Deep Fat and Sexy

The boy done good! Mark Cavendish won the World road race cycling championship with a fantastic sprint. He is always the first to acknowledge his team who pull him in their collective slipstreams to the finish. I wonder how they feel having exhausted themselves to see one man take the plaudits. Very often I hear of people who have climbed Everest. In the old days you used to get a knighthood or at least some imperial gong. Sadly there are now so many Everestians that you might get a column filler photo slot in your local free newspaper and a free pack of budget sausages from a smiling local shopkeeper. Anyway, my point is that there are hundreds of porters and sherpas who seem to do most of the work. Sherpa Tenzing who climbed with SIR Edmund Hilary was himself named by time Magazine as one of the most influential men of the 20th Century. Since then I’m afraid the poor old guides and labourers have fallen back into the shadows. In the case of the cycling I think all those rouleurs who bash out the miles protecting their sprinters should be known as sherpas. In fact I hereby declare the Emma Calin Sherpa knighthood is awarded to the Sherpas: Wiggins, Froome, Stannard, Thomas, Cummings, Hunt and Millar. They are entitled to a free copy of “Knockout” and of course may use the title for the rest of their lives. Arise Sherpas.

How do you feel about deep fat fryers? Do you think that they are an abomination? Do you have one in your kitchen? Are they the last true demarcation of social class? I have 2 view points: 1) They produce delicious food. 2) They should not be allowed in the house.
Last night I cooked dinner for friends. We opened with Breton Duck pâté with asparagus and figs. We moved on to Moules et Frites – that classic dish of France. (Well, Northern France and Belgium). Now, Frites require a deep fat fryer and so it was that Gilles returned from ASDA (That’s Walmart for the rest of the world) with a DFF. (I told him not to say the word in case the neighbourhood watch committee found out what we had. Arriving in the lorry was bad enough). He also got some Maris Piper potatoes which we finely sliced. The whole evening got a bit Gallic with aperos going on far too late. Then under cover of darkness Gilles went to the garage and operated the shameful machine. Les frites were delicieuses. The mussels were huge – about twice the flesh of the French ones although the shells were the same size. Oh by the way we decided to try a local British wine. Now, our French wine in Saintonge is reckoned to be a bit plain. The British stuff was plain awful. It was expensive, snobby and sour. Never again.

Emma thinx: You are what you tweet.

Reverse Parking

Sitting here in the late afternoon with the temperature at 28 degrees, it seems almost inconceivable that the Municipal Gardens in Bournemouth UK were nearly washed away yesterday. I know I’m supposed to be writing about Charente Maritime, France and writing novels but if there is one thing that can raise any UK nostalgia from me it is Bournemouth. To me, it is a magical place of sepia sadness and lollipop longing – a childhood of sandcastles lost, trodden and overwhelmed – of proud flags on sticks defiant as the holiday ended and the dark satanic life of subservience called you back in to be counted and controlled. (Ooh- I was a terrible pupil. Those guys were stealing my free life and replacing it with punishment.)  I used to live quite near Bournemouth and all my life I’ve gone back there, both with family and alone – several times to write poems in the course of loves and desires gone wrong, gone good or not going at all.  I turned on the late BBC South News on my planet Murdoch satellite and saw a fabulously Municipal spokesman telling folk that the show would go on. Of course it will! I know I put up a poem yesterday but here is another one about Bournemouth Park. Check it out here.

From out of a blue sky this morning at about 8 o’ clock a tremendous smack and shatter of thunder stunned the whole town. There followed monsoon style rain which lasted for about 2 minutes. My eco water butts filled and all day I’ve had a kinda full water not got dem empty butt blues feeling. Think I’d like to write a song one day. 

One of the things to get used to here in France is the difference  between cuts of meat. This evening I’m serving coeur de basse cote de boeuf. Now to be honest, I had no idea what this meant in English. It looks like rump steak and the price per kilo would be  that kinda  bracket in the UK. I’m gonna cook up some onions and grill it for a couple of minutes. I had a quick peak on the internet and I could not see a kinda multilingual cut of meat chart. If anyone knows different please let me know.(Might be a big enough pull to get some google gold). 

Gilles and I had a spin on the tandem. Dear Lord – we found a new hill near Les Nouillers. Dear Lord I’m getting old. I could hear his breathing was more or less normal. Sometimes the line between love and hate is very faint. Who said faint?

Emma thinx: Dribbling rivalry – oldies still wanna win.


Things are just so prolific here. I took a stroll through the allotments to check out the harvest. Pumpkins and tomatoes swell with joyful fertility. Peach and apple trees ache with fruit like filled breasts needing the suck of hunger and dependency. Nature here is swollen with it’s summer of passion, giving itself up selflessly, proclaiming its spilling lust and asking to be taken – NOW! It’s just so bloody sexy – but of course, that is what the whole show is all about. I’ve never really been a gardener – but is that the key? Did all those Capability Brown types feel the great undercurrent of sex in the shrubbery. All those manicured posh house gardens always kinda remind me of supermodels with waxed hollywood punanis. I must say I do love the word punani. I think it comes from an Indian laguage. I first heard it on the lips of Ali G (Sacha Baron Cohen). I kinda love this guy – he is so outrageous. His movie “Bruno” had me laughing to a point of pain. If he’s reading this – please do a gardening movie.

Talking of punani put the great problem of panini into my head. A while ago during my big posho push I got into the operas of Mozart and decided to learn Italian. The French had driven off my husband but luckily I was with a Scotland Yard detective who tolerated my pretensions. At that time I was working in Central London and all manner of Italiano Eateroni were springing up. I used to saunter in and quip my order in over the top “ooh- just listen to my accent” passionato Italiano. Nobody noticed – well they were all city morons.(I could see they were ruining the world) . One day it occurred to me that I could not buy a panini. I could buy a panino because panini must be the plural. I wanted to ask in perfect Italian and even rehearsed the question……..Anyone help?

A mere 32 degrees today so I got my bike out and cycled to St. Jean d’Angely. There were mobs of Team Top Lycra loins in the boating lake by the park. I think a couple of them called out at me as I whizzed past. Ooh – I must walk past a few more building sites. Oh No – the correctoid police will be out gain!

Emma thinx: You yourself are a fruit. Be generous.

Merry Widow

I feel like a widow – or perhaps a deserted faithful wife. All that time I watched the Tour de France, and now it’s gone. This afternoon I had to do some writing because there was no excuse. When I first came to Paris as an innocent wanting to impress, I assumed that everyone knew about the cycling. I used to rehearse sentences containing references to famous riders and pontificate about the possible outcomes for next year. Generally I was met with complete incomprehension. In the end I fell back on my support for Crystal Palace football club. It was as if the sun had risen, bathing us all in warmth. “Oh yes – Zay are in your second deeviziyoh – etc…” Here in St. Savinien I find that the tyranny of football has almost no grip. Most things that one mentions of the wide world are too far away, too dramatic, too foreign to contemplate. It’s wonderful.

All the same I did a straw poll amongst a few locals as I prepared to blog. This bizarre DSK affair rolls on in New York. Now, as readers will know I like (and write) cop stories. You will also know that I had a Scotland Yard partner for a while and that his insights were illuminating. So – this Mr Big chap is accused of all sorts of sexual crime. This is serious. We are talking years in jail here. I can’t believe that I saw the accuser giving her evidence on TV in advance of the trial. I just can’t believe it. What is going on here? The USA is a civilised country with a belief in justice and a constitution enshrined in law. So what do the French make of it all? Bref – if he is guilty he must go to jail – BUT- maybe Obama is against Israel (therefore Jews) or maybe DSK wanted to change the world money system and there was a plot…or maybe it is just so far away and so foreign that it doesn’t matter. I just worry about what’s happening to judicial processes. It’s not a circus is it?

Gifts today were of a further bucket of mirabelles (now frozen) and a wooden chopping board. I heard the angel of all beasts outside. It crossed my mind that some cat/pigeon/parrot was in distress. “Emma – We have found some chopping boards in the cellar – I am giving one to you and some to so and so and so and so.” An angel chose me! Sod the world – I live in paradise.
And finally – my new book cover for Knockout has been knocked out. It really is a knockout!

Emma thinx: Angels can be smokers too.

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Sound Investment

Most days I hear sounds of other lives but today is Sunday. When I was a kid in the UK my mother was a bit concerned if we made a noise on the Lord’s day – not that she was religious. In St.Savinien folk work hard. Yesterday there was a sound of a generator making power for a guy rebuilding a nearby ruin. There was a radio, somebody singing, car horns doing that marriage cacophony so popular in France and of course the sound of voices talking. Today, even the dogs are silent. How do they do that? If you could develop Sunday France Canine Silence into a product you’d be on a winner. Gilles decided to make some progress with the patio and I went out to help. In the silence it seemed almost sinful to chisel at pavé knowing that the noise would probably travel to Bordeaux. In the end we gave up and watched the last stage of the Tour de France…..won of course by a BRIT. I didn’t say anything, or leap about or offer any magnanimous smugness. I might do later though.

Sunday being so special creates certain niche opportunities. Americans and Brits holidaying in France will know that shops still close for anything up to 3 hours in the middle of the day. However, the Intermarché at St. Savinien opens on Sunday morning. Now, South London Asdaholics and the like would just think this was normal. These great cathedrals of consumerism open 24 hours to keep the faithful junkies supplied. This in itself becomes addictive. It’s like having Wikipedia or a million Euros in the bank. If you need it – you can have it now. All around the region you see reassuring posters telling you that Intermarché is open on Sunday morning. Don’t worry citizens – YOU ARE CONNECTED. It is so popular that you have to fight for a trolley. Oh – the attached bakery is brill and les pains don’t go stale until the next day.

During the Tour de F, I heard a French commentator say that there were ten thousand camping cars in, on and around the Col du Galibier – a famous climb. As you travel South from the Channel ports you see several massive dealerships selling motorised caravans. You know, I’ve never been sure whether their popularity is because the French are paying homage to the Roma Gypsies or to snails. Probably both.

Emma thinx: A slug is just a homeless snail. Be kind.

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No Show

Is there anything sadder than a show with no audience. Blimey – I should know. On this occasion I don’t mean me. Last night I popped out to the Fin Bec restaurant on La Grenouillette. This was our first sortie and some of the reviews on-line had been a bit mixed. Well, there was an English family of four plus Gilles and I.  The young lady asked if we had booked and I glanced around at about 50 empty tables. Why do they do that? We chose from the 24 Euro menu and may I say that everything was a delight. A young lady named Jessica served with a professional friendliness that was about right. Dear Lord I would hate to be a restaurant or theatre critic. Those guys have to be hyper nasty just to make their waspish remarks amusing – or not. By the way if you ever pass by the resort of Royan do avoid the Tiki Restaurant. It is a beach side tourist trap. We ate there last year when we went to a concert on the sand entitled “Un violon sur le sable”. The food was acceptable but the service was the rudest and most unprofessional that I have ever encountered anywhere in the world – and this is not hyperbole. AVOID!!!

I started talking about having no audience and as usual got completely distracted. On the way home we passed “Le Spectacle Equestre.” Essentially this is a travelling circus show featuring horses. The evening was grey and coldish (by Charente Maitime standards – see photo). The show is outdoors and ranks of seats were arranged. How many spectateurs? Well – none. Bon courage mes amis – we have all been there.

Poor Tommy Voeckler – no longer in the yellow jersey. He will always be a hero to me and I hear no fat ladies singing as yet.

Emma thinx: Your best is good enough. Don’t save the good in you for best.

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I Believe in Mirabelles

They don’t like it you know – this whole patio thing. It’s not as if I’m setting up a fish and chip shop selling battered oysters and snail fritters. Mind you – if there are any entrepreneurs out there please feel free to have a go. “I suppose you will be leaving…uh…..places for zee plants?” commented a shrugging well wisher. No – it is the avoidance of plants AND WEEDS that je cherche.  I do hope to have a vine up the South face of Chateau Calin – but I’m kinda in dread of the well wishing grape harvesters who doubtless will know that the soil is better on the south western slope. When I was in England for my tooth re-build I saw a virgin fertile field on the outskirts of Romsey which was being raped/ bulldozed for several thousand houses. Such an event here would lead to kidnapping of developers  and the construction of guillotines. Here people respire, live and die. But the soil BREATHES and is immortal.

A wonderful neighbour has just arrived with a huge bucket full of mirabelles. I tasted some a few days ago for the first time. They are a variety of greengage/plum and are a kinda large cherry size. Gifts of fruit are a currency of affection and acceptance. I feel humbled and doubly ashamed of my Anglo patio. I’ll do a barbecue to make up for things. I mean, what can a romantic novelist do for people?

There’s problems at the beaches of La Palmyre. The naturists (nudists) are shivering. Finally they have given up and are wearing clothes. Now – whatever your religious beliefs, you must accept this as evidence of evolution.

OK – I’m sorry about this cycling stuff. BUT, Thomas Voeckler is still in the yellow jersey of the Tour de France. Today was an historic day in the history of La Grande Boucle. Andy Schleck attacked on a do or die mission. Tommy held on and gave everything he could and still leads by a fragile 15 seconds. He is a hero and a gentleman. I’m proud to be a kinda half Francaise. More candles burning for you tonight Tommy! On vous aime.

Emma thinx: Is a guide dog an aware wolf?

Wet Blanquette

Too late – what a horrible term it is. To me it conjures up all those official gate closings and back end of bus disappearings that surely punctuate everyone’s life. Here in Charente Maritime it means drought withered sunflowers too far gone to benefit from eventual rain. There is hope that the maize crop can still plump up and perhaps save an extra 10 percent of the expected loss. For certain the rain is not too late to send hordes of campers back home. Camp sites are reporting more departures than arrivals, ice creams and bikinis remain unsold.  When I was a happy camper I used to think that rain was an essential part of the holiday. My kids have endless memories of pebble beach picnics wrapped in cagoules and penned in by windbreaks. Wasn’t it wonderful to gaze out on an angry grey sea as flurries of rain swirled in the storm. Then we would all return to our half destroyed tent, slip into damp bedding supported by deflated air-beds. Ahead of us lay a fabulous meal of Cornish pasties with instant mashed potato and a torch lit night of holding down the tent. Go home? Dear oh dear – no wonder we won at Trafalgar.

Poor Gilles took a few days off to construct my patio. Poor lad has to sit indoors watching the Tour de France. Genetically they are just not used to day after day of rain. A French guy who knows I’m English, called out to me this morning – “Hey – this is your weather!” as if I were some kind of meteorological witch. Good job I haven’t got a cat. 

OK, I know I shouldn’t keep going on about the Tour de France. However, sport does provide us with so many metaphors and simply demonstrations of truths. Thomas Voeckler is still leading the race. I have just been downstairs to see why Gilles was apparently beside himself with excitement. Now, just to be in the Tour means you are in an elite of the elite. But if you think about all the genetic chances, the number of sperm, the chances of your progenitors meeting at all and the vagaries of the female cycle YOUR CHANCE of being born at all puts you in an elite of the nearly impossible. So, Thomas Voeckler put on the yellow jersey and became it and all that it means. All over the world so many disadvantaged and lost folk under achieve and we just accept it. What would they do in the yellow jersey – whatever race they were in?

Emma thinx: If you have the power- award a yellow jersey. You do have the power.

Ex Patio

What a day! Look – it’s not that I nag – I just want things to be better for all of us. So we have commenced project patio, that most English of traditions. To a Frenchman the soil is a living entity. To me it is weed bed that has to be controlled. At the side of the house there is an expanse of soil. Gilles can see lines of beans, peas and possibly a few chickens. What we actually see is weeds. Well, he is a busy man and I am saving him trouble in the long run. If you are an ex pat reader of this blog you may be planning similar projects. Many things are better to buy in the UK and many things are best bought in France. Certainly bring your paint from the UK. On the other hand budget kit wheel barrows  for 23 Euros M.Bricolage could not be bettered anywhere. We are lucky in having a branch of VM Materiaux near to us at Saintes. I can thoroughly recommend these guys. On a couple of occasions I have been there when Gilles has not been available and exposed my complete lack of building site vocabulary – no not that sort of vocab’! I mean things like – sharp sand, ready mixed concrete and all in ballast and ornamental stone. However, on each occasion I have been treated with kind incomprehension and eventual success. Poor Gilles is no better since he does clever marketing and world manipulation for a living. Luckily half the town of St. Savinien is being dug up and I pocket a few samples of stuff that I see and take it along to show the sales guys at VM. I suspect that the mad Englishwoman on a bike with pockets full of sand and stones is something of comedy. They never let on. By the way the guy who brought all the stuff today was a real pro and a gent.

At least I have been able to help a little and see Gilles shirtless looking muscular and shovel wielding. One of the problems for Romance writers is that in reality business type billionaires are unlikely to have flawless six packs and pulsating pecs. They might work out in the gym whist watching Bloomberg money TV and flicking their little fingers to score another few million, but they’re unlikely to be like some tough kid who digs the roads and carries railway sleepers – not that I look at any of those sort of guys! Perish the thought.

I can’t help but follow the Tour De France. Tommy Voeckler is still in the yellow jersey. He fought and fought today. I’m gonna light a Buddhist candle for him. C’mon – you can do it – for France and for me.

Emma thinx: Try making foundations without sand. Stone your prejudices.

Le Grand Crew

So it is the 14th July and I am in England. The night boat awaits so at least I will be under the French flag before midnight. As it stands this morning a Frenchman – Tommy Voeckler is leading the Tour de France. Please oh please all you other riders – let him stay in the yellow jersey tonight. He won’t win the tour but he is an absolute gent and a courageous rider. He will give every gramme of his soul to fight today as the race goes into the mountains. If there is any justice he will stand on that podium tonight. Already I am filling Rosina’s cottage with sounds of La Marseillaise. My edition is by La Garde Republicaine and has a real shouty urchin vocal by Mireille Matieu. A while ago there was a suggestion that the blood soaked words of the French anthem were watered down and made more PC. I think the sight of the guillotine being erected finished all that nonsense.

And now my special revelation. Anyone travelling on the overnight boat may notice a car with a bike on top – well actually it’s a tandem. Gilles is something of a cyclist and I am something of a woman who rides about on a bike. Have you ever seen bored looking males in Lycra loitering about at the top of hills as you sweep by in your car. Then as you descend the hill you see a beetroot coloured female about a mile behind slogging along in the lowest possible gear. Now I can tell you that just as she arrives exhausted to join her mate, he will give a peeved “OK then!” and shoot off. The tandem is heaven and is such good training for him! The great thing is that we chat all the time. If you wanna test your relationship – get a tandem. I won’t go into the history of the bike here, but it is considerable. The next project for it is a non fiction book called “Le Grand Crew.” Geddit?

Emma thinx: Chain him up – he’ll love it.