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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

34 JJR Update

For those of you out there who check in occasionally to see what progress at 34 JJR then you today you are in luck! Moving steadily, but not hastily, forward we approach the day when we actually hire a van and take the last large pieces of furniture over to Hellemmes-Lille and thence do overnighters in our own house. Imagine that! We will of course be fully resident by the time our first guests arrive on 18th May - you know who you are. Max's papa, Jean-Michel, left a little while ago to be admitted into a clinic for his back operation tomorrow. He will stay there for about a week and when he gets back will need to recuperate for 3 months, meaning Max's maman, Renée, will be in charge of the shop. We will be helping as much as we can and thus will never be that far away from Oisy nor Rumaucourt. J-M will only be able to stand or lie down but not sit down at least only for very short periods.

Max was busy a couple of days ago dismantling the built in wardrobe in the bedroom which will serve as a bathroom and dressing-room for us. Again the previous owners certainly believed in using good solid materials! We now have someone lined up to build a wall across the space (pictured) to make it into two rooms and we are hoping to get everything tout à l'égout which would be so much better than other arrangements. We are almost certain we have discovered the original doors for the first floor too, in the attic. Hurrah!

I always say that if I can see a palm tree I feel as if I am on holiday. This isn't a hard and fast rule though as I have seen the palms in Torquay and felt little but sadness. Nevertheless, in anticipation of a psychological boost we bought not one, but two palms of differing types. Admittedly they are only babies, maybe 30cm tall, but they are supposed to grow rapidly: if they grow at all that is. I have also drawn a rough plan of the garden and attempted to make a note of all the major plants. So far I have:
  • fir trees x 6
  • yew
  • magnolia
  • fruiting cherry
  • espaliered apple x 2
  • lilacs c 6
  • silver birch x 2
  • hazel
  • rhododenron
  • hydrangea x 2
  • euonymus x 2
  • flowering raspberry
  • holly tree
  • astilbe
  • forsythia
  • a large gnarled tree I cannot identify plus other plants yet to be discovered!

The whole thing from backdoor to end fence is about 43m and it is almost 6m wide ie long and thin. It is lovely to have but needs taking in hand and given some themes.

Max's job continues. There is not a lot to say about it as it is only part of what he used to do and is not much of a challenge. It is OK for now.

No joy - almost wrote job (Freudian-ly) - for me on the work front either though I continue to send out my details for both coaching and translation. Marketing oneself is certainly very difficult though I do know building up a client list can take time.

Anyone who would like a copy of my "stuff", currently only available in public sector type version, then please email me and it will be yours in the twinkling of an email or however long it takes to get to UK by escargot. I thank you!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Les encombrants

Tomorrow is the annual encombrants here in Rumaucourt. A week on from the brocante when the residents sell their bric-a-brac on the pavement outside their home, the council takes away all of the clutter that you have not been able to get rid of in other (legal) ways. There are a few exceptions eg used engine oil and old tyres etc but otherwise the pavements are full of old sofas, some in still usable state, some with foam spilling out, rejected bathroom suites and elements thereof (colours various but never really white), broken objects that someone was supposed to mend but never got round to doing, technology-overtaken things such as Minitel screens, the French precursor to the internet or maybe just yellow pages. The mounds of unwanted and broken possessions tend not to grow too high as in the wake of one's decluttering come the curious and the organised (sinister white vans cruising the streets) truffling through the unused and unusable to find a small pulse that could indicate life and continuing value, however feeble.

We all love the idea of finding a bargain, what better than to fall upon something for absolutely nothing? Something about it makes the heart beat a tad faster and we could find ourselves being seduced by the idea that someone else's complete rubbish might actually be worth acquiring. Of course these days it is an excellent way of recycling. I couldn't help but remark to Jean-Michel that I fully expected much of the "useful" but now rejected stuff that had languished for extended periods in a loft or a garage somewhere would only be seen as having potential for long enough to find a place in someone else's loft or garage! Oh, but these things cost a fortune! - is the reason for acquiring (or keeping hold of) some ancient gadget. Whether it will even be used does not seem to be a criterion.

There go the indicator lights from the old van Jean-Michel used to have. It was a Mercedes though...

As I listen to the sound of vans making their slow progress up and down rue Clémenceau and of cars filled with families making an outing of the afternoon I cannot help but wonder how it would be if we could get rid of our emotional baggage and our learned negative behaviours just by setting them down on the pavement outside our homes where some kind person unwittingly would take them away! In some ways that is indeed what we do ie deal withour superficial life clutter and expect someone else to tolerate us when we react badly or behave in a certain way.

In Lille the encombrants is a monthly event but not one which will offer much in the way of pickings, I suspect. We would do better to find a well-off area and hire our own white van!

The magnolia in the photo is in full bloom in our garden at the house in Hellemmes-Lille.

P.S. Massive congratulations to Stuart and Tiff who completed the London Marathon today!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Who shot J-J R? - plus a great quotation.

It's Easter weekend already and my family visitors have been and gone till next week at least when they will be with us again for a night on their way through. We spent a pleasant day which included the obligatory tour of 34 Jean-Jacques Rousseau (with which they were very impressed), lunch at Flunch ( I so want that to be the product of a misoverheard conversation in English- can we meet f'lunch?) and a stroll around the principal central sites of Lille and the old town. French translators please note it is not the Old Lille but the old town or just Old Lille. This was followed by a foray into the biggest Auchan (hypermarket) in France. I swear I could not make out the end walls and the checkout desks went on forever. It could have been a shopper's paradise or hell but I needed to get to the wholesaler in time to collect some mussels and deliver them to Max's father's shop before 1800 so my task was merely to make sure Ian and Tracy bought the provisions they needed and not to get too involved in the purchasing.
How is 34 J-J R? Well, thanks for asking! As you can see from the picture the rather substantial and - for us - unnecessary range of cupboards in the kitchen has been reduced in stature and now natural light from the back of the house floods into the hallway. We have finished removing the indoor stonework and also removed the pretend door in what was the dining room. Now we have very rough and ready walls - or not as where they have been removed, horror of horrors, which will require some kind of plastering or boarding. The red sofas arrived yesterday. Their arrival though was not as satisfying as we might have hoped as we had something of a set back with the estimate for the central heating. We had been waiting about 3 months in total to find out the damage in the expectation of a reasonable outcome and we do need quite a lot of kit given we are on 3 floors yet we only need 12 radiators. Let's say we were gobsmacked to discover the total was more than 34K Euros or about £25K. Removing "unnecessary" cast-iron old-fashioned rads for the ground floor and taking into account various grants and tax credits it would still set us back in the region of £18K.

We had hoped the new system would be in before we were, but as this patently wasn't going to happen and now definitely won't (at least à ce prix), we will delay till late summer giving us a chance to have further estimates and to see what is available in the way of grants and cheap loans etc.

Methinks the expensive perfume of British money must have been hanging in the air a little too headily when that particular estimate was concocted! Ahhh zeese reesh Londonaiiiires zey 'ave a few Euros, non? Zey are used to pay-ying, ow you say, sroo ze nose, n'est-ce pas? Apologies to the vast majority of decent and lovely French people out there!

Otherwise we are moving in by stealth - I am sure Mr Cameron would approve of that description - by taking a few boxes etc every time we go to Lille. I guess we will need to hire a van for a day to take over one large sofa bed and the double-doored fridge-freezer we bought. The good news is that hiring said vehicle is not going to cost any further jambes nor bras.

The quotation is thus:

"You see things; and you say, "Why?" But I dream things that never were; and I say, "Why not?" George Bernard Shaw.

Ain't that something??

Allez!! Joyeuses Pâques à tous!!!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Spanishy Omelette

Hope I am not treading on toes here but I thought I would share a culinary success they have been rare recently and I have not felt inspired.

My very good friend and writer of the excellent Lemon Soul blog - see link on the side of this - quite rightly pointed out there should be a photo. I apologise and agree that there indeed should have been but by the time the camera was located (in Max's bag) the temptation to devour the final piece had quite overcome me. That is at least one reason I shall not be making a habit of writing about food. I shall leave that in more capable hands!

Yesterday I was stuck for something to make for dinner and, after two days of eating copiously and exceptionally well, both Max and I fancied something light and tasty. So I peeked into the fridge to see if anything gave me inspiration.

There it was. A ruby-red sweet pepper caught my eye, heavy in the hand, richly perfumed, it cried out "Mediterranean" and "sunshine". We always have fresh eggs around as they are produced extremely locally, so it was not long before I had decided to make a Spanishy Omelette. Now usually tortilla is made with potatoes but that would have made it too heavy for our liking, and I am a bit snobbish about calling anything else spanish omelette, hence spanishy!

I cut the courgette in half lengthwise and then into centimetre slices (about half an inch for the imperialists). Juices ran from the pepper as I gave it similar treatment. To this I added a small chopped onion and two thinly sliced cloves of garlic. Roasted whole cloves would be delicious too. I threw in a generous handful of pitted black olives and then allowed it all to cook in plenty of fruity olive oil in a heavy pan until the courgette was tender and slightly golden. I ensured the mixture was evenly distributed and then poured in 6 lightly beaten eggs, turned down the heat and left it until the eggs had almost set on top.

This omelette needs no attention during cooking apart from perhaps occasionally running a spatula around the edge.

Once the eggs were about done, I loosened the omelette slightly around the sides and turned the whole thing upside down onto a large plate before sliding it upside down back into the pan. I turned off the heat and left the other side to finish cooking in the remaining heat.

It was delicious cold, cut into wedges with some crusty bread and a green salad, though slightly warm would have been nice too, but probably not hot.

I would never dare recommend a wine to accompany any particular dish as it is very much a matter of individual taste. I can say that the bourgogne I happened to have went down very well!

Back to normal waffling rather than waffles very soon!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Empty nest syndrome?

It's Jour J + 1. The dice have been cast, rien ne va plus! We were all ferried by the delightful Madame Ciraux to Hazebrouck where papers were initialed and signed and cheques handed over. The key handing over was somewhat symbolic as Mr Herbeau only had one set with him, the other 5 sets were still hanging in the entrance hall. Thus we all 5 arrived at rue JJ Rousseau but we were the new owners and les Herbeau the guests. Sort of. Madame Herbeau still busied herself collecting up a few last minute things and needlessly wiping surfaces. We promenaded in the garden and identified various plants, visited the chalet at the far end, discovered a washing line and reassured ourselves that the damp in the outhouse was being sorted out. Champagne followed courtesy of the ex-owners whilst the new owners politely waited for de legis to turn into de facto. Finally they left and we closed the front door from the inside for the first time as owners.

Once alone and Max at work I suddenly felt a sadness, a vague depression: the empty house is in limbo, missing its status as a home of some 30 years yet unaware of it future. Every fault seemed more apparent, every noise outside more noticeable. I wondered from room to room and for a while didn't see the potential only the work we need to do. I escaped for a walk around the area but this did not help enormously as the streets were full of clutter waiting for the monthly encombrants when people can leave old furniture and rubbish they would otherwise have to take to the dump, on the pavement.

Nothing like a spot of destruction to put matters right (eh Mr Bush?) and my blues were soon banished by the removal of some of the indoor stone-cladding and the total annihilation of the ghastly thing that used to support their television. Max returned from work and we met the delightful neighbours, whom we will refer to as Madame and Monsieur Voisin as we didn't establish their names. They invited us in to view the house, expressed their pleasure and relief that we are their new neighbours and offered to help in anyway they can. We asked them to put the bins back inside after the binmen.

Much more to come!

PS. We are the "proud" owners of 3 fish in one of the two ponds. Help!!!