Who knew plants were poisonous?


Again, I’m not actually sure how I manage to get myself into so much trouble, but I do a great job of it.

Shortly after I had finished writing the previous blog post (Emily, the internet pirate) Alice’s dad came in and told me, quite angrily, to leave. I’m not that sure why, but anyway I’m really glad that he did.

I’m not going to lie, I was more than a little bit disgruntled by his unwelcoming gesture of asking me to leave his house and go back to Alice’s, especially since Alice’s mum had told me previously that I was always welcome to go over there when Alice was asleep. Hm. Anyway, I walked back up the path to Alice’s, feeling very rude and unwelcome and I let myself back into her house. Nothing had changed since I left. She was still asleep. It was 4 o’clock. I don’t think I’ve ever slept until 4 o’clock? Maybe she went to bed at 7. Who knows.

I decided that I was quite angry and upset and that I had waited quite long enough for her to wake up and that I should better have just gone home. So that’s what I did. I hooked up the sat-nav and made my long, winding way home.

That was probably one of the best decisions of my life. I got in, a little teary I must admit from feeling very rude and sat on the sofa with my Buddha book. That’s when I noticed my little Apollo. I pulled him over for a cuddle and I noticed that every time I stroked his head, he blinked profusely. Almost like someone had poked him, very violently, in the eyes. This is very strange I thought. I sat back a bit and watched him for a second, and I noticed that he had started to shake. Something definitely isn’t right, I thought.

MUUUUUMM” I shouted. “MUUUUM!!

My mum comes out of the barn, clearly getting quite bored of hearing my voice “What, Emily?” “Mum, there’s something really not right with Apollo. He’s shaking and he is blinking really strangely. I think we should take him to the vets.” I urged. The thing is, is that we had already called the vet out once this week, out of hours, and it costs €75 just for a consultation (for him to say, ‘yep, that dog isn’t very well‘) if you have to call him in for an emergency. It must have been about half past five that I noticed him shaking, the vets would have been open too, had it not been a Sunday. Just my luck, right? I swear things like this don’t happen regularly to everyone else.

We decided that it would be better to pay €75 to be sure – which is about £64 – than have Apollo die. So I called the vet, explaining that we didn’t know what had happened and that he was acting strangely, and the vet told us to meet him outside of the vets in 15/20 minutes. I was quite frightened that I had been imagining the shaking, and that we would get to the vets and Apollo be absolutely fine and then I get a good telling off for wasting my mum’s money. Little did I know that I had been right, something was seriously wrong with Apollo.

We waited for what seemed like forever outside of the clinique vétérinaire. When the vet arrived, he let us in and we went down a familiar anti disinfectant-vet-smelling hallway to the consultation room. Apollo knew where we were. I put him on the table and the vet looked him straight in the eyes. *CLAP* he clapped. I looked at my mum through the corner of my eye. What the hell is he doing? We both thought. *CLAP* he clapped again. I was extremely confused. The vet put a thermometer up poor Apollo’s little derrière and then he turned to us. I wasn’t expecting such bad news. “Je suis sûr qu’il a été empoisonné” << I’m sure that he has been poisoned >> The vet said.

Oh no. Shit shit shit. Why?! Not my Apollo!! How? Who poisoned him? Is he going to live? How much has he eaten? Will he die soon or will it take a while? How does the vet know? Why did he clap in his face? Can he find out what type of poison he has consumed? Can we cure him? Is there a general antidote for all poisons? Was it some rat poison that we thought we had got rid of? Was it the neighbour’s poison that he had gotten hold of? These were just a few of the unanswerable questions going through my mind.

The vet got out a syringe and filled it with – a lot of – yellowy-green liquid. He injected it into Apollo’s back and then he squirted a clear liquid into his mouth. He explained that he had injected Valium into his back and morphine into his mouth (he didn’t explain until this morning that morphine is an antidote to poison). Poor little Apollo was shaking like mad. He told us that he had clapped at him to see whether his reactions were distorted. Apparently, when a dog is poisoned, any noise, no matter how small, will make them jump out of their skin. And so, when he had clapped in front of Apollo’s face and he had been frightened to death, that’s when he knew he must have been poisoned. He said that the first thing you need to do, is calm the shakes. No matter what poison he had ingested you need to stop him from shaking. The Valium is meant to calm him, and the morphine to take the pain away (and act as an antidote). He said that he needed to keep Apollo in over night so that he could keep an eye on him and act appropriately if his condition worsened. We were sent home to come back the next morning.

I think that it was the worst night’s sleep I’ve ever had. We came home and both of us were worried sick. We ate a little bit of gnocci and then I went to bed. I cried and cried and cried. I felt, on the one hand so grateful that I had come home early from Alice’s and found him, but on the other hand gutted that I hadn’t stayed at home rather than have stayed at Alice’s to prevent this awful poisoning. I slept from about nine to half past twelve. I lay there awake, envisaging every possible awful circumstance that Apollo may have been in. Was he slowly dying? Was the vet watching him properly? Would I ever see him again?

I heard footsteps downstairs and, even though normally I would have immediately imagined it to be a burglar, I made my way downstairs to see my mum. “I can’t sleep” I said. ” Me neither.” She replied. We sat downstairs for a little while, watching the fire burn and praying for poor little Apollo to make it through the night. I went and tried to sleep in the other single bed in my mum’s room for the rest of the night. Zeus came and joined me.

This morning I woke up feeling sicker than ever. I waited desperately for it to turn half past ten so that I could hear the perhaps good, perhaps awful news. I researched every plant that he could possibly have eaten and worried myself sick with all of the awful poisonous plants that could be lurking somewhere in our garden. When I called up I couldn’t have been happier. “Il est beaucoup mieux, et le vétérinaire dit que vous pouvez venir le chercher maintenant si vous voulez” << He’s a lot better, and the vet says that you can come and collect him now if you’d like >> YES I WOULD LIKE. I was so happy. I am so happy! My mum and I have never been so happy to see his little fluffy face. Image

Now to inquire about fences to cage our huge patio. Anyone got a spare €1,700?


Emily, the internet pirate

it’s like a couple of hundred electrical appliances having a huge fight

Oh dear lord the last few days have been so busy: I haven’t had a second to sit down and write. So I’ll just make up for it and write now.

So I got up on Friday at 4:30, accidentally, because I had gone to bed so early and I only need about seven hours sleep. It’s kind of hard to find something to do at 4:30 in the morning, although looking back, it makes your day seem so much longer. Although that would have to mean compromising your evenings. I think I would personally choose to compromise my evenings. Is that sad?

Probably for an eighteen year old. So I decided to read some of my Buddha book and wait for my mum to wake. At around half six or so, she gets up, we have the usual morning cup of tea and that’s when the long wait started. The thing is, all of this may seem a bit dramatic, seeing as it’s only the internet. It’s just the fact that when I am at my mum’s house, I am literally, in the middle of nowhere. No one is around the corner to just pop in on – it’s a good half an hour each way to my two best friends here. Nightmare.

So the night before, luckily, I had spoken to Alice (one of my best friends here) to arrange to stay at hers the following night. It’s just, we didn’t actually arrange a time to meet. So, it gets to about 10 o’clock and I’ve been awake for a good five hours. I’m bored out of my brain (there’s only a certain amount of reading one can do) and I’m desperate to check my emails for possible university offers. I called Alice but I assumed that she was at work, and I texted her asking if I could go and sit outside her house and use her internet. It got to about 1 o’clock, and still no reply. So I just thought I would go, spend some time online and wait for her to get home – that’s all I would have been doing at home to entertain myself.

So off I go, having a good sing along to last summer’s music and trying not to kill myself around the tightest, mountainous road bends that are barely wide enough for one car (let alone two), I get to Alice’s about 30 minutes later. It’s quite a nice day out, a few clouds but otherwise not too bad. I get out my laptop and find her wifi network. Typing in the password.. La la la.. Invalid password. WHAT?! I thought I had remembered the password. Shit, I thought. What the hell am I going to do? Alice probably won’t be home until about 6! (I later found out that I was just getting the last two numbers muddled up). Then I had a brain wave: Her parents, who live just down the road, have no internet password. Thank god! I drove down the little path that leads to her parents’ house and I parked as close to the house as possible. Found the wifi, connecting.. Yes! Finally! I was back on the internet. So after about half an hour of sitting outside Alice’s parents’ house, being an internet pirate, I heard someone walking down the large, stone steps from the garden that leads to their front door.

Emily?! What are you doing in there!” Alice’s mum, Tracey laughed. (Alice’s mum is English and her father, Roland, is French. This is why she speaks to me in French and I speak to her in English). “I’m on the internet..” I said, very ashamed of myself. “There’s no internet at home and I was waiting for Alice to get home from work.” Tracey laughed again “Alice is in bed..” It turns out that Alice was actually in her house when I was sat outside, sleeping! Apparently she sleeps in every day until about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I found that out the hard way.

So Tracey then told me that she was going to show some English people around a house in a neighbouring town, as she is an estate agent, and asked if I’d like to come. “Er, yeah, sure!” I said and I jumped in her car. It was really lovely catching up with Alice’s mum, as we all used to be really good friends when I used to live here. We met the English people in a car park near the small winding track that lead up to their potential new home and they got in the car with us. I think they were slightly confused as to who I was and why I was there but they seemed friendly nevertheless. The house that we went to view was like three medium sized barns all attached together side by side. I thought that this place would have been an ideal place to shoot a horror film or photoshoot. There were floorboards missing and it was covered in dust and old debris; bricks, chairs, broken bedframes and lots of old wires that apparently used to be used for drying tobacco. I think that it’s important to look at these houses with an open mind, because that place could be a beautiful little house one day. However I wouldn’t even know where to start.

After we had shown them around the house and the wind was getting increasingly more bitter, we dropped them back off at the car park and made our way back to Alice’s. By this time, about 4 o’clock, Alice had decided to get out of bed and we had a nice cup of tea with her mum. English people will never change! I then sat around at Alice’s for a while, enjoying actually being with some friends, and we cooked super noodles and pasta. So French, right?

That evening we went to another English guy’s flat, a good friend (that I haven’t seen in ages) called Matt that I was at school with here, and we watched TV. Quite simply. We didn’t do a lot at all. I think that I’m starting to get more and more car sick as a passenger in Alice’s car. She’s not a bad driver or anything, she just drives quite fast and these local roads are, like I said, extremely narrow and windy.

I went to bed about 12, when I got in pretty much, and Alice and her boyfriend, John, stayed up for a bit longer. I was unaware of how long they actually stayed up. Apparently they were awake until half past five in the morning. Half past five? Why would you choose to stay up until half past five? That sounds like torture to me. So anyway, I wake up bright and early-ish at around 8 o’clock. John had told me that he wanted to get up at around 8 or 9 and to not worry about making too much noise. So, I got up, brushed my teeth and sat on my computer. An hour passed.. ‘Should I wake John up?’ I thought. ‘Na I’m sure that he’ll be getting up soon’ I reassured myself. He didn’t.

I was on Skype with Colm, who I am going to be staying with in New Zealand, for a good few hours. Delaying him leaving to go out to town to drink with his friends. It was really nice, and, because I’m quite (I say quite but I mean very) impatient, I called up Ebookers.com, nice bit of advertising again there, and I actually changed my flight and extended my stay in New Zealand by two weeks. So I’m now going for 6 weeks. I am literally wetting myself with excitement. It’s going to be so amazing. What I don’t understand is that it only cost me an extra £10 to change my flights. So in effect, I got an extra two weeks in New Zealand, for £10? Nice.

It got to about 12:30 and I decided that I was too bored of sitting downstairs (it had been about four and a half hours) and that maybe she didn’t mean to have overslept. Oh boy was I wrong. I think I was being groaned at for at least 2 hours before she started to wake up. The thing is, is that she promised me that, providing it was nice weather, which it was, we could have gone horse riding. I was so excited to go, it has literally been years since I had last gone. But, by the time she had woken up it was about 4 o’clock, and she said it was too late to go because of it getting dark. I was like “Yes well I have been awake since eight waiting for you to get out of bed! That’s hardly my fault!” Alas, no horseriding for me.

That evening Alice had said that in a ‘local’ (local is about 20/25 minutes away) town there was a ‘techno party’ event happening and asked if I wanted to go. I decided that I might as well go and I went home to get washed and changed before meeting them. Then after the most pathetic (but humongous) argument with my mother about electricity, in which both the internet and power was childishly switched off, I managed to get out of the house. I met them in Lidl car park – oh the class – and I then discovered that my driver’s side window had broken. It doesn’t really go up straight and then, when it does, there are massive gaps either side where it doesn’t slot into the right place anymore. I managed to get it to shut and now I need to remember to never open it again. Ever. Can’t afford more car expenses.

When we got to this techno place, it was pretty hilarious. There were probably about 200 people in this event hall. Two DJs at the back of the room facing the ‘crowd’ and about 20 people throwing themselves around at the front of the stage. If you don’t know what ‘techno’ is, it’s like a couple of hundred electrical appliances having a huge fight. It’s just like a load of beeping really. The nice thing that came out of going to this embarrassing night function was seeing two of my good friends that I hadn’t seen since I was 12. Guillaume and Antho. We all decided after an hour or so that we had had enough of the beeping and that we would all go back to Alice’s house. I was going to go home as it was about 1 o’clock and Fumel isn’t far from where I live, but I guess I just realised that I’m 18, not 80 and that it would be nice for me to actually socialise with people, even if it was past my bedtime..

I ended up going to bed about three: my eyes weren’t staying open anymore and I couldn’t speak without yawning. I tried to sleep for as much of this morning as I could, and managed to stay in bed until one, so as to not have to wait for them to wake up. I honestly don’t remember the last time that I’ve felt so drained and tired. Now I am sat in Alice’s parents’ house waiting for them to wake up. I think they’re still sleeping (it’s half past three).

Oh well, c’est la vie.

Knives galore

I hate Orange

Firstly, I’m sorry that I didn’t post yesterday but there is a good reason: My internet has died. I swear to anyone living here, never ever, ever sign up to Orange broadband. It’s awful. Every time we come out here, there are problems and we’re left without internet. Plus, there’s nothing they can do except send someone within the next few days to come and repair it. It’s frankly not good enough. They’re lucky I’m too lazy to go to the nearest town and complain in their shop. I’m dreadful like that. I just feel it’s unacceptable that we have to call their expensive hotline on our mobile phones, charging us money, to sort out the internet that again, we’re paying for, because they can’t maintain a connection. Ridiiiiclous. A very unhappy Emily. The internet is literally all I have here: There is nothing to do in the middle of the countryside AND I’m in the middle of receiving my university replies. They’ve gotten away lightly this time I promise you.

Anyway, enough of the ranting. Not too much drama happened yesterday apart from Orange broadband failing us. We went to the local village market in the morning that is on every Thursday and we bought quite a few bits and pieces. They shut off all of the roads going through the village and the streets are lined with various stalls selling some of the most random things. There are food stalls selling every type of food you could think of from paella to the Spanish sugared doughnuts that the French call chichi (churros in Spanish). There are stalls selling second hand jumpers and clothes – I know they’re second hand because one of the jumpers that I picked up still had someone’s nametag still sewed into it. I wonder if Pascal knows that I’ve bought his jumper…

There are stalls selling things that you would usually see scattered around Poundland – other pound shops are available – like random screws, hammers, party straws, hairbands and various other boot fair type things. My favourite stall of all has to be the stool that has about 500 knives spread across the table. Not just kitchen knives; but butchers knives, carving knives, every kind of knife you could think of. The last time I came here I saw some youthful looking ‘adults’ buying a few of the more menacing looking knives. But hey, they could have been chefs, who knows.

We didn’t buy any of those things though (except for Pascal’s jumper). We bought some nice material for some cushions that we’re planning to make from one of the hundred material stalls – realistically we probably won’t ever get around to it. We bought some fancy tea from one of the organic stalls (that I’ve pretty much almost already used up, sorry Mum!) and some cauliflower with which we made a delicious cauliflower cheese bake for dinner. Then I decided that I would like some nice, fresh local honey to put in my new expensive organic tea. Something I now wish I had overlooked. We walked all the way back to one of the first stalls that we saw to buy it from a lovely woman with whom I was talking when my Mum had seen another local ex-pat Englishman that she knew.

Although by this time, it was absolutely pissing it down. We were getting reeeally wet by the time that we arrived at her stall, and to our dismay a French couple enquiring about the honey was already using the little bit of shelter that was above it. We stood there in the rain for a good 10 minutes, getting wetter and wetter. This French couple didn’t even seem to realise that we were just waiting there in the increasingly heavy rain as they asked for explanations about every type of honey on the table and their different properties. And then I heard “Donc, c’est vous qui faites le miel? C’est comment que vous le faites?” << So, it’s you who makes the honey? How exactly do you make it? >> Oh for god’s sake, I thought. Really? You’re really going to ask that? So, after another 20 minutes in the rain they finally decided that they had asked, and heard, enough about the science behind making the honey, how the artisan’s mother and father would never wear any protection against the bees and never once got stung and where abouts in the world it is that she travels to taste different honey. We got the standard ‘all flower’ honey. Next time I will be going to E.Leclerc.

Thanks to our lack of internet, I was in bed by half past nine and so falling asleep that early saw me waking up at HALF PAST FOUR in the morning. This is a time only acceptable to wake up when you’re going on holiday.

Oh, and I hope that you all had a good Valentine’s day.

Wood, anyone?

Wood, anyone?

Good evening globetrotters,

My alarm woke me up at 7:00 this morning. I went to bed around 1 o’clock so I gave myself more of a lie in than I would usually have had. I went downstairs and my mum wasn’t in. I knew where she was. She was in the neighbour’s chicken pen, cleaning up the feathers from yesterday’s crime scene. I ran over and started giving her a hand. “Quickly Emily, I’m scared that the chicken man is going to catch us in here”. I had left a note on the neighbour’s garage door and asked them to come and see us as soon as they got back. Sure enough, shortly after we got a knock on the window and the chicken man – I say that like he’s actually some kind of mutant chicken-man himself, he’s definitely not part chicken don’t worry – had come to see us. We did a quick customary ‘bise’ (a kiss on each cheek) and then I said “Bonjour Monsieur” << Hello sir >>

Absolutely shitting myself.

Bonjour mademoiselle – j’ai vu qu’il y avait une lettre attachée a la porte, mais je ne vois pas trop bien, donc je n’ai pas vu qu’est ce qu’il y est marqué dessus. J’ai aussi quelque chose que je veux vous demander au propos des poulets.” << Hello miss – I saw that there was a letter attached to the door, but I can’t see very well so I couldn’t see what it said. I’ve also got something to ask you concerning the chickens >> Shit. Oh holy crap. I then started explaining – blabbering – about how my dogs are really lovely and that I was so sorry and that I will replace the chickens and that I couldn’t believe that my dog had done this etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. The man was a bit taken aback. He laughed at me and put his hand on my shoulder. He just wanted to know where the four chickens had gone, and whether we knew if it was our dogs or a fox that had done it. If I’m being quite frank about the whole thing, he really didn’t seem to care at all. He did come and inspect the fence but these country people really don’t see a chicken murder as a big issue. They just keep them for the eggs. He thought it was especially funny how I said that I wanted to call a vet out when I had discovered these poor little souls taking their last breaths. He took the deceased chickens that we had bagged up and stuck his hand in the bag. WHAT IS HE DOING?! I thought to myself. “Oué, ils sont bien morts. Ils sont froids.” <<Yep, they’re well dead. They’re cold>> He told us. Slightly disgusted by the fact that he had just touched the dead chickens I took a few steps back. “Ne vous inquiètez pas, je vais les jetter” << Don’t worry, I’ll throw them away >> He said. “Le vétérinaire vous ferait payer beaucoup pour les jeter!” << The vet would charge you a lot of money to throw them away! >> So we said goodbye, and that was pretty much the end of that.

I woke myself up properly with my usual several cups of sugary tea. I skyped a good friend of mine in New Zealand for a few hours and then disappeared into a good book about the teachings of Buddhism. Pretty nice really after that bit of drama.

I occupy most of my time checking my emails. I think I’m going to start setting personal goals, the main one being to stop checking my UCAS track every few hours. I am so bloody impatient. Every e-mail I receive has me wishing for another university offer. I think I’d die if I got into St Andrews. A lot. I am literally so excited for university it’s impossible; I’m looking forward to the amazing education, lifestyle and the new friends that I’m sure I will make.

This afternoon I was interrupted from my book to go and translate for my dear mother. The neighbour had come over and with the seriously – and I mean seriously – strong accent the locals have here in the south west of France, it’s no wonder that she has a lot of trouble. It’s lucky that I went to school here for a few years, otherwise I know that I would be lost too. It’s probably the equivalent of comparing a Yorkshire accent to RP (received pronunciation is like the standard southern ‘posh’ British accent). Everything sounds pretty nasal down here. All the ‘an’ [æn] sounds are turned to ‘ayn’ [eɪŋ]. http://www.phonemicchart.com (as close as they can be represented in English phonology).

So anyway, I go out to see the neighbour and he says that he has spoken to the local man who supplies the wood for everyone in the village – in the winter wood is a very, very exciting thing here – and he was offering to take us down to this man’s farm. Mum decides that she’d like to go so she shoves a coat at me and her best puppy dog eyes. We get in his car and I’m not even exaggerating, he must have been doing about 70mph on the tiniest, narrowest roads I have ever seen in my life. He didn’t care if we nearly fell off our seats as we zoomed round corners. I hear a little voice come from the back of the car “I feel sick“. Not surprising really. These French people drive like maniacs: it’s definitely not a myth.

So arriving 20 minutes later at the farm, with my life barely intact, we meet the friendliest faced old farmer I have ever met. Short, tubby and all squinty, the farmer gave us the customary ‘bise’ (a kiss on each cheek). Whilst they went off to look at the wood I got distracted by the cutest little shaggy, cream sausage dog I have ever seen – I am a sucker for any animal. I think I must have been one in a past life. “Fifi” the little shaggy, cream sausage dog she shall now be known. I got into a rather lengthy conversation with the farmer’s wife about dog breeds and living in the country and apparently chicken massacres are pretty common here. Fifi the little shaggy, cream sausage dog‘s mum kills chickens regularly apparently, and so she’s now not allowed off the lead outside. Made me feel a little better about yesterday’s fiasco.

I was then shouted over by mother because she was completely lost in conversation again and needed my translations – I should start charging for this – and after a long, long conversation about different types of wood and how they burn… we walked back to the car. There we met Fifi the little, shaggy cream sausage dog‘s owner. About half an hour later and e-mail addresses exchanged for her daughter to have an English self volunteered pen-friend – I’m so nice – we finally got back into the race car.

My plan for tonight consists of tea, books and bed. Sounds like a perfect evening. I hope that wherever you are in the world, you’re having a good day.

5 kilo ducks and chicken massacres.

Deux canards, avec foie!

So I wake up early Sunday morning, my first full day, of many, in France. Still physically shattered from the last two days’ travelling. Mum comes down and we share a nice conversation over our morning tea. She told me about the lotto – also known as bingo – that was happening in the village hall in the afternoon and asked if I wanted to go. Well, what else did I have to do? Nothing at all. So that was a pretty easy decision.

At half past two we turned up to the village hall. The car park was completely full to the brim. Surely this can’t be everyone at the lotto? I thought. Sure enough it was. The village hall, which is surprisingly quite large for the size of the village, was absolutely packed. Long rows of tables lined the hall, with only three or four seats empty. Two men sat at the far end of the room on a stage with a big round cage full of white numbered balls. We edged our way in quietly as most people had already settled in and quickly bought our bingo cards, 12 for €10 (just in case anyone is thinking of joining us next time) and we found two seats opposite a friendly looking old couple.

The rules were quickly explained to us: There are three prizes for every round. Twelve rounds are played – 4 continuous hours of bingo is truly exhilarating – and then at the end, if you win you stay behind to collect your prize. When you have one row, you shout “kin!” and you get a prize. When you have two rows, you shout “double kin!” and you get a prize. And when you have a full house, you shout “carton!” and you get a prize. Sounds simple enough, right?

Before every round, one of the men would announce the prizes available to win. For eleven of the rounds, the prizes were exactly the same, so you got to know what was available to win pretty quickly;

Kin = A box of assorted meats.

Double kin = one duck without its liver.

Carton = “Deux canards, avec foie” <<Two ducks with their livers>>. 

They were pretty odd prizes if you ask me. My mum and I had a standing joke going that whenever the prize for the carton came up, we would childishly imitate the man by mouthing ‘deux canards, avec foie’. Also every time that someone wins, they come and check the cards to see if they have heard all of the numbers right. So you have one lady shouting the numbers to one of the men on the stage, and then he’d check it and shout back “oui!”. After hearing a few carton‘s worth of ‘oui‘s (15 in a row) it started to become funny to imitate him, too. Personally I thought it was hilarious. The French people thought we were a bit strange.

So, it gets to the 5th round. We’re starting to get quite bored of all of these French numbers and staring at lots of old wrinkly faces when all of a sudden I realise that I’m down to my last two numbers. “Mum! Mum! I only have two numbers left to get!“. Bearing in mind that we were now playing for the carton. Soon came one of my numbers and I was left with only one to get. I have to admit, even though it’s only bingo, I was actually really excited. Then I prayed on the next number to be the number one. Then I’d win the carton prize.

UN!” shouted the man on the stage.

This was my moment to shine. “YES!” I screamed. Not very French, I know. I think I received a whole room’s worth of dirty racist looks. Oops. The thing is, it was genuinely one of the most exciting moments of my recent past. Is that sad? I probably shouldn’t have written about this – you’re all going to think I have no life. Not that it wouldn’t have come out at some point anyway.

So anyway, there I am; English, new to bingo and probably the youngest person in there by 40 years. And I won the carton prize. The only problem is that duck is just about the only meat that I don’t actually like eating (apart from chicken now that I will try to never eat again – I shall explain why later). There I was, chuffed to bits for winning but totally confused and unappreciative of the prize. I started asking the couples around us about the ducks. It was explained that these ducks are in season from October to February in this region and are a very common bingo prize at this time of year. I think it would be hilarious to hand a 5 kilo duck to an eighty year old woman as a top prize for bingo. There you go, Nan. Apparently their livers are a top delicacy in France and are very expensive to buy. We thought we would give it a try. When in Rome…

When we had finished this French bingo marathon we queued up in the pissing rain to collect these ducks. I was not prepared for what was handed to me: I was given a bald, yellow (fed on corn) duck, with its head still attached with the eyes poked out. It was disgusting. And I am not joking, these things were absolutely huge. These French people were clearly confused – it was definitely more of a goose than a duck. This thing would have had to have been a duck on steroids for the size of the thing. Hybrid monster duck. Anyway, because I’m such a nice person we ended up giving one of the ducks to the old couple that were sitting in front of us (the ones who had been kind enough to explain the rules to us). They were absolutely thrilled to bits.

Getting home with this thing, we decided to take a look. Except, we couldn’t look, because both my mother and myself were way too disgusted to even look. The head was honestly one of the most revolting things I had ever seen (until the next day, which I will get to I promise..) and I cringed touching it. We asked one of our other English friends to come round and cook it for us, but on arrival she had a quick look and we realised that the duck hadn’t been gutted at all. It had everything still inside it. Apparently it’s no good to eat an animal after it’s had its organs inside it for more than 12 hours dead, so we’ve put it in the freezer. For times when we feel braver.

So, this brings me on to the next day. I woke up Monday morning, pretty happy and content with the last night’s achievement. I skyped a very good friend who I’m going to visit in New Zealand, and then my mother and I went to the local door shop, as you do, to go and ask about putting a dog flap into our front door. However, after our 10 minute visit they told us that they needed to ask their managers some questions and that they would call us back, so we went to the local village council type thing to ask for some permission to cut down some trees. Isn’t my life exciting. It was then that I saw a strange phone in my mother’s hand. “Mother..” I said “…whose phone is that?“. My mum looked at me strangely and said “..Yours..“. It definitely wasn’t my phone. I produced my phone from my pocket and my mum’s face went into shock. She had stolen one of the salesperson’s phones from the door shop. Shit. Shit, shit, shit.

I raced back to the door shop and the man met me at the door, pointing straight at me, “Ah ben c’était vous! C’est pas grave t’inquiètes pas” <<Ah, it was you! It doesn’t matter, don’t worry>> He chuckled. I handed back the phone and apologised, explaining that my phone was also a Samsung and that my mum was a dirty thief. (She’s not really, just to clear that up).

It was then that the real drama unfolded. When we got home, we ate some beans on toast, chilled out and watched some TV. We popped over to the neighbour’s house and we chatted for ages about everything. I also mentioned that the dogs had started to notice the chickens and I joked that I was pretty sure that there was going to be a few murders soon. When we got home, a good friend turned up for a chat and we sat for an hour or so catching up on each other’s lives. It was then that my life was about to change forever. I jest, it didn’t really change forever. But it was very sad.

My mother rushed over and started screaming “Zeus has escaped! He’s in next door’s chicken pen!!” Sure enough, there he was. My little Tibetan Terrier. Mouth and beard covered in blood. My stomach dropped. “ZEEEUUSSS” I screamed! I jumped over the fence and ran over to him. What I saw next I think I shall remember forever. Three chickens lay sprawled out on the floor. The first relatively cleanly killed, the second’s back had been removed and the third was still moving its poor little head. Eyes wide and obviously in shock. I was furious. “ZEUS HOW COULD YOU DO THIS?!” I screamed. I practically threw him back over the fence at my mother and I went back to look for more of the chickens. Four of them huddled standing in a corner of the pen, seemly unharmed. Two more were in the inside concrete egg house, perched like budgies on top of the railings, shaking wildly, but again, unharmed. Then I found the chicken that was to stop me eating meat forever. Under a metal shelter, huddled up, again, breathing but shaking profusely. I was relieved that another chicken was safe.

I ran to my other neighbour’s house that I had visited earlier as fast as I could and managed to wheeze “Monsieur, s’il vous plait, j’ai besoin de votre aide: Il y a eu un massacre, mon chien.. Il a tué les poulets! Trois!” <<Sir, please, I need your help: There’s been a massacre, my dog.. He’s killed the chickens! Three!>>. He grabbed his coat and hat and came back to the pen with me.

Qu’est ce qu’on doit faire?!” <<What shall we do?!>> I asked him desperately. “Ben, il faut téléphoner les propriétaires et puis mettre les poulets morts dans des sacs en plastiques.” <<Well, you have to call the owners and then put the chickens in plastic bags>>. We tried to call the owners but we didn’t have their numbers. They only go to that house on the weekends as they’re super rich and we don’t see them often. Although at 7 o’clock tomorrow morning, the man who looks after the chickens is coming as usual and I think we’re going to go over in the morning before he arrives to try and clear up some of the feathers.

The worst part? Is that when I got back with the neighbour, I realised that the chicken underneath the metal shelter was actually quite badly injured. Not enough to have died instantly but enough to maybe not make it through the night. My only regret is not being brave enough to kill it. I couldn’t kill any animal, let alone a poor chicken that my senseless dog had tried to pointlessly murder. Once, I was cleaning my house with heavy duty bleach and I realised that there was a eensy teensy little greenfly on the end of my glove, writhing in pain. I knew that the kindest thing would be to kill it, but it honestly took me about 30 seconds to get the courage to end its little life. I think if there were a pansy award it would definitely go to me.

So, tonight, I go to bed feeling quite sad. Obviously it’s just nature and I can promise you all that my dog is actually the sweetest, kindest dog (not that you might believe me after what has happened) but when they see another animal and their own animal instinct takes over, it teaches them to kill. I’m sure that most dogs faced with chickens, rabbits, birds, squirrels and most other small animals would chase and eventually kill them. I am just dreading having to explain this all to the chicken man and our next door neighbours! Holy shit. My life can be dramatic.

Kia ora!

(That’s Māori for hello).

Warning: lengthy first blog entry. 

This is the story of my journey to France from England and the dramas that of course ensued.

I had better introduce myself: My name is Emily, I am 18 years old and I come from the south coast of England. That much is fact. My main interest is learning foreign languages. I speak English, French and (an intermediate level of) Spanish. I have also studied Latin, German and Chinese. I can understand a lot of Italian and through being around one of my best friends and her family, I know every rude word you could possibly utter in Italian, pretty much. Actually, I’m pretty sure that my Italian is better than my Chinese and German. I intend to carry my French and Spanish to university this September. I am currently in the process of receiving my offers/rejections. So far I have been lucky enough to receive two unconditional offers from the University of Warwick and the University of Kent. Three more to go.

I have started this blog because I was inspired by a new friend to write about this summer’s travels. I am going to New Zealand (hence the Māori) for a month in April and then I am going to Los Angeles to see my father for a fortnight in May. Currently, I reside in the south west of France, as I am living with my mother due to a sudden break up with my boyfriend of two years. Although it’s all good, we’re still really good friends and we have no intention of ruining our great friendship. I own the house that I used to live in in England, due to a generous inheritance that I was fortunate enough to be given, and I am currently renting it out to a lovely family who love it very much. I am more than happy about that.

So here I am in the south west – to be precise – of France. The last few days have been pretty hectic if I’m being honest with you. I should probably explain: We set off from the south coast of England last Friday morning at around 8am and an hour’s drive later we arrived in Newhaven, England, to get a 4 hour ferry across to Dieppe, France. Because of the large amount of cargo – I’m going to call it cargo because of its vast quantity, and because I find it amusing – that my mother decided to take from my house in England to her house in France by trailer, we decided to drive. We also thought it be a good idea for me to have access to my own car when I am staying here in France. So with my two little Tibetan Terriers, Apollo and Zeus, I boarded the ferry.

Unfortunately, because of the hefty cargo my mother was towing, she had to be put on a different level of the ferry to me and the boys. Nevertheless, I found her walking up the stairs as we went up onto the deck. There we passed what seemed an hour or so of drinking illegal tea (technically we should have bought the tea from the boat’s café) and reading our books. Just before disembarking, being the nosy person I am, I overheard (was listening intently to) a conversation between two young men sitting behind us in the café. It sounded like they were going to France to travel and work, and from hearing one of them talk about spirituality and negative/positive thinking, I gathered the courage to recommend the book I was actually reading right there on the ferry – “Ask and it is Given” by Esther and Jerry Hicks. Bit of nice advertising there. I totally recommend reading this book if you have an open mind. It’s fantastic. They seemed rather happy to have received my recommendation and I felt quite happy to have been able to share the book with them.

Getting back into the car and receiving a shower of licks and kisses from Apollo and Zeus, I waited to disembark the ferry. Anxious as to finding my mother, I assumed that she would have gotten off first with all of the articulated lorries. I was wrong. So with a sea of impatient cars behind me, I tackled my first anti-clockwise roundabout. Frightened and without a sat-nav, I chose the first exit and off I went on the wrong – for an Englishman – side of the road. Parking in the first car park that I saw I waited patiently for my mother to drive past. It didn’t happen. Looking at my contracted English phone I decided that it was probably a better idea to receive a small phone bill overcharge than be stuck in Dieppe alone forever. Yes, forever. So I called my mother and with almost no phone battery left I explained my location. A few minutes later she found me and we started the long – and I mean very long – journey to the département 47, Lot-et-Garonne.

Following the cargo and its 70s themed floral cover was easy enough and I made sure that I kept closely behind. We soon found ourselves on the French motor ways. Something pretty important that I noticed was that the toll roads are pretty difficult to pay for when your driver’s seat is located on the opposite side of the car to the machine, and you lack a passenger. Every toll road – and there are a lot of them in France – that I drove through meant putting the car in neutral with the handbrake on, and clambering out of my seat to climb across the passenger seat to reach the green ticket button. The motorists behind me had a good laugh. Another piece of advice is that I really wouldn’t recommend paying for the French toll roads with bank notes: My mother had stuffed a purse with two €10 notes and a €50 note in my car for me to pay for the toll roads, and it was at the first toll road that I discovered paying the €22 fee with a €50 note was a bad idea. Similar to paying for a train at the English ticket machines, they like to give you your change in €1 coins. So there I was, crawling across the passenger seat, with a purse in one hand and scooping €28 euros in €1 coins into it with the other, very aware of the impatient french drivers queueing behind me.

After a few hours and a few pee stops – from the several gallons of  illegal tea consumed on the ferry, we arrived in Le Mans, France. Previously having booked a hotel room over the phone with the only hotel that allowed us to have five dogs in one hotel room, yes five, we headed for the hotel. Probably about five minutes away from the hotel and having entered the town’s extremely complex one-way system, the traffic light turned red on me. Shit. Off drove my mother with the floral 70s cargo and there I am sat watching car after car turn in from adjacent roads after her. Double shit. No sat-nav, no sense of direction and motherless. There I was alone, left to navigate this impossible maze of roads. I can do this, I assure myself, driving off in the general direction I last spotted my dear mother. I was wrong, so horribly wrong. My phone had died previously in Dieppe after my last phone call to my mother and I had no access to any other kind of calling device.

And then it hit me. Wait! I remembered the TomTom that I had last seen in my car. Could this be the miracle that saves me? I had been circling this town for over an hour at least and I had wasted enough petrol and hope to continue. I stopped illegally, of course. I must seem to be doing a lot of illegal things recently – no, I’m not suspect to drug use or anything affiliated, I’m only guilty of unlawful tea drinking on the ferry. Digging through my glovebox I did indeed find my TomTom. I plugged it in faster than you could do anything else, ever, and I saw the screen light up. Thank GOD, I thought. Of course I was only to find that this sat-nav only has maps for the United Kingdom and Ireland installed. Crap. Is there anything else in here? I managed to find another sat-nav (I must seem pretty stupid to you all to have not realised the TWO sat-navs that were sat in my glovebox) and I desperately hooked it up. This time it worked. Add street. Boulevard René Levasseur. Nothing. Double crap.

Slowly giving up on life I decide to try and navigate this ever more frustrating one-way system one last time. Passing pedestrians couldn’t explain which way to go, nor could any other cars in traffic. I was Lost. With a capital L. Getting tired from the long day and realising that I could in fact wind up in a disastrous crash with a high-speed tram, I decide to park up in the local train station. By this point, Apollo and Zeus were bursting for a wee and I reached over to grab their leads. That’s when my brain decided to suggest something that was actually of use to me. The TomTom charger consisted of a car’s cigarette lighter plug on one end and a USB port on the other, to which you could plug the wire that had a USB on one end and a charger that went into the TomTom on the other. This invention probably saved my life. I scrambled through my bag, remembering packing my phone’s USB to phone wire for a reason unknown to me at the time. Finally able to charge my phone I waited the longest five minutes of my life and then called my terrified mother who was sick with worry. Ironically she was mid-conversation with a local policemen, to whom she passed the phone. “Je suis dans la gare! Au Parking!” << I’m in the station! In the carpark! >> I screamed at this poor man. And off went the police car to come and collect me.

Probably the most embarrassing ten minutes of my life: lights flashing, sirens blazing and seemingly everyone in the town peering at me through windows and doors. Arriving at the hotel was probably one of the biggest reliefs of my life. Thankfully the police car saw me in and drove away, carrying all of the attention that it had brought with it. I ran upstairs with Apollo and Zeus and collapsed on the bed. “NEVER AGAIN” I said to my mother “I hate this place!”. Rightly so, I feel.

After cleaning up Zeus’ pee and then realising that animals have bladders too, we took all five out and around the block. A McDonald’s was definitely on the cards and after cleaning up thoroughly I ordered myself a BigMac meal. Bringing a significant improvement to my day. Back at the hotel I scoffed the McDonald’s and watched the French version of Splash – the new celebrity diving series. It was pretty good – another recommendation from me there.

The next morning, we had an 8 hour drive ahead of us. After the most expensive bowl of cereal and shitty tea my mother has ever paid for we left the hotel and headed for our final destination: 47500, Lot-et-Garonne. This time each equipped with a sat-nav. 6 long hours of driving later, we were more than halfway there, and for the last two hours, I volunteered to lead. With 90% of the drive on long stretches of endless French motor way it was mind-numbingly boring. My iPod died after the first hour and so I no longer could listen to the Russell Brand podcasts that had kept me going on the first day. I managed to connect my iPad to my speakers and played the longest playlist I had on my iPad, twice.

At around 6pm we arrived at our destination. Lot-et-Garonne. I’ve never been so happy with my life. And here I shall stay, until I embark on a 30 hour journey to New Zealand in April. Here’s to hoping it will go a lot more smoothly!