Some Humour Translates Easily…

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New kid in my English class today.

 

He was colouring in a work sheet with the rest of the group, when he started laughing at the title. The title was ‘Can I have a pet’.

 

I thought he was confused about what it meant, and gave him a detailed explanation as to how he would put this question to his parents in French if, for example, he wanted a cat or a dog.

 

He waited patiently for me to finish and then told me that he was laughing because he thought ‘pet’ sounded just like the word for ‘fart’ in French (which it does, especially when you add the sound-effects, like he did.)

 

I like this kid.

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Playing The French At Their Own Game…

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Not a bad place to play games and not be lynched by the locals

Entering the room as the sole foreign participant in a French competition, playing a very French game, you may be under some misconceptions as to what may happen when your fellow players realise you are not ‘one of them’. Let me dispel a few myths.

The following will (probably) not happen:

  1. Upon entering and saying ‘Bonjour’ and thereby marking yourself out as an Englishman, the room will not erupt into people standing up and pointing at you, mouths gaping open, while emitting a high-pitched scream. This will likewise not then be followed up with them making you fall asleep while a pod makes you turn into one of them.
  2. Upon entering and saying ‘Bonjour’ and thereby marking yourself out as an Englishman, the room will not go deathly silent. The man that was throwing darts at the board will not miss and blame it on you. The barmaid will not refuse to serve you and the locals will not hound you out of the place, telling you to ‘stay on the path’. Furthermore you will not then be attacked by a werewolf, who will eat your friend, and you will not be forced to shower with Jenny Agutter.
  3. Upon entering and saying ‘Bonjour’ and thereby marking yourself out as an Englishman, the locals will not get Britt Ekland to try and seduce you by banging on your bedroom wall in the nude. They will also not then place you inside a giant wicker man and set it on fire, dancing around it while you scream, and thus ensuring the harvest that year is plentiful.

No, all jokes aside the people that I encountered at my first concours de belote (or belote competition) were friendly and welcoming. If somewhat curious at having an ‘outsider’ in their midst.

For the uninitiated belote is a very French card game, played in groups of four with two players on each team. It’s a game that’s as much about luck as skill, like many card games. I’ve written a guide about it on here if I’ve peaked your interest, and I would do one of those linky-things where the text is a different colour and it leads you to the page in question, but I’ve forgotten how to do it. Never mind, I’ll put it in later.

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Yes, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way – belote is popular with a certain age group.

The game itself was broken down into four rounds, with each team playing a different team each round. Our team was composed of myself and my French father-in-law. My partner and my mother-in-law were looking after the kids. I pointed out to my father-in-law (he’s called Guy, I’m going to use that from now on, as typing father-in-law is making my wrist hurt) that it didn’t really matter what position we came in. This was because we were here, without the kids, and so had won the day already.

He did not disagree with me.

We received out team number (25) and milled about while the judges sat on high and decided who we all would be playing against. Once this was decided they chalked the numbers of each team, the number that that team would be playing and the table that they would be sat at on the board, and we were off!

ROUND ONE

We played a very elegant couple of ladies in our first round. They were polite and civil, they looked very glamorous. They wiped the floor with us. Guy looked crestfallen. ‘I have never lost by that much’ he said as he headed outside for a cigarette. ‘I bet he blames me’ I thought to myself. However there was more to these two ladies than met the eye….

 

ROUND TWO

We played a mother and her son for our second round. The mother was so frail and old and had such fine delicate skin that I was sure if I held her up to the light I would be able to see her internal organs. She was a lovely lady and played very well. Her son was equally charming, and very boisterous when he played.  He was, alas, afflicted with very bad halitosis, which meant for every boisterous gesture he made in my direction – and there were many – I got a waft of something that I would politely describe as ‘chemical warfare’. Despite nearly passing out, we won this round comfortably.

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That’s Guy, the one who is dressed in white and is looking at me as if he is thinking ‘Why is this fuckwit taking photos?’

ROUND THREE

Another pair of ladies were out penultimate adversaries, they were a great couple and evidently got along with each other well. I noticed a large moth on the wall at one point during the game and pointed this out to them. They reacted as if a giant moth on the wall was commonplace for them and nothing special. However they seemed to treat me – following the moth comment – as though I was ‘special’ (My partner has often pointed out that for many in my village there is a fine line between the ‘village Englishman’ (me) and the ‘village idiot’ (also me in this example). Oh, I was still laughing at that one a few days later, when I left the iron on one of her shirts a little bit too long. And a skirt.)

We lost – by the narrowest of margins – three points* (alright, so technically one point is the narrowest of margins, but you catch my drift).

 

ROUND FOUR

Things get off to a very bad start as I fail to notice what suit we are playing and look at Guy’s face. Obviously looking at people’s faces is frowned upon, as the lady opposite loses her shit and the following exchange takes place:

Her (snappily) : ‘Can you play quicker?’

Me (snappily) : ‘Can you be a bit more patient?’

Her (snappily) : ‘Do You know that I know your partner?’

Me (nonchalantly) : ‘And so?’

Guy (to her): ‘You know me?’

This bit of frosty banter sets the tone for the game and we do not thaw out until the end. We lose, by a hundred-or-so points, and have a bit of a chit chat. It turns out that the lady opposite wasn’t asking me to be quicker – she thought I was trying to look at Guy’s cards, and so suspected us of cheating (or trying to anyway). In hindsight probably a good thing that I just thought she was telling me to hurry up. She apologises for her earlier error as during the course of the game she realised that we were not cheating. Cheaters get more points than us.

So the game is finished and the judges duly note the scores and tot up all the totals on the board. The results are as follows:

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28th place – Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards would be proud

Some of you may have noticed the letter ‘F’ appearing next to a number of teams. This denotes that the team was all-female. A curious French tradition that, when I query its origins to Guy, he simply replies that it is a ‘curious French tradition’.

We queue up with the others to wait while they receive their prizes, the prize allocation at a concourse de belote generally goes something like this (with flowers included if the players are female, another curious French tradition):

 

1st prize: large piece of meat

2nd prize: slightly smaller piece of meat

3rd prize: slightly smaller piece of meat

 

and so on. Oh and if you come in last place you get the following:

 

Last place: a little bit of meat

 

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This is where you wait to collect your prize – not pictured, large fridges full of meat.

 

We notice that the winning team – 20F – were the ladies that obliterated us in the first round. Something that still smarts for Guy. He gets chatting about them to a chap in front of us while we wait to receive our consolation prize. Turns out they were cheating. ‘They kept touching each other under the table’ he says, looking around in case they hear him ‘With their feet’. I’m about to suggest that maybe they are just ‘good friends’, but then he tells us they did it the week before too and are apparently ‘well known’ for it.

I ask Guy why they don’t just get banned for it, but he doesn’t know. I personally can’t see the point in playing a game and then cheating, it is a hollow victory after all. But then maybe that’s because I’m just not all that fussed about winning a lot of meat. I just enjoy the game.

We collect our prize* and head off into the sunset. I think I’ve done alright, and held my own.

And, due to the fact that he waits for me to get in the car before driving off in it, I think Guy thinks I’ve done alright as well.

 

 

*It’s a bag full of meat

French Bureaucracy: The Board Game!

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I’m going to make a board game based on French bureaucracy. You can choose from exciting categories such as ‘Driving licence’ ‘Bank account application’ ‘Change of address’ and (the choice for extreme players) ‘CPAM application’.

The game will annoy you even before you start to play it. This is because the game’s box will come wrapped in 6 layers of that plastic stuff that they put headphones/cables/Micro SD cards in,  you know that stuff that’s responsible for 30% of all visits to A+E due to self-inflicted knife-injuries.

The only instructions provided will be in Japanese and ancient Mayan. They will also dissolve on contact with oxygen.

All playing pieces will be identical so that nobody knows whereabouts they actually are in the game. Even if they try and remember the board will come with a ‘shake’ feature that rearranges all pieces, at random points during the game.

The game will come with a free six foot by four foot section of brick wall for the participants to punch. And every time you hit it a French voice will say “‘Désolé mais vous avez oublié de signer le bas du formulaire'”

Every third roll of the dice will result in you starting again and having to resend all your original documentation.

There will be a battery-operated phone provided that, when you roll a six twice, you have to use to contact customer services. Nobody ever answers.

In a bid to reflect the way French life runs the board will shut down for two hours every day at 12pm prompt (or 11.48 sometimes). It will then stay closed for two hours and reopen at 2pm prompt (or 2.35 sometimes). It will close quickly but open glacially slowly and making a deep sighing noise as it opens, and then tut at you for ten minutes while you try to remember what you were doing before it closed.

Some people that I have shared my idea with have likened it to Monopoly. I disagreed with them however, as Monopoly only takes 8 months to complete, whereas this game will only end when all participants have died.

It’s going to be a bit like Jumanji but with less rhinos and monkeys and more paper and screaming at walls and pleas of ‘WHY GOD WHY? WHY CAN’T THEY COMMUNICATE WITH EACH OTHER? WHYYYYYYYYY???’. 

There will be no arguments after the game because nobody ever wins. Nobody ever wins because the game can never be finished.

A Death In The Family…

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It’s with great sadness that I write this blog, to commemorate the passing of the fifth member of our family and (sort of) my third ‘child’: Jesse the cat.

He wasn’t with us for long, just over a year in fact. Found originally lost and alone in a small forest, he was given to us by a friend. He soon settled in and became part of the family quickly. My son already had a name picked out for him, in fact he’d had a name picked out for ‘his’ cat for a few years – Jesse.

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Here he is chilling out in one of his favourite positions.

I won’t say it was a smooth introduction between the cat and myself. I at first just saw this creature as something else that I would have to clean up after, and, while there’s no escaping the fact that this was true, he soon won me over.

He would shower me with cuddles and became almost dog-like in his behaviour. Every morning when I would return from dropping the kids and my partner off, at school and work respectively, he would be waiting for me in the kitchen. He would then head towards the kitchen door and wait patiently, but pointedly, for me to open the door so that we could go into the lounge where he could give me his morning cuddle. This could go on for an hour, and would sometimes impact my morning cleaning schedule. But I never complained.

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Relaxing in the sun and admiring the view

He was fabulous with the kids, and they adored him. Although my daughter could love him a bit too aggressively, and he would repay this by taking the occasional bite out of her leg. Or claw her face a bit.

Yes, we always used a lot of plasters when Jesse and my daughter got together.

With my son he was more relaxed, as my son seemed to understand that cats didn’t like being disturbed when they were asleep. And that they really hated having an inflated balloon slapped in their face. Something my daughter, for all her smarts, never grasped.

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Comfortable, content, chilled out and comatose.

The way Jesse played with the kids was another amazing aspect of his character. He would always be with us when we were outside – even trooping along with us to the postbox to collect the mail (hence why I came to look at him as a third child, he would always walk along behind us, bringing up the rear). And would even participate in games of football, actively chasing down the ball and catching it, like a goalkeeper. Something I have never seen in any other cat.

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A position he used to favour when he was young, we dubbed it the ‘sleeping fruit bat cat position’

It was just over a year since Jesse joined us, and we were returning from our holidays, on the way back in the car, when we received the call. He had one of those ear tattoos you see, the ones vets use to identify them with. We knew it wasn’t good news, and as the vet told my partner over the phone what had happened I glanced at her while I drove, seeing the tears shimmering in her eyes, and I knew what was being said. He’d gone venturing one night and hadn’t seen the car coming towards him…and that was that. We were just grateful – as the vet told my partner later – that it was quick, no suffering.

We took the decision to tell the kids immediately, and they cried their eyes out. But, kids being kids, they bounced back soon, and we all participated in building him a memorial garden, as well as planting a flower for him.

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Here he is being a ‘sub miaower’ next to my sub-woofer.

So yes you are gone our friend, off to chase flies and spread your hair everywhere in a better place. We will never forget you, and thank you for bringing so much joy to our lives, even if it was for such a brief period.

All our love, always and forever xxxx

 

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R.I.P ‘Jesse’ 2017 – 2018

Doing Your Bit To Help Out With The Local School 2. The Museum Visit…

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I get asked to help the school chaperone the kids on a visit to the museum in a local town. ‘This will be a doddle’ I think ‘Just walking around with the teacher making sure we don’t lose anyone’. I am of course wrong in thinking this.

The day of the visit arrives. It is beautiful, it is sunny.

Let’s all go inside a stuffy building full of agricultural tools then. So we do.

There are another couple of parents there. ‘Oh good’ I think ‘Safety in numbers and all that’. The other parents start taking the kids off in groups. I realise that the teacher is dividing the kids up into groups of seven and eight. The implications of this are hammered home as I see eight children – my son amongst them – being herded my way.

‘Oh well’ I think ‘It won’t be that hard will it? walking round an old museum full of tools’. The teacher then starts giving out quiz sheets to myself and each child.

I look at the sheet. It is full of strange words – which is nothing new for me as all words at the moment are a bit strange (it is French after all) but these are really strange –  as well as room numbers that correspond to the confusing words.

We head off into the first room. There are tools here that I have never seen before, and whose names I do not know in English. Apparently I am supposed to search in this room for the correct implement as listed by its bizarre name on the quiz sheet, and then take one of the letters from that name, and then do this in every room till we have a full set of letters which we will then have to rearrange to form the name of something else.

‘This is going to be a long morning’ I think to myself.

Coupled with this headache-inducing quiz is the fact that children – funnily enough – do not seem all that interested in looking at 200-year-old farming tools, and so have started acting up.

Have you ever shouted at a child in a museum? How about eight children? I have. I would prefer not to have to do it again. I would have preferred to not have had to do it 36 times, but that’s agricultural museums for you – they bring out the worst in kids.

Realising that this quiz is a non-starter for me and my limited grasp of ancient-agricultural-implements-French, I corner the teacher. ‘I don’t get this’ I tell her ‘I’ve never seen these things in England, let alone France – how do you win this game?’. Evidently you win this game by cheating, because she whispers the answer in my ear.

Then she looks at the expression on my face and writes it down on a piece of paper and hands it to me.

The seven kids (one of them has been removed for constantly disrupting the group, not my son by the way, he’s still stuck to me like glue) and I continue on our way, now mysteriously being able to identify each clue in each room with alarming rapidity.

We do it so quickly that we arrive in the reception room on the ground floor of the museum, where we are met by another parent and her seven wards (‘Why did I get eight?’ I think to myself ‘Teacher mustn’t like me’ I answer myself, pondering if this is the first sign of madness). She looks at me, resignation written large on her face, and then pulls out the timetable. We have finished the quiz with plenty of time to spare. In fact looking at the timetable it appears that we have another hour to wait before we have anything else to do.

I look at the 14 kids milling around a room full of glass cases with farming books inside them, thinking this is going to be a long hour. I look at the other parent, inquiring as to how she got down here so quickly. She pulls out a piece of paper, the teacher’s scrawled answer unmistakable.  ‘Oh well’ I think to myself ‘At least I’m not the only one who isn’t au fait with ancient French agricultural tools’.

A Very Poor Reception – But On The Bright Side My French Is Getting Better…

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There’s nothing worse than rolling up at your holiday location for the week only to find that A) there’s nobody home and B) the number you have for them doesn’t work. These were the unfortunate circumstances we found ourselves in at the start of our recent holiday, and so headed over the road to a lovely hotel/restaurant with commanding views of the local lake, to seek help.

Upon entering I looked around and saw a couple sat down enjoying their late dinner (it was around 2pm). I assumed they were guests and bid them a cheery ‘bonjour!’. They responded, in a slightly nonplussed way, and got up to see what I wanted, frowns creasing their faces.

They weren’t guests. They were the owners.

After digging and probing them for a few minutes they begrudgingly offered up the fact that the owners of the gite we wanted access to lived at the rear of the property, and we should head there.

‘I told you we should have closed that door’ said the manageress to her husband as they stalked back to their dinner. I exited the building – walking past the sign that read ‘Bienvenue, ouvert midi et soir’ – and returned to relay the information to my partner.

Following our successful entry, and much warmer welcome by the couple who ran the gite, we decided to put the earlier experience down as a ‘one off’ and headed back over the road to the hotel. We tried their take-out menu, however we hedged our bets and just bought three portions of chips – nothing fancy, just something to keep us going.

It turned out the chef was also the manager. I discovered this fact because as I waited for the chips to cook I took a stroll around the building and – through the windows –  saw him walking around in the kitchen, gesticulating wildly and swearing to himself loudly in French.

I was glad I’d only ordered three bags of chips, and not the roast chicken too as I was tempted to do. Who knows what his reaction would have been.

After paying for the chips (‘Haven’t you got any change?’ the manageress said to me, after querying my paying of the 4 Euro 50 bill with a ten Euro note) we headed back over and scoffed them down (My partner dismissing my suggestion that ‘We should use a blacklight to check for bodily fluids’ as an overreaction).

Following a suitable rest we headed out to try the pool, something the kids had been harping on about since we arrived. We were shortly joined by the gite owners, who explained that they went for a refreshing swim every day with their guests, as it allowed them to have a chat and get to know them.

I swam down to the far end of the pool, which gave you a view of the hotel across the road and was probably about 15 feet away from it. As I paddled there the topic of conversation amongst us swung around to the owners across the road. I said that it was a shame that such a lovely building was run by a couple who were incredibly unwelcoming, and made you feel like you were an inconvenience to them when you went in. I did wonder if it was just us though, or maybe – more to the point – just me?

The gite owners both shook their heads and told us that it wasn’t just us and went on to inform us of many occasions when guests had been refused service, had been shouted at by the owners and how they had a low occupancy rate (despite the mayor of the village investing 800k Euros in upgrading the hotel in a bid to make it a ‘tourist trap’) solely due to the owners’ attitudes.

‘If they don’t want to run it’ I said ‘Why don’t they just sell it to people that would be happy with it and make it successful? You can tell they hate being there’. The gite owners agreed with me, then towelled themselves dry and headed back inside.

As I paddled back to the rear of the pool and my partner frolicked with the kids I heard a loud chirping noise, and looked over the rear edge of the pool to see the manageress of the hotel glaring up at me from the road.

‘I heard your commentary’ she screeched, before heading off back inside the hotel and slamming the door.

‘Hey’ I said to my partner, a smile spreading across my face ‘She heard my comments, that means she understood me, I guess my French IS getting better’.

‘Fêtes franco-écossaises d’Aubigny’ AKA The Scottish Festival…

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Each year my village celebrates the ‘Auld Alliance’ that exists between Scotland and France. We are the last village in the country to keep this tradition going – I don’t know why the other slackers dropped out, maybe they fell out with Scotland?

So each year hordes of Scottish people (usually around 30, does that constitute a horde?) and various people from across the globe descend on our sleepy village to make a lot of noise to commemorate this historic link. The festival runs for three days and three nights, starting on the Friday and finishing up on the Sunday.

There are a variety of activities that go on – traditional methods of making shoes, tools and armour are displayed. Feats of strength such as caber tossing and wrestling sit alongside sword-fighting and archery displays.

There were even dogs pulling barrels full of booze this year.

I did not ask if the dogs drank any of it, this is France so they probably did though.

I always take loads of pictures, and that’s what this blog will feature. There will be lots of men in kilts, so if you don’t like that I’d stop reading now.

On the plus side though, at least you can’t hear the bagpipes. I could. They are bloody awful things if you ask me.

I kept that to myself though over the course of the festival…

So now you are thinking to yourself ‘Where’s the dog pulling the barrel full of booze? He said there’d be a dog pulling a barrel full of booze, but I didn’t see a dog pulling a barrel full of booze, did you Clive?’ ‘Eh…err, no I didn’t Shirley’.

So just for my imaginary readers Shirley and Clive here is a dog pulling a barrel full of booze:

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Doing Your Bit To Help Out With The Local School 1. The Cycling Safety Course

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I’m trying to integrate into my new community here in la belle France. It’s easier when you’ve got kids as you can talk to the other parents and offer your services at their school. If you don’t have kids and you do that you just seem strange.

 

And when I’m not offering my services my partner is offering my services. Which is why today I found myself escorting a group of four and five-year-olds to the local park, so they could learn about the rules of the road. Except not actually on the road, because that would be madness, no we just set up a few obstacle courses that effectively mimicked things they would need to look out for when they did eventually ‘hit the road’.

 

As an example of what these obstacle courses amounted to I will tell you about the section I was in charge of. I was in charge of the roundabout, or ‘rond point’ as it’s called over here. This meant I had to stand there and make sure they went around it the right way. Which, depending on where you hail from as you read this, may actually be the wrong way for you. It used to be for me, coming from the UK where I went round it the other way. But I’ve adapted and now only occasionally go round it the wrong way. Which is the right way for the UK but the wrong way here. What was I talking about? I’ve forgotten…oh yes, the safety course.

 

So the teachers laid down the rules to the kids before we began, and ensured they knew exactly what they had to do. It boiled down to this:

 

The teachers said:Children, this will help you understand the rules of the road and be better riders. The skills you learn today will set you up for now, and also for later in your life‘.

 

That seems pretty standard and straightforward to me, as it must do to you too. However judging by what I then spent two hours (they asked me to cover two classes, what can I say? I’m stupid) watching I don’t think that’s what the kids heard because…

 

The kids said:This is our chance to get even with the other kids we don’t like! Smash into everybody! Run them off the road! THIS IS NOT SAFETY TRAINING THIS IS A RACE – AND ONE WE ARE GOING TO WIN AT ALL COSTS!!!!’

 

It was like Ben-Hur crossed with Death Race 2000 with a dash of Battle Royale. I felt particularly bad for the kids whose parents had forgotten to bring a bike, and so were relegated to using the school’s tricycles instead. They were slowly squeaking round that park like Danny in ‘The Shining‘. They did not fare well against the rest, and were picked off with ease by the larger predators.

 

My daughter was a keen participant in the ‘race’, I saw her take down two other competitors that weren’t actually competing but were just trying to navigate some bollards. She then discarded her jacket, ostensibly because she was too hot, but I think it was because it made her less efficient, as after that her hit ratio went through the roof. It’s very odd to see such a mad gleam in the eye of someone who is only four-year’s old, and is wearing  a pink Disney’s Frozen safety helmet. I won’t say no next time she asks me for a second story at bedtime, I’ll be too scared to.

 

I got away relatively unscathed in my position at the roundabout. There were only four collisions, and one child who needed to have plasters and cuddles applied. I did have to move out of the way a few times though as some of the kids seemed intent on hurtling into me, as well as their ‘friends’.

 

I’m going on a museum trip next. It’s a museum full of old agricultural implements, you know: scythes and things with points.

 

I need to stop offering my services….

World Cup Mania Starts At A Young Age…

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I teach English to the French kids at my local school on Thursdays.

 

After they’d finished one of their exercises today (colouring the English days of the week on the petals of a flower in the corresponding English colours) they asked me what to do with the centre. I told them they could do what they wanted with it, get creative.

 

As you can see – and as they told me when I asked – some of them are really getting into the World Cup.

 

I found the little heart particularly endearing.