The Little French English Improvement Project

little french person trying to improve her english, little french english person trying to improve herself, french english person trying to improve a little bit… and blogging along the way. (Now in Deutschland)

Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Cure for all ills

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on February 25, 2013

Some of you might have heard me say that carrot cake would cure anything, even political despair. Give them cake, right? Chocolate cake, Frau Boxler’s mocha cake, macaroons etc would take care of the rest. But recently I have driven around the countryside with my grandad in tow and now I know better. You see, although I still don’t have a driving licence (at 25; shocking I know), I can drive when accompanied by an adult who knows how to drive. Never mind that I feel safer with Papy sitting in the passenger seat where I can see him than if he were driving himself.

IMGP9282So anyway, in order for me to acquire experience of driving along narrow winding roads with a rockface on one side and a ravine on the other, we go together to visit his friends from way back when; old grannies and grandads who went to school with him, or sat next to him and my grandma on coach trips to Lourdes or somewhere. Nowadays they sit around their front rooms wrapped up in shawls and scarves, waiting for winter to be over. We have long conversations about the weather, the war, farming, and grandchildren like myself who should really be looking for a husband and produce offspring. Someone heats up coffee in a pan on a wood-burning stove, which we drink from worn out bowls or cups or glasses. As the conversation goes on, an old bottle is brought out of a dark cupboard and someone will ask, or rather state: “You’ll have a little drop, won’t you.” “Une goutte”, a drop, “of eau de vie” of course. My grandad chuckles and protests, just a bit.

The bottle itself if usually a little sticky and dusty; it has been kept in there for so long. The stopper never quite fits, so there’s an accumulation of “stuff” round the neck of the bottle – you don’t really want to know. Sometimes, as a conversation piece, there’s a pear floating around in there (my grandfather’s godfather put that in there), or a stick, an articulated wooden doll, or even a snake or two. Someone explains: it’s quince, pear, plums, marc de raisin or some other fruit, and you have to take their word for it because really, you could not tell the difference. Either it tastes like pure alcohol and will burn your tonsils off, or if you’re lucky, it tastes of sugar. If it has any flavour at all, it will be of coffee because it is poured straight into the warm cup or bowl you’ve been using, even if you have explained that you’re supposed to steer the car all the way home and it’s getting dark. “Come on. Just a drop. It can’t do you any harm.”

Because whatever the shape and size of the bottle, the percentage of alcohol or sugar and which members of the extended family were involved in the distilling process, it’s good for you. So far, it has been recommended to me as an aid to digestion, a cure for the runs, the solution to headaches (hair of the dog perhaps), and as a panacea for all coughs, sneezes, tickly throats and bad colds. For internal and external use. If you have a sore throat and a runny nose, imbibe cotton wool in eau de vie and tie it around your neck with a scarf. That should sort you out. And make you smell like an alcoholic.

Well I spent hours outside in the cold over the past few days, shovelling never-ending piles of snow from the yard, and although my many layers of clothes made me look like the Michelin man, I got the sniffles. Maybe I should try the “goutte” remedy. But Mam went to the chemists today and bought some Fervex. Just in case.


Posted in Family, Food, France, Life, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Killing pigs and other stories

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on November 17, 2012

I live in the countryside. As does my grandfather. I tend to move around quite a lot, travelling to and from town, in and out of the country, using an armada of busses, trains, planes and cars. My grandad is not quite so mobile. So when I am around for a couple of day, I drive him around to visit his friends. Emile, Marius, Hélène, Dauphin… all the people who have known him since the good old days. I love it. I love meeting these people and listening to their stories, sitting in their dark kitchens with cast-iron wood-burning stoves, hand-painted tiles and various other compound adjectives.

These sparsely toothed men and women bring out cake and tiny glasses of red wine or sweet coffee and start lisping stories of days gone by. About being a mischief at catechism and locking up the altar boy in a wardrobe “accidentally”, while fathers were protesting against boring sermons by leaving church halfway through to have a canon of rouge at the bistrot. Striking, some things don’t change. Or a few years later as young adults, cycling 23 kilometres downhill on a summer night to go dancing in Issoire and then drinking too much and having to carry the bicycles back up the mountain, sometimes spending the night on a haystack. Have you ever tried drunk cycling? I have. Thankfully in well lit, reasonably flat streets. And even then I did not get very far before dismounting and pushing the bike in front of me like a walker.

The most interesting topic hat afternoon was certainly 90-year-old Marius’ recollection of the pig-killing season. You see, November was the time of year those things were done. Maybe because that’s when apples are ripe and apples and black pudding are a match made in heaven. The more rational explanation is probably that people would want to stock up the larder before winter. Marius was, and still is, an expert at pork slaughtering. Even non-farming families sometimes fattened a pig, so he showed them how to go about killing it when the time came, and how to make boudin and chops and hams and dried sausage… He also explained when the factory opened, how people started killing their swine only on saturdays so he sometimes would have to “do” three pigs in one day. We were treated to a few details about  blood and guts and unpleasantness, about the thickness of  the layer of fat on the back of certain pigs’ neck and about how everything was kept and used, except perhaps the tail. It may not be very P.C. but in spite of the goriness  and the acrid smell of burning hairs, I would still love to see it done; not because I like the idea of killing animals, but because I don’t think that sort of knowledge should just disappears when Marius dies.

The last story of the day was  that of a man loading a sow in the back of his van. He drove all the way to his house and never noticed that the door was open and the pig had walked of. He got back to his farm and his wife said… something. Marius unfortunately delivered the punchline in patois, the local dialect. My grandad found it hilarious.

Posted in Family, Food, France, Life, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Granny recipes against alzheimer.

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on March 2, 2012

My old friend insomnia is back! It is now half past five in the morning and I have been staring at this very uninteresting ceiling for the past seven hours. Silent sleep has deserted me and in its place, ideas and thoughts bouncing off the walls like pin balls and hitting me regularly with a loud clanging ping sound. How am I supposed to sleep with all that racket? I try counting enough sheep to muffle up the noise but some ideas just ram through (he he) and get me anyway. Most of them are useless (doing push ups until it tires me out –  I don’t think so) so I send them back on their merry way until the next time they fly by. Other ideas I keep and let roll about in my head for a while until I can make sense of them. One of those tonight has turned out to be a gem.

Because you see, I have got a charity place in the Great North Run. It is now official: on the 16th of September I will be running 13 miles wearing an Alzheimer’s Society T-shirt and that not only involves some training and running shoes, but also a fair amount of fundraising (a minimum of £375 to be exact). I was mulling this over when a series of notions zoomed my way:

ߛ The solution to most of life’s challenges is cake ===> ie: bake sale.

ߛ Fact: grannies make the best cakes. There always used to be a tart, clafoutis or cake on my Grandma’s kitchen table in the good old days when she could still tell the difference between lemon and washing liquid. It was systematically a little burnt around the edges but no one cared, it tasted delish.

 ߛ I have been meaning to meet little german grannies ever since I got here. One of the point of coming to Germany was to meet the locals, and grandmas have been around for a while, they should have a lot to tell. I also of course always intended to ask them about their favourite typical recipes ; food tends to be a good starting point for any conversation.

ߛ My very good friend Steph mentioned something about old people’s homes…


I have already drawn up a list of old people’s homes to get in touch with to see if I could come in and chat with the residents about cake. The security levels surrounding grannies’ kitchen secrets are normally extremely high, but with a bit of luck I might be able to coax out one or two recipes, round up a couple of friends and organise a bake sale at university. I like the idea of getting grandmas involved. It’s such a shame I did not get to know mine better before Alzheimer’s disease caught up with her. Hopefully this whole thing might also encourage other people to get in touch with their grans and get them baking…(and send me the recipes?)

However before I call all these people it would probably be a good thing to get some sleep. Night-o.

Posted in Family, Food, Germany, Great North Run, Life | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Alzheimer’s. Memories going, going,… gone.

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on February 21, 2011

I apparently live in Orsonette, a 210-strong french village, with goats. and apparently I can enter competitions with them and all sorts of things. Apparently I also have a sidekick in those thrilling activities… Who knows the depth and complexities of this fleeting other life. Certainly not I, nor my grandmother probably, though she is the only one who ever mentioned it to me. And to think that only a couple of years ago, she referred to me exclusively as “the one who travels around Europe”. My life with prize-goats in Orsonette seems a far stretch from there…But most days my face doesn’t bring out anything in her at all, no reaction, just a quizzical look as I walk to her : what can this young woman want? Is she coming towards me? I do believe she is, let’s smile. Hullo? Who can this be? It’s hard to imagine what is going on in her head. Like many people in the French countryside, she was always very private. So now that she is lost in the meanders of her memory, it has become completely impossible to read what goes on behind her clouded eyes. Confusion, mostly, but sometimes flashes of recognition. Judging by the Orsonnette goatherd comment though, these can be off target. At least it makes for conversation and good jokes.

But in spite of those bright, funny, odd little moments, I miss my grandma. And I can’t help but regret I never got to know her any better. From what I’ve been told, she was an amazing person, full of recipes and songs and stories and anecdotes waiting to be teased out. A great woman, who had lived through so much, supporting a family, raising four sons… I often get the impression she was the one to make people feel welcome in what was certainly a bit of a gruff family.  These days someone comes every now and again to ask my grandad about his life and memories, who he was, what he did, who he met… I bet a few years ago my grandma would have had so much to say on the subject. She was very discreet but always there, and she herself was involved into quite a lot of things: the parish, a local school…

I guess I always took her for granted; when I was small she was someone to go to for pain d’épices or clafoutis aux cerises. Her cakes were always slightly burnt round the edges, but so very nice with a bowl of hot chocolate after school. It was always her I went to see. Papy with his rough french farmer’s manners and his mayor importance, was a lot more intimidating. Plus grandma was often engaged in what seemed like unusual and exciting activities: sewing on buttons and drying up all sorts of herbs for tisanes (herbal teas)… She taught me half a dozen times how to knit and crochet. We are so lucky to have had our grandparents around as we were growing up, they literally lived next door (Papy still does), and they were always there when we needed them. I remember when Mam was away on a school trip, it was grandma who came and got us up in the morning and madesure we had some breakfast and were ready for school. For some reason, I always associate her with sweet things: hot chocolate, honey… I really miss that grandma, and I miss the grandma I never really got to know: by the time I was grown up enough to have adult conversations, she was already slowly sinking into oblivion.

And now we go and visit her in her special home and make pretend conversation until she rallies and drops in a sentence, a joke, a random comment on my life with goats in Orsonette, and we have a laugh and everyone is cheerful for a minute or two. But when we leave her to her dinner and go back home, her home, her mother’s house which she couldn’t ever recognise again, I can’t help a little twinge of sadness. Because I miss having my Grandma Challet around, Marguerite, Guite, Chef.

Grandma in her garden

Grandma in her garden

Posted in Family, Life | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

More festive memories…

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on December 27, 2010

Hey there, so this is part two of my Christmas reminiscences (part one can be found here).  I think last night I finished on six year old me walking into the sitting room in Greenbank Villas and discovering the piles and pyramids of boxes and packages, the promontories of gifts extending over the carpet and spilling out onto the leather sofa, colourful presents all around.

I’ll spare you the details of the actual opening of the presents, I’m sure you’ve spent Christmas with children before. You’ve all seen how kids throw themselves on the pressies or how they get handed a beautifully wrapped package, quickly rip away the paper and squeal with excitement, whilst all the time keeping an eye on the grown ups in charge of distributing, just in case another present might come their way. After that, we all got dressed and went to church. It was a special mass for children, and we were invited to bring one present along. Then for the homily, the priest invited all the children to the front of the church, around the altar and sat down among us to tell us about the Christmas story in words we would understand. It was always nice things he said Nothing, and I mean Nothing like this year’s sermon in Sauxillanges.(the priest basically enumerated everything that was wrong in the world: war, plagues, famine, financial crisis, unemployment, homeless people… have I forgotten anything? And then he ended with an unexpected “so let us be joyful”…). It was all about christmas joy, and  how wonderful family is, and all about giving and receiving… And we’d see all the neighbours and cousins with their gifts. And there was a massive tree in the church, and a giant crib in a corner. I miss it. I miss the wonder of it.

After mass and after we’d caught up with news of everyone on the parish and they had all wondered at how quickly we grew, we went back to Greenbank Villas to prepare the traditional Christmas “lunch” (Dad never thought it qualified as lunch, seeing as it never started before 3 or 4pm). Christmas dinner was one of those rare occasions when we ate on the nice plates, in the dining room where the piano was.  We always, always had ham and “24 vegetables”, yum. Of course there never actually were 24 varieties of veg, it was like Heinz’ 57 varieties, but there were plenty, and plenty more than I would ever eat (I mean, to this day I’m not so keen on sprouts).  So there was all the English food, all the stuffing, and roast parsnips, the very very green peas, and the bisto gravy, and jelly, and pudding and custard… Along the years, more and more french elements were added, like a platter of cheese, or french wines and champagne, and foie gras of course.

This probably would better illustrate yesterday's paragraph about christmas stockings but oh well...

Naturally, we children didn’t sit at the table through the long hours of christmas dinner. It lasted aaaaaaaaages and there were cousins to talk to and presents to be played with and chocolates to be eaten. After we’d had enough food, we’d ask “please may can I leave the table”, with our cute little french geordie accent and go and play in the sitting room, watch some Disney classic on tv and roll on the carpet until it was time to set the Christmas pudding alight. every year we watched it, and every year we tried a tiny amount of pud and decide we didn’t like it, before gorging on custard and biscuits and more chocolate. We’d pop champagne and pull crackers and somehow, whoever won, the children always ended up with all the little presents! And we’d bring a box of crackers back to France to impress our french friends.

And all that was only Christmas day. We’d always spend at least a week in England, and every day of that week held visits to cousins, shopping trips in Newcastle where they had all the lights and the beautiful window displays, rides on the metro, a quick trip to the beach, rented videos, carols singers knocking at the door. But once more I have great difficulty separating the general excitement of being on holiday in England with the family  from the Christmas cheer itself. I have so many memories, there are so many details…

After a while, we’d come back to France and have another Christmas over here. As we’d come back to the house, we’d find out that Santa had been here too and left us plenty of french titled gifts form our uncles and our french family, and there’ be a family meal here too, although maybe not as long and complicated. But it just meant Christmas got extended a little longer, and we got to eat a whole other range of festive food, like Bûche de Noël, and more foie gras, and chocolate and fruit paste papillotes, with bad jokes hidden in the wrapper.

So many memories, and, as you may have noticed: so much food! Our family traditions have changed over the years, but I will always remember the christmases in Greenbank Villas as the best and most magical ones ever! How do you like your festive season?

Posted in Family, Food | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Ah the spirits of christmases past…

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on December 27, 2010

I know I keep saying I need to write more regularly, and every time my messages and my apologies stretch out over longer periods of time.And yet, every day I find reasons to write, lovely inspirational moments like last week as I lay underneath the Christmas tree, peering at the twinkling lights through the branches. I had a sort of epiphany, remembering moments, glimpses from my childhood. Since then I have been visited daily by the ghosts of Christmases past.

On Monday Mam and I were in the kitchen cooking… something (so much gets cooked and baked over the X-mas hols, I just lose track), and listening to BBC radio 4, as we often do since Mam borrowed Dad’s chequebook for her birthday and bought an internet radio. And on the radio that day, it was Women’s hour Christmas tradition call-in. People from all over the UK were calling with their anecdotes and family customs. Stuff that had been around their families for generations, or habits they’d started a couple of years back. From ancient traditions from Denmark, to truly modern british oddities involving motorbikes…  It just reminded me of all the things we used to do when we were small.

Christmas was such a big affair! I will not discuss here the long weeks of secret plotting it took my Mam to let our aunts know what presents we might like, complicated toy names she had to spell backwards in foreign languages over the telephone to make sure we didn’t know what she was going on about. I mean, that certainly was fascinating in its own right. But there was so much more to come. First of all, we had to travel to Christmas land. A long two-day car journey from the middle of France to Newcastle in the North of England, with three kids in the back, can you imagine it? And the evening before we left, when all our things had somehow been squeezed into the boot and under the car seats, my gran would invariably turn up with a massive crate full of “presents” for the family in England. A bottle of my grandad’s home-made walnut oil, boxes of french biscuits, freezer bags full of broad beans and various other  home-grown produce… All of which of course was rather voluminous, weighed a ton, ahappened every year, even when we started travelling by plane.  To this day I don’t think we ever told grandma about the stuff we just could not take with us.

And then it was two days of I-spy, unhealthy snacks, are we there yets, and  audiobooks.  We also had a small suitcase in plastic faux-leather which held a wealth of musical audio-cassettes. Each year there would be a different selection, my parents had very eclectic taste, but we kids would just pick the amusing and cool-sounding titles, not necessarily knowing what was on them… I think that ended with our primary school teacher asking mam why my little sister was humming chansons paillardes in school… So that lasted two days or so.

And then we got to my Grandma Thompson’s house in Jarrow, near Newcastle. I loved that house. There were so many little things different from home, so many details. And so many people. Since we only went to England once or twice a year, the world and his wife turned up for a visit, along with their second cousin thrice removed. And when we got to 8, Greenbank Villas, we had a quick and delicious dinner of Stottie-cake and bacon sandwiches and we children were sent upstairs to bed while the grown-ups retreated to the living room with a glass of wine or something to fill the room with presents. I think. Looking back, we were very good about that actually. Maybe we didn’t go to sleep immediately, but we never peeked. The threat of the omniscient Father Christmas stopped us from tiptoeing down the red-carpeted stairs, or even leaning over the landing railings. It kept us safely inside our room where we skipped from bed to chair to bed, to table, to windowsill never touching the floor so it wouldn’t creak and no-on would suspect we were awake. We would listen at the door for people walking up the stairs or talking in the corridor, and watch the metro trains rushing past the back garden out of the window. I don’t remember ever deliberately going to sleep.

Somehow on Christmas morning I would find myself waking up in bed. But mam always told us not to come downstairs too early, because we’d have to wait for everyone to wake up anyway. We’d also received instructions not to wake one another either, so I’d turn over as slowly and as quietly as possible to see if either Géraud or Lucile were awake. If one of them was, we might sign to each other, mouth “Merry Christmas”,  or whisper and giggle. If not, well I could just daydream; I was very good at it at the time. But come on, how long can you expect children to stay quietly in bed on Christmas morning? I can’t quite remember what made us come out of the room at last. It was so long ago. I think our whispers and giggles and the unavoidable running around would probably end up waking mam and dad in the room next door. Mam would lead us to the kitchen for breakfast. We would eye the determinedly shut sitting room door as we walked past it, trying to guess what lay inside, but we knew we weren’t allowed in before every single person in the house was up and had had breakfast! To keep us busy, we would be allowed to open our christmas stocking. In our family by the way, we use proper socks. None of those massive things no-one could ever wear on their foot and that can fit massive toys. The biggest thing we had in our stocking was a tangerine. And there was a pound, and chocolate money, and usually a novelty soap, and Starburst, and a pencil.

And then, finally, we were allowed into the living room. The tree was in the bay window-area, and the rest of the bay window was piled with presents. There were so many of them. Many of which weren’t to be opened by us and would lie there for days and days, but they were there all the same and helped making the moment, the room even more magical.

There are many other things we used to do, but it’s twenty minutes past midnight, and I want to go to bed with  the image of this amazing christmas tree at the front of my mind. I’ll tell you about the carols, the fenwicks windows, the mass, the shopping, the cousins, the ham and stuffing,… another time.

I hope you are, like me, still basking in the afterglow of a wonderful Christmas. Good night.

Posted in Family | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What? Presents? What presents?

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on December 14, 2010

And yet again a small bit of eternity seems to have happened since the last time I wrote. Where does all this time come from, where does it disappear off to, and will I ever learn? And it’s not that I haven’t spent enough time in front of the computer or that I didn’t have time to spare. I have been doing precious little these past few days apart from coughing, sleeping and studying (in decreasing order). That little niggle I had, tickling the back of my throat last week has turned out just about as bad as it could have. I went to a doctor’s on Tuesday, and since I had a cough, he gave me cough treatment. So far so good. But he didn’t know me and my history. So it just got worse and worse. I think I reached the lowest of the low on Friday. The plan had been to get a train at about 2:30pm, then someone would pick me up and drive me to our usual doctor so he could pump me up with medicine and make me get better. Which he did eventually. But Friday lunchtime as I sat on my backpack in the freezing, draughty railway station in Clermont-Ferrand, fighting to keep my lungs inside my chest, all trains canceled because of an unexplained, unannounced strike, I felt I would never get there. In the end, my lovely dad came all the way from home to pick me up. At least he had no difficulties in finding me despite the station being so crowded: not only could he hear me a mile off, but people were giving me a wide berth. And apparently they were right: Docteur Pascal told me later on I was highly contagious… I hope I haven’t contaminated too many people (apart from my cousin Celia in England apparently – though how my germs reached her from my library all the way to her bay window desk in the north of England, I haven’t the faintest idea.)

But let’s talk about something else. I have literally spent the last week and a half thinking, talking, worrying almost exclusively about this and I DON’T LIKE IT! I am getting better though, thanks to a lot of cortizone, so maybe it’s time I changed the subject and wrote about something else that I’ve had to postpone so far… like Christmas presents! As you may have read in my “Books” post, I already have a couple of ideas for my own presents list (Maybe someone will have noticed?). However, being a very naughty, self-centered selfish girl, I have not yet even started on buying presents for other people! Oooops… It’s all the weirder since normally, I love buying presents for my friends and family (maybe partly because it means I can afford it). Normally I start looking out for stuff around mid-October, and I go through a series of ideas for each and every single person on my list until I have settled on what I believe is the best possible pressie. Well this year I suppose I’ll just have to follow my first intuition. I already have a couple of ideas. Of course I won’t write them here though. It is highly unlikely that anyone concerned by this Christmas’ present-making will ever read my blog, but why take the chance?

So it would seem I am going to have to be organized and effective… *crestfallen sigh*… This is so not me. I love wandering more or less aimlessly about town before Christmas, searching for ideas and criticizing the festive/extravagant/rubbish festive window setups, all lit up and tinsel-strung. But I have to admit, what the weird contradictory little person in me loves most of all is walking around the cold darkening streets, just waiting for all the illuminations to light up. And just when your nose starts to feel like it’s  about to fall off, stepping into a clothes-store and getting hot air blasted into your face by the gigantic automatic blowers they sometimes have right behind the door. Or walking into a chocolaterie, knowing full well everything in there is far to expensive, but taking all the time in the world to browse and look at every single one of those amazing chocolate/orange/nut/gold/caramel/roast/melting/spectacular/crunchy/round/square/star-shaped/dark/white/milky/bitter/sweet pieces of edible wonder, and maybe buying just the one truffle for yourself. (But shhhhh… don’t tell anyone about it!)

I must write a post entirely about chocolate…

Posted in Family | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Of care and merit (retrospectively: what a pedantic title)

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on November 6, 2010

SO, after  a hectic week, here we are, back at home and I am ex-hau-sted. Today the adrenaline rush which had enabled me to juggle lessons, training, library shifts and hospital visits left me. It just flew away between 1 and 2 pm, while we were waiting for the ambulance. All of a sudden there was nothing left to do but wait; no more packing to do, no more papers to pick up, no more chasing after doctors, and a great big tide of weariness washed over me. I couldn’t keep my eyes open, and started getting irritated and snappy at everything and anything that wasn’t to do with our leaving. I suppose we had some reason to be irritated: a nurse had told us at 12:30 that the ambulance would arrive at 13:00, so I skipped lunch, ran home, packed my stuff, ran back to the hospital, and sat there for two or three hours, waiting for stuff to happen, and watching people coming in and out of the bedroom I heard you were leaving today. Oh, you’re going home in an ambulance? When’s it coming? Ah. Three hours ago… Someone even joked  there might be  a strike… Not funny, especially not in a situation where it’s very very likely to happen.

I am fully aware that in the big picture, my family’s health issues are… maybe a bit of varnish flaking off the frame. Of course, when your nearly 20-year old baby sister  goes ill, it’s difficult to think of anything else. But the cancer-specialised wing opposite is getting extended, and other people end up in wheelchairs, or blind, or permanently invalidated in some way or other, so I am really thankful Lucile’s injuries are what they are and nothing worse.  Of course I love her very much (if you have been keeping track, you will have noticed I used this sentence a lot), and I worry about her, and am going to look after her and help her get through the next few month as well as I can.

But whenever I start veering towards gratifying thoughts such as: “what a nice sister I am”, and “phew, this is tiring!” , I feel like a wuss. Honestly.  Some people cope, somehow, with looking after one or more close members of their family being really ill and depending on them entirely. What heroes! And all this knowing full well that the situation may never get any better, if not just steadily get worse over time. My heart goes out to them. Actually, spending so much time in hospital this week has reminded me of this film: My Sister’s Keeper. Have you heard about it? I am normally not a big Cameron Diaz fan, but this film gets me EVERY time. Most of the acting in that film is so just, so absolutely accurate and right… And it stars the amazing lovely, beautiful Abigail Breslin.  I still have difficulties believing her first big role was an ugly girl. Anyways, find that film and watch it. It is amazing. A great story, really well told, well played… I could go on forever using a multitude of praising sentences, strings of positive adjectives, but you would get bored and it wouldn’t do it justice anyway.

So there. My sister is now tucked up in bed and I have a bit of time to myself. A serious student might be working when I waste precious time promoting films on my blog and chatting on msn. But that’s just me.

Posted in Family | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Things are looking up!

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on November 4, 2010

I like it, that a lot of the time, after any ofrm of crisis and stress, there comes a time when things slow down, you can heave a great big sigh and start putting everything back together. I am glad to say I have just about reached that point. Something has been done about both issues mentioned in my previous post, and her I am, during another library shift, feeling the constant bubbling and thrashing inside me settling down a little.

First of all you’ll be glad to hear that my little sister Lucile is a lot better. She finally saw a special doctor for her back yesterday. It took some time but we finally got there. Dad and I took in in turns bothering whoever we could find who happened to look a bit like a doctor and asking them if they had any news.  Apparently an aggravating factor to the situation was that last weekend’s intern had “misplaced” Lucile’s file. It feels so good to know my baby sister is such good hands… Anyways. On Tuesday a very handsome young man with blue eyes came and took a mould of Lucile’s torso to make a brace to support her back. He came back the yesterday with the finished brace (green motifs on black) and there were talks of her going home on Thursday as planned. Most people seemed to have completely forgotten about her seeing a neurologist at all. And then hurray! someone re-found her file!

There was some good news. For starters, someone actually described to us Lucile’s back injury. No-one had bothered so far, so since the nurses were so adamant she shouldn’t move her back AT ALL, and I have a very vivid imagination, I had considered all sorts of  horrible things. But in fact, a small part of one of the vertebrae was compressed a little. It is a fracture, but not a very bad one, and compared to her wrists, hardly worth mentioning. It’ll get better and in a few years’ time you will hardly know it ever happened. Massive sigh of relief. Phew.

And there was something else. Would Lucile like to take part in a study comparing two different treatments for the type of fracture she has. The first was the one that had been suggested at first: wearing a brace for three months which relieves pressure on your bone, allowing it to solidify again over time. The second: going through surgery and have some cement injected into your vertebra. The cement helps your bone solidify immediately and avoids having to wear a brace at all. This means you can perform ordinary tasks without having your movements too restricted by the brace, it makes washing easier and avoids your skin getting a reaction with the constant rubbing on the plastic. It also means your body doesn’t rely on the brace too much and it avoids your back muscles growing too weak. Of course it is no magical cure; it takes time to recover from any injury, but it makes the process a little easier. Lucile still won’t be able to play rugby for a while, but she will be able to do more things, easier, and whilst not wearing a very elegant black and green plastic shell.

The hospital has been using both treatments for years, and the study will ultimately decide which of the two techniques will become the default solution for this type of injury. All you had to do was to sign up on a list; your name then gets put through a computer which randomly decides which treatment you will get.  Lucile signed up, hoping to get the latter option and got chosen for vertebroplasty (cement), so good. She went through surgery late this morning. Of course, although we had been told it was safe, you can’t help but worry when someone has a general anaesthetic, so I kept going to and fro between Uni and hospital to check on her. I was the wing’s last visitor last night and their first one this morning, and came back during my lunch-break… And then Lucile came back, reclining (not lying flat as a pancake, reclining, almost sitting, even) on her bed.


Posted in Family | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Of thieving buggers and broken bones (completely unrelated to one another)

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on November 2, 2010

I have not been very good recently. As a matter of fact I have not even logged onto since at least friday, and once more dear reader, I have to beg for forgiveness on your part. Events have happened which have kept me busy and bothered and this means keeping a blog has gone down a few entries on my list of priorities.

Now, shall I tell you my (and other people’s) woes chronologically or ranked according to their importance? I think I’ll do the former. Well then,  I have refrained from mentioning it so far, but during the summer I was working in a hotel in Kiel (the name of which I shall not mention for fear of reprisals), working my arse off every day for 9 to 13 hour a day with no breaks whatsoever. And there were some nice people, admittedly, but as ever there were also a few absolute gits. The type that makes you lose faith in mankind. I know: it was hotel work. Deep down I know I can only blame myself. The job was all right, really, but it was just too much of it. I had originally signed up for a 20hrs a week contract, with the possibility of doing a couple of extra hours every now and then. Just during my first week there I did 56 hours. (and yes, that first week was representative of the rest of the summer).

Had I been a work maniac, that would have been ok, but I am not. I am also not interested in pursuing a waitressing career. I just wanted a summer job. But then I thought: never mind. I’ll live through it and come out a stronger,  more grown-up person. What I certainly did not expect was for it to haunt me all the way back to France! The hotel has decided I owed them money. Now I would not mind a bit sending them back some money if there had been a mistake, but it turns out they have been editing my time sheets, adding break-times when I did not have any and therefore robbing me of about 15 or 16 hours. I know in the scheme of things and proportionately to the total number of hours I worked over the summer, but let me say this: the thieving bastards. Anyways, they say they’ll be taking arbeitsrechtliche Schritte if I don’t send them the money… pfff.


lucile playing rugby

And then, and most importantly, my sister had a stupid accident on saturday and is now lyingin a hospital bed, in pain. And when I say stupid accident, I mean reaaaaaly stupid. She fell backwards off a bar stool. That isn’t too bad, I hear you say. But let me tell you the consequences of this fall. Both her wrists are broken and are now full of bits of metal to hold them together. She will be setting off metal detectors all over the place, should she decide to air-travel any time soon. What’s more, her left hand basically popped out of its socket and had to be replaced and now all her ligaments around that area are a mess. She will be wearing casts for at least six weeks.

I suppose she tried to break the fall with her hands, but even though her wrists took a lot of damage, it didn’t really help that much. As she landed the shockthat went through her spine fractured one of her vertebrae (number 12). Although she can still move the lower part of her body, the pain is excruciating. Yesterday she was going through phases: either she was drugged up to the eyes and was sleeping, or she was panting and moaning, repeating the same words over and over again (“it hurts”). And believe me, watching someone you love suffering like that and knowing there is absolutely nothing you can do to make them feel better is unbearable. Just to make it worse, her timing was most unfortunate. Yesterday was a bank holiday and the neurologist thought he/she would have a long weekend break, meaning Lucile has not yet seen a specialist and has had to lay completely still for three-and-a-half days. She has had lots of visitors; half her rugby team has already come to see her and have left a pack of coloured felt-tip pens (there is after all a large surface to scribble over), and Lucile says it helps her not think about the pain for a while, but on the other hand the worried sister in me is afraid she might over-exert herself, or move too much, or so many other things. I love my little sister very much, I hope she feels better soon and that she will manage to bear all this. It won’t be easy, and she will have to put on hold some things which feel like they are essential to her life (like rugby). Well at least she has a good role model: Jonny Wilkinson, god of Rugby and prone to injuries… (very handosme too, I wouldn’t mind him coming to my sister’s hospital room to give her a pep-talk – and I don’t think she would either). The chances of his reading my blog are very slim though. Are they?

Posted in Family, Work | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »