Monday, 19 December 2011

Heaven is no other people

... and a good bottle of wine.

Is it me, or do the habits and foibles that I hopefully considered endearing eccentricities when I was younger seem increasingly infuriating and obdurate? I have never liked crowds. I once hit someone trying to struggle my way through the heaving masses trying to leave Notting Hill carnival because I just couldn't handle being crushed by my fellow man. Call me infuriating and obdurate but I increasingly dislike being surrounded by other people. One of the things that appealed to me about going away to the foothills of the Pyrenees the weekend before Christmas was the probability that my fellow man would be crushing his way, or her way, through some last-minute Christmas shopping.

So it proved. And I revelled in it.

Everywhere we went, other than the jolly little local restaurant we found on Saturday night, was deserted. We climbed up to Fort Liberia at Villefranche le Conflent. We were the only ones there. We pootled around Eus, classified one of France's most beautiful villages. All we saw were some very silky and well-loved cats. We went to visit the Orgues at Ille sur Tet. Not a soul. This was actually because the site was closed. I persuaded Fanf, against his better judgement, to break the law and ignore the signs warning us that we would be trespassing if we entered the privately-owned site. I didn't feel the slightest tweak of guilt. Fanf felt incredibly uncomfortable. I loved having the Orgues all to ourselves, to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the site in its natural glory. Fanf made me come away as fast as possible. Then ensued a discussion about rules and the law. I am curiously resistant to obeying rules when I judge that what I do causes no harm. Although I do see that the world would probably be in chaos if everyone felt, and behaved, like that. What do you think?

Oh, and this is the view of the Canigou that we had from our bedroom window when we woke up on Sunday morning.

And this is the view of us, happy, remembering why it was we chose to make our lives together.

Friday, 16 December 2011

All that jazz

Last night I went to a (free, hooray!) concert with my lovely friend/sister outlaw, Steph. Getting out and about with a gal pal rarely felt so good. I love live music.

We went to see my neighbour, Jersey Julie. She and her band are really quite cool. You can check her out here. Did I mention she's my neighbour? I think you'll find that makes me cool by geographical proximity.

Yes it does.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011


This weekend Fanf and I are going away. Just for one night. Not very far. But it'll be me'n'im, and nobody else. Courtesy of a giftbox birthday present from the French outlaws this year. How very thoughtful, as the lovely Jen said. Well, actually, as it was what I asked for, how very obedient.

I'm sure we'll have a wonderful time but what I enjoy as much as anything is the antici- (cue Frankenfurter) -pation. I love the feeling, the excitement, when you know something's coming, something good (bored with the musicals references yet? In my head, my life is a musical comedy). Since I confirmed our booking last week every time my brain idles suddenly, up it pops, the joyous presentiment that I'm soon to have a weekend with my Fanf. The sweet thrill of promise.

As I seem to be in a musicals mood, and because my anticipation is dazy with les sentiments amoureux I thought I'd share one of my favourite musical love songs with you: Cherry Pies Ought To Be You, by Cole Porter from Out Of This World.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Simple Pleasures

I'm not feeling very wordy. No matter. These pictures speak for themselves.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011


This morning O and I got back from the market at about 10.15, I sat him on my knee to take his shoes off and he snuggled up and fell asleep. So I snuggled up and fell asleep too. Impromptu sleepy cuddles with my little man, when it comes to happiness, my happiness, things don't get much better than that.

Both the mini-beasts love cuddling up, to me, to Fanf, to each other, at any opportunity at the moment. I love it too. I love cuddles. Talking with Vic recently, she said her mother outlaw had told her she shouldn't cuddle her son, Theo, too much. Too much? Is there such a thing as too much cuddling? While my kids want me to cuddle them I shall. And I'll probably keep cuddling them when they don't want me to anymore.

We even have a little mantra in our house:

Kiss, Caress, or Cuddle.

To avoid other less nurturing forms of bodily contact, such as biting, kicking, hitting, sticking fingers up noses (both your own and others) and, most weirdly, licking.

Yesterday, on the phone, Matilda informed her Great Nana Iris that she had 'really cuddles' in her pocket that she was going to give her for Christmas. A pocketful of 'really cuddles', I think that's what I'd like for Christmas too.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Happy Advent

And a big thank you to Papi Mike for the beautifully hand-decorated Advent calendar, lovingly stuffed with chocolate. Because as everyone knows, the true meaning of Christmas is chocolate.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Some actual doings

Disclaimer: I am not crafty. In the slightest. I enjoy it. I am not good at it.

Matilda's teachers asked all the kids to bring in a Christmas decoration from home to decorate the classroom. Hmmm, methought, why are they not making their own Christmas decorations in class? Does the modern curriculum that requires all children to have a working grasp of string theory by the time they're five leave no time for bin bag holly wreathes? Anyway, I decided that while Matilda gets on with splitting the atom at school we would have a go at some good old-fashioned Blue Petering at home. It was very much in the spirit of Blue Peter. Having toyed with the idea of buying felt, ribbon, and stickers to adorn our petit bonhomme de neige (Matilda's choice) I decided to opt for using only what I could find in the house. Mostly old socks and cotton pads. It's the first time M and I have really made something together at home, other than paintings, play doh and the like. It was so much fun and she's chuffed to bits to be taking her snowman to school tomorrow.

In this photo below he is saying "Hello Uncle Ben". Thought Uncle Ben might like to know.

And in more doings, the GBBE. I'd pretty much decided to ditch GBBE along with Bex's Bookshelves and simplify this blog to leave more time for shoddy crafting. This seemed the right moment as well because I had thought that this year I might make biscuits for everybody as Christmas presents. Matilda would help. It would be lovely and homespun and charming. The trial run was today and obviously I wouldn't put up photos because that would ruin the surprise. But surprise, our Christmas biscuits looked like this:

So you can all breathe a sigh of relief. These will not be skulking under a Christmas tree near you. I'd like to say they look like that because Matilda iced them. But she only iced one then got bored. Yup, the sloppy icing is all me. And it's meant to be red. They were yum and we wolfed them down as if Christmas Day were already upon us but still, back to the Christmas drawing board...

Tuesday, 29 November 2011


Recently we bumped into a little girl in the park who is one day older than Owen and she could say several words. O, bless him, can't. Owen can say one word.


When he wants something.


And with increasing urgency as you present him with a variety of things towards which he appears to be gesticulating, but that are all the wrong thing.


There is a smattering of whiny mamans and a fair sprinkling of papas discernable amongst the tootling, but mostly it's ÇA!

Oh yes, and when he doesn't get what he wants he screams at a pitch that sends our canine neighbours into a frenzy. But fair's fair, maman was withholding the much coveted slippers to get in a few extra ÇA!s.

He is also starting to make animal noises (always a useful life skill). I say noises, I mean noise. In O's world most animals go Rarrrr. Only the dog is maverick. The dog goes vvrrrfffff. Like a Formula One racing car.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Bex's Bookshelves: Miss Ranskill Comes Home, by Barbara Euphan Todd

I finished this a couple of days ago but have been putting off writing about it. I'm not sure whether to continue with the book reviews. Are you interested? Really?? If you are, please could you let me know. If you aren't, your silence will suffice. No need to tell me my reviews are jumped-up, pretentious and dull. I have my inner monologue to do that.

Anyway, just to give you a taste of what you could be missing.

Miss Ranskill Comes Home is good. Like other Persephone books I can see why it fell into obscurity rather than achieving the classic status of Cold Comfort Farm say. But a book doesn't have to be a classic to be an interesting and enjoyable read and all the Persephone books I have read have been both. More than that, they always have something slightly unusual about them. Miss Ranskill comes home from four years stranded on a desert island, with only Reid the Carpenter for company, to find herself utterly bewildered by wartime Britain. Her outsider's perspective on the rules and regulations of rationing and air raid drills is amusing and her attitude to social dos and don'ts challenging. She is open-minded, independent and acerbic. Part satire, part fantasy, part romantic comedy, the book is sweet and sour in just measure. It's also a reminder that it's good to get out of your bubble every now and again. Not that I'm proposing we should all go out and shipwreck ourselves on a desert island. At least not for four years.

'You don't have a long lost sister return every day!'
'On! Nona, and I've never even kissed you or said I'm glad to see you, or -' Edith stooped down, somehow kissed the damp kitten instead of her sister's face, rubbed some hairs from her mouth and said, 'There!'
'I suppose it would have been different on Tuesday,'
'Well, better because I'd have got everything prepared and -'
'And, I suppose kisses scheduled for Tuesday can't be expended on Monday.'

It was strange that values should make such a flashing change. In one world the thought of citizens wasting matches could be dementing: in another the idea of islanders feeding a flame with the price of boots could rouse rage. There was not one truth but many. Was it possible for anyone to be innocent of the death of just one man?

There's one thing you can't do, Miss Ranskill, you can't hurry comfort. You can't give happiness while a misery's still there.

Interesting fact, Barbara Euphan Todd is better known for creating Worzel Gummidge.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

(Mini) Greedy Bird Baking Enterprise #33 Orange Cake, & #34 Butternut Squash Muffins

Cake for breakfast!

Matilda made this yesterday with Papi Mike. Who doesn't love cake for breakfast? Strange, sad people. That's who.

And today, with the motherbeast, she made Butternut Squash muffins from this Jamie Oliver recipe. I yanked the muffins from the oven just before heading down to the park, they looked anaemic and slimy and I was already planning a "Jamie stinks" post in my head. For a start his recipe made far too much batter for my one and only muffin tray. But having got home and tried them I shall revise this to a "Food processors stink" post. Today was the first time I've tried out the food processor I inherited from the grandspoilers. They're just not cricket are they, food processors? They feel like cheating. They're certainly not mini Greedy Bird-friendly. Stuff and mess went everywhere, including several cracked eggs that missed the target.

Conclusion: the muffins were delish. But we shall mix them up by hand next time. Call me a Luddite (really, I won't mind, I hate a machine where a human will do, I hate anything electrical or mechanical - such things make me feel and look stupid*) but what is wrong with a good old wooden spoon?

And in other news, after four weeks of rain, just when we thought we'd have to start honing our ark-building skills, this:

* I had to ring my dad to ask him how to turn on the food processor. I kid you not.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

On slippers

Yes, slippers. Bex speaking out on the important issues of the day. In my little world, slippers are important. I love slippers. I need my feet to feel cosy, happy and loved. If my feet feel cosy, happy and loved then the rest of my body will surely follow. It's that simple. When I moved to Béziers I brought with me a pair of slippers I purchased in Jones when I was doing my MA, at the tender age of 22 (do you remember Jen, you were there!). Actually I thought they were shoes and spent several years wearing them as shoes until I got tired of being asked why I had come out in my slippers. I decided that 10 out of 10 people couldn't be wrong. But I probably was. So then they became my slippers full-time. About a year after moving to Béziers my toes started to poke through the ends. Stifling a sob I consigned them to slipper heaven.

What now? I had had the same slippers for ten years. I wanted to buy myself a new pair that would last another ten years. On the recommendation of my French sorority I bought a pair of (ridiculously expensive) Giesswein slippers. Believing, erroneously as it turned out, that I was investing in the long-term comfort of my tootsies. At first they were hugely promising, and then they fell apart. A bit like Lost. Disgusted, I hied me to Auchan and bought the cheapest pair of supermarket slippers I could find. These too failed to go the distance. Any distance. They were holy, as in dead, within a week. I nonetheless persisted in wearing them, to the point of sending myself slightly lame sliding about without lifting my feet to prevent the slippers from falling off. But as the cold arrived this year I decided enough was enough. I needed proper slippers, that would be loving and cosy but also allow me to safely scurry about the house like the mildly lunatic stay-at-home mum that I have become. And so, I give you France's own Collégien.

Super funky cosy toesty don't fall offy dashing up and down stairsy.

Of course I have only had them a week. But it has been a good week.

The keen-eyed amongst you will have noticed two pairs of feet in the silly slipper shots. Naff? Tacky? Cheesy? Yay and yay and thrice yay. I resisted the matching red shoes, I simply couldn't resist the slippers. I think we look cute.

Monday, 21 November 2011

La Fête

I'm afraid that despite what I said about catch-up posts, this is a catch-up post. I would justify myself, but hell, why should I? On Friday Matilda was invited to Maxence's third birthday party. We made Smartie Cookies (you like butter? you like smarties? you're human? you'll like them, recipe here) and then trotted off into the upper unknown regions of Béziers.

It was such a lovely afternoon. For so many reasons. Not least the chance for me to kick back, consume large amounts of fast sugars (yes, this was a proper birthday party) and chat with some fellow mini-beast handlers while the kids amused themselves jumping on things, off things, into things, into each other. And at one blissful moment, quietly playing all together with the Brio train track.

Yes, there were only three guests, and two of them belonged to me. It was an exclusive little fête.

Sunday, 20 November 2011


In an ideal world I would just drop in on my friends unannounced, perhaps bearing baked goodies, a bottle of wine or just a smile and an excuse to take a break from the wear and tear of daily life. But the dropping distance between Béziers and London say, or Ottowa, or Sydney, is prohibitive. My baked goodies would most likely be stale (or, even more likely, have gone tummyside en route) by the time I rocked up on the doorstep. There are a number of means of communication available, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Skype, as well as offering free phone calls around the world, allows you the chance to actually see each other. My brother told me recently that 70% of communication is non-verbal, which suggests you're missing out on rather a lot when you're not face to face. Sometimes on Skype I find being able to see each other is a bit of a hindrance to free conversation, but when you have kids, when you want to show off your kids to others and have them show off theirs to you, then Skype is fun. The mini-beasts love skyping their uncles.

Last weekend I ditched the mini-beasts, furnished myself with a glass of wine and holed up in the bedroom to have a lovely Skype chat with Jen. This morning I had a Skype date with Anna and Rosie, 8am Frog time, 6pm Oz time. It was quite exciting padding downstairs, making myself a cup of tea, settling into the sofa, knowing that this evening, on the other side of the world, Anna was also settling in. Sadly the video didn't work Anna's side but I still finally got to hear Rosie and her chirpy Ozzie hello. It was so nice to link up with them, one marriage and three kids since Anna and I last spoke to each other.

Skype is not perfect. As Jen said, it feels less intimate than the phone. But I am really grateful that it's there and I can keep up with my intercontinental friends, as well as my continental ones. I am starting to make new friends here, but there's something special about friends that knew you before you were a parent. They know things but you know they won't say...

Friday, 18 November 2011

The old stomping ground

I have just booked flights to London for me, and the mini-beasts, and the fella. Whoo hoo.

WHOO HOO, I say.

The whole Canteau-Pilbeam clan have granted themselves an early Christmas present. We will be flying out in January for a week. We will be squatting chez the unbelievably lovely Alex. Alex, as well as being super lovely, a staunch ally in this whole stay-at-home-mumness lark and a fellow culture vulture, lives within walking distance of the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the V&A. It's going to be fun folks. The mini-beasts are not going to know what hit them.

Excited doesn't even begin to cover how I'm feeling right now.

And as a little added bonus, we don't have to do any Christmas shopping. The tickets for all four of us were a fantastic 150 euros. But still, the budget doesn't stretch to that and presents. I don't care, what better present than hanging out together in London for a week.

Did I mention, whoo hoo???

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

(Mini) Greedy Bird Baking Enterprise #31: Banana, Date and Cherry Loaf

Sounds a bit dull and healthy, doesn't it? But no. It was absoblootely loomin' yum. We managed to eat about half out it before Fanf even made it home. I started by slicing off modest little chunks and the kids just kept asking for more. And I just kept saying yes. Because I wanted more. Way to teach them self-restraint and moderation. Thumbs up for the parenting skills.

But could you say no to this face?

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Bex's Bookshelves: The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, by H.P. Lovecraft

Did you know there was such a thing as Weird fiction? I didn't. Fanf mentioned Lovecraft to me when we very first met and when recently he told me that Guillermo del Toro wanted to film a version of Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness I thought that the double recommendation, Guigui and Fanf, should secure old H.P. a place on my next Amazon order. The stories are a mixture of horror, fantasy and science-fiction and, posthumously, Lovecraft appears to have been hugely influential both in genre literature and film. He feels a bit like the strange sibling of Poe and Wells, the one they keep locked in the attic and don't talk about. At times it is deeply silly, like a lot of horror, fantasy and science-fiction, but none the less compelling for that. His fear of where our quest for scientific knowledge would lead us seems remarkably prescient. His fear of repulsive alien fungi less so.

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the dealy light into the peace and safety of a new dark age."
From The Call of Cthulhu.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Friday in photos: so everyday, so good

Sometimes the everyday seems not enough and sometimes it seems all you could possibly wish for. Thankfully today was the latter. There were many small but meaningful RTBCs.

1. This morning's activity: balancing silicone cupcake cases and assorted baking related paraphernalia on our heads. I love silliness.

2. Matilda has learnt to draw happy little hairy people. They make me smile every time I see one.

3. Not quite everyday, Fanf was home because 11th November is a public holiday in France. I love my Fanf.

4. The park. Two whole hours without rain. Two. Count them. One, two. And a reunion with Maxence after two weeks of rain (two, count them...) Remember Maxence? Ah, young love...

5. Oh, and I almost forgot, I made a list. It doesn't look half so big and scary as when it was all pinging about in my head.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

(Mini) Greedy Bird Baking Enterprise #30 Cherry and Nut Bites

Matilda is suffering from growing pains. I always thought this was an emotional, metaphorical pain. But no, turns out it's a proper medical thing. Matilda has physical pain in her joints and according to our paediatrician this is most likely because she is growing. He suggested we feed her foods rich in magnesium. Almonds, I thought. I also thought raw broccoli but a spoonful of sugar and all that. I'm more Mary Poppins than Gwyneth Paltrow. So today we made cherry and nut bites, which contain ground and flaked almonds. They have oats in so they're officially healthy as well as being good and flapjacky, hooray for a bit of flapjacky. They're also most nibbly. The recipe is from Fast Cakes by Mary Berry, which Katie very kindly gave me. I love this book. Simple, no fuss. I've tried several of the recipes and they've all been great. For Matilda's elephant birthday cake I made Berry's Can't-Go-Wrong Chocolate Cake. Oh ho, a challenge. But even I could not make it go wrong. So for any other enthusiastic yet talentless bakers out there: Mary Berry.

Vic and Theo came round to join in with the munching this afternoon. Halelujah, other humans. It is still wet and miserable so we decided to brave rain and penury by going to a café. I would like to say it was lovely. Hanging out in cafés was one of my favourite ways to waste an hour or so pre-minibeasts. But going to a café with toddlers is not always the most relaxing activity and conversation tends to be stilted by continual interjections.

"So then I, put that down... where was I? Yes so, don't touch that... I was in the market when stop, arms are not detachable... when, erm, what was I saying, where are you going, come back here... sorry sorry, anyway I was, oh god, sorry, yes I'll pay for that."

Anyway today wasn't relaxing but it was fun. Owen showed off his straw skills, Matilda had hot white chocolate, and I had jardin bleu tea, which was as nice as it sounds (as was the hot white chocolate). Nothing got broken or spilled so really it was a huge success. Sometimes I think that those lovely pre-MB activities are worth doing now just to say you did them. To make you feel that there is still some connection with the you that was you before you were you and them.