Thursday, March 27, 2008


There was a strange pair of underpants on the kitchen table this morning. Strange, because they looked size M, and BB wears XXL BHS's (Big Homer Simpson's).

Oh oh.

And then I remembered.

There we were, eating a healthy salade cauchoise and planning where we were going to go snowshoe-ing in the afternoon, when our English friend Mr Katie Bear and his Canadian pal, Clinton-Baker, turned up. In case you think we live in the costa del neige of the Alps - we don't. We're the only Brits here en permanence but Mr and Mrs K. Bear have a maison secondaire and come out during the school holidays (they're both teachers).

One bottle of pastis (the boys) and half a bottle of white wine (moi) later and the Canadian thought it would be a good idea to go swimming in the trout stream at the bottom of our garden (there's always one isn't there?).

So off we went, through a foot of snow, to watch a grown man flailing around in three feet of icy water in his pants. As he was emerging from the stream, Ursula Andress-style (but fatter ... and hairier .... and onto snow - so nothing like that scene really) six rider-less horses ran past. It was a surreal Twin Peaks moment and I don't know who was more startled - the horses or the Canadian.

Anyway, he must have removed his pants to dry, and that's how I found them sitting upright on the table, like a cardboard cut-out, when I came down for breakfast.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


We went skiing with our neighbour M. Toupie and his friends from the city yesterday and were invited to join them later chez Toupie for a raclette.

I always feel like the country mouse going to visit the town mice when we go for dinner there. Their friends are always immaculately groomed and wearing fabulous clothes and jewels. Our farmer friend, Mini-B, wears a sweatshirt with the caption "summer, joyfully plush" above a picture of a couple ice-skating (?) and that's considered stylish round here. No-one bothers what you look like, which is very liberating - until I'm in the company of M. Toupie's friends.

I was wearing a pair of jeans with a rip in the knee and when we arrived they all asked if I'd fallen coming up the road - as if it was inconceivable that I would deliberately leave the house dressed like that. I felt so conspicuous that I took my jumper off and put it over my knee only to realise, too late, that I had a piece of dried tomato stuck to the front of my T-shirt. Everyone speaking to me just focused on the tomato. It was so embarrassing.

Ironically, on the way home from Toupies, BB slipped and fell on the ice and ripped his jeans.

Friday, March 21, 2008

loadsa snow

There's nearly a foot of snow outside - one of the biggest dumps I've seen since we came here. On election day in March 1971 there was more than three feet and that was the norm in winter here before then. It should be fantastic skiing tomorrow.

It was indirectly through skiing that BB and I met. He was on a skiing holiday in Courchevel where I was working as an assistant chef in a chalet (previous experience cooking for large numbers grossly exaggerated on my application form which in reality amounted to cooking a sausage sizzle for a halloween party, described by one guest as "like eating used surgical swabs").

He was sitting at the bar in my local one night when I arrived with my chalet guests. I ordered a round from the French barman, who came back with only half the drinks. BB turned to me, all smarmy, and said, "I'll sort it out" and I waited to be impressed by his fluent French. Instead, he said, in English, "Oi mate! Another six pints over 'ere seel voo play." Classy!

We've had a power cut for over an hour now (a frequent occurrence here), so unable to amuse himself with his computer or his power tools, BB decided to go out but couldn't get the car up the road due to the snow. We're stuck here until the commune worker arrives with the snowplough.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

dinner party from hell

We were invited round to our neighbours for a fondue last night - a sober, uneventful evening we predicted, especially as they're both retired - but it turned into the dinner party from hell.

Our host had made a jug of punch for apéros, containing (we were informed later) a bottle of dark rum and half a bottle of bacardi, and by the time it was finished, all six of us were laughing hysterically, skirts were inching up (the old dears' anyway) and shirt buttons were being loosened from the flush of inebriation and the heat of the wood-burning stove.

After drinks, we weaved our way to the kitchen table, where I was directed to sit between my hosts on a very narrow bench against the wall, which only just allowed me to park my buttocks. A shelf sticking out three inches at neck height behind me meant that I had to bend forward over the table to keep my butt on the seat.

When I thought things couldn't get any worse, Madame appeared with a pan of oil (it was a meat, not a cheese fondue) which she balanced precariously on a tripod over a bunsen burner right in front of me. It was like being in a badly written French farce. There I was, surrounded by drunks waving fondue prongs, leaning into a vat of burning oil with nowhere to run. The next 40 minutes passed in a blur as I tried not to think about the consequences.

I may be in therapy for some time!

Here's my recipe for cheese fondue, which is much safer.

Serves 4
1 clove garlic, halved
8 oz/225 g grated emmental cheese
8 oz/225 g grated gruyère cheese
1/2 pint/290 ml white wine
1 tbsp kirsch
bite-sized pieces of bread for dipping (see Top Tip No 2 below)

1. Rub the inside of your fondue pot with the clove of garlic. Add the wine and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and gradually stir in the cheese until melted.

2. Add the kirsch.

3. Dip the bread into the fondue using a fork or fondue prong.

Top Tip No 1
Always make sure, when seated, that you have at least one clear exit route.

Top Tip No 2
Use small pieces of bread otherwise you'll end up with a giant cheesy rubber-band in your mouth and you'll choke.

Top Tip No 3
When the cheese is finished, add a raw egg. It cleans the pot and makes very tasty scrambled egg.

Monday, March 17, 2008

two blind mice

I phoned Dad tonight to tell him about my blog. I said I would email him the url, but because he's a bit of a technophobe (he's only just mastered email) and I'm rubbish at giving instructions, things got a bit tricky after that. Mum's the computer whizz chez eux, but she's on holiday (frittering away our inheritance) so it was a case of the blind leading the blind:

Me: You have to highlight the address with your mouse, then right click, click on copy and then ....

Dad: What mouse?

Me: You know - the thingy attached to the side of the computer by a bit of string.

Dad: Hang on. I'm going to have to write this down.

Me: Then you have to right click on copy and open your web browser.

Dad: Where's that?

Me: On your desktop. You know - the 'e' for internet.

Dad: Eh?

Me: Look at your desktop and there's a big 'e' thingy. Can you see it?

Dad: I'm looking at the desktop but all I can see are some post-its and my marmite sandwich.

Me: No, on the PC ..... maybe you should wait until Mum gets back?

After I hung up, BB, who had been listening to the whole conversation, looked up from the instructions for his new tilting arbor spindle moulder (try saying that when you've had a couple of beers) and said: "why didn't you just tell him to click on the link in the email?"


Sunday, March 16, 2008

it’s all over

We've been away visiting friends in Switzerland for the past couple of days, so imagine my surprise when we went to the mairie to vote today to see that M. Chèvre was standing again. I thought that was a bit sneaky (although that wasn't how we phrased it when we saw his listes on the table!).

Half the village turned out again to hear the results at 6.00 pm and because we only had two votes this week and seven candidates, it was all over in about 40 minutes. Result: Mme. De Ville and the other first lister received the most votes and were therefore elected. M. Chèvre was third and BB was fifth (only seven votes behind 4th place). So Mme. De Ville is now mayor (although only 40% of the village voted for her).

I'm slightly disappointed that BB didn't get in, but judging by the number of people who voted for him, we have been accepted into this small community where, if you were born two miles away, you're regarded as a foreigner.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

ultra-thin kerf crosscut blade

Instead of the gulping and scratching this morning, BB sat upright in bed and said, "How much do you want to know about the ultra-thin kerf crosscut blade? Do you want anti-kickback, sound-deadening cut-outs or should you be concerned about thermal expansion or excessive wear? What bevel angle do you go for? That's what I can't decide."

What does a girl have to do to get some sleep round here!

With the elections nearly over, BB must now focus his attention on rebuilding the mill next-door (hence his ruminations on circular saws). He has already converted two ateliers (workshops) on the property into a house, and this year work starts on the main building. Which, for me, means months and months of "can you come and hold this for me?"

On the subject of circular saws: we were recently witnesses at the civil wedding of friends of ours in another village, where the mayor conducting the ceremony (who runs a sawmill) had just had his hand sewn back on after picking up a (still spinning) circular saw!

You can tell who the sawmill workers are round here because they have to take off their socks and shoes to count up to 10.

Memo to me: take out extra health insurance.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Our neighbour, M. Toupie, came round late last night to tell us that Mme. De Ville and the other un-elected member of the first liste are standing in the second round and that Mme. De Ville is still the mayoral candidate. M. Toupie (one of the nine elected on Sunday) had just been to a meeting to decide this, so was able to give us this information hot off the press.

M. Boule De Billard and M. Chèvre are standing again, as are two of the original candidates on the second liste, so BB is also going to stand. If only two people had been standing in opposition to the first liste it would have been two against two and BB would have withdrawn to give the opposition a chance. As there are more than two, he may as well stand.

His campaign suffered a set-back this morning when I resigned as manager. He has a very irritating habit of lying awake in bed in the mornings gulping air and scratching himself like a baboon so that I can't get back to sleep. He'll take a deep breath, hold it in for about 10 seconds and then exhale loudly. I find myself counting down to the next exhalation until I'm wide awake and have to get up. I got so annoyed that I told him he could run his own flipping campaign!

Later, he left the house to deliver his new voting leaflets to the masses and returned at lunch-time with the news that M. Chèvre has now withdrawn. He doesn't see any point if it's five against two. Tant mieux! BB may now be in with a chance.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


M. Chèvre came round last night, ostensibly to discuss the results of the election, but it soon became apparent that the real purpose of his visit was to persuade BB to withdraw from the second round.

His objective now is to stop the head of the first liste , Mme. De Ville, from getting in and becoming mayor. She was the deputy in the last administration and is unpopular with a lot of people because she doesn’t live here (she has a maison secondaire and is therefore entitled to vote and stand in the local elections).

M. Chèvre was 12th on Sunday (after the 11 candidates on the first liste) with 80 votes (Mme. De Ville received 102), so his theory is that the fewer people who stand in opposition to Mme. De Ville, the greater chance there is of him and not her being elected. BB now has to decide if he will stand again or not. It will depend on whether Mme. De Ville is still the mayoral candidate or not and how many are standing against her.

Monday, March 10, 2008

round two

I fear for BB’s liver because it’s gone to a second vote, so potentially another week of canvassing!
We arrived at the mairie last night, where it was standing room only, to hear the results. More than half the village had turned up to listen as the mayor read out each name voted for. This took over two and a half hours. The result: only nine people received over 50% of the votes so there will be another ballot next Sunday to elect the remaining two. The nine elected were all from the first liste, but one of the two not elected from that liste was the head – the one who was up for mayor.

BB received a respectable number of votes – more than nearly everyone on the second liste but was behind the other indépendants, but not by much. They either think he’s a good bloke or a lot of people in the village want an airport.

There was a 90% turnout and five people who weren't candidates received one vote each. Apparently, if a non-candidate gets more than 50% of the votes, he becomes a Council member whether he wants to or not. I'm not quite sure how that works in practice.

Now we have to re-think our campaign strategy. I have to go out and get some feedback and have my report on BB’s desk by 9 o’clock tomorrow morning.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


We went to the mairie at 8.00 this morning to vote. BB asked me to change out of my PETA T-shirt before we left because he said it would affect the voting, living as we do in a farming community. They're not exactly in Brigitte Bardot's corner when it comes to the treatment of animals round here. I objected but reckoned I'd better show some solidarity (reluctantly).

Although it's the first time I've voted in France I wasn't quite prepared for such rigorous protocol.

After handing over your voting card you were given an envelope. You then had to go into a booth called an isoloir (like a photo booth) one at a time, with the listes, cross out the names of the people you weren't voting for and put the listes in the envelope.

You then handed over the envelope to a man standing in front of a glass box with a lever on the side. Before placing the envelope in the box he pulled the lever, which made a sound like a cash register opening, and shouted "a voté" after dropping it in. Then you had to sign the voting register in front of the mayor.

BB tried to by-pass step two (entering the isoloir ) by putting his listes (which he had pre-prepared - which is allowed) straight into the envelope and handing it over to the bloke with the box. Well - you'd have thought he'd been caught ballot rigging judging by the reaction. He was ordered by an angry mayor to do it properly and to go into the booth and come out again with the envelope. The fact that he entered and exited straight away didn't matter - as long as he entered the booth.

It's a good job they don't know that he was canvassing yesterday (Saturday). Apparently (we found out today) it's against the law to canvass after midnight on the last Friday before an election. It's probably punishable by death.

Now we wait for the results.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

action man

I had to throw the duvet off the bed to get BB up and out canvassing this morning. You have to be tough to be a campaign manager. When I asked him if his mother had to do the same thing to get him up when he was a boy he said yes and that he would lie in sub-zero temperatures rather than go and retrieve it. It was, he told me, a battle of wills and he couldn’t be seen to be giving in. That was when he was 7! At the same age he was using his mum’s sewing machine to make jeep soft-tops and sleeping bags for his action man.

M. Boule De Billard weaved past on his bicycle this afternoon, obviously out on the campaign/pastis trail judging by his riding skills.

Friday, March 7, 2008

how it works

There's a late runner in the elections, we found out last night. M. Chèvre is now standing as an indépendant. Just to explain how it works:

Normally, 11 people get together and present themselves as candidates for the Conseil Municipal or parish Council. This liste comprises some incumbent members of the Council and as such represents a continuation of the last administration. The head of the liste is usually the person chosen by them to be mayor. In many small communes this is very often the only liste. I'll call it the first liste.

Here, however, the last administration has been criticised for not being democratic or open. The plan local d'urbansime (PLU), which decides what land is constructable, was passed by the committe with the minimum legal consultation and would appear to favour certain families. Many people have a grievance with this, so this year, in addition to the first liste there is also another liste of 11 (the second liste) plus three indépendants - M. Chèvre, BB and our pal M. Boule De Billard. You can have any number of people on a liste up to 11 and you can also vote for anyone in the commune - even if they aren't on a liste - by adding their name to a liste when you vote.

On Sunday the first 11 people to get more than 50% of the votes will be elected and those 11 will then decide which of their number will be mayor. These 11 people, including the mayor, make up the Conseil Municipal.

If less than 11 people get 50% of the votes (as is likely), it goes to another vote the following Sunday to choose the remaining number in a 'first past the post' ballot. The disadvantage of standing as an indépendant is that there is a tendency for some people to vote for a whole liste. The advantage is that if someone doesn't like an individual on a liste, they will probably vote for an indépendant to make up the 11.

BB thinks he won another two votes from today's canvassing – surprisingly from one of the members on the second liste and his wife. There's an unwritten rule that everyone on the liste votes for their liste but M. Rollet has promised to vote for BB if BB promises not to vote for him. At 83, he says he's too old and is only standing to make up the numbers.

Elsewhere in the canton, the police have been called out on half a dozen occasions now to deal with violence between opposing candidates. They really take their politics seriously here.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


The local elections take place on Sunday - the first since we arrived in 2002 - and I have received my carte électorale which makes me feel very French. As Europeans who haven't taken French citizenship, we are only eligible to vote in the municipales or village elections and not the bigger cantonales.

The incumbent mayor is retiring after 13 years and a record number of people are standing on Sunday, including BB.

As BB's campaign manager (and the woman who has to wake up smelling his breath in the morning!) all I can say is I'm glad he's not running a lengthy US presidency-style campaign since canvassing here seems to involve drinking a lot of pastis. It's rude not to accept an alcoholic beverage when offered, he tells me, which can be at any time of the day - even first thing in the morning.

In case you think BB's a political animal, the only reason he's standing is to get out of building a shed for a little old lady who doesn't have planning permission. If he's on the Council, he reasoned, he can't do anything illegal. He doesn't appear to have weighed up the long-term implications: building shed = two days; Council member = six years.

So far this week his daily (highly strategic) campaign has run something like this:

09.00 - lies in bed shouting "rosbif pour maire" and reading out bits from his imaginary manifesto such as "when I'm mayor I'm going to ban the wearing of hats in cars".

10.00 - leaves the house to canvass.

12.30 - returns home drunk and eats lunch.

13.00 - retires to bed to sleep off morning's activities.

16.00 - leaves the house to canvass.

20.00 - returns home drunk and goes to bed.

Repeat for the following day.

Someone asked him today what he proposed to do for the commune if he was elected. He was unprepared for such direct questions, thinking that drinking pastis and talking about goats would suffice, so he blurted out, "number one, eh, an airport (NB: commune population 219) and number two, a buvette (bar)". Strewth!