Getting All The Latest Gossip At Maximum Volume…

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So it’s Sunday, it’s miserable and threatening to rain, and so the kids, the missus and I decide to head off to the local fair. It’s organised by our village church and so is full of lots of people of, to be kind, advancing years. I always find that slightly depressing, when you find yourself to be the youngest people there even though you are in your forties.

But at the same time I also enjoy the chance to bask in my youthfulness because, even though I’m in my forties, I’m one of the youngest ones there.

It’s an indoor affair – which is a huge bonus on a day like this – and is held in our local ‘salle de fetes’ or community hall, for the non-French speakers reading this.

When we get there there are a group of line-dancing ladies keeping the crowds entertained with their rather sedate routine (average age of dancers: 76). We wait for a suitable pause and take a seat at a table near the stage where, we are informed, the grand raffle will shortly be held.

The compere for this soon arrives and it’s none other than Madame Dubois, a local character who I know from my English classes and who keeps insisting I call her Celia, and I do. To her face anyway: whenever I’m referring to her to others though I switch back to Madame Dubois.

You know those people who just seem like they will forever be referred to by Mr or Mrs such and such, and to use their Christian name would be sacrilege? Well that’s Madame Dubois, she’s one of those people.

She bustles over to us and says her hellos, steals my children, and then heads off on to the stage. She needs my kids to pick out the winning tickets you see. She also steals my partner, as she needs her to control my kids to in order to facilitate the picking out of the wining tickets.

The raffle kicks off and my kids hand her the winning tickets, alternately taking their place at the giant plastic ball and selecting the green ticket. The prize is then displayed by a glamorous assistant (approximately 82) before Madame Dubois, with the aid of a very powerful microphone calls out the name and number on the winning ticket. This is not the only information she divulges to the crowd (approximately 100-or-so, average age 71) however. She also comments on the current location and well being of the winners, in association with their prize.

It goes a little something like this:

Madame Dubois: ‘Ok what is this, hmmm a toaster and the winning number is 1,257 and the winner is Madame DuChamp. Well that’s no good for her, she’s been in the retirement home for 3 months now, maybe she can give it to her daughter?’

Madame Dubois: ‘And this next one is for a lovely scarf, and it’s been won by Monsieur Lafage with ticket number 245, but I don’t think he’ll be wearing it. Not for long anyway if what his doctor told me is true’.

Madame Dubois: ‘276, 276 for Madam Lafayette, yes, she’s not well she’s been at the retirement home for two years now and she’s a bit lost, so I don’t really think these roller blades will be very good for her’

Madame Dubois: ‘What’s this? Another bloody scarf? OK, stop messing around you two and give me a number. Yes, that one’s 1,035 and it’s for Madame Sedoyer, well she can wear it when she goes to the doctor’s. Again. She’s not well. She’s not well at all’

Madame Dubois: ‘A balloon trip? She won’t be able to get outside, never mind up in a balloon, lost the use of her legs two years ago. And that’s 365, for Madam Kristoff, 365 for Madame Kristoff’

 

I should add that the majority – but not all – of the people Madame Dubois discussed were not actually present in the hall. Or if they were they didn’t hear her – due to deafness of being asleep, it was hard to tell. I am now going to see if Madame Dubois will be the DJ at any future events we may decide to hold, she’s got a definite talent for keeping the crowds entertained.

We didn’t win anything by the way but, judging by the comments, I’m quite pleased about that…

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We Would Have Gotten Away With It Too, If It Wasn’t For You Pesky kids…

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What would we have gotten away with? A pleasant Christmas break,  a pleasant half-term holiday, an enjoyable trip to the swimming pool, an incident-free trip to the park, a shout-free bath time routine, ten seconds of peace, the ability to blink without something going wrong…

Yes, our children are at that wonderful age where they are a complete nightmare.

When they are together.

They are like some kind of horrendous combining Transformer (a Decepticon, to be clear). Mildly threatening when on their own, and a menace to society when they join to create the fearsome Maxi-Whine, or Moanzee – or maybe Greyhair-Makor. I don’t know, I’m not fixed on a name for the monstrosity they become when they ‘play’ together yet.

Play. Ha. Ha ha ha. Sigh.

Scream.

I remember back in the good old days (last year) when we could leave them together and the worst that could happen would perhaps be something got knocked over, or the TV would be turned off, or they would build a fort. Now everything is violence and pain.

I suppose it comes with the increase in body mass = the bigger the kid, the bigger the problem.

And it’s never their fault, always the fault of the other one.

So when you reenter the room you will get some cock-and-bull story from my daughter about how no, it was actually her brother who took off his own glasses and snapped the arm off on one side. Or it was actually my daughter that punched and then kicked herself in the head.

I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get what I mean.

Individually, as a rule, they are quite easy going and manageable. But together, these days, you can mentally set a clock in your head from the time you exit the room to the time it takes them to start fighting/break something/open a door/activate a nuclear weapon silo.

Sometimes I don’t even get out of the room before mayhem is ensuing.

This means that, at the moment, all holidays are a constant battle of maintaining order via separation, and the constant search for newer, better, and pain-free options of how to regain/maintain control. Oh and by pain-free, I mean for us, not them – the only damage they receive is from each other. Can’t say the same for us – especially if we get caught in the midst of the chaos.

I often used to see parents in the park during the day smelling of alcohol – grandparents too – and I mentally despaired that someone could be in that state at such an hour.

I don’t despair so much these days. I empathise. But don’t worry, I won’t be reaching for any alcohol.

Yet.

Because it’s just a phase, isn’t it? That’s what I keep telling myself. It’s just a phase.

Isn’t it?

It’s Just Like Having A Newborn Baby Again…

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I know what you are thinking: ‘Why’s he talking about babies and then going and sticking a picture of a water heater above this sentence, instead of a picture of a baby?‘. Well unfortunately* it’s because I am not actually a parent again, it just feels like I am. This is due to the water heater deciding to give up the ghost, doing it at everyone’s favourite time of year too – just after Christmas, the period that is synonymous with people having loads of money to throw around, especially on large, expensive items.

It’s not completely dead though – it’s just slowly, slowly dying. And this is where the newborn baby part comes in. Take a look at the following photo, a fascinating glimpse at the underneath of my beautiful water heater:

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That big blue box (from here on in I will refer to big blue box as BBX, just to be lazy) is essential – without it I would not be typing this as I would be swimming around in the downstairs of my flooded home. You see the water heater is dripping – this is how we know it’s dying. Well, that and the fact that the boiler man turned up, took one look at it and said ‘It is dead’ and then told us we would have to pay just under a thousand euros to have a new one fitted. No resurrection for the old one, no band aid to apply, she’s dying and that’s that.

Unfortunately her death rattles consist of a constant drip, drip, drip, which means I have to get up and see to her every few hours, to get rid of the water that has collected in BBX.  No matter the hour, day or night, up I get, bleary-eyed and sleepy and do my duty. It’s this that makes it feel like having a new born baby.

It’s just a little bit wetter, and a lot less smelly.

As for the equipment I have to use to sort this out have a look:

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Remember Die Hard With A Vengeance? The scene with the two jugs of water? Exactly like that, except I’m not in the glorious sunshine in New York, I’m squatting down in my bathroom using the measuring jug to empty the water from BBX, and then pouring it into the medium-sized bucket, and then emptying that into the bath. Also Samuel L Jackson lives next-door to me and he comes round and helps me.

OK, part of that is a complete fabrication, but you see what I mean.

This may be one of the most mundane blogs I’ve ever written, but such is my rock and roll life.

I will say one thing though – I’ll take a leaking water heater over an actual new born baby any day of the week.

 

*Unfortunately? Why the hell did I type unfortunately? I’ve seen people with three kids, I’ve heard their screams, their moans of despair, I don’t want that life.

Introducing Dogging To The French…

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As part of my Scottish slang session this week I explained to a group of retired French people what the word ‘Dogging’* meant.

If you don’t know what dogging is then I will explain. It is the act of going to a car park frequented by people who enjoy having sex in their cars while being observed by others. It gets the name ‘dogging’ by the tendency of these observers to use a dog lead – sans the dog – to legitimise their presence there in the case of any unexpected visits from the local police e.g. ‘Honest officer, I wasn’t staring in this car window and masturbating, I was walking my dog. Look, I’ve even got a lead, and as soon as I do up my trousers I will go and find….err…Larry, yes, Larry, that’s definitely the name of my dog‘.

I went into great detail with my students about its origins, its popularity in the UK, as well as the rules that some of the ‘doggers’ employ when they are inside their cars; flashing the lights, dipping the beams etc to signify if they want ‘company’ or not. This was following my explanation of what a ‘boaby**’ is and why one should not ‘chug***’ on public transportation.

By the looks on some of their faces I could tell that this was a new thing for them, and something that many of them found somewhat disgusting. And some of them found hilarious. These looks also told me that it wasn’t prevalent in France.

Well, that and the fact that one of them said: ‘It’s not prevalent in France’.

In my defence I told them that in the previous (Yorkshire slang) session they had asked for Scottish slang to be the focus of our next class, and so only had themselves to blame. I firmly believe that many of them now think that I’m either A) Very thorough, particularly with my mimes of what a dogger is and how they operate, as well as being someone who is prepared to take risks with the content of the ‘coursework’ I give them or B) A pervert.

This firm belief has now been reinforced even more – with a distinct sway towards option ‘B’ – after I was informed by some Scottish friends that the term dogging, in Scotland anyway, actually refers to the far more innocent activity of ‘skiving****’ off school. For those who don’t know what skiving means, it is the act of not going to school when you should, and doing something else that you prefer, unbeknown to your parents.

So as you can see, sometimes using Wikis to source your information is not the most reliable means. That being said, I doubt we would have laughed quite as much if I had used the correct – and much more innocent – term.

I haven’t told them by the way, I figure I will just let them go on thinking it means what I said it does, if I drag it back up now they really will think I’m a pervert. Plus it may lead to some interesting interactions for them if they ever visit any Scottish schools: ‘Headmaster, can you tell me what those boys are in trouble for?’ ‘Why yes madame, they were all caught dogging yesterday!’.

 

*I appreciate the term ‘dogging’ is not unique to Scotland, however it didn’t come up in the Yorkshire slang handout, so perhaps that one needs updating

** A penis

***To masturbate

**** Go on, someone tell me now that skiving does not mean what I said it does, and these days refers to something far more sinister and sexual, it wouldn’t surprise me

Childcare – It’s Cheap As Chips Here…

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Why I love France – reason number 1,028: childcare costs.

The following photographs show the disparity in childcare costs between my new home, France, vs my old home, the UK. The costs in France for a day’s childcare – including meal – are 7 Euros. In the UK you can take that figure and multiply it by a factor of nearly 10. I am not joking about this.

In the UK if you have one child and you pay X amount, and then have another child in the same nursery, you pay X again. Here they adjust the price, so as not to hurt the family wallet too much. So you are already paying a (relative) pittance, and then they add in reduced costs for more children.

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This is one of  the reasons why this blog even exists, I had to give up my job in the UK because, when child number two arrived, I was essentially working for nothing. Can you imagine that? Doing a job that does not fulfil you in any way, only to see all your earnings be swallowed up, just so you can pay someone else to look after your kids, because you can’t look after them due to being too busy working to pay them to look after your kids…

It sounds like absolute madness, doesn’t it? But this is the reality that faces many parents in the UK. This is a stark contrast to France, over here they embrace the family and encourage people to have children and enjoy their lives with them. In the UK it sometimes felt like you were being punished for that greatest of all sins: wanting to have more than one child.

I’m conflicted about my own personal situation, having to quit the ‘rat race’, because on the one hand NOBODY should have to stop working because they cannot afford childcare, but on the other hand it gifted me some incredible times with my children. Times that I may never have experienced otherwise, and these memories will last forever.

Some people are lucky, and so have parents/family that can ‘pick up the slack’ and help out with the kids, and thus ease the burden of childcare costs. We didn’t have that, we didn’t have that ‘support network’, as they call it in the UK. And this is another one of the reasons why we decided to move to France.

This kind of thing is something that parents who are contemplating moving over here really have to factor in to their decision-making, as it is a huge, huge plus. This isn’t even considering the lower costs for other things such as school trips, extra-curricular activities, university etc.

They even adjust the scale in pre-school nurseries to reflect your income, so someone on a lower wage pays a lower rate than that of someone on a higher one.

Yes there are other costs incurred from moving over here but this took a great weight off our family’s financial shoulders and I’d imagine, for many other parents, it would be the same.

Sarcasm In France Is Music To My Ears…

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Many times have I tried to use sarcasm in France. Many times have I failed.

‘Why do you keep doing it?’ my (French) partner has asked me, again and again ‘Just stop. They don’t get it!’ she always adds.

But I still try.

And fail.

So imagine my delight today, upon finishing singing a traditional English carol to the 8-year-old kids in my English class, to receive what was undoubtedly my second* round of sarcastic applause.

This really has reaffirmed my faith that sarcasm is alive and well in France, and is just waiting to be uncovered with the correct prompt.

Oh and if you doubt the veracity of my claim, please feel free to drop round – any time -and I will ‘treat’ you to ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’ in its entirety.

You will then agree that anyone applauding this godawful noise must be doing so sarcastically.

(*First time was for singing ‘What’s New Pussycat?’, Hotel San Eloy 1999, Costa Brava)

Torturing The French 2…

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Just got back in from my Yorkshire/English class and I have to say my group of French students did incredibly well and really jumped in with both feet. Stumbling blocks came when their English – as in ‘proper’ English – met Yorkshire English. They had a hard time with:
 
Yorkshire t’ = English to/the
 
Yorkshire wi’ = English with
 
Yorkshire me = English my
 
I thought Pierre’s head was going to explode when I explained that the ‘g’ in ‘maungy’ wasn’t pronounced the same as it was in ‘mingin”.
 
Fabienne really didn’t like having to say the Yorkshire slang for coal cellar in a sentence: ‘They’re in t’ coil oyle Margaret’.
 
And I fear I have damaged relations between Christine and I after I made her repeat ‘Let’s take a shortcut through t’ snicket’ five times, because she kept saying ‘the snicket’.
 
Yes, it did feel strange correcting people’s English, because it was correct English, but not correct Yorkshire English.
 
Next session we will be finishing this off (we only got up to ‘sup’ before time ran out) and delving into the Scottish dialect.
 
A Yorkshire/Scottish cocktail, what could go wrong?

Torturing The French….

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Every third Tuesday I teach a group of mostly retired, lovely French people, whose only goal is to improve their English.

I asked them the last time for suggestions on what they would like to do at the next class.

‘Tell us about England, about the colour, the life’ they said to me.

‘Speak about where you are from, tell us about Yorkshire’ they asked me.

‘We love hearing all the different ways you say things’ they told me.

‘There are so many regional accents in the UK, it’s really quite wonderful’ they opined.
 
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that, can you say it again but slowly this time please?’ they frequently added.

They may regret their requests when they see what I have in store for them tonight. The handouts I provide aren’t just for reading you see, they are also for reading ALOUD.

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Bonus points will be awarded for correctly pronouncing ‘sithee’ ‘ey up’ and ‘Eh by gum, tis chuffing cawd enuf t’freeze t’balls off a brass bloody monkey aht theer’

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I Was At A Loose End And I Had A Lot Of White Paint So…

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…I decided to do what any normal middle-aged man would do: I painted the inside of one of my dependances and turned it into a ‘chill-out’ area for adults. It’s a literal chill-out zone too – I mean, as in it’s not very warm in there.

For people who don’t know what a dependance is, it’s the French term for outbuildings, so running alongside our house, but not connected to it, we have a garage. Attached to that garage is a separate room that houses the boiler, and this room then connects with the aforementioned dependance that I’ve decorated.

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There’s also another dependance at the very end – again, also connected to the others – but that one’s a bit damp and so I didn’t bother with that. Plus the door is set painfully low, and if I bang my head on it one more time I think I might dust off my sledgehammer and set about it in a rather unpleasant manner.

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As you can see they had a sale on in one of my local paint stores on white Dulux paint. Having a sale on paint in France occurs with roughly the same frequency as winning the lottery. Or finding a French baker open at 12.45pm.

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I spent a fair bit of time on the prep, cleaning it up and getting it ready, but unfortunately neglected to take any ‘before’ pictures, so you will have to use your imagination and picture a grim, grubby, grey box of a room.

My main aim doing this – apart from the previously mentioned relaxation area for adults – was to highlight some of the features that the prior owners had neglected: the wooden beams. I cleaned each beam and then painted between them to really make them ‘pop’ – if beams can do that? I’ve never written anything like this so I don’t know if they can.

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Apart from the paint I used only existing materials with the exception of a few bits and bobs I bought from Aldi, in the reduced section. It seems nobody wanted to buy their ‘nautical-themed’ items, so they had reduced them to clear and shoved them in their ‘shit aisle’ (you know what I’m talking about). I also picked up a couple of coloured bottles and a rather garish pinky-orangy candle-holder/big glass jar thingy (hanging from the ceiling at the end next to the bottles). This was also from Aldi, and I bought it to give a bit of colour to the room and – even though you can’t see it – there is a flamingo on the reverse.

Total expenditure on ‘objets d’art’ (ooh I will pay for using that term) : 22 Euros.

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I also added a bit of blue paint here and there – the door, window frame etc – as I realised that if I painted everything white it would stop looking like a chill-out area for adults, and start looking like a holding-facility for adults with mental-health issues.

I’ve curtained off the other part of this dependance, where the boiler is, as it’s not quite as neat and tidy as this one is – yet. This will be the next part of the ‘project’. For the time being the family refers to this as ‘Monica’s Closet’, which should be familiar to fans of the TV show ‘Friends’, but if you aren’t familiar with that term, it basically means it’s where I’ve shoved all the crap for the time being.

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed the presence of toys in the room. These appeared approximately 25 seconds after I revealed my secret project to my family and explained what it was I had wanted to achieve with it. This is an unfortunate side-effect when you try to create a space to get away from children: they follow you. They have now commandeered our all-new dependance with cries of ‘Thank you daddy’ and ‘Thank you for building us a play-house daddy, can you close the door on you way out, please?’.

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Still I’m not begrudging them stealing our new area, because if they are in there, we can have the actual house all to ourselves.

Win-win, eh?

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.