouth(or articles like this!).Also it is exempt from TVA,no doubt explaining the bargain prices. Because of this,tables are quite sought after,and booking is essential (04 68 54 77 89).Opening hours are Mon to Fri only, 12-2 and 7 to 10.In the evening customers are requested to be at their tables by 7.30 at the latest.

A meal at the Ecole Restaurant Leon Blum is a very rewarding experience,and one with a difference. Not only does one get to enjoy a superb feast at attractive prices,but also one feels one is helping in the education and training of what are, let’s not forget, the young folk who are going to be the future restaurateurs, chefs,patissiers,sommeliers etc of the area. To that end, constructive criticism is encouraged,and taken in the spirit it is offered. I would urge as many people as possible to visit this place, to witness at first hand the dedication of the teaching/training staff, and their extremely talented, and enthusiastic young charges.”

Well, I don’t think there is any more to add, except that it was an enjoyable and ‘pampered’ evening, with our waiter, Kevin hovering nearby to attend to our every need. If you are thinking of going out in a group and don’t want to pay a fortune, it’s a perfect venu. The one disadvantage, I would imagine, would be that you would not be able to linger too long over that last glass of wine or coffee as even the clearing away is part of the training.

Anyway, back to the penis extension saga. I have to say that, as a teacher, I admire a student who tries to impress me with the length and breadth of his wide vocabulary, and the penis proposals are definitely improving. The latest tells me “Don’t let them make fun of you anymore! Use XXXX to increase your trouser mouse in length and girth! Try it now and make them voice a more fitting definition of your new big sausage!”

The Cow family are doing nicely. Here’s a photo of the newborn calf (it’s a boy by the way) who is already steadier on his hooves than my 15 year old son and seems to have far more common sense! He is so cute!

Thursday 17th January

The sun has got his hat on, hip hip hip hurray!! Yes, it’s gorgeous. After a fairly gloomy morning, it has suddenly become quite mild compared to yesterday – the kind of weather where you put a chair in a sunny patch and stare up at the sun, sighing loudly and contentedly! I’m wearing a T shirt and seriously considered getting ‘the legs’ out for a bit of air, but they are a little too hairy and all scabby from getting knocked over by a collie last week, so I think I’ll keep them in captivity for a little longer. Just think how much they’ll enjoy it when they are finally allowed out! Good things come to those who wait, leggings, be they long, tall and slim or short, fat and hairy.

Tuesday 22nd January

I’m using my Dictaphone quite regularly now! It’s taken me a while to get used to it as it’s not something I’ve done before, but I’m getting there. It is getting quite dangerous for people to get downwind of me now in case I whip it out and catch them unawares! Talking of getting downwind, we met a herd of wild goats up in the hills above Les Chartreuses last weekend. What I would like to know is why is it that goats smell of goats cheese (what a whiff – we could smell them coming from miles away) but cows don’t smell of cow’s cheese? Another puzzle in life’s rich tapestry for me to ponder!

Thursday 31st January

The weather continues to be absolutely glorious with pink and gold splashes of colour from the blossoming mimosa and almond blossom against a still stark background of dark and unadorned vines and trees. Mornings are very cold, often frosty, but by 930 – 10 am the sun is up, the light is uplifting and that springtime feeing takes over!

I’ve just come back from Lucien’s school where I’ve had a bit of a ding-dong with the deputy head! Lulu had his mobile phone confiscated this morning in his maths lesson. Fair enough. The rules say that they are not allowed to have mobiles in school, he took his into school, it was confiscated. I don’t disagree with that. However, what I DO disagree with is that when Olivier rang to say that we were now aware of this matter and Lulu would not be taking his mobile to school again, they refused to give it back unless we went to pick it up ourselves. But it’s not convenient” “Hard luck” “And what if we worked from 8 until 6 and couldn’t get into school to pick it up?” “Then he wouldn’t get it back” “So in fact, we are the ones being punished here?” “See it like that if you wish Monsieur; Au revoir” Aieee! Red rag to a bull. I hot footed it into school, all 1metre49 of me rippling with anger, and demanded to see this woman, stonked into her office and told her what I thought of her bad attitude. Ooooh – did I feel satisfied? She wasn’t actually the slightest bit interested but I feel much better for it! How would I have handled that situation when I was teaching? Well, most importantly I would have shown the parent some respect. Basically, she was right in confiscating his phone – he broke a rule – but if the teachers can’t show a little respect for the parents, it is very difficult for the parents to insist that the children respect the teachers – it’s all one big reciprocal arrangement. OK. Rant over!
Olivier got flashed last week for speeding somewhere on the motorway between Millau viaduct and home. Fair cop guv. I thought I’d put the form on for those of you who have never seen one. He drowned his sorrow in the unconditional love of his hairy daughter and felt much better about it!!

The TGV is coming along by the way for those of you who weren’t over at Christmas. the rails have now been fitted and test trains chug cheerfully along the tracks. More photos of that to come this weekend; Happy February!

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