Tuesday, December 27, 2011
But alas! We will never know what the mysterious secret war-time pencil, envy of James Bond, is all about!
Christmas Day itself was fine. I seemed to receive a hail of presents, and Christmas dinner was very nice. I was expecting a day of interminable boredom, but helped out with cards and lots of cider, it was fine in the end.
Me, Mum and Jess at Christmas dinner
Yesterday we drove into Liverpool to watch Liverpool Football Club play Blackburn. We had pretty good seats, right up the top but in the middle, so we could see everything (although half the time I didn't really know what was going on anyway). They played pretty rubbishly and only got a draw, but that's fine. It's more about the atmosphere of being there anyway. It definitely is impressive hearing a whole stadium singing and cheering in unison.
The teams lining up before kick-off
My dad takes a notoriously long time to take photos, so I always end up looking like I'm in rigor. Liverpool are warming up in the background
Unfortunately didn't manage to get any group photos where everyone had their eyes open all at once
Other than that, I've hit the sales a little bit. I got a few things before Christmas when we went to an outlet mall, and yesterday I got a Clinique Happy perfume box set for only 22 pounds, which is an amazing deal. It has a 100 ml perfume, body wash and moisturiser and a scented candle in it, which considering the 100 ml perfume on its own was selling for 50 pounds, is quite the bargain! I got a half-price dress from Monsoon as well, plus I have got half-price sports shoes, a dress for 8 pounds, 2 tops, a Jaeger red coat (yay) and a Radley wallet (for Christmas). I wanted to get a Radley wallet last Christmas, but decided since I'd spent about 500 pounds shopping that I should show some restraint. Well, good things come to those who wait!
Other than that, things have been quiet. Jess just went back down to London and I am going back to France tomorrow. I should be able to get a train straight back from CDG to Tours (fingers crossed, as I really don't want to go through Paris if I can help it). Looking forward to getting back home and seeing if Bob has been very naughty or just slightly naughty in my absence, although it will be sad to say goodbye to Mum & Dad for another year.
This was in the window of a local engravers' shop. It made me laugh to think of why anyone ever would want a nametag reading 'self-employed'. I imagine Mr Barns going to speed-dating nights and just tapping the badge when the ladeez ask him where he works.
Friday, December 23, 2011
On Tuesday morning, when I was setting off for my trip to the UK, I had somehow mysteriously forgotten to turn on my alarm, and was very lucky that I checked the time when the rubbish trucks woke me up. It was only 10 minutes later than I'd intended to get up, but you know how these things put you on the back foot a bit, so that, combined with the fact that I'd neglected to do some stuff like look for my NZ-UK plug adaptor the day before, had me running around a bit like a headless chicken. Never mind though, everything went smoothly with getting the train, up until the point where I got out of my seat to get off at Roissy-CDG and I was so busy telling myself not to forget my coat out of the overhead luggage rack that I somehow missed the step down from the seats to the aisle and fell straight over sideways into the seats on the other side of the aisle. Luckily enough, there was no-one in the aisle seat, but there was a young guy in the window seat whose lap I virtually fell into. He laughed at me, and rightly so. There was an awkward few minutes until the train pulled into the station, but oh well, I'll never see him again!
Of course, my saying that there would be no snow this year and my flight would therefore go smoothly managed to provoke a strike of the airport security staff. I was pretty much resigned, therefore, to long lines and a delay. In the event, it actually wasn't too bad. The security lines didn't seem any longer than on a normal busy day. In fact, I had too much water in the queue with me, and so I had to drink about a litre in 5 minutes in order to save the bottles to fill up again after security. I actually missed the passport control lines, as in a rash moment I decided to opt in to the French government's scheme whereby you provide them with your fingerprints and you can then go through electronic gates. My reasoning was mostly that I had already had to give fingerprints to the US governement, which really pisses me off because a) it's not optional and b) I've never even been into the US since they introduced this – my American readers might not know this, but non-US nationals have to go through the entire security procedure, including being photographed and fingerprinted (and maybe having an iris scan, I don't remember) just to transit through the airport. Ridiculous. Anyway, I actually had assumed that the French scheme would only want prints of my index fingers, like the Americans, but they actually took them all except my thumbs. So no more crime sprees for me.
We still ended up boarding a little bit late, and then there were two passengers who didn't turn up and had to be offloaded, so we were delayed a little bit more. Then we taxied off down the runway, sat around for ages, and then, unbelievably, taxied back to our stand because they had forgotten to do some paperwork! I've never heard such a stupid thing – if I were the captain, I would have lied about the reason! After all that water, I was dying for the loo by this stage, but of course you can't go on the ground. Once we finally took off I was up the aisle like a shot as soon as the seatbelt sign went off. I had an exit row seat with a ton of legroom, which was nice, although the seats weren't that wide across and the girl next to me kept touching me with her arm (Air France). Anyway, by the time we landed we were nearly 2 hours late. No-one actually seemed that agitated, I think everyone was probably expecting delays already, like me. Oh and I forgot to say how much I hate the fact that they always pick the holidays to go on these strikes. I support the right of people to unionize and negotiate with their employers, including striking if necessary, but deliberately choosing to make life as difficult as possible for the public, who should be on their side, is not on, especially at Christmas.
Anyway, finally landed at Manchester and it was lovely to see my Mum and Dad again after a year. Nothing very exciting has been going on here since then, with the exception of OWLS! Yes, your faithful correspondent got to play with owls! We were in the town centre of Kendal – up in the Lake District – doing some shopping, and suddenly came across a guy with a great big owl on his wrist. I assumed at first it was just one of those guys who sort of busk with a bird of prey – I'm not sure whether I've ever seen them in the UK, but they seem quite common in Eastern Europe. However, there was an empty shop next to him that was full of owls. Turns out they were a charity that rescued owls and took them round places to educate people about them and how they should be treated. There were some really sad stories. The big one, which was a European Eagle Owl, had been rescued from a guy who bought it to carry around on his wrist and look scary. Apparently he used to punch and kick it! Who would do such a thing to an owl? I'm amazed the owl didn't bite or claw him. I was a little bit scared of it myself, especially when it looks straight at you (although the guy explained that they actually aren't looking at you if their eyes are pointed straight at you, because they look out of the corner of their eyes). The guy said it took a long time to heal it, both physically, since it had lost feathers and so on, and to get it to trust people again, but it seemed incredibly tame by this stage.
The European Eagle Owl
Me and the European eagle owl. He's posing better than I am
Me, Dad, and the tawny owl
The tawny owl was my favourite. I think I'm a bit scared here, because the handler basically shoved it at my face and told me to cuddle it
I can't remember the name of this owl, but I think it came from South Africa. The white owl behind us is a barn owl
The church in Kendal, begun in 1201
Pretending to be a medieval carving of a Queen
Pretending to be one of the wise men
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Friday, December 16, 2011
Other than having to study the entire oeuvre of Jacques Brel at school, most of my knowledge of French music dates from 2007, when I lived in the Nord Pas de Calais with a bunch of Brits, some of whom couldn't speak any French at all. Consequently, the music channels (and we had about 5 to choose from on Canal+) were on in the lounge 24/7. Since then, I've mostly come across new (to me) ones in clubs or at the gym. I never listen to the radio anymore, so if I'm missing some good 'uns, let me know! It's a bit of a mixed bag genre-wise, but here are a few of my favourite things!
I first heard this back in summer, but I only just came across the video. It's Mika, singing in French! And it's super catchy of course!
Elle Me Dit - Mika
This might be cheating slightly, since Martin Solveig sings (or has other people sing while he DJs) in English, but he is French! And he performs the miraculous feat of producing music that makes me want to get on a treadmill and turn it up to 10 kph (truly a wonder for the ages). Here's his latest:
Hello - Martin Solveig
Big in Japan - Martin Solveig
This isn't really a favourite as such, but dancing the Madison is a weird fitting-in-with-the-French rite of passage. (Although I think it's maybe an American thing originally?) Everyone knows it (at least vaguely), and people will actually do it in clubs. I put this clip up out of the many available on YouTube because they dance the Madison about as well as I do.
The Madison by ???
Talking of not being able to dance...
Les blancs ne savent pas danser - James Deano
This gets stuck in my head big time every time I hear it, but I still like it!
Champs Elysees - Joe Dassin
Okay, I didn't grow up as the only black kid in a small French town, but I still feel like I can relate to this a little bit after living in the Nord Pas de Calais countryside
Marly Gomont - Kamini
There is a rocky version of this that everyone always ends up linking arms and singing along to at 3 am in your favourite French club, but I can't find it online. Does anyone know who it's by?
Emmenez-moi - Charles Aznavour
Mostly linking to this so French-speakers can have a laugh at the amazing spelling of whoever wrote the subtitles. And then he gives up on it altogether halfway through!
Garçon - Koxie
You can skip the first 45 seconds of this video if you're not interested in seeing old French men (including Eric Cantona I think?) argue in a tabac. This video always makes me want to go re-enact it in Marseille
A la Bien - Soprano
Kind of the "Sid and Nancy" of France, in that the lead singer of this band killed his girlfriend
I got really sick of this after thrashing it back in 2007. But I am proud that I can rap along with it! Plus MC Solaar is a legend - we even had him in our textbooks when I was first learning French
Da Vinci Claude - MC Solaar
And finally, another 2007 classic:
Double Je - Christophe Willem
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Not snow, but tons of hail
And a pretty rainbow over the HLMs
A picture of the Cher which has nothing to do with anything
I have managed to get most of my Christmas shopping done. I ordered a few things on Amazon and sent them directly to the UK, so I hope they do/have arrived in time. Should be fine. Of course, only having 4 people to buy for makes things relatively easy. Other than that, my suitcase will be weighed down with lots of wine, as usual!
I had a look at the Christmas market on the weekend. It was a beautiful, sunny day. Too many people around, too many prams and people walking uber extra slowly and I start to get all antsy because I hate slow walkers and being in a confined space in a crowd where you can't get around people. Except for when I had my mulled wine, in which case I also had to move very slowly to avoid drips.
Marche de something
Get your roasted chestnuts here
Tours is not exactly the Christmas decoration capital of the world, but it's still nice to see lights everywhere and Christmas trees and so on. Here's some pics:
Just so you know I'm really in France, here's a Christmas protest for ya
A rather vulgar display at the mall
Fountain in front of the Palais de Justice
Fountain and Christmas tree
Fountain and the Christmas tree by night
The town hall
This is to show the roadworks which are everywhere and have been for aaages. We are getting a tram. The tram is everywhere I wanna be, which is probably good in the longterm, but annoying for the minute
Thursday, December 08, 2011
Based on this though, Langeais seems a pretty sweet place to be homeless. Find a cave all to yourself and you're set! I didn't want to stay around here too long though, to be honest. It was very deserted, and a cave with a blanket hung up outside kinda seems the perfect place to be raped (and by perfect, I don't mean it's what every girl dreams of ha ha)! So I forged on further up the hill, which disappointed me in that it didn't really provide good views of Langeais - too many bushes. So I headed back down to the river and checked out the bridge that is apparently a key tourist attraction and photo spot (according to the Langeais tourism website) even though it only dates back to the 19th century.
I then headed along the river back into town, passing the coolest sign ever:
"Poney", as I think I've mentioned, is my favourite French word, owing to its comical Cartman-esque pronunciation. Now I have the great pleasure of imagining a French person saying "La Ferme O'Poney". Just thinking about it cracks me up, I might actually have to show he picture to a compliant Frenchy and get them to say it for me.
By now, it was time for lunch. I went to the only place that seemed to be open, other than the fancy restaurant MadmoisElla dined at, a creperie next to the chateau. They had a whole bunch of outdoor tables, directly outside the restaurant and around the corner, under a canopy. But when I went inside to ask if I could sit outside the woman was all "No, it's too cold". Replying "No, it's not, I don't mind" didn't change her opinion of the situation, so inside it was. That's the French for you - anywhere else, if the customer wants to sit outside, they sit outside, surely?
This is a bit hard to see, but the menu sang the praises of oats - it's what gives Scotsmen (and horses) their legendary robustness and everyone else "physical force and sexual vigour". I didn't have any.
Instead I had an "English" crepe, seduced by talk of cheddar and bacon. It was okay, but I was a bit disappointed that it was plastic cheddar and French-style bacon, not quite the authentic English feast of my dreams. Oh well, only a couple of weeks until I'm scoffing bacon and cheddar to my heart's content! The icecream sundae I finished off with was nice though.
Duly fed and watered, it was time to hit up the castle.
It was first established at the end of the 10th century, by a guy with a pretty bitchin' name - Foulque Nerra, Count of Anjou, which I think means Black Falcon in old French, but I could be wrong. It subsequently got fought over quite a lot, before falling into the hands of the Plantagenets, and eventually getting destroyed by Charles VII, the dauphin backed up by Joan of Arc. The only bit of the old castle that still remains is the keep, up on the hill separate from the current chateau, which dates from the 15th century:
The joys of visiting somewhere like this on a Monday out of season is that it was totally deserted. I didn't see another soul other than the staff (and not much of them either) until I went out into the grounds later on. So this was basically a licence to dick around taking self-timed photos of myself in the rooms. On December 6 1491, the castle was the site of the marriage of King Charles VIII and Anne of Brittany (Ruth and I already learnt all this when we visited Anne's former home, the chateau of Nantes), and several rooms were dedicated to recreating this historic event.
Here I am at the wedding feast:
And at the wedding itself (disobeying the no-flash rule):
All in all, the chateau was pretty well done, nicely furnished etc. although not as lavish as somewhere like Chenonceau or with as many things to look at as Blois. Here's an 'interesting' tapestry:
And a mirror that I liked because it reminds me of the mirror in the Arnolfini wedding by Jan van Eyck. Like the van Eyck, you can even see me in it if you look hard:
You could also walk around inside the battlements, which was pretty cool. Here's a view from inside:
And me hanging out up there:
They even let you climb up some scaffolding onto the 11th century keep!
Finally, here's the promised picture of the toilets. The window, as you can see, was wide open onto the courtyard and I had very awkward eye contact with some guy outside! Luckily I was only hanging up my handbag onto the hook, but seriously, I don't really want any toilet-based eye contact with strange men. So watch out for that one if you're visiting Langeais!