Thursday, December 16, 2010

Close encounters

There is no end to the distractions of working from home. The girls are at school and Iain is at work, which should mean peace and tranquillity and no excuse for writers block. Not so. I have just discovered Oscar, the mentally deranged pug, loudly chewing. Given that he inhales every meal whole in 15 seconds flat and then proceeds to race around the kitchen hoovering up any stray biscuits that happen to bounce out of his or Tallulah's bowl with lightning speed, I go over to investigate knowing only that it cannot be food he is eating.

He has stolen Issy's favourite dog-eared toy puppy that she has treasured since babyhood from her bedroom and has pulled out both beady eyes to indulge in a light snack. Having lost the tussle to continue (digging beads out of a pug's slobbery mouth is only marginally better than picking up poo) he is now consoling himself by licking the upholstery on the chaise longue.

He rates high on the cute factor, but there's no doubt he is one bone short of a doggy bag, or as I heard it called today, a Chewy Vuitton. We are taking him and Tallulah to London for Christmas (oh happy days on a 14 hour car journey) and Clare has begged us to bring Hotel for Dogs along as it is his favourite film. He joins in with the action scenes, standing at the side of the TV waiting to chase all the hounds when they run off camera and occasionally headbutting the screen in his excitement. Ruby and Charlie are desperate to video him in full audience participation mode and start a new YouTube sensation. Spot the difference thinks he has a career looming in movies, the other has no eye, dear.

Highlight of the week was a close encounters experience at Helen and James's annual Christmas carol service on Tuesday night. Following a tuneful rendition at their little chapel, complete with authentic snow flurries and a fantastic feast of curry and mulled wine for around 70 people, the kids decided to light chinese lanterns and let them float into the night.

As we left later that evening, we were amazed to see a cluster of them still alight, hundreds of feet up in the valley (the lanterns, not the kids.) We were slightly puzzled by the number of local gendarmes and pompiers gathering in the village with their own blue lights flashing as they set up a roadblock but thought nothing more until Wednesday morning when we heard radio reports of a UFO sighting in Bar sur Loup! Some of the villagers not at the festivities had reported strange supernatural lights and fearing an alien invasion, called the police, who were following up all leads with gusto.

Riviera Radio and Nice Matin gave the story further credibility, with Nice Matin quoting a terrified local who described ‘a stationary orange light about ten times bigger than a star hovering just below the cloud line. It lasted for seven to eight seconds then a second light arrived before disappearing. Three other lights then appeared.’ Yes, that would be the lanterns....

With C-day looming, I have further distracted myself by shopping for presents on the internet as I am still struggling to commune with the idea that the big day is really not far away. I thought I'd read the letters to Santa that I forced both girls to write to give me some ideas. Livvy's was extremely helpful, with full url web address links for the gifts she wanted, complete with colour codes and prices. So much for the old fashioned spirit of Christmas reigning supreme. Issy's was less specific and I think she must have forgotten which of Santa's elves would be reading her letter when she sat down to write the paragraph about how immaculately behaved she has been all year and will continue to be next year!

Bonnes fetes to everyone.....

Monday, December 13, 2010

Feeling hot hot hot

So, on a day when I have many jobs to do, I have managed to achieve precisely very little. Every other Monday is the same scenario and for this, I have the lovely Issy to blame. Her two week school agenda means she starts at 10.20am and finishes at 3.10pm. Hardly worth her going in (she agrees but has yet to persuade me completely) so I find I get home from Grasse just before 11am and then have to leave again at 2.45pm to pick her up as the buses are too irregular to trust outside peak hours (or indeed at all when Tam Tam do their usual and just forget to turn up or stop in Bar sur Loup.)

So today, instead of rushing back to write up an interview with Robert Redford for The French Paper (lovely craggy man with a wicked sense of humour) I found myself wasting time Christmas shopping at Fragonard and Galimard in Grasse as I have just realised that with less than two weeks to go, I haven't yet bought a single present for anyone. Then I tried to download a picture from Cannes Christmas market yesterday of a dog looking totally peed off in a handbag - it just pipped the chihuaha in the fake leopard print jacket to the post. Dressing a dog up as a cat is a no no in my view. Sadly my new Blackberry torch that has replaced my clapped out Storm is refusing to send it so you will just have to use your imagination...

Then I decided to make a shepherds pie with a difference for supper tonight. Iain usually cooks all the meat in this house as I haven't eaten it for over 20 years. Forget alligator eyes or kangaroo's bits, mince and mashed potatoes are the two things I would struggle to eat if I was on I'm a a famous London Italian restaurant many years ago, I disgraced myself by spitting a mouthful of lumpy mash into my linen napkin very indiscreetly before dashing madly for the loo, so averse am I to any kind of potato lump. My mum blames the Smash we were force fed at primary school, apparently I have never been the same since.

Trouble is, the handyman cannot help himself loading everything from spag bol to shepherds pie with enough chillis to blow your tastebuds (and everything else) out of the water. Anything that doesn't have at least three whole chillis in is deemed 'bland' or 'a bit tasteless' which is rather infuriating when you have laboured over a subtly flavoured fish pie or a spaghetti vongole, where the absence of chilli is purely deliberate. The fact that my Italian neighbour Rosine has just given us a year's supply of fresh chillis from her garden merely compounds the problem, with the poor girls having to drink two litres of water with every meal Iain cooks now.

So I wasted 90 minutes making a flavoursome and entirely heat-free shepherds pie before realising that there were only four tiny potatoes left in the fridge. Knowing that this new carb-lite version of an English classic combined with the lack of 'flavour' would be enough to cause a cretin person (I meant to type 'certain' but that must have been a Freudian slip) to throw a minor strop, I decided to mash the leftover veggies from yesterday's roast with the potatoes to bulk them out. A cunning plan and one which I hope will work as the last time I did this for a fish pie for Sunday lunch with friends, I added rather more olive oil than necessary and blended it for so long that it looked like cat sick when I served it up. All in the pursuit of no lumps. The best compliment that day came from Serge, who diplomatically remarked that it tasted so much better than it looked!

Enough about my cooking prowess, writing about food has reminded me that it is now almost lunchtime which means that there is definitely no point reliving the lovely chat with Mr Redford today as by the time I have made and eaten my lunch, it will leave just an hour until the school run. I remember in the way distant past BC when I used to get so carried away writing and fulfilling deadlines that I would still be tapping away on my PC in a completely dark house, in the days before small voices would disturb me begging for supper.

The only thing that makes me feel slightly better about my lack of dedication today is the memory of my gorgeously talented journo pal (CM you know who you are) who did precisely one and a half day's work a week on her weekly national newspaper column. This involved reading all the week's papers in bed on a Wednesday afternoon and writing opinionated and highly entertaining topical copy all day Thursday, after which she would have five and a half days of complete non-taxing bed rest before having to do it all over again. She made the mistake of entertaining us with this tale of career dedication one night over a very boozy dinner as her horrified husband did the mental maths and promptly sacked the cleaner, the au pair and the gardener. I think it was the same night I fessed up to driving the car the wrong way down the A13 shortly after passing my driving test...a fact I had kept to myself for many years before that dinner party. It was almost worth nearly killing myself and a dozen other horrified motorists to watch the faces round the table that night! Although none of those faces could begin to match the horror of the ones on the A13 as they hurtled towards me at 70mph in the fast lane, just as I slammed the car into reverse and sped backwards onto the roundabout to continue on my way, this time on the correct carriageway.

In other news....the car is working again (hurrah) following €1000 euros of umming and aahing by various mechanics and a few minor repairs at two garages last week. So Christmas in London is back on (double hurrah.) And our first meeting of Premier Mardi, for working women to network and exchange ideas (not gossip or tittle tattle, and there was no eating of cake either) went swimmingly.

I will leave you with the entertaining faux pas I witnessed on my erstwhile boss Piers's talk show last night. A very revealing interview with Elton John, where he spoke frankly about his near death experiences with drugs and his habit of downing a bottle a day of Johnnie Walker suddenly cut to the ad break and the show's sponsor...Grants whisky!

Tomorrow is another day.