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After a long break……………………summer got in the way of blogging……….here are some lovely photos of our favourite gardens.  It was a beautifully hot  August day and the gardens were lovely.  We picnicked round the back of the house in the shade of the trees because, like most French places, they shut for lunch!  Because we got there just about 12 noon we got in before the gates were shut.  When they opened at 2pm we paid and went round the gardens, and here are some of the photos we took.



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Train travel in France and car hire

When we visit France for a short trip we either fly or go by train and hire a car at the airport or station.  It’s usually very straightforward.  Since we have a 2 day car journey from here to the Auvergne which necessitates an overnight stop each way so unless we’re going for 3 weeks or more then it’s more cost effective to hire.  There are lots of websites where you can compare prices and pre-book so all you have to do is arrive and claim your car.

We book train tickets via the Eurostar website……. you decide which train from St Pancras and where you want to end up in France and they sort your trains for you.

A cautionary note however:  be careful which station you decide to use as not all will have a car hire place open when you arrive, though they may not tell you that.  In October last year we booked trains to Vichy (the nearest station to our house, about 25 minutes drive away) and paid extra so we could collect the car after hours (our train didn’t arrive till 9pm).  There appeared to be no problem.  The company was Europcar, a company we had used in the past with no problem.  However, a week before we were due to travel we got a text message to say we had to be there by 6pm because there would be no-one in the office after that time.

But we couldn’t change train times.  We rang the head office in the UK and got absolutely no help at all.  The upshot was that we had to take a taxi from the station to our house……48 euros!  bit of a shock that, and we had to get a neighbour to run us to the Europcar office the following day to collect the car.  We complained and eventually got the day’s hire and the taxi fare refunded but it means we cannot use Vichy as our station of choice.  Apparently Avis at Vichy will leave your car key with the station master if you are likely to be arriving late but it seems a bit dodgy to me so now we travel to Lyon where there are several car hire companies, in the same building, attached to the station and open from early morning to late at night.  It’s a much longer drive but the car hire is dependable.

This time we used Sixt, with no problems and excellent service.

All airports have car hire facilities and they usually ask for your flight number so there are no problems.

When you pick up the car they’ll ask if you want to have the insurance with excess waiver or not.  We didn’t use to  bother until our hire car was badly scratched, maliciously, whilst we were in the supermarket.  (6 cars were damaged) So that was the end of the deposit!  Now we take out an annual extra on our UK car insurance and it covers the excess on the hire car should it be necessary.  It is much cheaper than doing it at the hire counter.

One other little thing, if you pick up your car on a cool day make sure you check that you have a car with air conditioning if that’s what you’ve booked.  We didn’t notice once and had the hassle of taking back the car and getting one with the air conditioning we had ordered.  We also had to wait 3 days to change the car because the hire company didn’t have a suitable replacement till after the weekend.  We were not impressed and didn’t use that company again.

Trains in France are fast, clean and as comfortable as is possible in a moving tin can.  I really like travelling upstairs on the duplo trains.  You get a good view of the scenery.  Some even have play carriages where there are things for young children to do and space to move around.

You must validate your ticket before you travel.  There are machines before you get onto the platform…just slip in the ticket and it should stamp it with the date.

At the station there are always good sandwich and drink stalls and a proper cafe if you’re lucky.  Long distance trains have refreshment bars and they also have more luggage space than UK trains.  They often have them half way down the carriage as well as at each end.  Not all stations have cash machines.

If you use the loo at the station it will cost you 50centimes but they are clean and have proper hand washing facilities.  The attendant may be male or female.

If you have to cross Paris don’t be alarmed.  You can take a taxi……it will get you from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon  in 20 minutes or so and cost about 12 euros.  Or you can use the Metro.  It’s quick, clean and cheap.  Allow more time than you would for a taxi.

So there you are.  It’s really quite easy.

The Internet can drive you MAD>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

When we were living and working in France we used the internet in all its many forms to keep in touch and to keep up to date.  I found English lessons and ideas.  We kept au fait with the news in UK though we could get the BBC World Service on the radio and enjoyed that very much.  Mostly in France though you can’t get British TV and radio……not sure why but it’s annoying.  You can download podcasts but not until at least a day after the original broadcast.   So the internet is invaluable.

On a lighter note:

How Green Was My Valley……………………?

The French are really keen on their recycling and everyone sorts their rubbish and puts it in the correct bin.  Where our house is situated there are no recycling collections, just household non-recycling, so we have to take the recycling stiff down the hill to the recycling station.

I particularly enjoyed this story, courtesy of the internet.


Checking  out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the older woman that she should bring her own shopping bags in future because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment.

The woman apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this green thing back in my earlier days.”

The cashier  responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.”

She was right —  our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day. Back then, we returned milk bottles, pop bottles and beer bottles to the store. The  store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.
But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every shop and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.
But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby’s nappies because we didn’t have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 2200watts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.
But that young lady is right. We didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the  size of the county of Yorkshire . In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the post, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.  Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn petrol just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.
But she’s right. We didn’t have the green thing back then.

We drank water from a fountain or a tap when we were thirsty instead of demanding a plastic bottle flown in from another country.  We accepted that a lot of food was seasonal and didn’t expect that to be bucked by flying it thousands of air miles around the world.  We actually cooked food that didn’t come out of a packet, tin or plastic wrap and we could even wash our own vegetables and chop our own salad.
But we didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the tram or a bus, and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their mothers into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.
But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?

Endless Poptails: Cherry Apple Whiskey Sour

Posted by bakersroyale on June 23 2011 in Desserts, Featured, Recipe

We ESers like our whiskey combinations and we’re betting you will too. Never mindful of the rules, this week we created a blasphemous bartending nightmare by skipping the shaker for some rotating blades. Yep, everything is headed for the blender including the whiskey. Um, please muffle all outraged screams until you have tried this. Along with the whiskey are some sweet cherries, tart apples and a lime to create a popsicle that will assist you with obtaining your daily fruit serving.

So while we may not be rule-minded we’re a thoughtful bunch and giving you two options for your whiskey. Sip it in a whiskey cocktail or get a lick of it in these Cherry Apple Whiskey Sour Poptails. Of course we recommend you try both.

Since our French neighbours enjoyed Pimms so  much at our Ruby Wedding party I think I’ll try these when we’re there in May.  I’ll report back on their success.

Cherry Apple Whiskey Sour Poptails

Makes eight 2-and-1/4-oz. popsicles

· 3 cups cherries (weighing 1lb)
· 1 large green apple (weighing 6oz)
· 1 lime (weighing 3 1/2oz)
· 1 cup whiskey
· ½ cup of sweet and sour mix (homemade recipe follows)

1. Pit cherries; set aside. Peel away apple and lime skin and cut fruit into quarters.

2. Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until mixture is pureed. Mixture will be thick.

3. Pour mixture into popsicle forms and freeze for about 2 hours or until mixture starts to solidify enough to hold a popsicle stick upright. Insert popsicle sticks and finish freezing popsicles overnight. To release popsicles run hot water on the outside of popsicle molds for a 2-3 seconds.

Sweet and Sour Mix

· 1/2 cup water
· 1/2 cup sugar
· 1 cup lemon juice

1. Place sugar and water in a sauce pan and heat until sugar dissolves. Add lemon juice and stir to combine. Set aside to cool before using.

Find more super ice lollies at:


Mardi Gras in France and Carnival in UK

In February lots of towns and villages, big and small have a carnival.  In Equihen Plage the schools are closed on Shrove Tuesday and everyone dresses up to parade through the little town.  Great fun.

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the carnival in UK is on the next post…….it won’t let me post 2 different slideshows on 1 post so look at the next one!

Teaching English in France


A few years ago we lived in France and I was offered a part-time post at the local university. ‘Great’, I thought, ‘What could be easier? All those students raring to go. All with a good basic standard of English. A doddle’.

What a mistake-a to make-a!

It should be straight forward. I have an experienced colleague who has all the materials from the previous year and we teach the same content to parallel groups of students taking English on different courses. Mostly it is speaking and listening activities. (More highly powered tutors teach the grammar, linguistics, phonetics etc.) I have a group of second years for ‘cultural studies’ and a group of first year sports students. Also a group of business students who have to take one English session per week.

The language students

These fall into 2 groups, those taking just English and those taking English plus another language or business studies. Because they have chosen to study English at university I assume they have a good basic spoken English. Ha! Not so, although when I try to improve their pronunciation they have a somewhat arrogant stance, ‘What can you teach us? My accent is fine’. I try showing them how much they need to use their lips and jaw to produce certain sounds and I can see the girls thinking, ‘This is not a sexy mouth.’

I should point out that most of these language students do not own a dictionary and have no intention of buying one. How can you learn a foreign language without a dictionary? When they ask,’What does that word mean?’ I tell them that I am not a dictionary and to buy one and look it up. By contrast, the Hong Kong Chinese students have expensive gizmos to help them translate.

My colleague and I ‘do’ listening and speaking activities, using recorded items, as well as games and ‘debates’. The listening exercises would be straightforward if the machines in every room actually worked, but alas, I frequently find that there are not enough functioning machines for individual work (which is the whole point) and sometimes none at all, which means I can be seen traipsing round the campus toting a cd player, (which I hope will be loud enough for the whole class to hear). My not-very-wonderful French rapidly improves as I increasingly seek the help of the technician. But by the year end the situation is much the same. The machines need replacing!

Getting some students to speak during speaking exercises is difficult. One or two try really hard and there are some excellent students in each group, but the Chinese students hardly say anything and I start to wonder how well I am teaching them. At the end of the year I am pleasantly surprised in the oral exam to find that most of them can actually speak rather good, though limited, English. I encourage each one to ‘never mind those French students. You have a go next year.’

In contrast there is one young French man of whom I almost despair. He misses class frequently and his exam is dreadful. He spins me a long yarn about accidents and one thing and another, in French, probably in the hope of upping his mark. When I consult with my colleague she tells me he has done the first year at least 3 times that she knows of and he’s never going to get any better. I cheer up. It’s not me then.

The Business Students

I actually expect that the business students will value learning English from a native speaker. They don’t. Like the sports students they don’t seem to understand why they are in class at all. It seems they have yet to realise that English is the lingua franca in the business world. But at least the course organisers have set a minimum number of classes they must attend, plus I have a photograph to go with the names, so at least I stand a chance of getting the roll call right. [Actually, they sign in. More dignified for them, less bother for me.] This group is twice the size of any of the language student groups so the room gets very crowded.

We cover basic grammar and vocabulary work but they come with a huge variation in ability and English experience so it gets a bit tricky. I want to keep the ‘good’ ones going whilst not losing the less keen. Their body language tells me a lot, especially some of the young men whose arrogance is palpable. I cannot teach them anything they need to know!

In the end it’s work-sheet based stuff. That way they have something to take away from class (no-one buys books so there is no text book we can use) and the keen ones can revise. Games are not a success so I don’t use them after the first couple of times. I just get a good business studies book and photocopy stuff. Why reinvent the wheel or take endless pains for students who don’t care?

What we do try is to get them to choose a real business and to research it for a presentation later in the term. They can work solo, in pairs or small groups but each must do some work and help in the final presentation. We allow some class time for this but a fair amount needs to be done in their own time. Some of the results are excellent, some much less so. There are a couple of students who manage to avoid the task altogether, so annoying.
A colleague who teaches on the Masters Business Studies course finds much the same. Their understanding is so poor that she finishes up doing amazingly basic stuff. She also says they don’t consider how important English is in the modern business world. They’ll no doubt learn in time.

Cultural Studies with language specialists

I have a set number of classes to teach on this course and no guidelines other than the fact that other staff members teach English law, education system etc. so what to do?

I want to make it a relaxing time. These students have really long days, often starting at 8am and finishing at 6.30pm, and if you have to travel any distance to the university it’s an early start and often a late finish.

I bring in TV listing magazines……..English and French and we look at how much TV time is allocated to what. There are some interesting differences between France and UK.

On another day we do a similar activity with newspapers.

We talk about greetings cards, not sold anything like so widely in France as here in England. I bring instruction sheets in English and materials and let them make a card. A nice relaxing activity, with different vocabulary.

Conkering all! I have a couple of short articles about the British conker season, which they find amusing. I also bring in horse chestnuts and string for them to make their own conkers and have a game. Most join in and have fun. Naturally, one or two are above that sort of thing.

Video. I actually have a room with a working TV/video so I bring in Chicken Run so we can watch part of it, laugh a lot and then discuss the British war film genre.

 I might add that I am not supposed to be teaching any actual English in these classes although some does crop up. I do a lesson about ‘drinking down the pub’, with a reference sheet to go with it and we have a hilarious discussion about nights out they have had/can remember.

 Sports students

 can be found on http://www.carefulkaty.wordpress.com so I won’t repeat it here.