Sunday, May 31

A Man's Man's Man's World

May 31st
The household testosterone levels have reached the highest point yet on our testerometer with the arrival of The Editor...

Ed is here to look through the footage and make 'selects reels’ but the Camera Boys have got him involved with fluffing* the spiders that they are filming in the cellar. Ed has embraced this role with enthusiasm and has invented a technique to control spiders by blowing gently at them through drinking straws.

*wrangling is the correct term for managing animals but we think it sounds a little crude

In other news ... the last dragonfly larva made his bid for freedom just as we sat down for dinner, meal abandoned, two stills cameras and a movie camera switched on - we now have the whole dragonfly emergence sequence in the can - Hoorah!

Friday, May 29

Flying Under The Radar

29th May
The dragonfly larva are sneaking out of the tank when our backs are turned. We go off and film spiders or stop for lunch to find another empty skin is attached to one of the reeds on our return.

We know the remaining larva are ready to go at any moment because they are no longer paying any attention to the tadpoles we put in the tank - a treat they normally hunt down voraciously. We now have them under constant surveillance. Dragonfly larva have very good vision so if they catch us looming over their tank they duck back under the water and get behind some weed.

Wednesday, May 27

Milk And Beans, Beans And Milk

26th May
There's a farm nearby that sells milk hot off the cow’s teat - on my previous visits I'd turned up at the wrong time (too early they're still milking, too late the milk lorry has taken it all away). Today when I arrived at the dairy a woman was swabbing the floor, we chatted in French at first, then she asked where I was from and she started speaking to me in English Canadian which was nice and interesting so my return was considerably delayed - but I did have several gallons of milk with me.

When I finally got back to the house I discovered that Mme Costaud had cycled by to tell us about a bees nest up a tree in the woods that was all open at the back. I was mortified to discover that The Director had shown her my potager. Like everyone around here Mme Costaud's potager is massive and immaculate - mine is a mess, the beans especially, are weedy and smothered with aphids. The Director thinks that she gave him some advice about pruning but I suspect she was telling him to set fire to it and start again.

I returned Mme C's visit and found her dressed in her husband’s clothes picking her way through a field of tree-sized broad bean plants. M. Costaud was in the back yard, wearing a lady's veiled sun hat and chopping wood. I joined in with the bean-picking and was sent home with very large sack of beans for our household.

Monday, May 25


25th May
The dead badger that we are filming in the orchard is getting quite smelly now. The whiff is detectable from our front door but the Camera Boys have been doing some macro filming right up close to the body and they’re looking a bit green.

As a break from the badger, they're preparing to film a dragonfly larva emergence. We've set up a big tank of pond water with aquatic plants and creatures in it, it's surrounded by lights and cameras. There’s a clump of stiff grass fixed in the middle of the tank and when they’re ready, the dragonfly larva will climb up a grass stalk and shed it’s last skin before becoming an adult and flying off. Several likely-looking candidates are swimming around in the tank and we’re all keeping a close watch on them for signs of emergence.

Someone found out that the old radio in the house will work if a tub of salt is placed on it. We've discovered a surreal radio station that plays a fantastically eclectic mish mash of music, I think it’s run by a co-operative; a piece of Schuman will follow hip hop or flamenco, there’s a Latino enthusiast who puts in a lot of chachacha when he’s in charge of the decks but they curb the heavy metal enthusiast by giving him his own show in the evenings. They play back to back music for an hour or so then someone reads out small ads on a sort of endless tickertape ...

Laurent from Beauville seeks a fridge, call him on 06 065 0982, Marie in Dodon has found a small black dog, if you have lost a dog call her on 06 986 8761, Eric wants to sell his sofa it is black vinyl and a little bit damaged but still extremely comfortable, suitable for a student perhaps call him ...

Friday, May 22

...And Now With a Grown Up In Charge

22nd May
The Director took charge of fixing up our new hive this time:

Bee's go to a lot of trouble to keep a constant temperature inside the hive, using their bodies to warm the hive up if the temperature drops and fanning with their wings to cool the place down. So we devised a way to get access with our lenses (boroscopes and endoscopes if you were wondering Mr XL) without letting in a draught.

We made holes about three inches in diameter in the sides and back of the hive

then we stole someone's yoga pants and cut off half a leg, stapling the stretchy lycra over the hole - The lycra has been cut with a cross so when the lens goes in it is covered by the material

To finish off, pieces of wood are fitted over each hole, they can easily be slid out for filming.

Wednesday, May 20

Inept Cat Scaring

20th May

Bowing to overwhelming demand (well one from French Fancy)
I present my actual, real life cat-and-children-scaring footwear

Tuesday, May 19

Hive Shopping

Following our recent bee fiasco I went and threw myself at the Maire’s mercy.

Where can I get a bigger, empty hive so we can make holes, then put bees in it?*

The Maire is quite mumbley and said something that I translated as
hhrrrmmmhmmm … later mmhm…nhmmn are you at home?

I wasn’t sure what this meant exactly but I said yes then went and lurked around the house wondering if he was planning to turn up today, tomorrow, next week... I really needed to go off and buy bricks and more plastic sheeting. The boys had gone filming at a lake and were out for the day. I ended up trying to intimidate a feral cat who comes round and terrorises our cat Julie - the invader is white with a black pirate’s eye patch. I made monster-claw hands at her and hissed, she flattened her ears, and made low blood-curdling growls like in those devil films. Monster-claw hands obviously weren’t going to work so I turned the hose on her.

The Maire turned up after lunch and I got in his car (still no idea what the plan was). He took me to a commercial apiculturalist – a very short man who was quite severely disabled, he swung himself about on a pair of crutches and gave me a tour of a machinery-filled shed where the honey is separated from the combs, it was quite gruesome - all dripping sticky after the morning’s honey-processing, with a surprising amount of dead bee debris around.

Honey Man and The Maire exchanged money for new wax sheets and a big wooden hive. The Maire refused my attempts to reimburse him and put me and the hive back at the Lovely House. He say’s he’ll be round when the weather is suitable to transfer the bees.

*The bees that the Maire brought round earlier this month were a small colony in a half-sized hive, as the colony grows they can be put into a full-sized hive (like repotting a plant)

Monday, May 18

Midnight Farce

18th May
The Director and I were fast asleep last night when four of our crew got back from the pub in the pouring rain and remembered that they’d promised to put holes in the beehive...

An electric drill, several extension cords and an umbrella plus black plastic bin liners were involved - and zero protective clothing.

The one holding the umbrella and the torch also filmed this adventure but much as I’d love too show you the wobbly, grainy footage of boys screaming in the rain, they are refusing to hand over the tapes, so you will have to take my word that bees did get upset, people did get stung and the holes were mostly drilled in the wrong places.

What we were able to see through the one useful hole was that there was too much wax and too many bees, packed too densely to be able to film in this hive. I now have to go back to the Maire to see if we can transfer this colony to another, bigger hive...

Sunday, May 17

Bee Electricity

17th May
Until recently I’d dismissed our Maire (mayor) as a dreary sort of chap; hunched over, grey and lugubrious, he is renowned for his lack of interest in village issues. In the past when I have visited the Maire with the simplest request he has looked around anxiously for an exit and suggested that I return when his secretary is in.

Near our house there is a giant sequoia, it has been split by lightning and a large colony of honey bees live in it. Early in May masses of bees swarmed out of the sequoia and settled on a tree branch right outside our house. The Maire is a beekeeper, we would like a beehive in our garden, needing some advice I decided to give the man a go...

It turns out that bees are the electricity this man needs to function - when I told him about our swarm he was transformed, told me what the bees are up to, the conditions that they need to make a move* and offered to help me get a beehive set up in our garden. He didn’t want to use the swarm settled outside our house but he came over a few days later with a hive containing another wild colony that he had collected.

All we have to do now is work out a way to film them, drilling holes in the side of the hive to allow access to our lenses is on our job list (but we think that might upset them). The Director has insisted that we must film the bees this week. The holes must be drilled tonight…

*My shortened and very inexpert interpretation is that when the bee's nest gets too full, a queen (the queen thing is way to complicated for me to explain here) takes half the nest to look for a new home. They settle somewhere like the branch of a tree, all in a solid mass, while scouts go off looking at new housing possibilities reporting back to the swarm with information that they convey by means of a waggely dance. This can go on for days until a consensus is reached. In the middle of the day and when the weather is settled, they make their move to new premises.

Friday, May 15


15th May
I might not be squeamish about insects but I still find them a bit of a nuisance, around here it is the season for nuptial flights, when freshly hatched ants are supposed to fly off and start new colonies. The walls of The Lovely House are made from mud bricks and lots of ants seem to be living in there, at the moment our wooden window sills are covered in earth as millions of ants emerge from underneath the windows inside the house, they fly around hopelessly, then drop down dead as they fail to find a suitable mating spot.

Our response is to spend most of the time outdoors, I’ve failed to stem the mouse population so it's more hygienic and it’s warmer outside anyway*. I cook supper on a fire under the lime tree - this is quite an owly neighbourhood too, which is nice.

All this ‘Live and let Live’ stuff is messing with my head actually - if I was an American I would describe myself as being 'very conflicted’.

It is killing me that my new vegetable patch, nurtured with my own bare hands is simultaneously flourishing and being ravaged by wildlife – this means that my project is a raging success, I made the garden to attract these bastards, why do I feel like machine gunning them all off?

*Our Lovely House is like a damp cave all year round, mud brick and stone buildings are very common in this region, it should be a very 'breatheable’ structure, the original limestone render on the outside of our house has been 'repaired’ with concrete in large patches, - this is what keeps the house so damp.

Thursday, May 14

TV Gold

14th May
We decided to stop early last night and set off for an aperitif at the bar. On the way we were distracted by some fresh roadkill. Someone ran for a camera to film establishing shots. The dead badger is now lying in the orchard next to the house, a stills camera set up to record the inevitable invasion from the insect community.

Wednesday, May 13

Icky Stuff

13th May
I’m quite hardened to the sort of stuff that might make some people leap up on stools and scream. This project is, in effect, an anti-squeam boot camp. Last weekend Barney came in thoroughly grumpy from a failed fishing session, he’d taken a box of maggots out of the insect fridge to use as bait, on his return he stuck the half-full box of maggots in the food fridge … and it wasn’t properly closed … and during the course of the evening the box was knocked over … I discovered this the next morning…

For the cockroaches we made a sort of Barbie Doll House set in a three-sided box, this had to look like a corner of a kitchen with tiled sides and formica base, accessorised with a chopping board, a knife and food items. Before we let any cockroaches loose we had to devise security:

A large wooden box was lined with thick black plastic and filled with water (a sort of square paddling pool), there was a platform island in the middle of it, here we placed the set and then we airlifted in the cockroaches, any actors wanting to leave the set were thus slowed down by the moat.

Cockroaches are my final frontier, I don’t like touching them if I can help it, but all the other stuff; flies, ants, snails I’ve got terribly fond of. How can you not love creatures like this?

One of the programmes we are making looks at the human desire to destroy insect life and the quantities of products on sale to that end. We can’t show real brands so we have thought up some product names Bug-R-Off, Zap'em Dead, Flies Undone, Ultimate Doom etc., then we printed out labels and used them in our shed set.

Monday, May 11

Boogie Nite

11th May
I was a bit late arriving at the village bar on Friday night and walked into a scene straight out of a David Lynch movie, tables of retired army-types played dominoes, a tall, skinny man stood at the end of the room picking out gloomy tunes on a guitar, the Andrews Sisters sang over the speakers.

Brenda hosted the evening, she's seventy and had a lot of surgical enhancement in the days when they used to just pull your face up and tie it behind your ears, heaven knows what her chest is packed with. Her cigarette constantly on the go Brenda has never been known to surface before midday - possibly due to the fact that she is quite tiny and it's probably quite hard to overcome the gravitational pull of pre-war implants.

By the time I got to the bar Brenda, her wig awry, had clearly been on the electric soup. Wearing a long and shiny halter-neck dress, her breasts looked as though two cannon balls had been stuffed to the ends of a pair of tights, she waved a big Tupperware box of cheese straws at me and passed me a Pina Colada that she'd decided was one too many for her.

I had a go at the dominoes but it’s never really been my game and the old buffer opposite was nowhere near as funny as he thought he was. So I let him win quickly and settled on a bar stool for the rest of the evening with Brenda, her stories are relentlessly tragic but delivered with dry wit and the bleakest of black humour, she told me how she’d been in the process of buying a cocktail bar in Marbella but got waylaid by a fleeting affair with a young and muscled rogue who wanted to go to France it was the saddest story in the world - but strangely compelling. If you’ve never watched Coronation Street here’s a clip;

Sunday, May 10

Fish and Cabbage

10th May
A comment on my last post from Mr Dilo in Romania indicated that I might not have explained the butterfly/cabbage thing adequately. Earlier this year I started a vegetable patch so that we would have a context to film some of our insects, I planted all the usual stuff including some flouncy green cabbages, I kept a few of the plants in pots - they don’t like being confined. The butterflies may well turn their noses up at my pathetic cabbage stubs but if there is no other option, they might lay their bright yellow eggs on the leaves. (I nicked the egg pic from here, where there are also some nice shots of the young hatching and a Cabbage White pupa)

Fishing on Friday didn’t go down well, none of us have wielded a rod (and to be frank, I've never seen the point of all that standing around) but there is a lake on the land that we rent and it is teeming with fish, fishing is the sort of thing a father does with his son ergo etc...

The chaps came back after less than an hour in a state of distress - a fish had responded to the baited hook with such gusto that it entirely swallowed the hook, it all ended very messily, the fish not being the sort of size to bother eating.

The fish are very friendly, they will come if I call them because they know that I have bread. My neighbours have dug a reservoir and want to stock it with these fish so yesterday I went to the lake, and once they were feeding I just dipped a bucket and Hey Presto!

My favourite fishing method is to creep up on the herons, they catch the big fish by stabbing them, if I surprise the birds just as they have made a catch they usually drop the fish as they fly off.

You've probably been irredeemably traumatised by that vision of my unmanicured toes, tomorrow, unless otherwise distracted, I'll tell you about Brenda's party.

Friday, May 8

All Quiet On The Home Front

The household has suddenly become smaller again, I took Ms Whiplash (our Production Manager) and one of the Camera Boys to the airport yesterday and dropped Spider Man at the railway station a short while ago. This evening The Director and his son Barney are down at the lake seeing who is the least competent at fishing.

Meanwhile I’m sewing a net curtain into a big shroud that will fit over a wooden frame the size of a shower cubicle. The whole thing will sit outside with Cabbage White butterfly pupae in it and some cabbage plants that I’ve been growing in pots (they are looking a bit stunted), we’re hoping the pupae will hatch, then lay their eggs on the cabbages (and we’ll try and film that).

Wednesday, May 6

The Fixer

6th May
In the last post I couldn’t bring myself to mention that, apart from my sadness at Zizi’s departure, there has also been a massive row with the pétanque club* who are now boycotting the village bar. I can’t describe how despondent this makes me feel – although, as my desire for harmony here is purely self-centered, this amounts to self-pity which is never attractive.

My role on the tv production happening here is as a Fixer. A Fixer sorts stuff out, sometimes it’s stuff to do with getting sets made or getting kit ordered or fixed and a lot of it is just knowing where to get stuff. The easiest way to do this is to go where everyone congregates and until recently that has been the village bar.

Real live red-faced yelling and soap-opera brawling is great entertainment but counter-productive from my point of view. There are already several rifts among the French population here due to the usual generations-old family feuds, the last elections really wreacked havoc and now no-one goes to events in the village hall any more in case they bump into a sworn enemy.

There was a wonderful period last autumn when everyone came to the bar in regular shifts: If I needed a hornet’s nest or wanted to hire a barn I’d go before supper and catch the farmers. I could tap the Dutch at weekends if I need to borrow garden furniture. The Brits go after supper and many of them are twitchers or butterfly enthusiasts (they tend to do surveys which are extremely useful to us). So if they all fall out or one of these groups feels alienated the bar empties and I have to put a pie in my basket and go visiting instead.

* The pétanque club meets twice a week and is a really popular social event with the French, Dutch and British locals at the village bar where I have been known to do a turn as a waitress.

Tuesday, May 5

Brenda Steps In

5th May
Since our village bar was sold last year it has languished in an ever-deepening Vale of Tears. A British couple called Strange bought it for tuppence from a lady desperate to make a quick sale, Mrs Strange thought that a bar would be a nice retirement hobby for her husband but after a few months they suddenly needed to disappear, leaving their eldest son in charge. Kurt The Goth spent the winter emptying the bar’s bank account ... then he also needed to leave, he persuaded his brother Shane The Fascist to come to the village and take over...

Shane is the only member of the Strange family who speaks French, he is an angry young man with a long list of dislikes; top of the list are British people, women and anyone over thirty. He doesn’t drive - for his first few weeks in the village Shane relied solely on the kindness of elderly British women to take him shopping. One day Shane's lovely and extremely camp friend Zizi arrived to help run the bar and do the driving.

Mrs Strange only discovered that Shane replaced Kurt a couple of weeks ago, she has returned and Zizi has gone. I was told that Zizi’s girlfriend was unhappy about him working at the bar - so he’s had to leave - unfortunately.

There is a bright spot on the horizon however – Brenda* has decided to liven things up. While seated at the bar listening to the update of this story my eye wandered over to a pile of bright flyers written in English and using the full array of jokey fonts currently available:

Friday Nite is Brenda’s Nite
For Fun, Frolics and Mayhem
Bring an instrument and a song
At the *** ***** Bar
8 til late

* Brenda is a Liverpudlian septuagenarian, chain smoker, owner of many wigs and recipient of some very large implants.

Monday, May 4


May 4th
Our village is buzzing with gossip about the arrest for fraud of our notorious local estate agent. It was impossible to buy a property around here without Madame Vilaine being involved, new occupiers of property who’d just been (unknowingly) fleeced by her would be approached with the suggestion that they in turn act as agents, introducing their house-hunting friends in return for a cut of any resulting sale. These semi-retired incomers were flattered that their prowess in the property market was finally being recognised and they worked quite hard to deliver more victims to the Vilaine business.

I had an audience with Mme V when I first arrived in the area, I was only looking to rent and I’d happened on a rare day when she was in the office. Seated on a Louis XV chair, she’d sniffed at me and handed over the details of a property that was clearly a garden shed on a rubbish dump, I declined, she heaved her bosom, sighed heavily and told me that I couldn’t be helped - I was dismissed.

I’ve been hearing stories that make my hair freeze, like the one about properties rotten with termites that had been waved through by the surveyors Mme V appointed, but her most common trick was the 10% deposit scam:

In France when the buyer's offer on a property is accepted, they hand over 10% of the agreed price as a non-refundable deposit. This should be held by an independent notaire (legal person). Mme V managed to persuade many of her naïve foreign buyers to give her this deposit directly, she used these deposits to support her other illegal activities, (we’ve been loving speculating on these) using various stalling tactics the sale then progressed very very slowly. This scam depended on a high turnover of sales and a constant influx of deposits and is the reason her empire has now unravelled.

Eighteen months ago The Strange family made a very low offer on the village bar for sale through Madame Vilaine. The previous owner was trying to avoid bankruptcy and agreed to the price for a quick sale. Mrs Strange handed her deposit to Madame V who held onto it for six months, this had catastrophic results for the vendor who still lives in the village.
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