Introducing French Mole Rugby League…

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I thought I would draw attention to a little-known and underappreciated sport in my new country – French Mole Rugby League. I took a few photographs of a match currently being played on a pitch local to me today, in order to show people what they are missing.

As you can see in the first photograph the home team – Jasper’s Jets – are playing fantastically well. Their prop-forward – Bob ‘The Burrower’ Brown – is just about to make a pass and has achieved a remarkable distance in what is a new record time for the sport of mole rugby-league (7 weeks).

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On the other end of the pitch it’s a different story altogether. The visitors – The Taupe Terrors – are looking distinctly disorganised as they have yet to even get started, and some may argue that they appear to be moving backwards.

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Further adding to their embarrassment is the fact that their star player – Dave ‘The Digger’ Dawkins – has been sidelined for the second time in as many matches after he was caught smuggling illegal, performance-enhancing equipment under the pitch (a trowel).

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Rules are strict on this kind of behaviour and could see him hit with a two-match suspension, meaning he may not see the light of day till 2025, and his sponsors (Moleborough) may put an end to his lucrative advertising deal.

The tension is truly mounting here and for more on this up and coming sport tune back in the same time next year for the half-time update.

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How Many Pieces of Lego Have You Hoovered Up?

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I believe I broke through the £300 barrier today – that’s the approximate value of Lego I have hoovered up.

In days gone by I would bend down and pick them up, but then I discovered that ‘accidentally’ hoovering them up was easier. I also realised I was fighting a losing battle, as for every 1 piece I picked up my kids would drop 6 more.

I draw the line at figures (complete figures only, heads still go up the tube) and pieces in excess of 10cm, but everything else is fair game.

They get everywhere. I guarantee that if you look under any parent’s sofa it will look like a Lego-battleground; heads, wheels, arms, blocks, lights, tools, legs, those pointy corner bits – they’re all under there. I recommend the narrow attachment for this. Another tip – if you can’t quite reach them all under there, and you have a rug – drop it at one side of the sofa and the resulting breeze will blow the parts towards you – as well as all the dust-bunnies.

The kids might not be happy, but at least when I go for a pee at 4 a.m I don’t wake the house up with my cries of anguish after stepping on Lisa Simpson’s Lego-head.

Cost-effective? No.

Easier life? Oh yes.

The Honesty Of Kids…

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Teaching English today.

Little girl looks at me quizzically.

‘You talk English?’ she says, sat in my English class, blinking her eyes in confusion.

‘Yes, because I am English’ I reply.

‘But you talk French too’ she continues (blink, blink).

‘Yes, but I speak better English than I do French’ I counter.

(Blink, blink) ‘But you speak French well’ she says, making my day.

‘Thanks, I try my best’ I reply, feeling quite pleased with myself.

‘But not too well’ she adds (blink, blink).

I don’t think there’s anything quite as honest as a 7 year-old child.

I Don’t Care What Time Of Day It Is, I Hate Clowns….

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They all bloat down here…especially if they have TWO Big Macs

We go to McDonald’s now and again. I might have mentioned it. People will frown about that. They will say things like ‘Consumerism’ ‘Frankenstein food’ and ‘I hate McDonald’s’. And to them I say ‘Yes, but have you tried the bacon double cheeseburger?’.

Now I have the kids full time on a Wednesday (thanks to French president Mr Macron, and I really do mean that) we often head there, especially if it’s raining.

It was raining on this grey and miserable Wednesday, so guess where we ended up?

Our trip to McDonald’s today was made more memorable as we were ‘entertained’ by the real-life, in the flesh, French Ronald McDonald, walking around saying bonjour, cava etc.

In case you didn’t notice the picture at the top of the page, he looked liked this:

Note suspicious glare from kid in bottom right of pic

He was walking around chatting away, smiling/grimacing at and cuddling people, with a balloon person accompanying him, making balloon animals for the kids, as if this would in some way alleviate the sheer terror that his form brought out in them and the adults as well. Especially adults like me.

It’s broad daylight, in a busy restaurant, yet this clown, squeaking around in his big red shoes, has got me quaking in mine. I hate clowns, yet have a perverse fascination with them, and have watched every horror film featuring them.

Some of the kids lapped it up, but some reacted like me and so there were plenty of scenes like this one:

I can say, with hand on heart, that he was at least 200% more sinister than the already-creepy-as-fuck UK ones that I used to see from time to time. I can also say that I have never seen my daughter turn away from something as quickly as she did when he approached our table today and tried to engage her in conversation, she was having none of him, his red shoes, his balloon animals or his ghastly painted face.

It was a pity, as the kids really did want one of the balloon animals – my son specified a dog, any colour but pink – but they were not prepared to endure having this painted creature interacting with them in order to get one.

He left half-way through our meal, probably had other venues to terrorise. We did not mourn his passing, and are not looking forward to him being there again.

Shame about the balloon animals though.

The Fog Of Awwwwww…

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I’m taking a gamble today trying the kids out at a new place. Always a risky choice with kids, deviating from the norm. Plus I wasn’t sure if the village I’d decided to visit had a park. I knew what would happen if I didn’t find one. That would be all I would hear about for a week. I saw promising signs on the way into the village, and pulled up at the local lake. Parks and lakes go together like fish and chips, right?

The kids were not initially impressed by my risky gamble…

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Me: ‘Look at this, what a great view, all that fog’

Him: ‘It’s all white daddy, look! Everything is white!’

Me: ‘Yes, this is a reaction caused by the cold weather’

Him: (a rare moment of parental concern) ‘Will you be warm enough daddy? You don’t have a thick coat like us on, yours is thin, you might be too cold’

Me: (tear rolls gently down face and almost freezes on cheek) ‘It’s OK son, I’ll be fine, thanks for asking though’

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Her: ‘Awwww….there’s no park here’

Me: ‘Yes, but there might be one on the other side, and look at all this fog, doesn’t it look great?’

Her: Blows air out of her mouth and makes a negative ‘Pfffffft’ noise that you would  expect to hear from someone in their forties. This ‘Pfffffft’ effortlessly conveys and encapsulates her disappointment with the location, the scenery, the weather and me.

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Me: (Looking up at the chateaux shrouded in fog and pointing it out to the kids) ‘What a great castle eh? Look at the height of the walls, I bet this was a good place to defend and look (pointing at ditch that runs along the base of the wall) I bet there was a moat here once too, what do you think?’

Her: ‘There’s no park here’

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Him: ‘What’s that daddy?’

Me: ‘It’s where we put naughty kids’

Him: ‘Can you open it?’

Me: ‘No’

Him: ‘Ha, ha! Daddy can’t put us in there, he doesn’t have any keys. Ha, ha!’

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Him: ‘Why are you taking pictures of a toilet? Why daddy? Why?’

Me: ‘It’s just in such a great location, look at it, surrounded by all the trees and leaves’

Him: ‘Weecee, it’s a Weecee’

Me: ‘No, it’s a ‘WC’

Him: ‘What’s that mean’

Me: ‘I don’t know’ (I’ve remembered now, without the aid of Wikipedia, and I think it means ‘Water Closet’)

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Me: ‘Come on, I’ll take a picture of you both under this little house’

Her: ‘There’s no park here’

Me: ‘There’ll be one round here I’m sure. Now why don’t you both get under the house for a nice photo for mummy?’

Him: ‘No, I want to hug a tree instead’ (Hugs tree)

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Her: ‘Weeee! A park!’

Him: (disappears in a puff of air and reappears on the see-saw)

Me: (thinking: ‘Everything looks wet – where are the swings?’)

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Me: (Now bored of the park – quickly done) ‘Let’s have a look over here kids, I think I can see something’

Both: ‘What is it?’

Me: ‘I think it’s….

Me: ….another toilet! And look, it’s got a little heart-shaped hole, how romantic’

Him: ‘I am getting really annoyed at you daddy, why do you keep taking pictures of toilets? Stop taking pictures of toilets daddy!’

After venturing inside and using the ‘facilities’

Me: ‘Why is the lock on the outside? How strange…and a little bit worrying’

Her: ‘Can we go back to the park now?’

Me: ‘Let’s have a look over here, I think I can hear something, can you hear the water?’

Both: ‘Yes!’

Me: ‘Maybe it’s a waterfall?’

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It’s NOT a waterfall….

Me: ‘Well, it’s not a waterfall, but it’s close’

Her: ‘No it isn’t’

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Me: ‘Let me take a picture of you in front of the foggy lake, and promise not to stick your tongue out’

Him: ‘OK daddy, I promise’

Me: (takes photo knowing exactly what will happen)

Him: (is seven-year-old boy, therefore sticks tongue out anyway)

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Both: ‘What’s that daddy?’

Me: ‘It’s a little island, do you want to live on it for a couple of weeks and give me and your mum some peace?’

Him: ‘No!’

Her: (launches a series of physical attacks upon my person, primarily focused on the groin-area)

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Him: ‘What are you doing daddy?’

Me: ‘Just taking a nice photo’

Him: ‘Shall we play a game? It’s where the first person to speak loses, so everybody has to be quiet’

Me: (nodding so eagerly that I develop neck ache later in the day) ‘Yes that sounds like a good game’

 

This is now my favourite game and one that is unfortunately short-lived, but lasts just long enough too get us back to the car, whereupon it’s business as usual and I drive home with what appears to the casual observer  – and sounds exactly like – two wild animals in the back of the car.

It could have been worse though.

At least there was a park eh?

Excerpts From The Front Line…

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I’ve started teaching* English in my village to a group of French retirees. The lady who usually does it is the town-planner, so she’s often called into meetings, and for this reason my services were offered – not by me, but by one of her students – so I now take on her duties once every three weeks. Tuesday night was my first time in charge, here are a few excerpts from that evening.

 

I asked the group to tell me something they had done that week that they didn’t like. Three people said the same thing:

Denis: ‘I had to make some jam, but I didn’t like it’

Michelle: ‘I made jam, but I didn’t like doing it’

Francoise: ‘I made jam, 50 pots, but I didn’t like it’

Me: ‘Do you sell this jam?’

All: ‘No’

Me: ‘If you don’t like doing it, why don’t you just stop?’

All: ‘But the fruit will go bad’

Me: ‘So give the fruit to the animals, or people’

All: *blank stares*

 

On my teaching methods

‘Can you talk slower’

‘I can’t understand you, can you talk slower’

After saying a lengthy passage of text out loud

‘Can you write that on the board?’ (I do)

‘What is that? Is that a Russian character?’ (I’ve written my ‘h’s with a sloping bridge)

‘You keep dropping your ‘t’s, pronounce your ‘t’s’

‘Has he started talking slower?’

 

On my accent

Francoise: ‘Is he American? Are you American?’

Me: ‘No I’m from Yorkshire’

Francoise (frowning, turning to her friend Martine): ‘Is he American?’

Martine: ‘No, he’s from Yorkshire’

Francoise: ‘Oh yes, like the dogs, Yorkshire Terriers’

 

Apropos of nothing

Christine: ‘We had to get a new ram. It was having too much sex with the other sheep and would have messed up the gene pool. We bought another one’

On being asked what she did with the old one

Christine: ‘We killed it and ate it. Well, not all of it, most of it is in the freezer’

 

That’s just a snippet of the many things that were said that night. I loved doing it. Hopefully they did too. Can’t wait for the next class.

 

*The term teaching is used here in its loosest possible sense

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.

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