Friday, 10 January 2014

Manger c’est bien jeter ça craint !

Manger c’est bien jeter ça craint  !

Thus being the new slogan adopted by the french government after a worrying report on how many tons of food are wasted in France every year. Indeed, this month the big issue that was posted on the front pages of all good newspapers was highlighting how much we all waste.

Coincidentally though, I was far from feeling guilt tripped by all this bad news - nope ! I had a squeeky clean conscious whilst reading all these frightening  food facts, why ?

Quite simply because this month I had devoted an hour of my free-time to making my own worm farm…

To help you all stay guilt-free too, here’s my step -by-step easy peasy lemon squeezy guide on how to make your own Lombricompost !

1)   Head to your local market (there is a fresh market at least one a week in every arrondissement of Paris.) Go and chat with that friendly looking fish monger and ask him for 3 of his polystyrene boxes that you can stack one-on-top of the other.
2) Head home and grab your knitting needles…Ahem ! Sorry I mean…grab a screwdriver, a pen or something with which you can poke plentiful of little holes in the bottom of 2 of your boxes!

These will be the holes through which the worms can move and change compartments within your worm farm. And also, any juice will drain to the bottom compartment and this you can collect and use to water your plants - a right treat as this liquid is high in nutritional goodness and ideal for giving your home-grown tomato plants an energy boost ! (We’re students right ? Money save by growing your own !)

3) Get some earth and pop it in the top compartment of your stack of 3…

4) Head to Decathlon ! Yes that’s right ! Strange as it seems, this sports shop does sell worms ideal for starting your Lombricompost ! Stroll down the fishing isle and pick out some “Vers de composte” which costs a meger four euros…


6) Voilà ! The last step is ‘Be patient !’ You’ll need to wait a good long week before you can start feeding your worms  with your apple skins, old-left-over rice etc because they’re fragile creatures and need to get used to their new environment: it’s a big change from their previous home in a plastic Tupperware Decathlon box !

Turn the earth gently every so often with a wooden spatula or a chop stick so that you oxygenate the soil without hurting your worms ! If they are mainly at the sides of the box, it’s a possible sign of suffocating worms so reduce the amount of peelings you feed them and make sure to rotate the earth more regularly !

It’s a no go for onion peelings, lemon and any agrumes ! Worms are very sensitive to acidic things, even our skin can burn them when we touch them ! (Hence, the use of a wooden object to turn the soil, bare hands not allowed !)

Don’t go piling in all the rice from a dinner with 10 friends, a little worm farm is a delicate ecosystem so make sure not to over do it and limit the amount of waste you pop in !
Contrary to popular rumour: you’re Lombricompost shouldn’t smell in the slightest as long as it’s well oxygenated ! 

Concerts: bruises, brutality and best bands !

Sometimes I feel that going to a concert is self-inflicted torture: endless elbowing for space, constant feet trampling (high heels should be banned in concert halls) and finally the regular face-whip from the girl infront with the infuriatingingly long poney tail. Oh and don’t forget the bonus luxury spa treatment of a bath in the sweat of the stranger’s around you … hmmm yep! Nothing like a concert.

Indeed, there are not many bands that I appreciate enough to go see live but The Cat Empire is certainly one I would really suggest running the risk of going to see in concert.

As musicians they are a talented bunch; flawlessy combining jazz, hip-hop, reggae, funk, latino, tzigane and whatever else they fancy ! With a pianist, thats constantly improvises and whose golden rule is ‘never play the same thing twice’, and a vocalist/trumpetist who blows you away with his spontaneous scat singing, you are sure to amazed and entertained !

Envelopped in that inevitable crowd cloud of humidity, the music washes over you: erasing all nuggets of hatred and bitterness from your soul and soothing your keyboard fatigued finger tips. Their vibrant, feel-good beats layered under humourous but truthful lyrics are sure to make you forget the pessimistic Parisian winter outside  and get you up and bopping !

I have seen this band three times already but that didn’t stop me from going to see these Australian’s play again last month in the Trianon in the 18th arrondissement. It’s the first time I have been to the Trianon: it’s a beautiful, old theatre that, although it has been transformed into a concert venue they have conserved the carved wooden balconies and with it the classic charm that comes with age.

As a result however it is quite unnerving when the crowd start to ‘bounce’ and you feel the floor beneath you move !  Panicked by the idea of the theatre caving in on your head the crowd exchange bewildered looks but… the music continues and the show must go on ! JUMP !

Whether designed deliberately to cushion the sound of hundreds of pairs of feet or simply the natural ‘give’ of the old wooden floorboards the effect is similar to that of a trampoline ! YOUPEE ! It’s fun ! You get catapulted up and down with the communal crowd sway ! Hypnotised by the musical genuis and berced and bounced by the jolts and jumps of the dance floor The Cat Empire entrance, astonish and delight !

There’s nothing like jumping out all that essay stress amongst a sweaty bundle of human bodies to the punchy melodies of a trumpet and the smooth rhythms that come together to make the  summery ensemble that is The Cat Empire !

Go check out the bouncing floorboards yourselves at: Trianon (80 Boulevard de Rochechouart 75018 Paris)

The Cat Empire new albulm: Steal the light.

Saturday, 22 September 2012


So during my two  months off travelling I was very lucky to leave for Zurich with a very cool bunch of people: amongst us we were 4 Germans, one born in Zimbabwe, 2 Americans, 1 Korean, 1 Slovakian (Finland) and one not so secretly more content to be mistaken for French English person, aka me.

There was no doubt probably from the outside we were a strange bunch but from the word go we 10 strangers mingled well and were like a little family by the end of our short stay; Magda and Folie were the mother and father figures – organisers of everything from food to transport to the whole weekend itself! 

And why did I find myself jetting off to Switzerland with 8 strangers? 
Because of  Santina, aka Shrek, my longtime first friend from Paris (see blog: Shrek and Donkey and The Elevator McFlurry Moments) could try out her nerves flying and concur her  air-phobia before she planned to fly over to Miami for a year!
Santina was scared to say the least but with this herd of bubbling evidently eager tourists as companions, I think I can say we took the fright of ‘flrightening’! Sorry terrible joke.
 I made various over this trip but who can blame me, living in France with French people sometimes can get frustrating when you crack jokes left right and center only for them to fall on deaf ears because word games and what I would say are cunningly sly one liners are less than understood. So for me, finding myself in amidst those who share the shame mother tongue and appreciate the same music and even same child hood favourite cartoons I revelled in being able to joke alot easier. I’m not saying that in France, I am less a jester!  Although, the jokes are less plentiful and less well-founded, or just too English sometimes to be digested by french tastebuds!  
Anywho! Jetting off we landed in Zurich all in one piece much to Santina’s relief! We headed off to where we were staying Utliberg, a hill looking over the Zurich Lake and the city. It was stunning to say the least! We arrived late and got given a tour guide by our mysterious spiritual healing temporary landlord and her cat...Hmmm!
If I had to be honest and get all critical on my travelling I would say Zurich is not somewhere I would say ‘put on your not to miss list’. Not because it’s not worth it, it is! We revelled in walking around the city, I liked questioning the locals on what was good to do! There was a slight difference of holidaying styles: the germans wanting to stick to a rigid plan of things to see and what time to get bck to the house and eat and the rest of us opting for a more relaxed tourist approach: wander, ask questions, be curious, enjoy the sunshine, take lots of photos, compare each other home countries loudly and eat ice cream in plentiful doses of each!

Zurich is an outstandingly beautiful city – the river, clean blue striking against the hills and in the deep background the alps can be seen watching over all the old architecture balanced with the inevitable building evolution as Switzerland’s capital.
The river is without a doubt the top spot to be during the summer: the river edge is littered with various restaurants, public bathing spots and buskers can be found decorating the hot summer air with their melodies. This hot bustle of activity along the waters border is idyllic and the clear crystal blue waters of the Limmat River makes you feel like you’re walking in paradise.
Zurich the capital. Wow.

However Santina and I also took the train to Basel, a neighbouring city and I can honestly say I was blown away! If I thought Zurich was an attractive city Basel is better and why? For two reasons:
1)      Less tourists and it not being the capital make it lets do the ice cream comparison: Zurich 7euros Basel 2euros 50 cents. WoW. Lots cheaper!

2)      The river Rhine is lots more fun! You walk along the river edge until you choose a suitably beach zone to lay down your affaires take off your shoes strip down to swimming suit and you waddle in to find that the Rhine current takes you away! Literally! You are pushed, no point swimming against it, unless you want to work on up your arm muscles is good exercise but you are powerless to fight against the force of water that gently yet surprisingly efficiently sweeps you down the river – where you get out? Well, that depends how far you are happy to walk back! It’s a thrilling experience that is worth every...oh wait. Unlike in Zurich you can bath in the river for FREE! Yes!
Whilst there I comtemplated the fact that I could easily see myself retired and living in summer Basel: like the locals going for a jog along the river until the summer sun gets to hot and you cant resist the call of the lapping current of the Rhine when you dump your stuff in a waterproof bag which you use as a cushion, laying down literally letting the water have it’s way with you!
This feeling is better than any yoga relaxation, massage, ANYTHING. Just the river Rhine can make you feel like a heap of liquid wonderment!  Stress fighting? Why fight? Just float!

This is the start of my two months holiday!  J I feel like a buddah who has been practising meditation for 30 years and has found he’s ZEN. Blisssssssss.................

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Polishing off the Parisian to Earning my Devon Freckles again

The journey from Paris to Bristol takes a little over one hour in real time. Though theoretically it lasts 15 minutes because of the one hour time difference. This just adds to my amazement because, for me, my life in Paris and my family in Devon are worlds apart!

However, on my return to England, there is never this 'culture shock' but rather a 'transition period' where my mind gets accustomed to Not responding in French out of shock when passers-by wish you good day like you knew each other! Not zoning in on every English accent heard whilst wandering the streets, as I am habitual to do in Paris. Not  pointing at each hill, sheep, cow, bird that is not a pigeon that passes and saying 'OOOOH' in a touristy fashion.

After all of these delights progressively re-become normal day-to-day eventualities I find myself reverting back to my 'green roots', so much so that; as soon as someone offers me a pair of wellies and some overalls I get this childish gurgle in my stomach to go mad, get muddy and jump in as many puddles as possible ! The transformation from Parisian foreign student to country girl is inevitable...

I spent yesterday with one of those friends who doesn't need you to qualify your friendship with photos or presents, simply a cup of tea and a shared laugh can make it feel like old times: when you were both living in the same country and undeniably struggling through unbearable Chemistry lectures together.

Watching the rain drive diagonally into the side of Louise's cosy farm style bungalow from our comfortable position, wrapped up in fleece blankets and cradling cups of tea the average size of a french woman's handbag on her sofa, one could of mistaken us for a pair of oldies chin waggin' about the good old days (and the reoccurring conversation topic: Food, of course...)

Though at her parent's suggestion of 'getting some fresh air' we left our nest on the sofa and ventured out onto the farm where the next several hours were passed.

I found all my questions answered to how farmers move their new-born calves: You herd them (...obviously...) but, suprisingly into the front dig-bucket of a JCB where like on a skate-rink the long legged animals find it impossible to stand up and so just lay-down and wait for the ride to be over!

I met a farrier, who kept in his spare change in a crisp packet and spoke with such a broad Devonian accent that I felt the same feeling I felt shortly after I moved to Paris and was having to make a huge mental effort in order to decipher each word in a sentence... English as a foreign language!

I discovered there were 5 gears on a quad bike! So, we succeeded in getting our dose of fresh air by speeding down the road on a quad bike at 70+ mph and I gained some of my own 'Devon freckles' as Aubrey, Louise's Dad had put it. (Or basically, mud splats on my face in plain English)

 Thank you Louise Hosegood and your family!

Monday, 16 April 2012

Poisson d'Avril - Watch your back!

So we celebrated April Fools Day this month but it got me thinking: What is April Fools? Why do we celebrate it? And thanks to google I discovered my answer easily enough: because dear Charles IX changed the start of the year to January 1st from April 1st.

In those days apparently it became tradition to give joke presents to people according to their jobs so a chef would be given a sieve without holes, a farmer would receive a access his fields etc

And in Scotland it became normal to send people to carry out irrational, impossible and completely ridiculous chores: "Go fetch the milk from the pigeons dear!"

At my house in England, April Fools Day can be dangerous! It triggers a booby trap war between my sisters and I resulting in such pranks as filling the sugar pot with salt... The worst surprise in the morning and equally the worst cup of tea of your life. Could be the reason why I no longer take sugar in my tea...Safelty first after all!

Anywho, last year for April Fools Day I was in France, au pairing. (Joy..) And I was quite disappointed as the kids I was looking after did not share in my delight in this holiday. So this year, working as an english teacher in and about Paris I still have alot of contact with children. But because of the way 'Poisson d'Avril' was forgotten about last year I let down my guard...

In France, they do 'April Fools' differently: instead of pulling practical jokes on people, the tradition is to stick paper fish to people's backs.

Me, I cycle to work everyday so whilst on the way home pedalling through the outskirts of Saint Denis like usual,  I am a little confused as to why each passing car sounds it's horn at me... I get paranoid and do the various self-conscience self and safety checks:

  • Skirt tucked into knickers?  NO
  • Riding on the right side of the road? (I'm English and somedays forget that it's the inverse to the UK)
  • Flat tyre? NO
  • Dropped bag? NO
  • Unknowingly ran over a pigeon? ...I don't think so!

At the next set of red lights a man in a van pulls up beside me and winds down his window with a sheepish grin on his face...He yells with great delight: "Madame! Vous avez un poisson sur votre dos!"

Me, completely oblivous reply: "Un quoi????!!!!"

The light turns green. Go! He accelerates past me shouting with rellish "Joyeux Poisson d'Avril!"

 'Poisson d'Avril'...Bien sur!

Lesson Learnt. 

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Humpty Dumpty in the frigo!

Happy Easter 2012!

I love Easter! I think it is really special! It's one holiday where you have to get people to work for their treats. What I mean to say is it's not like Christmas or your birthday where your presents are handed to you, you open them and before you know the best parts over!

Easter the fun is dragged out. The suspense is what I like! I remember last year for Easter I was an au pair and I made a treasure trail for the kids I looked after to find the eggs, there were clues! And challenges! I had great fun organising it! I hid eggs everywhere! And so this year, finding myself now not as an au pair and without kids, don't get me wrong that's a great thing! I had to find another way to celebrate easter.

So I decided to make my own easter eggs. Well to begin with this idea was plural. Eggs. But after two hours of attentively trying to fight physics a little drop of chocolate at a time, I was quite relieved to have even succeeded in finishing one egg! But finished he is!

Say hello to Humpty Dumpty!

I emptied out an egg shell so that I could lovingly fill it full of chocolate for my boyfriend, hide it on the shelf in the fridge for when he came back from visiting his parents for Easter! And it worked! One egg is enough seemingly as I managed to squeeze two bars of chocolate into this one shell!!!

(Well, I melted two bars anyway whether both two ended up in the wanted destination is another story!)

The motivation for making 'Humpty Dumpty', as I knighted him, originated from it being Easter obviously but equally whilst I was away for a week celebrating the carnival in Cologne my boyfriend got creative...

When I returned from my week in Germany I was greeted by this 'boite a manger'!!!

And inside he had made me this necklace... Humpty Dumpty was the least I could wasn't it?

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Skiing !

I'm not sure what spurred me to go skiing with ULIP but go I did, and frankly, I'm rather glad!
I have to admit I have never been skiing before in my life. So after unknown forces motivating me to say YES, sign the papers and hand over the money, I had many restless nights while my brain concocted various different scenarios of what skiing might be like.

It's insane but I have an over active imagination so trying to picture something I knew very little about makes way for a number of bizare possibilities.

I knew the basics: you slide down the face of a mountain with planks of plastic strapped to your feet.

And I had one childhood memory of skiing:
The ending scene from a Wallis and Gromit film, you know, the one where they go to the moon to collect cheese and they find that robot and they are so scared of him that they take off hastily in their handmade rocket and almost crash so the door falls off...Good film.

Well, to spoil the ending for you, the robot makes a pair of skis out of this piece of metal and the movie finishes with a rather content robot skiing gayily about the moon's craters. Paradise!

One thing was worrying me: this memory was of an animation. A cartoon. In cartoons, the characters can regrow limbs, fall off cliffs but manage to climb back up and get squished flat by falling pianos before popping back to life to play 'Mary had a little lamb' with flat fingers.

As a result, one week before the departure date I had a particularly frightening and ridiculous dream where skiers were dropped down from an airplane into a tube which was above the snowy mountain slope and so you had hope to death you'd be able to find your feet when you landed to ski back down!

 During the build-up to the ski trip I got nervous from all the stories of broken bones, chair lift accidents, unfortunate crossings with bears, caught in snow storms... But also immensely excited!!!!

The day of departure I packed my bag full with borrowed skiing clothes and too many tons of socks and set off for an Indian meal with my boyfriend. I left a little bit later than planned from lunch and almost had a heart attack when Daniel text me saying the train was 30minutes earlier than previously thought! After running though Paris with a rucksack for a train I was never going to be on time for, I had that feeling of 'PLEASE LET ME CATCH THE TRAIN I REALLY WANT TO GO SKIING!'

Fortunately, Daniel was mistaken with the train time and all six of us ULIPPERS boarded the train and sped off towards Alpe d'Huez. On the train we speculated what the accomodation would be like.
"Hovel, like a small hovel" was the agreed verdict and we couldn't help but laugh when our guide met us off the coach to say that potentially 'there will not be electricity'.

However, luckily the flat was cosy - even with electricity! There were cold showers from time to time but there was the essentials and the week flashed by! Good morning music was blasted to wake us up, we went skiing everyday in the sunshine! Getting tanned, having fun, eating lunch up on a mountain at midday and being blown away by the amazing mountain views. Honestly, that is the best way to holiday. Laying on a beach is no fun at all compared with slalemming around on skis!

The days of sport were followed by the good old evening ''trough meals'', (or the equivalent to a communal food dish to save on washing up!) and sometimes a deadly 'Ring of Fire’ game before heading out to dance and drink away the muscle fatigue! Well, that would be a good excuse for the immense amount of alcohol consumed.

Honestly, if you didn't go on the ‘OUI SKI WHISKEY’ ski trip this year - go next year! It is great fun! You are in beautiful surroundings, catching the sun rays whilst having fun and getting a good kick of adrenaline from time to time.

Skiing is easy to learn if you're a beginner like I was. As for the stories about serious accidents and people being taken off the mountain in black Gondolas well all I can say is:

If a plasticine robot from Wallis and Gromit can ski so can you.
Oh, and I even saw gullible written in the snow. It's true.