Thursday, May 31, 2007
It's been even worse this week because the car's been at the garage, and many of us (including me) haven't been off-site since the weekend. People are going insane! Luckily next week it's back so it'll definitely be a shopping expedition tomorrow afternoon (I can spend my 15€ tip my happy group gave me, woohoo) and on Saturday there's a party at this French guy's house we'll probably all go to, excellente.
Adding to tensions this week has been the visit of our boss's boss, which has meant extra cleaning duties all round and the need to be on our bestest behaviour at all times. On the plus side, we've been getting actual cooked lunches instead of the usual selecta-sandwich stylies, in a bid to pretend that we're nourished by a varied diet instead of a "today's Monday - spag bol, today's Tuesday - 'chicken and grease'" never-ending revolving 'dish of the day' style menu.
However, I have news! Despite the bleak picture painted above, I'm actually loving it here on the whole, and I've just signed up to stay another month. So I'll be leaving the chateau now on Sunday, 12th August, returning to London for the night, and flying back home on Monday, 13th August. So any little bunnies in NZ can expect me, very tired and grumpy, back home on Wednesday, 15th August. Don't know how long I'll be back, I'm thinking a month and then back to Poland, with a tentative stopover in Barcelona if Scotty's landed there by then.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Looking out over the land
Flags fluttering in the breeze in front of the memorial - it's damn hard to get them fluttering appropriately I tells you!
Yesterday it was up and out to a cheese farm, to discover the intricacies of cheese making. I swear, by the time I've finished this job I WILL know how every product of northern France is manufactured. I wish this blog came with smellovision, so you could experience hundreds of strong stinky French cheeses trapped in a small, dank underground cave - quite an experience. I was hugely impressed with myself during this visit, as the kids had to split into two groups, one with their French teacher translating the spiel about cheese, one (poor unfortunates) with me translating. And if I do say so myself, I was positively on fire. It was, I admit, fortunate that the farm worker knew the English for 'rennet', 'curds' and 'whey' because I barely know what those things are in English, let alone French. After the tour of the cellar, the cheese making facilities (do you know they milk in the morning and the cheese is formed within three hours? So fast!) and the barn, it was time for a gourmet three course lunch, gratuit of course. Cheese tart like thing, chicken and then a weird but quite nice cross between a cheesecake and a custard slice for dessert. And tastings of the farm's cheese - strong, but good. And unpasteurised, so if I'm struck down with whatever strikes down people who eat unpasteurised stuff (Dad?) you'll know who's responsible. Oh, and also for Dad's information, we were about 20 mins from Agincourt - or Azincourt as it is these days.
After the cheese farm, it was across to the coast to visit Bagatelle theme park. Again, not bad getting paid to visit a fun park, especially since I didn't even have to stick with the kiddies. I went on a few rides, but I guess fun parks aren't quite the same over the age of... say, 15. I was freaked out of going on the rollercoaster by some manic French guy who got right in my face and tried to get me to accompany him on the ride (they were of the sort where two people had to occupy one car, with the back one's legs around the front one - think Rainbows End log flume - which is something like Tch'Plou! in French hee hee). When I said I didn't understand him, his response was not to speak slower or louder or anything of the sort, but merely to begin mouthing the words in French and making hand gestures. Since when is mouthing considered an appropriate cross-cultural-communication technique, psycho? Anyway, then I played with some goats (naughty goat tried to eat my jacket) and then forgot and had a waffle without washing my hands, d'oh! Behind me in the waffle line were the most obnoxious loud English speakers, I swear to god. On the menu: 'Formule le Big Cheese Burger' - "it's pronounced Formoola ler Grand Fromidge Behrgehr", apparently. It's occasions like these where you pretend to be French as hard as you can. Mostly unsuccessfully, I must say.
On the way back I fell asleep on the coach, despite my best efforts not to. And today I had to literally pinch myself to stop from falling asleep. I've never been good at falling asleep on planes, trains or automobiles, but put me in a position where I'm supposed to be alert and working and it seems I can sleep champion. Stupid hypnotic gentle rocking motion.
Anyhoo, today it was up bright and early at 6.30 am because yet again the shower in our room flooded and the water took the inevitable course towards my clothes and bags on the floor, luckily the salvage mission was successful and I had to be up at 6.45 anyway for my group's breakfast.
Today we were off to La Coupole in the morning, which is a site from which the Germans aimed to launch V8 rockets in WWII - the site was never finished and no rockets were ever launched from it. You got to go down into the tunnels and there is a good exhibition on the history of Nord-Pas-de-Calais in WWII, general WWII and Holocaust history and the history of the German rocket programme and its subsequent application to the space race and Cold War weaponry.
After that (and after lunch in a scenic motorway layby), we headed to Vimy Ridge, which is a bit of Canada in France - gifted to the Canadian people because it was fought over by the Canadians in WWI. There's a beautiful monument there, and more underground tunnels (something of a theme in my travels of late) with excellent free guided tours. You can really see the strategic advantage when you get up on the ridge, there are some great views over some pretty flat land.
Finally, it was back to St. Omer for bowling. They claimed we turned up an hour late, which we did not and had the confirmation email to prove it, but in any case, we were two lanes short so it was a bit of a juggling act getting the kids through and back to the chateau, but no real problems.
After dinner, we had the aforementioned disco and then set breakfast, so I finished work at 10.30 pm - 15 hours after I started at 7.30 this morning, with only an hour or so off over dinner. Okay, sitting in the bowling alley with a hot chocolate or dozing on the coach isn't exactly working in a factory, and I get paid to do trips which I might well pay to do under other circumstances, but they are loooong days out on tour. Not that I'm complaining, my first weekend as a groupie was great! They're off tomorrow, so it's back to being a charwoman for the rest of the week.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
So, accordingly, after a brief trip to the Arques post office (the Chosen Ones will get postcards in due course, all the rest of you can assume that I hate you) while the kids toured a French school (I actually would have found this quite interesting, but guess we weren't invited), it was off for an hour and a quarter drive across northern France to the chocolate factory. When I say 'factory', it's really more of an artisan chocolate workshop. The first thing that hits you is the heavenly smell, hullllllll.... Then there's the tempting gift shop, where the kids managed to spend vast amounts of money, but I was good (and exceedingly poor) and restrained myself - good thing too, since as tour leaders, we got a bag of freebies at the end, score! Then we got to see the chocolate making process - cue big vats of creamy melted chocolate, mini chocolate waterfalls and so on, tasty and educational, it's edutasteic! Did you know that if you have chocolate with coloured white chocolate accents (a milk bunny with white whiskers etc. for example), they paint the coloured bits on to the inside of the mould and then pour the chocolate in? No, you didn't, did you? The question of how chocolate centres are put in was also answered, but I'm not sharing it with the vulgar hordes...
After that, we had a half hour drive to Hardelot-Plage, a lovely golden-sand beach on La Manche - the English Channel to you Anglocentrics. Or possibly it's the Atlantic, I'm not too sure where one ends and the other starts. It was pretty sparsely populated, and the perfect place for Ben and I to lie down and sunbathe/read/sleep while the teachers looked after the kids. As Ben remarked "we're getting paid for THIS?!?" (technically, of course, it was my day off, so I wasn't getting paid, but I will be getting paid for such things in the future which is not fecking bad at all!
Then tonight I finally hit the chateau gym, something I've been promising myself I'd do since I got here - I mean, if you have a gym at your home, there's really no excuse, except for the excuse that I've been working bloody hard since I've been here, physical work most days, but after a day lazing on the beach and eating chocolate I felt the need, so here's hoping I'll keep it up. If I say I will on the blog, I'll have to, right?
One more thing: the French Marge Simpson sounds less like she has a frog in the throat than that she's suffering from demonic possession, it's disturbing.
C'est tout, hope you're all having as good a time as me! xx
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Yesterday I went along on a tour with Ben and 40 schoolchildren plus about 5 teachers I think. In the morning, we headed to Arques market, un vrai French market just like you see on TV, except as well as meat and cheese and such French things, they also sold clothes and tacky crap. I bought a pair of cloth slip-on flats, with black-and-white stripes (perfect for summer and quite French, I thought) for €6, half a kilo of cherries, a chocolate-filled donutty thing and Ben and I went halves on some French cheese. So, basically, we got paid to do a bit of shopping while the kids and their teachers went round practising their French and buying provisions for the picnic lunch we subsequently had in the bandstand of a nearby park. Then for the next hour or so we traipsed back and forth between the park and the post office with small groups of children before the teachers decided we would head back to the chateau for an hour's R&R (it being only about 15 mins to Arques).
In the afternoon it was back to Arques to visit the Arc International glass factory - home of such brands as Arcoroc and Luminarc - Arc, Arques, you see. Plus Pyrex, which doesn't have 'arc' in the name, but there you go. The primary purpose of the factory visits should be scaring kids into staying in school, because it was like being in hell, I kid you not. Flames were blasting out all over the place on to glass, it was hideously hot and really noisy even with earplugs. On the plus side, there was a robot arm which suctioned on to rows of glasses coming off a conveyor belt and lifted them on to a pallet, which I found oddly hypnotising - I simply could not move until I'd seen the robot fill the whole pallet. I also learned things about glassmaking such as: one technique for making glasses is to put them in a mould, press a hole in the middle and then use vacuum pressure to fit the glass exactly in to the bottom of the mould. And bowls can be made by sticking the glass in the mould and then spinning it, using centrifugal force to make the glass rise up the sides of the mould. Fascinating stuff! Oh, and screenprinting of glasses is done by forcing paint through a metal mesh on to the glass then squeegying it off. See, now I've probably saved you from ever having to visit a glass factory yourself. Oh and the teachers took about 40 mins in the factory shop while the rest of us sat on the coach (watching a DVD, at least) which made me late back for dinner, biatches.
Tomorrow I have another day off and on Friday my very first school group arrives, nervous! On Sat I think I have to take them to a goat farm and a water park, what a fun-filled day!
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Last night we hit a couple of pubs in St. Omer - 'Le Queen Victoria' and 'Le Dickens', to be precise - very French! We were accompanied by a couple of army lads, the leaders of a group who've come over to tour the battlefields in order to better appreciate the realities of war. I imagine they'll get plenty of that in Iraq. It was fun, but pretty low-key. Not sure if I'm going out tonight, they're going to une boite (club) and I do feel like dancing, but the cash machines here don't want to accept my credit card so I have absolutely no money (first pay day next Weds). Plus I have to work tomorrow, of course, so we'll see....
Friday, May 18, 2007
'Le Queen Vic' as we locals know it, everyone's favourite place in St Omer. Well, that or 'Le Dickens'
We had to get back to the chateau in the evening to serve dinner and to run another disco. This time there was an unfortunate incident - Kathryn and I were running the disco, and at the end we left the room for 5 mins to take the DJ equipment back, leaving the chateau's iPod on the table. There was a teacher, the coach driver and about half a dozen kids in the room, so we thought it would be safe, but alas, we returned and the iPod was gone, gutted! The teachers supposedly searched everyone's bags but it was not to be found, which was pretty stressful but we didn't actually get yelled at this morning, which was nice. I was very glad I'd put my iPod in my pocket. Of course, the group was from Liverpool so there were plenty of "what do you expect from Scousers" comments. The British really are stuck up and prejudiced about where you're from and how you speak - I can't think of any places in New Zealand where we write off the inhabitants as universally thieving in the same way. People from Gorrrrre may be inbred, and people who move to Marlborough are well known as being retarded (mek kek kek) but that's about it. It wasn't even the stoner children who were responsible - seriously, there was an entire hallway that stunk as though inhabited by a warren of potheads. Before you ask, I, like the National MP who discovered people smoking dope in the toilets of the NZ Parliament (that, incidentally, is why we're not out starting wars with people: America, take note), "recognised the smell from police burnings". That's my favourite quote ever, go me for finding a way to work it into the blog!!
Today was a 'triple changeover' - meaning that all the groups on site left today and 3 new groups are coming this afternoon. It also means that beds have to be changed, rooms vacuumed and mopped etc. Sigh, but it's all done now and it's my day off tomorrow, so the plan is to hit the happening scene at St. Omer and party hardy. I've been told that French chicks don't wear skirts out and it will be assumed I'm a slag if I do, but I'm afraid my jeans are in the wash and I have nowt else, so I don't care.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Yesterday was a long day of mopping, sweeping etc (not in that order) followed by supervising a 'disco'. This was super dull since my lovely colleague didn't actually let me touch the DJ machine or make any decisions on what to play, but it did allow me to keep in touch with the mores of today's youth. Apparently VERY short shorts accompanied by different coloured leggings over high heels are de rigeur for the 14 year old ladies. Some of the boys persuaded us to play a song from their iPod. Didn't think Rammstein (German heavy metal) would be much of a crowd-pleaser, but they were clearly suffering with all the pop and hip-hop, so we obliged. They proceeded to (I kid you not) form lines and shoulder-barge each other violently until broken up by teachers; then lather, rinse, repeat. Weirdly, all the kids sang along to the last song of the night, 'Don't wanna miss a thing' by Aerosmith which featured in the movie Armageddon which I saw with Patrick and is thus some 9 years old (this makes me feel ancient) - how do the kiddies know it??
Today was more bins and bogs, but in the afternoon we took a spin into the nearby town of Hazebrouck, to enjoy the local Carrefour supermarket and a hot choc at a cafe. Weird thing at the supermarket - they still show prices in francs as well as euros. Which caused me to freak out at the price of plastic bags briefly until I got the idea. Come on, was that 7 years ago that they got rid of francs? Surely people have adapted to the idea by now? Cool thing at the supermarket - instead of paper tags to show the prices of goods, they have little LCD screens, oooh!
I am practically finished work now, just got to set up for breakfast tomorrow so a pretty easy day.
Oh, a note on food - we get a croissant or pain au chocolat at morning tea, a make-your-own-sandwich for lunch (today with bonus tarte aux pommes or chocolate eclair) and then dinner. Mmmmm! Lucky I'm expending tonnes of calories with all this physical labour, huh?
Monday, May 14, 2007
Me - holding my sunnies on in the extreme winds, not saluting - at Dover Castle. White cliffs visible over my shoulder
Anyway, Dover was okay. Despite forecasts, it was pretty fine and sunny on the Saturday, although there was a hell of a wind. I went up to Dover Castle and ferreted about underground in the 'secret WWII tunnels' and so forth. Then I wandered down to take a gander at the white cliffs - turns out you can see them from land Mum, although they were of the variety which were fronted by rundown motels, not the variety that plunge uninterrupted to the sea. The next day was not so pleasant: I got soaking wet feet in the morning and rained on later while foolishly dragging my suitcase back from the port to save on currency exchange. Although I was pleased in the end when I got 28.20 euro for my £20 rather than the 21.50 I would have got at the port, result!
The pouring rain prevented me from sailing from Dover looking back at the cliffs. Although I'm actually not sure that I could have done so either. The ferry was of the "we're not in Kansas anymore" variety - fricking huge and complete with lifts, duty free shops, cafes and bars. I was tempted to ask if I was onboard yet or if this was another departure lounge, but feared (no doubt rightly) that I would come across as a right idiot if I did so. It was also filled with approximately 90% over-60s (not that there's anything wrong with that). The other 10% were cute French boys inconveniently located just out of subtle eye-range. Didn't see a whole bunch on the approach to Calais either, although the front of the ferry was basically one big picture window, it was crowded with morons videoing the approach for about half an hour, yawn! From what I did see, it seemed to have more-or-less white cliffs as well, but that can't be right, who's ever heard of the White Cliffs of Calais?
I was picked up at Calais not by the official-looking people I expected, but more or less by two young lads. Highlight of the trip back was when the driver said to the other one "Why the f--- didn't you tell me I was going 150??" Hmmm, feeling really safe there. I didn't in fact meet anyone official on my entire first evening, which was, however, enlivened by a couple of glasses of red wine and a good group of people as far as I can tell.
Today was my first day of work. First up was 'bins and bogs' duty, which sounds to me like scrubbing toilets, but thankfully it means emptying bins and replacing towels, not too bad. Then I got a lesson in how to mop from a crazy French woman (and by 'crazy' I mean she tasted the water out of the mop bucket to determine whether or not it had soap in it already). The rest of the afternoon was spent reading the huge procedures manual (hope some sinks in because I get tested later in the week) and twiddling my thumbs in general. This evening I had to help serve dinner, in French, and then supervise a football match in EXTREMELY cold and rainy conditions. Not happy! Then it was time to set the dining room for breakfast tomorrow, and some 12 (not particularly onerous) hours later, I was done at last.
So far someone has said "I like you, you're funny", someone else said "I love this girl" and one poor unfortunate reacted to one of the other guys calling him a pimp with a very earnest session of explaining to me he was, in fact, not a pimp at all. I was rather confused as to why he took this so much to heart until he explained that he was being made fun of because the other guys "knew I like you". Um, awkward, especially since I didn't hear him properly the first time (for 'didn't hear', read 'didn't understand' since he's proper Scouser - no chance ha ha). Then he asked if I would go out with anyone here, and once I said no they're all too young (seriously I'm pretty much the oldest) he failed to get the hint and later enquired whether "you and me have a chance". I tried to let him down gently by explaining that I didn't think a work relationship was appropriate... Hope I don't break his poor wee heart. Oh, and one of the other guys said that if I was bored reading the manual we could "always go upstairs and have sex", riiiight...
And that makes them sound like a real pack of dickheads, but it's okay thus far, hopefully things will be good. Oh and we get to go on trips to Belgium, how fricking cool is that?
Sunday, May 13, 2007
PS Have been planning since forever to use that title for the blog!
Saturday, May 05, 2007
- Being surprised at Dublin airport by wiley Ranch, who told me she wouldn't be back in Dublin till the next day
- The first "oh my God, I'm in Russia!" moments - from flying in to Moscow over pine forests and snow-spotted fields, to driving into the city watching people throw packs of cigarettes to soldiers sitting in the back of an army truck
- Trudging past Moscow University in the snow in the wee hours of New Year's Day with Melani and Andy, singing Bohemian Rhapsody
- Getting directions to Tsarskoe Selo from friendly stall-owners in St Petersburg - they get points for saying I was pretty!
- Setting the table on fire (sort of) with absinthe in a tiny Prague bar (inhabitants of said bar: me & my mates and one evil house painter)
- The weekend away in Cesky Krumlov: bus crashes, chocolate, scary stories, girl-on-boy football, leaf fights and 'haunted' houses - non-stop fun!
- Sitting on a wall in Sixmilebridge with Heather eating fish and chips - perfect after a few ciders
- Getting my groove on with Alasdair in Radost, by some miracle Gwan managed to dance with some rhythm for possibly the first time ever
- Being asked for directions in Prague & in Czech - and being able to supply them
- Christmas Eve dinner in Moscow, nothing beats finest street chicken with friends. AND a White Christmas at last! Pity I had to work...
- Pure elation when my classes were suddenly cancelled one day. Actually this highpoint also featured street chicken - one of the few times in Moscow I actually got to eat at dinner time
- Evenings spent at Greg and Laurie's talking rubbish and listening to Greg playing guitar
- Being met at Manchester airport by Mum & Dad after a couple of months being miserable and homesick in Moscow
- Touring the Burren with Heather and our fantastic "ash, o-ak, ellum" Irish guide
- Walking through 'demonstration day' Moscow, with 8,500 troops and police out in force - just because it made me feel I was possibly witnessing history ("As Russia became more and more authoritarian, any marches and demonstrations were clamped down upon with thousands of soldiers on the streets. This culminated in 2009, when marchers were fired upon and 200 were injured, leading to martial law being declared...")
- Wandering through the gardens at Vienna's Schoenbrunn Palace to the strains of Radiohead on my ipod. You know how some songs become indelibly linked with a time or place? Radiohead henceforth will always be Schloss Schoenbrunn for me.
Which I suppose goes to show it's not the obvious 'sights' that really make a holiday, it's the people you meet along the way. Cliche, sure, but reasonably accurate. I have, of course, been to some magnificent art galleries, castles, stately homes, monuments, churches etc. etc. but those things are public property, if you like, whereas the things on this list are one in a lifetime experiences that I never expected, but I'll hopefully always remember. Presumably there are others as well, and certainly more to come!
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Me: Hi, I'd like to register with you, I don't know what sort of paperwork I need for proof of address...
Receptionist: Tenancy agreement, your name on a gas bill...
Me: Um, I don't have anything like that, I'm just flatting with other people. I'll show you what I do have, a payslip with my address on it.
R: Do you have any photo ID?
Me: Ah, not on me, no, I can come back if you'd need that with my passport.
R: What nationality are you?
Me: I'm British, well, I mean I'm a British citizen, but I'm from New Zealand.
R: Ah, so what's your purpose for being here?
Me: My purpose?
R: Holiday, study...?
Me: No, I'm living here and working [hence the payslip retard].
R: Well, I'd need to see some proof of entitlement. Like your work visa.
Me: No, I don't have a work visa, I'm a British citizen.
R: I don't understand. Why do you keep saying you're a British citizen?
Got there in the end though!
Talking of getting there in the end, after much hassles and interventions from Mumsie, I've finally got a start date for France - Monday week, je serai en France! C'est tres bon!
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
The big news of the day, though, is that someone wolf-whistled at me when I was walking to the Tube! When was the last time THAT happened? Back in the days of Mmmm...girls!, Ranch? I was looking snappier than usual, having donned interview-grade clothing, but erring on the side of smart rather than sexy. Now, I know I should be all feminist about it and be like "stop objectifying me, you commie Nazi pig!" but let's not pretend it's not flattering. A gross undress-me-with-your-eyes: no, an unwanted nightclub grope: no, but a harmless wolf-whistle from a passing car? Why not!
And that's been the highlight of my week. In other news, I visited the National Gallery again, spent a lot of time soaking up the sunshine, and attended a BBQ/party getting slightly (yes, slightly...) tipsy and then emailing a lot of you poor sods. Sorry!