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)

Posts Tagged ‘memories’

Regensburg retrospectives

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on July 29, 2012

I am told the word “so” should never be used to start off a sentence, let alone an entire text. Having reached this point however I think it has the right feel and conclusiveness. Sticklers will just have to get over it.

So. My stay in Regensburg has finally reached its conclusion, although my brain is still having difficulties registering it. I know my writing habits have been less than satisfactory lately but I will not apologise. It was perfectly justified: I was far too busy rocking the student life in what was ultimately one of the best years of my existence. Certainly, it has been a bumpy ride, with soaring, glorious ups and grey mopey downs, and I have much to tell. And when I say much, I mean much much more than you think. Mad, random adventures, administrative challenges and casual observations of teutonic idiosyncracies. And I have more than half a mind to tell you all about it. It will help me organise my thoughts and stories before Christmas comes with the roast ham, Christmas pudding and compulsory tales and anecdotes.

In the meantime: Regensburg, I miss you already.


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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

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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.

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