Thursday, April 30

French Farce

1st May
I’m not readjusting well to being back. Yesterday morning, I completely forgot that I was supposed to be collecting Spider Man* from the station, he called to see where I was just as I’d started washing my hair in the shower, so I had to do all that cartoony hopping around with an arm in one sleeve while trying to get my shoes and pants on at the same time and soaking myself with my own hair.

I was still trying to get an arm through the other sleeve and do my zip while backing the car out of the drive and I failed to put a mobile phone in my bag. Spider Man meanwhile had decided to get on another train, I arrived at a deserted station and then had to work out where to get a phone card and the matching call box to find out where he’d got to.

We have recently acquired an old blue Laguna that used to belong to the police (gendarmes), while I was running around after Spider Man it ran low on diesel so I stopped at an unmanned fuel station - I hadn’t refuelled this car before. I'd spent a full half hour hunting for a release button to open the petrol flap by the time a passing gendarme found me frothing at the mouth trying to forcibly prise the wretched thing off with my finger tips, he kept his distance and pointed out that I had to turn off the central locking to get at the petrol tank.

*Spider Man comes and stays for a few days now and then while he logs our material, he is French and unnaturally fond of spiders

Wednesday, April 29

Sexy Cockroach Girl

30th April
That last roachy post got me a Sexy Blogger Award - I’m beginning to worry about the sort of men I’m attracting:

The deal with the SBA is that I have to tell you 5 sexy things about me;

1. I’m probably even sexier now that I’ve had a wash - apparently some men find cockroaches repulsive and think girls should smell nice

2. I tend not to bother putting a top on, and now that it’s officially Spring I’ve removed the hat

3. I must be sexy because many of the local octogenarians have offered to 'entertain’ me, a fat boy on a bike stalked me last autumn (although it was probabably my friend he was really after) – and Bruno is still hanging his knobbly roots on my gate post

At this point I’m casting around for help, the Camera Boys and Barney have snorted beer out of their noses ...

4. Miss Whiplash says she would snog me - under different circumstances - but I'm a work colleague and she's a consummate professional

5. The Director says that I would be more sexy if I stopped typing and help him find his glasses

I think the SBA is a like an STD that I’m supposed to pass on to others, Madame Defarge can consider herself doubly infected - she is so sexy that she's already picked it up from Emerson - everyone else, please have a go ...

Tuesday, April 28

Keep Your Cockroaches Secure

29th April
Back in France I find I’ve not been missed, Miss Whiplash and the boys have become regular pizza-eaters at the Belleville Rendezvous, (something bad has happened at our village bar but I’m not sure what). My newly made garden is thriving, the insects in the fridge are all surviving, some cockroaches and house crickets have been delivered and our white board has been updated.

The board is our record of who’s living where and their special needs. Just in case you can’t read that bottom line here’s a close up.

Some of the cockroaches are in the fridge, but as we don’t know exactly what effect refrigeration will have on their performance we have some in a glass tank in the guest bedroom with a weighted lid on and the top two inches of the inside of the tank have been coated with petroleum jelly so they won’t reach the top of the glass sides*. There are cardboard egg-box trays in the tank for them to hide in.

Tomorrow I go and get supplies to build the cockroach film set.

* If left unjellied the cockroaches will all gather on the underside of the lid ready to pour out and up our arms when we take the lid off!

Friday, April 24

Elephants In The Room

24th April

The email in the previous post is probably connected to my attempt to introduce our Production Manager to village society before I left her there to fend for herself.

Soon after she arrived in France, I took Miss Whiplash to the village yoga class. I am a good head higher than the tallest woman in the village, we have all got used to me being the village giant, when I brought along a new classmate who stands head and shoulders above me.

Miss W tried her best to mingle but the local accent is strong, her French didn’t work and she and the villagers found each other mutually unintelligible, so although the class were impressed by her height and leopard skin leotard, everyone became too embarrassed by this failure to communicate and soon got on with their business as though she weren’t there (there is always a half hour of gossip before the class starts). Miss W spent the evening with a grin clamped on her face to prove that she is basically friendly, but being ignored makes one feel invisible.

I am currently obsessed with the idea of invisibility/visibility partly because I have taken a couple of weeks away from the insect filming to do a job in an Arabic country. I am transfixed by the way the Arabs float around in their flowing robes while the western visitors walk among them looking like raw sausages.

There are plenty of muslim women with their faces completely uncovered and they easily make eye contact with me but the ladies who peep out through a letter box in their face coverings and the ones who are completely covered behave as though they are invisible. What I hadn’t realised was how different these garments can be, there is an abaya shop close to where I am staying, in the window are styles cut in different ways, decorated with pearls, diamante and embroidery, I was particularly struck by a pleated and diamante-studded abaya that clearly inspired the Darleks. Outside this shop swings a large sign with a painted image of a woman wearing a black abaya, her hands and face originally in the painting are now covered over by three crude blocks of black paint

*no time to do a fancy image today, that one’s straight out of the tin from Crazy Spandex Girls

Wednesday, April 22

Whiplash Strikes Out

22nd April

Latest email from Whiplash…

… went for pizza to that bar in Belleville, the one with people/cow creatures painted on the windows - you HAVE to go. There are all these photos up of the people who go there having orgies, it was a bit embarrassing because I was looking at them and then I looked closer and said to Barney (and I might have been a bit loud) 'Christ it’s another gay bar' and it went all quiet then someone said, 'We do understand English you know' and there were these two girls snogging really hard in the corner and someone else said, 'We welcome everybody here'.

You didn’t tell me they understand English, I have made a complete plonker of myself.


PS They do good pizza

Tuesday, April 21

Correspondence From Miss Whiplash

21st April
Miss W is holding the fort back in France. There are a few things puzzling her, I thought I'd share some of the emails ...

I can’t deal with your kitchen - I’m going out to buy a load of bread and we’re just doing sandwiches til you get back.

Those jars in the fridge – should I tip everything out and check whatever's in the damn thing when I change the damp tissue? I can’t tell which are the bits of twig and dirt and what’s alive and I’m frightened that a bug might be in the stuff that gets on the floor

That woman came over to put her sheep back in - WTF!!!, the boys spent the morning with her!!! – she got right on my tits - do we invoice her??!

Sunday, April 19

Surprise Holiday

19th April
The journey door to door France to UK takes 16 hours. On Thursday at 5am The Director slammed the car boot shut ready to start the drive.

Then it dawned on me that we weren’t supposed to be leaving until the following day. Builders have been busy in our house and we’d agreed that they could destroy the place until Friday tea time, then it all had to be cleaned up. After a lot of tutting and eye-rolling we decided to set off anyway and stop somewhere en route - a surprise holiday.

I did a quick internet search and found an interesting-sounding place to stay that night, nearly all the B&B’s in France are run by British citizens, this one had a Russian proprietress (novelty value) and was in a rural area we were unfamiliar with.

Svetlana is as extraordinary as her house which is a combination of royal hunting lodge and the sort of sweetie-trap that Hansel and Gretel wandered into, our bedroom ceiling all pointy wooden slopes, the walls lined with deep-coloured, ornate fabric. Throughout the house there is curly-legged antique furniture and lots of gilt, in the salon a shiny grand piano. An astonishing dinner (for dessert: hot strawberries in port) was cooked and served by Svetlana who modelled a full-length, shiny turquoise evening dress. over the course of the evening we listened to her life story; she’d been a concert pianist but with the arrival of her children she’d become a music teacher at a school in an area with a lot of social problems, apparently the teachers there were expected to act as a sort of über-social worker, she’d visit the children in their homes and they stayed with her when their parents were ill or in prison.

She met her English husband in Russia and he convinced her to go to England with him for a 'better life’. In the UK she worked as a shop assistant at WH Smiths, newsagents, an isolated and friendless existence with scratchy teenage children but she persisted, got promoted and a few years ago, children now away working, she exchanged her Surrey semi for the gingerbread house.

Wednesday, April 15

Hanging Up Butterflies

15th April
Last week we hung up the swallowtail pupae, they had been in the fridge since arriving by post in January, we wanted to film the butterflies emerging, but first we needed to get them into their launching position

In the wild, pumped up on a diet of fluffy fennel tops, the swallowtail caterpillar finally stops eating and looks for somewhere to pupate. He wanders around in the undergrowth until he finds a woody stem to climb up. Once in place, he spits out some thread, sticks it to the stem and makes a loop which he ducks his head under, held by this safety harness he hangs on the twig until he's ready to emerge.

We emulated this marvel of nature with superglue and dental floss. A series of forked twigs were lined up, each stuck in a flowerpot and ballasted with clay - we spent two evenings hanging the sleeping pupae.

The butterflies kept emerging when we weren’t looking so we put a 24-hour watch on them, cameras at the ready. During my watch and becoming increasingly cold and numb and bored one of the pupae twitched, I jumped and shrieked and everyone ran in to see what was happening – nothing - a Braxton Hicks contraction, a false alarm. The butterfly emereged 4 hours later - and we finally managed to record it .

Monday, April 13

Rain Stops Play

14th April
Due to all the hymenopteran emergencies and the pressing need to film Spring, we’ve not been down to the bar for a while, but this weekend I lobbied successfully for a day off.

A pétanque tournament was scheduled at the village bar for Saturday. Shane the new landlord has been pushing a roller over the gravel courts and tanning his smooth, oiled torso. There was going to be a barbeque and proper official referees - the evening was bound to end in an excellent party.

Nothing went to plan, by midday on Saturday the rain was steady and the pétanque match got called off. Miss Whiplash was struck down by the plague and took to her bed, we had to go to the bar without her.

Shane’s friend Zizi* has finally arrived, he’s lovely and gossipy with a great line in tight sparkly t-shirts. He put lots of Abba and Aretha Franklin on the cd player for us to sing along to, he’s like an anti-Shane.

*Shane’s mother owns the bar and has left her son in charge but he has no driving license. Shane will be running the bar with Zizi who does drive. Worried that people might think he or Zizi are gay, Shane is pedalling his heterosexuality vigorously using a product known locally as Lad Guff.

Saturday, April 11

The Arrival Of Miss Whiplash

11th April
The hormonal balance has been restored by the arrival of Miss Whiplash, a lady whose real job is performing by night in selected venues where she sings and shakes her bottom around the stage in a series of exotic catsuits.

As Miss W is very good at sums and she’s taller than the rest of us we asked her to be our grown up which means that two or three times a week she gets up before tea time, puts on her Production Manager’s uniform - consisting mainly of outsize leopard-print sunglasses and thigh boots - and she whips our production into shape by making up schedules and contracts and scaring us about money.

She's come out to France to top up her tan and make sure that we’re all behaving. The boys have to be told off for buying too much Boy Stuff (lenses, hard drives, air guitars...) and I have to promise that we’ll eat nettles twice a week until the next tranche of money arrives from the Big Controller.

Tonight we’re taking Miss W to our village bar – my choice of venue because I’m quite keen to see how long it takes before she pushes Shane’s teeth down his throat.

Wednesday, April 8

Bees And Birds

9th April
I’m getting a lot of flak from The Director, he says that I’m giving the impression that it’s all studio filming here. So, lets get this straight, most of the filming is outside, mostly nearby but some of it involves packing up a car and driving for an hour or so.

These kind of trips usually need two people – a camera person and an assistant, sometimes, someone gets the short straw and has to take me out with them. I’m good at all sorts of things but I can’t get the hang of camera stuff or technology and all the cabley/connector-ey/knobby stuff that goes with it. I only get picked for camera assistant if there is no other option.

Recently, The Director had to take me with him to film the relationship between solitary bees and bee orchids. We drove the car as close to the spot as we could and then fought our way on foot through scratchy bushy stuff the last few miles uphill to the filming location.

Loaded with unwieldy cases, tripods and rucksacks, we decided not to completely empty the vehicle – that would’ve been silly, we just made a couple of trips carrying as much as we could. As the day wore on, if a different tripod or lens was needed, the assistant would run back to get it.

Insects really hate being breathed on so you need to stay as far away as possible for them to keep doing their thing - as an assistant you can’t really see what’s going on.

It wasn’t until I saw the material being logged that I realised what had been filmed that day. When the male bees hatch and emerge blinking into the sunshine they’re not sure what a girl is exactly - like excitable boys they experiment with the nearest likely object. The bee orchid, growing cunningly near the bee colony, has a flower that is a bit like a female bee, the male bees snuggle into them and rub themselves around while the orchid plants yellow deeley boppers of pollen on their heads. After a while the male bee meets a real female, then he feels a chump for having been fooled earlier and he doesn’t visit the orchids quite as enthusiastically any more, but by this time he and his mates have pollinated the orchids ready for another year’s April Fool.

Tuesday, April 7

In Search Of The Pétomane

7th April
The Coleopterist stayed with us for a few days, he is reknowned for his uncanny ability to find bugs, previously he has supplied us with potter wasps and female earwigs sitting on batches of eggs. We have been searching fruitlessly for the bombardier beetle, an extraordinary beast who keeps two gases in separate chambers in it’s back end, when expelled they combine to make a hot smelly explosion (This is no ordinary fart – there is actually smoke). Thermodynamics scientists have long been trying to mimic the bombardier’s mechanism and there’s also a side story going on with this creature being used to support the creationist argument (mentioned in the two previous links – so I’m not going there).

The Coleopterist spent his first day searching for the bombardier in nearby forests without any luck, then just before supper, while wandering around at the back of the Lovely House he happened across a colony of the shiny green and brown beetles on a weedy bit of broken-up concrete.

These were a smaller variety of bombardier than the ones we were hoping to find, but it was still a result. There was a suitable set ready in the studio so we put one of the beetles on stage to see if he’d perform for us, it was all getting really fiddly and we were just about despairing that we’d never make it work when we noticed a really nice large species of bombardier wandering around on the studio floor.

During his stay, The Coleopterist collected lots of insects including two queen hornets hibernating in bits of rotting log. All these animals are now in the fridge, the hornets still in their logs with an elastic band keeping the bits bound together, the rest neatly stored with a piece of damp tissue in screw-top pots. The cold makes them snooze, then they don’t waste energy running around trying to escape, care for sleeping insects is simple, the jars have to be opened to allow a fresh supply of air in and the damp tissue changed once a week

*The bombardier beetle has only a superficial similarity to French music hall performer le pétomane but I can’t get his image out of my head.

Friday, April 3

Listing Dangerously

3rd April
The Operations Room is now entirely papered with annotated lists; lists of sequences in the can and those still to be filmed, lists of all the invertebrates that we want to film with notes regarding dates to expect certain behaviour, lists of people coming and going - and then there are the job lists, here’s our weekend job list:

Take some of the Cabbage White pupae out of the fridge and lay them out on corrugated cardboard under a gauze tent in the guest bedroom.

2) Cut a bunch of similar looking forked twigs and set one each in a flowerpot filled with clay, Take the swallowtail pupae out of the fridge and attach one to each twig with a fine thread.

3) Make sets for filming the butterflies emerging

1) film inside the bumble bee box

2) film the Wood Ants that were found a week ago

• order cockroaches and crickets
• make a very good plan to contain the cockroaches
• collect pieces of glass ordered earlier in the week along with several tubes of aquarium glue
• make lots of glass boxes
• take Spider Man back to the station then go on to the airport to collect a Coleopterist and a Camera Boy
• go looking for beetles
• change bedding, get many trolley loads of food

We're gonna shoot our way through that list 'til there's nothing left of it!

Wednesday, April 1

Testosterone Surge

1st April
Barney, The Director’s son arrived at the weekend and is going to stay and work with us for a while, Spider Man has come back to continue logging and will stay over for the week, Félix is also here today setting up the tanks for the underwater creatures.

A couple of weeks ago I posted some notes about the existing housemates
it ony seems fair to do the same for the new boys:

just got some very fancy sunglasses and won’t take them off – he probably sleeps wearing them, he never wears a jacket, in fact he generally dresses in a very impractical manner, he makes a great Pavlova - towering edifices that take an entire afternoon to construct.

Spider Man:
Rarely speaks, when he takes breaks from the computer he goes outside and swishes a big net around, then he examines what he’s caught and makes notes in the book he always carries with him, his favourite food is aubergine, he’s a bit rubbish at jam-making, he gave me a jar of his tomato jam – I wanted to taste it but I couldn’t find an implement strong enough to slice a piece out of the jar so, insane with curiosity, I had to just lick the surface of it.

collects wild food, invited me for supper and served nettle soup (pretty good actually, sprinkled with ground sesame and salt), he lives with his mother, he runs a seed bank, one evening last week he turned up with a compartmentalised box hung on a strap round his neck from which he dispensed seeds for my vegetable garden. The tomato seeds are stuck on sheets of kitchen roll with the variety written on the paper.

Miss Whiplash isn’t coming until next week, by which time the odour of smelly socks might have become overwhelming and we’ll have to run off together and set up our own salon
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