Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Windy Castle

Not this one.

This one.

It's called the Château de Mourcairol, the vestiges of which date from the late middle ages but as far as Matilda was concerned it was Windy Castle. And Aeolus is clearly on her side because it was very windy. And sunny. And balm to the soul to stand and survey the 360° panorama of breathtaking beauty. There was also a small chapel dedicated to Saint Michel which used to be a hermitage. Currently sans hermit. I was sorely tempted. The idea of being a hermit has always deeply appealed to me. I often go through what I call hermit periods. Though these are more difficult to indulge with the mini-beasts knocking about. But standing up there, with the tranquil site all to ourselves I imagined for one heavenly moment leaving life behind and allowing myself to live in simple daily awe at the world around me. Not right now perhaps. The mini-beasts are pretty awesome themselves at the moment. But at some point I would love to live the life of a hermit. A moment is probably all I'd need. But I think I will need that moment.

The mini-beasts seemed awed by the site themselves. Although what they really loved was climbing up and down the old stone stairs. Owen couldn't stop burbling and giggling he was so excited as he went flying down the steps, Uncle Ben valiantly holding him back from yet another face scuffing.

We took a pair of boculars for Matilda because she wanted to see Granny and Grandpa Pig from the top and we couldn't be sure there would be a telescope available. Sadly she didn't spy Peppa's grandparents but she did see a number of red elephants. Judging by the angle at which she was holding the boculars the only thing she should have been able to see was wall. But why let a silly thing like reality spoil your fun.

And Owen got in some good pointing.

But wherefore rambleth I? Today feels rather special. As those perceptive amongst you will have noticed, Uncle Ben is here. He arrived today. And there was much rejoicing. It is giving me a great amount of pleasure to see Matilda and Owen growing to love their uncles as much as I love my brothers. And getting out and about always lifts my spirits. The sense of history, tranquility and beauty, both natural and spiritual at "Windy Castle" was inspiring.

Monday, 24 October 2011

A winning combination

Matilda + trampoline = pure happiness

Yesterday we went to Samland with Tom, Vic and Theo. I was a bit worried about what we were letting ourselves in for. Spending a day with the seven cousins under one roof leaves me with my head pounding like I've passed a nuit blanche gyrating incontinently next to a nightclub speaker. I imagine. I have never done this. But it was brilliant. The hangar was vast enough to dissipate the shrieks of delight and everything was super safe. The mini-beasts would have had to have been determined to the point of monomania to do themselves any harm. And I often think they are determined to the point of monomania to do themselves harm. But Samland was resistant to their dicing with the laws of physics. They just had a whole lot of fun. Owen could barely stand up when we left. Amongst other things, there was a dance floor with flashing lights, a gigantic climbing frame, multiple trampolines, a labyrinth and a small climbing frame with a ballpit. The only downside was that I couldn't join in. Not that I didn't try. I went through the gigantic climbing frame once with O, but I got told off. And then I felt a bit silly.

And another thing, an exchange with Matilda tonight that made my heart melt a little.

Matilda, snuggling up to me: You know I love you mummy.
Me: Ah, thank you Matilda. I love you very much too.
Matilda: You're cute with your red trousers.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Happy 1st Birthday Theo

There is something momentous about reaching the end of your first year on the planet. I think there's something momentous about making it through your first year of parenthood as well. Theo George, lovely son of my lovely new friend Vic, was one today and they came round to celebrate with us along with another new friend, Ashley, and her little boy, Raphael. Two new friends. Two new friends. No one can live at that speed. I love making new friends. I hope I will go on making new friends until I am too old and smelly for anyone to possibly want to be friends with me who has not had the time to build up an affection strong enough to forgive any unsavoury odours.

I whipped up a batch of banana muffins for Theo's birthday cake. Really. I whipped them up. I've always dreamed of being the kind of person who could just 'whip things up'. I shall die happy. Happy and full, because they were yumtious. The best banana cake recipe I've ever tried. And I have tried many. We've reached small cake nirvana round here this week.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Greedy Bird Baking Enterprise #28 Super Easy, Super Moist Chocolate Cupcakes

Super, super. No pressure then.

My dad sent me this recipe and besides being super it appealed to me because it has a history. Back in the day I used to be something of an historian. The cake recipe contains no eggs or butter as it is thought to have originated in the 1930s, the time of the Depression and World War II rationing, when such things were scarce. It is known as Wacky Cake, which sounds much less intimidating and much more fun than Super Soggy Whatnots.

And so, history aside, were they any good? Well yes they were. The cupcakes stuck in the mould but as the instructions clearly stated that cupcake liners should be used, and I didn't, I only have myself to blame for playing fast and loose with the recipe. So, numptiness aside, they were super super yum. And so was the frosting. The photo at the top shows the one perfect Wacky Cupcake, with the other not so perfect but perfectly edible ones lurking behind it.

I'm increasingly impressed by Matilda. She's such an enthusiastic little baker. She attacks every task with mess-wreaking gusto but I don't mind being liberally besmattered with cake mix for the sake of nurturing a shared passion. Here she is enjoying the fruits of her labours. Super super messy because we couldn't possibly wait for the cupcakes to cool down before trying one, which meant super super melty frosting. Mmmmmmm. Don't ask me why she is wearing her dressing gown. I don't know. Maybe caught up in the sheer decadence of it all, she was having an Oscar Wilde moment.

If anyone wants the recipe you can find it here.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Bex's Bookshelves: Trois femmes puissantes, by Marie NDiaye

It's been a while since I read anything in French, and there's a very good reason for that. It's all so bloody miserable. At least modern French literature is. I say that, I think the miserable novel is something the French have done well for a long time. Have any of you read Zola's L'Assommoir? I had already read La Sorcière and Rosie Carpe by NDiaye and remember quite liking them. They were strange and moving. So when Trois femmes puissantes won the Prix Goncourt in 2009 (usually I avoid anything that wins the Prix Goncourt) I decided this was one to read. And look, a mere two years later, I got round to it.

I do quite like a miserable novel every now again. I actually like, if like is the right word, L'Assomoir. Although generally I prefer my misery leavened with a bit of humour, a bit of wit and irony. Basically, something less French and more Russian. Trois femmes puissantes is a novel that appears to strive for misery in every word. It's about the power of suffering. There's a lot of suffering. And it's very powerful. I suffered reading it. Powerfully. It's beautifully written, though like many French novels I sometimes suspect it of being a triumph of style over content. For me perhaps the most interesting aspect of the novel was the tension created by the characters moving or attempting to move between France and French Africa.

A quote? Go on then. Just one. Just to give you an example of the misery.

Il croyait comprendre, du fond de son désordre, de sa faiblesse, l'insignifiance fondamentale de ce dont il souffrait et, cependant, de cette intuition il était incapable de se servir avec profit, perdu comme il l'était dans les marges de la vraie vie, celle sur laquelle chacun a le pouvoir de peser.

And because I wouldn't want those of you who don't speak French to miss out:

He believed he understood, from the depths of his turmoil, of his weakness, the fundamental insignificance of what he was suffering and yet, he was incapable of making any profitable use of this intuition, lost as he was in the margins of real life, on which everyone has the right to make their mark.

Happy weekend everyone!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Town Crier

Matilda likes to await Fanf's homecoming in the window cage. As she saw him appear up the road tonight she yelled out:


I'm sure that you, along with us, and the rest of our neighbourhood (those that speak English) will be relieved to know that Matilda's poo problem seems to be resolving itself.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

(Mini) Greedy Bird Baking Enterprise #27 Jumbles

According to The Great British Book of Baking these are a childhood favourite. Well I was a child once and I don't remember them. But they seemed easy and fun. They are called Jumbles because you can throw anything you like in them. Matilda and I threw peanut butter and milk chocolate chips (a gift from Katie, direct from Las Vegas... and that's about as rock and roll as my life gets right now) and banana chips. I think they taste nice. I can't really tell as I am bunged up to the eyeballs. This probably means I shouldn't really share them... what with the germs and all.

In other GBBE news, I attempted a brownie recipe this weekend that Alex sent me. I don't know what it is about me and brownies, but we don't do well together. Or not brownies of the homemade variety. I think I have the wrong tin (it's not even a tin, it's ceramic) and until I get the right tin that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Anyway, with a quick bit of rebranding, TA DA, chocolate pudding. And it was utter yum.

Monday, 10 October 2011


When all is working as nature intended you take poo for granted. You do. When it isn't, bowel function takes over your life. One child, since starting école maternelle, has become frightened to poo on the toilet. Apparently it is quite common when children start school because they are embarrassed to do a poo in front of all their little classmates. I can understand this. But Matilda has got used to holding it in and she holds it in, and holds it in until it explodes in an unholy, unsanitary, underwear destroying mess. The other child is also exploding, in fact can't stop exploding, in noisy, fruity, seeping gushes. Luckily Owen is taking his gastro in his stride. He's dehydrating and, we realised after out trip to the paediatrician this morning, losing weight, but remains chipper. Matilda, though, is suffering. SUFFERING. She screams and clings to me when she is on the toilet, desperate not to let anything out. It's been going on for two weeks and it's horrible. She is worn out and stressed, and so are we. I understand there are all sorts of psychological theories about children and poo but having spoken to my favourite psychologists (other parents) it seems the best thing to do is not get stressed, and wait for normal service to resume which, I am assured, it does. But at the moment it all feels too much. Going out is a nightmare, she could barely walk this afternoon from holding herself back and we generally go through about four pairs of knickers before she gets beyond the point of no return. Always fun when you're being observed by a playground full of children and parents. I decided not to be embarrassed and talk about the problem. This was the right thing to because now not only do I not feel like a freak/terrible mother/both but have received some good advice.

And as if poo wasn't enough we also have incontinent snot. Snot and a 50 a day hacking cough. Both of them.

So reasons for disturbed nights are many and various and the mini-beasts are missing no opportunity to try them all out. Last night Matilda treated us to a new and different nighttime horror, a deeply unpleasant series of screaming fits because her legs hurt. Growing pains? Restless leg syndrome? The need just to find a focal point for her anxiety? I don't know but it was a bit frightening. After the fourth or fifth crisis, Fanf was about to call the hospital when I distracted her with my random collection of special things, stored inside a blue glass Beatle car,which I have not added to or looked at since I met Fanf. Most of which I could no longer identify. They included a scrap of paper with the number 2 on it, a piece of fake corn (I remember it was set dressing from a play, I don't remember which play), numerous conkers and stones, my grandad's last coin (a pound) and a rather cute necklace with Janosch's Tiger-Ente, which now has one proud new owner. Matilda fell asleep stroking her new, strange and treasured possession. I fell asleep wondering where on earth it had come from and why it had been carefully stowed away with the special things. I also made a mental note to hunt down some Janosch for the mini-beasts.

Actually, little O, trooper that he is, threw up in bed last night but was clearly feeling compassionate and didn't say a peep. I went in this morning to find him lying in a pool of dried sick. As I'm sure I've said before, it can be tough being a parent but it's bloody tough being a kid too.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Béziers Home for the Young and Gifted

Some people's children say outrageously funny, eccentric and insightful things. Some people's children come up with wonderfully imaginative games and roleplay. Some people's children display extraordinary compassion and understanding.

My children do this:

So proud.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

(Mini) Greedy Bird Baking Enterprise #26 Strawberry and White Chocolate Muffins

I wanted to make raspberry and white chocolate muffins but the raspberries that had been sitting happily in the market until just yesterday, today had suddenly got itchy feet and moved on. Still, who wants feet in their muffins. Especially itchy ones. So... strawberries. Sadly, not terribly tasty strawberries. The muffin bit was great though. This week's GBBE then was more a sign of good things to come than a glorious triumph.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Of things fragrant and things frightening

My dad turned up today with a large branch of bay leaves. I made my first ever recipe (The Hairy Biker's Mum's everyday fish pie with cheese mash) using bay leaves last week. I think that means I now qualify as a grown up. Marvelling to my dad at this culinary staple which, it seems, is as common as salt and pepper for grown ups who grew up in a more timely fashion, he offered to bring me some from his garden. I thought this was jolly nice and when he arrived I hung them up in the kitchen, where they looked most pretty to mine eye. And then as I tootled about my daily business I started to notice the smell. They smell amazing. It makes me and my nose most cheerful whenever we pass by.

In other news, I sent off my first submission to a literary agent. Obviously my book isn't ready but I decided it never would be so I might as well get on with it. I'm a bit frightened. My daydream of choice for the last three years (oh, who am I kidding, for the last twenty years) has been that someone would publish my work. What happens when I have to find a new daydream? Or worse, a job.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Sauvez nos Halles

Today my fellas, big and mini, were in the local paper, Midi Libre. We (I do not feature, the lady interviewer was clearly only interested in my two handsome men) were interviewed about plans to move les Halles, the indoor market which is a two-minute walk from our house. They wouldn't be moving very far but far enough to make it a lot less convenient with the mini-beasts in tow. More importantly, several of our favourite stallholders have said they couldn't afford to move. Les Halles are currently subsidized by the Town Hall; the new market would be privately organised and funded, and therefore much more expensive for the stallholders. Our quartier is already struggling to survive, moving les Halles would be a final nail in the coffin. The proposed site, on top of a new carpark, is rather empty of other commerce or inhabitants. Surely it would be better to invest in regenerating les Halles (the building is classified) and our historic residential quartier rather than throwing money into a new project?

Sorry, very dull post for anyone who doesn't live in Béziers. So that'll be all my readers then. Still, quite fun to see the fellas in the paper, n'est-ce pas?

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Another Year

I don't know about another year, it feels like another lifetime since I was an avid cinemagoer, a self-proclaimed film buff. It was a time when I used to be annoyed by people who noted 'Film' as one of their interests on their CVs when what they meant was they never missed the latest Bruce Willis crash bang whallop extravaganza at their local multiplex. I - I would grandly assert - was a serious film enthusiast. I had studied European film, Shakespeare on film and I had written a dissertation about 1950's Hollywood musicals. I had a long-standing love for Jimmy Stewart. I refered to him as Jimmy. Because I was a proper film buff.

That was a long time ago. The mini-beast years have not been kind to this pompous cinephile. Not only do I no longer find the time or money but when we do manage to sit down to watch a film at home I frequently fall asleep. In my defence, I think this is perhaps to do with the kind of film we have a tendency to watch. Unlike my approach to books, I am not a film snob. I actually quite enjoy a bit of crash bang whallop, a 'switch off your brain' popcorn film. The problem with watching this kind of film at the moment is that after the brain switches off the rest of the body follows. In fact I am much more likely to stay awake if my brain is engaged and I have to concentrate, or if my emotions are stirred by real characters rather than the superficial emoting of the Beautiful People.

Recently I have been feeling a real need to reconnect with the arthouse and the worthy. Last night I persuaded Fanf to watch Another Year, Mike Leigh's latest masterpiece. It's deeply moving, beautifully acted and terribly sad. I love Mike Leigh, I think he is such a humane writer/director; he does not judge and allows all his characters dignity. He takes ordinary people and he quietly reveals the drama and the emotions in everyday lives. In Another Year Leigh,typically, observes the interactions of a group of family and friends, most of whom are nearing retirement. Not an age group often given much attention. The film explores, amongst other things, happiness, loneliness and the limits of compassion. I found myself near tears several times, mostly because of Lesley Manville's character, Mary. At the end of the film, many of the principal characters are gathered round the dinner table. In the final moments the camera focuses on Mary, gradually the sound of chatter fades away and you watch her, in silence, as she tries to look happy and interested but all you see is how lonely and how isolated she feels. What you don't hear or see is the happy ending from a different jauntier film. Leigh shows us that one person's happy ending can be somebody else's sad ending.