Friday, 28 December 2012

I'm Sorry ...

... but I have to change my "comments" settings.

I know that the strange letters are not easy to read, but I am suddenly getting a deluge of spam that I am having constantly to moderate and delete, so I'm going back to the system where the strange letters have to be typed into a box in order to block the spammers. I'm doing this very reluctantly, but feel I have no alternative.

My thanks to those of you who comment on my blogs. It's good to know that you are there and that I am not just speaking to myself.  I do enjoy your comments and through them feel I know a little bit about you. But I also recognise that reading the letters in the box is far from easy and all too often what we type does not match up, so I quite understand if those of you who have posted comments in the past feel that you can no longer do so.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Just One More Night

The cottage is practical, and cosy, and warm and it's much more sensible to spend the evening there.  But for one more night the old farmhouse calls.

So we'll light the log fire in the lounge and put match to all the candles nestling in the decorations, switch on the lights for the Christmas tree and those among the greenery around the one-day-to-be  front door. And drink hot spicy borscht; eat cold meat from the largest turkey in France with crunchy left-over potato and brussel sprout rosti (bubble and squeak to you and me); sip a glass or two of Confidentiel wine; tuck into Christmas pud and brandy butter and maybe a chocolate truffle; watch another heart-pounding episode of The Killing.

And celebrate Boxing Day. Just us.

Confidentiel Marmandais Wine
The Killing

Diet Going Well?

Vita and Bertie are on an exclusion diet.

This is because Vita periodically licks one or other of her haunches to the point where her skin is red raw, which means trips to vets for steroids and antibiotics.  We've had the same problem with our other Airedales.  It's probably food intolerance so we're finally trying to get to the bottom of what causes it, hence the diet.  Bertie doesn't need it - typical mongrel, eats anything - but you can't do one dog and not the other.

So for two to three months they have to be on this very expensive special kibble diet based on "hydrolysed protein" - I had to look that one up - which is supposed to be entirely neutral for the dog. Then one by one previous foodstuffs are added back to find out what causes the intolerance.

Christmas Day, we hosted our "French class get-together lunch". We made our old farmhouse festive, cooked the largest turkey in the whole of France and revelled in not having to do everything, as our friends arrived with luscious starters, prepared vegetables and all the trimmings.  It was tough on our exclusion diet dogs - all those delicious cooking smells - so we kept them down in the cottage (much barking and whining) as we humans enjoyed our repast up at the house.

With the departure of our last guests, Tod went down to let out our two pent-up mutts while I cleared up.  I whisked round lifting half-empty bowls of nibbles, opened boxes of chocolates and crumb laden plates above terrier nose height and set about filling the dishwasher.

I did not, however, reckon on the sheer determination of two dogs that have eaten nothing but beige bland biscuit for a  month.  An Airedale tongue hoovered along the edge of the work surface finding meat scraps where five hours earlier one of our guests had expertly carved the turkey.  Nor did I anticipate that a walnut, in a bowl on the middle of the dining room table could be flicked onto the floor and then carried out of sight and crunched through - shell and all - on the hall rug. And I certainly thought that the left-over slices of stollen cake which we'd had for tea were well out out of reach, until I found an Airedale with her mouth full and incriminating crumbs all round her muzzle.

Think we may be back to square one with the exclusion diet.  And by the way, how's yours going through this festive season?

Christmas baubles

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

A Small Success

I took a box of chocolates into the mayor's office to thank them for their help this year and to ask them to sign yet another form from a pension company to prove that I haven't died.  The form asks for someone like a doctor or solicitor to sign, but I reckon the mayor's stamp looks pretty official and seemed to work  last time.  So hopefully the three pounds something per annum that BP sends me around the fifth of April will continue to arrive.

While the secretary was filling in the form we chatted.  She and the mayor wanted to know whether we were here for Christmas.  I told them it was our turn to host Christmas Day lunch for those of us who do French together - twelve of us will be round the table, everyone contributing to the meal.

We joked about my collecting the turkey from the itinerant English butcher on the nineteenth and if the world ends on the twenty-first that will have been a pretty expensive bird! The mayor reflected on the very real challenges for his counterpart in the village of Bugarach facing an invasion of New Age fanatics hoping to be taken off the planet in an alien space craft. Hard to believe that it's not just a joke and that the resources of a small village are likely to be stretched to the limit.  (Mind you, rumour has it that those with board and lodging to offer will be making a tidy penny! A touch of no room at the inn, methinks.)

Nothing in the ten minutes of banter and chat seems like much. Just that even a year ago I wouldn't have done it.  There are times I think I make no progress at all with my French. But even if my vocabulary and grammar don't improve much, my confidence does.  And they graciously seemed to be able to cope with my Franglais.

This is our sixth Christmas here.  It feels good to know I've reached the stage where I can now share a joke with the mayor.

Photo from yesterday's Daily Telegraph

Friday, 7 December 2012

Are We Being Served?

I have a great fondness for Marks & Spencer.

I still remember that leather-look burgundy raincoat, three-quarter length, tightly belted at the waist, turn up the collar, high heeled boots and feel like a million dollars.  No matter that there were three others, all identical, in the same train carriage - it still felt good.  Then there was the floaty button-through navy dress with a wafer-thin jacket. All silk. Pricey, but so much cheaper than anywhere else and heavenly for hot summer nights in London. And oh, when Per Una arrived on the scene and I bought that grey, short, multi-patterned jacket that still has pride of place in my wardrobe and people think I bought it at some chic shop here in France.

It's true that they lost their way for a time and I discovered Next and flirted with Laura Ashley, but M&S was the place I went when I first set up home all those years ago and needed affordable good curtains, decent duvet sets, hard wearing place mats and pretty vases.

And since we moved here, visits back to the UK have always included a trip to M&S to stock up on underwear, socks, T-shirts, perhaps some new swimwear and those cropped jeans the French so love that are much better made and cheaper in Marks.

So I was thrilled when they announced they would be delivering to France.  Oh joy! I could now go online and order what I wanted, with an incredibly reasonable shipping fee. This then, was the year that I would finally replace our aged, thread-bare bed-linen.  I had searched fruitlessly through numerous French retail establishments horrified at the prices and appalled at the designs and quality. The style of French haute couture certainly does not get as far as the towns in south west France.  Marks & Spencer online would answer my prayers.  And they did.  Our guests in the cottage now sleep under the prettiest of blue French toile duvet covers. And given the so-reasonable shipping fee, I bought some extra sheets and pillow cases, just in case.

Naturally, when I realised we needed another duvet set for the big super-king sized bed that's made up of two singles, but you'd never notice as they are well-strapped together and very comfy, I turned to the M&S website and started to fill my "shopping basket".  A snazzy shirt stripe duvet caught my eye and good, it came in super-king size. A couple more sheets, 100% cotton, virtually non-iron, in a luscious teale green, and deep navy also popped into the basket.  So now to check out and fill in my address.  Oh the joy of sitting at my computer clicking on "home delivery" and having it shipped to me here in France.

But what's this?  No France on the list of countries they ship to? Albania's there,  Denmark and Finland. But where France should be it says Hong Kong. How absurd! Must be something wrong! But no.  There in small print at the top: "France, Germany, Mainland Spain, Ireland, Belgium, and Austria now have their own dedicated sites. If you wish to deliver to these countries Find out more"

I click on the link and find I'm on a new site, with an empty shopping basket.  But I've just spent half an hour choosing what I want!  And the French site has a much more limited choice and the sheet sizes are different (because French beds are a different shape) so how do I know whether I'm buying "super king size"?

I rant at Tod. (Poor man!) I slam off a disgruntled post to one of the forums and find that I am not alone in my frustration.  We share suggestions as to what to do.  A facebook campaign has started.  I call M&S head office and speak to a polite young man who listens to my fury and murmurs he will tell his international colleagues. I receive a cheerful email telling me this is being done for "my convenience"!  I try phoning to place my order, but the staff are adamant I MUST use the French website. But the French Marks & Spencer website doesn't have what I want and you do!

I'm saddened.  It's true I can buy my bed linen online from elsewhere. 

But, I care about Marks & Spencer and right now I feel they don't care about me.  Seemingly, they don't care that they are losing my business because they are forcing me to use a website that is poorly stocked; with sizes that don't meet my needs and a different layout, so I struggle to find my way around..

And sadly, they don't seem to realise that in this increasingly joined-up world, even a retired woman of mature years sitting in deepest rural France expects, at the click of a computer mouse, to have the freedom and choice to buy from anywhere in the world and not to be told by a marketing manager in Head Office what she can and cannot do. 

Are those of us who live in France and still love to buy from M&S being well served?  I think not!

1976 cast of "Are You Being Served?"