Moi, j’y vais en TGV

It’s funny the things you remember from school. The title of this blogpost is the first line in a song about the French rail network (well, specifically, a journey from Paris to Geneva) – until I googled it, I could only remember the first two lines:
Moi, j’y vais en TGV
J’ai mon billet, faut le composter

If your French is lacking, all you need to know is that it’s a curiously informative song from the classic French textbook Tricolore – beloved of most British secondary schools. The singer is delighted to be travelling on a TGV; they have their ticket; and they have had it checked by a machine on the platform. If you’d like to sing the whole delightful tale, simply follow this link… [Tricolore did a good line in educational songs – such as ‘une, deux, trois – salut, c’est moi; quatre, cinq, six – j’abite à Nice…’ Catchy, non? To be honest, I was always jealous of top-set French – they got to learn French Celine Dion songs.]

That TGV song had taught me practically everything I knew about travel on the French rail network, prior to my inaugural journey from Paris to Limoges en route to Chateau Duffy III. It wasn’t hugely helpful, largely owing to the fact that the character in Tricolore who travelled from Paris to Geneva didn’t have a 1st Class ticket…

Oh yes, this was European train travel in style – kinda. I’d passed on responsibility of ticket buying to my travel companion, which turned out to be an excellent move as they noticed that 1st Class was only a little more pricey than standard. [To clarify, on Eurostar there’s actually two divisions of 1st – Business and ‘Standard Premiere’ – we had the latter.]

What they’d also manage to do was forget to tell me of this purchasing achievement. (Though, to be fair, I had a copy of the email so if I’d read it properly, I might have known.) This meant that I managed to look a little bit of a twit once on board the Eurostar as I gazed around in awe and wonder wondering why it looked so different than on my previous three trips. I then immediately began to wonder what the complimentary breakfast would be like.

Eurostar BreakfastBreakfast. Rather nice actually. Passengers had a choice of pain au chocolat or apple – who would choose fruit over pastry??

Because we are actually both idiots, neither of us realised that we’d also be in 1st on our SNCF TGV service from Paris Austerlitz to Limoges Benedict. Rather sheepishly, we climbed into our 1st class carriage leaving three Texan friends to enjoy standard further down the train. (Fear not, we had our come-uppance – our seats faced backwards meaning that travel nausea was inevitable.)

Ever wondered what an SNCF 1st class carriage looks like? It’s a bit like this:

Ok, so not that exciting. Also, there didn’t seem to be the freebies you’d usually get on a British train – we weren’t offered anything, but there may have been a French system we were unaware of. Certainly, train gin & tonics were not forthcoming. However, the seats had an array of features that could be played with, which kept one amused for all of ten minutes – they reclined, had foot rests, tables, bins, plug sockets, magazine racks and, most importantly, a beverage holder.

Brilliantly, because we’re really that idiotic, we didn’t realise that our return leg was 1st class until we boarded the train back to Paris. It turns out that evening Eurostar journeys are even more exciting than early morning ones – there’s booze…

Only downside is that all meals are served cold.

 Not only is there booze, but there is a decent choice. We were offered white, red or rosé  – but choose red (as my neighbour did) and you then get further choices. Wonderful. Oh, and the seats reclined beautifully too and were wonderful for napping in – I know this because I napped all the way home once I’d finished playing with my food.

One thing’s for sure, the Vicar School jaunt to Lille on board Eurostar in November is going to be very tame in comparison.

A tale of tile, trowels and travail…

Exactly a year after the first Chateau Duffy adventure commenced, trip number 3 got under way. Now that the barn had a roof, it was time to get the tiles back on. For those not keen on being roof monkeys, there was almost unlimited pointing to be done.

On the last trip, I’d been one of three Pointer Sisters. This time, only I returned (that’s no reflection on my company, honest) and by virtue of knowledge and experience became the leader of Team Pointing and Chief Cement Mixer. [My right shoulder thanks the cement for its workout…]

Team Pointing

Amazingly, this time I didn’t learn any new skills – I simply built upon the ones I’d already acquired. I didn’t get to spend as much time on the scaffold as I’d have liked; nor did I get to point that much (spent a lot of time mixing up that cement); and I spent less than 10 minutes on the top of the roof. But at least I made it up there.

Photo courtesy of Andy M

I did learn some things…

My love of erecting & dismantling scaffolding knows no bounds. However, spending two hours in a team of 3 (only 2 of which were on the scaffold) taking down and putting back up a two storey rig did teach me that there’s only so much time my body can handle having adrenalin pumping.

Precariously aboard the second storey, but with rather good silhouettes.

It is possible to do many things while a baby is strapped to one’s back. This includes pointing (the putting cement into holes bit rather than the more dangerous/dirty chiselling), cooking, sorting out tiles and generally being useful. I’m still impressed with my own baby carrying skills – over a 2 hour period I got J to sleep, he slept, then awoke cheerful and happy simply to play with the back of my bra. Talented boy.

I can fall asleep virtually anywhere. On the first night I fell asleep sitting on some steps leading down to the river and slumbered for a good 45mins. People apparently noticed my absence but didn’t manage to find me. I’m sure I am loved, really. I also managed 2 hours kip on the kitchen floor, but the less said about that the better.

I give excellent pointing masterclasses.

4000 tiles look like a lot when stacked in a room together, but amazingly won’t go all the way to re-tiling a roof. You can also fit more tiles (and mortar) than you’d think in the back of a Fiat 500 (something my sister should take note of – she uses her ownership of a Fiat 500 as a reason why she doesn’t pick up large DIY materials at B&Q…).

Left: The tile room in April 2012 (Courtesy of Shannon H)
Right: The tile room post-roofing

No matter how confident one gets at scampering up and down scaffold poles, you are always susceptible to sudden fits of vertigo which can leave one feeling like a bit of a fool.

Chateau Duffy crew Aug 2012

The Chateau Duffy August 2012 crew, post completion.

So that’s that for Chateau Duffy 2012. The troops will return in the spring and fingers crossed the tiles will still be in place…

Our names are now embedded in mortar on the ridge line.

[In the mean time, if you’re keen to see more photos, there’s my own Flickr set as well as the Chateau Duffy Flickr Pool. I’ve been told my albums have an inordinate number of photos of people’s bums in them. This is utterly unintentional.]

You did what?!

When people find out that I’ve recently been on holiday, their response to the “I went to France with some friends” bit is usually along the lines of “Oh, how lovely!”. When I add that we went to work on a house they look confused and ask “You did what?!”.

I presume it’s particularly surprising as I don’t really look like the type to work on a building site for fun. Plus, those that know me well (especially my family) seem to find it utterly unbelievable that I could actually be useful in such a context. So, for their benefit and yours, and because I’ve been playing with some other peoples’ photos, here’s a photographic representation of the functions I can fulfil…

1. Leader of team warm-up. The pilates classes may have ended, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still practice the art of control – it’s exceptionally useful when stretching rarely used muscles in peculiar ways.

Note that initially the men were totally oblivious to my antics. 
They were busy with wood.

Now, I appreciate that it doesn’t look like any one else in the team is joining me, but I insist that at least one other person was stretching – they’re just obscured by the chap in the red jacket. Honest.

2. Holder of rope. Manouvering ridge beams into place would be impossible without my strength…


…ok, so this is the only one I assisted with and the others went up fine. But I can dream, surely?

3. Drinker of tea. This is a very important job on a building site.


I’m also rather adept at transporting tea to difficult locations – like the top of scaffolding rigs [proud moment: climbing up a pole with a mug in one hand] and the roof. In fact, it was thanks to tea delivery that I finally made it on to the roof itself. Also, in case you’d ever wondered what makes builders’ tea ‘builders’, it’s because of all the added ingredients. No, not sugar and extra tannine – dirt.

Thing is, by the time it arrives you’re so desperate for it that you really don’t care.

4. Destroyer of walls. (Ok, just the one wall.) It took three of us a little under an hour to remove the wattle & daub-ness from an interior wall with the aid of hammers and a crow-bar – I took the crow-bar in order to vent some frustration. It got messy…

…Very messy:

It also turns out that when you destroy a wattle & daub wall, it seeks out ways in which to get its revenge upon its attackers. An hour after we’d finished the job, I was up a scaffold, handing out tea and generally being useful, when I felt my nose running. Given as I was in messy clothes, I did the hugely unlady-like thing of wiping it on my sleeve. I looked down and to my horror discovered a streak of brown. Hesitantly, I touched my nose and found more of it, in fact, the more I wiped, the more it appeared. I was mortified and begged someone to find me a tissue. For another two hours, every time I blew my nose, more brown gunk appeared. The wall was having the last laugh – I may have smashed it to smithereens, but it ensured that by inhaling its dust, I wouldn’t forget it for a while.

5. Holder of wood. Self-explanatory:

6. Occasionally ostracised to the naughty corner:

I was busy chiselling, that’s all… 

7. Sitter upon scaffolding.

Sitter upon the scaffoldSometimes, it’s easier to stay on the scaffold even though nothing’s happening. 

See, I’m exceptionally useful! If you think you could be useful too, what are you up to between August 4th-11th? Would you like to chisel mortar or scamper across a roof? A return visit to Chateau Duffy is being made, but places are limited!

Classic Friday Fun with a French twist

As it’s been so long since I last managed a Friday Fun post, I thought I’d kick off this week’s with some classic, end of the week, fun – namely cute animals. There’s been a few of these doing the rounds lately, but I’m sure they’ll bring some amusement, regardless of whether you’ve spotted them before.

Firstly, 33 animals that are extremely disappointed in you. It had me at #1 – the disappointed rabbit:

Secondly – and, if possible, even cuter – 33 animals with stuffed animal versions of themselves. I was a particular fan of this pig:
If cute animals really don’t do it for you (craziness), what about some amusing humans? Specifically, amusing humans of a female gender and of British/Irish nationality who are on Twitter. The Huffington Post UK has done a good job of rounding up 50 of the funniest female tweeters and then created an amusing slideshow of top tweets, which I’d have included below, had they enabled it to be embedded… 
Finally, this post wouldn’t really be complete without some reference to my recent holiday (fear not, there’s still enough blog fodder for most of next week’s posts too). I’ve spent a couple of days frustratingly trying to get the hang of iMovie, and am now on my way to producing beauties akin to Jenni’s, but for now I’m satisfied with simply having combined three clips of car driving in Paris. I know that doesn’t sound fun, but if I can explain that the first clip involves the Arc de Triomphe (a multi lane roundabout with no logical rules) and the others were filmed when we were stuffed into the car like sardines, you might begin to understand the comic element within. [There are also more French videos to follow – including one so epic it’s too big to be transferred to me via Dropbox. You have been warned…] 
Anyway, this details some of the challenges faced in Parisian driving… 
(Warning: the first clip contains language some viewers – and French people – may find offensive. Otherwise, there’s just spontaneous ‘Yeehahs!’ and singing…) 

If I could move one thing from Paris to London…

Most of what’s in Paris belongs in Paris, and needs to stay there in order for it to be the wonderful city that it is, but there is one thing I’d like to steal for London – or, at the very least copy. (Though in a vastly superior way to the way in which Blackpool emulated the Eiffel Tower.) Shakespeare and Company is possibly one of the most delightful bookshops I have ever experienced and I simply do not understand why London doesn’t have anything remotely as good.

I’ve been aware of it for some time, but didn’t manage to step inside during last year’s weekend en Paris. Then it was featured in the 20 most beautiful bookshops list, and I knew that it had to be a component of my three hours of solo Paris time on this visit. After leaving my luggage at Gare du Nord, I made straight for St Michel Notre Dame station and emerged across from the cathedral, feeling every bit as touristy as my Texan friends probably had two days previously when I’d showed them London. Shakespeare & Co. is literally just across the road, and was flanked by pink cherry blossom. Quintessenttial springtime in Paris, no?

The beauty of this bookshop is threefold:
(i) It’s an English language bookshop, therefore is a haven for ex-pats.
(ii) It’s a beautiful building (rather like Daunts, but less ordered).
(iii) Its upstairs is a library in which you could read for hours at a time.

It’s this third element that makes me so desperate for a London version. Next to a window overlooking Notre Dame is a desk with a typewriter; another can be found in a hidden alcove. There are couches and sofas scattered about, plus a nook for children – one room even featured a piano. If I hadn’t had such a short time in the city, I would have tarried longer, but my feet were itching to explore more.

But please, booksellers/librarians of London, please could we have something akin to this wonder? I, and many, many others would be eternally grateful.

Merci beaucoup!