Saturday, 8 August 2009

France and What would Michael do?

Well, I have loved this voting lark!

As I suspected everyone voted for different things - the travellers wanted to hear about France, the chefs wanted to hear about the cake book, the people related to Michaels want to find out about the Michael story, and the crafty types want to hear about sewing.

But I think the greedy readers who want to hear about everything shall be declared the winners! France and Michael first, then sewing and cakes.

We went to Paris for a week and then on to South-West France, where my parents live, for a second week.

I was good at French when I was a teenager and I visited Paris a great deal on exchanges and school trips. In my twenties I worked there for a little bit too, and when G and I were newly going out together he used to catch the Eurostar on a Friday night and come and stay with me for the weekend. Pure romance. We love Paris. If I didn't live in London I would live in Paris.

The children had never been there before and had come up with a good list of everything they wanted to do:
  • see the Eiffel Tower
  • go on the Metro
  • visit the Louvre and find the Mona Lisa
  • eat lots of pains au chocolats and drink Orangina
  • go to Disneyland

G and I had lists of our own, which looked a bit like this:

  • walk up to Sacre Coeur and drink in the view
  • sit in a cafe and people watch
  • go to Parc de la Villette and the Cite des Sciences
  • stroll through parks
  • eat amazing food and drink fabulous wine
  • go to the Musee d'Orsay and look at everything
  • buy French stationery
  • prowl around bookshops and look intellectual

G, outside a cafe, practising his French shrugs.

We were there for six days and we managed to do everything on everybody's list, plus several other impromptu things. Disneyland was horrible but everything else was magical.

By the time we got on the train to head south we were shattered!

C on our last day in Paris, waiting for a metro. Just look at those bags under his eyes!

Our second week, in the South West, was a complete contrast. We did almost nothing. I don't think I've ever had such an idle holiday. The peak daytime temperatures didn't drop below 35 degrees the whole time we were there, but despite my hatred of hot weather I had a fantastic time.

In the cool of the early mornings and late evenings I sat outside knitting, or reading, or chatting with my parents. In the middle of the day we played our favourite board game in the cool thick-walled house, and read, knitted or chatted. In the late afternoon everyone went for a long swim in the pool and I sat on the edge, knitting, reading and chatting (I hate swimming). Occasionally we ventured out to the croissant shop or a market or a restaurant, but not in a terribly energetic way.

During our week of extreme idleness G and I had plenty of time to admire my father, Michael's, approach to house and garden maintenance. In a very old, rambling, rural house with a large, lush garden there is a never-ending stream of tasks to be done.
  • cutting the grass
  • keeping the fridge stocked with wine
  • putting new tea lights in the lanterns each day
  • testing the pH of the swimming pool
  • fixing a new hosepipe with connectors
  • treating the centuries-old beams for munching beatles
  • bringing in the chair cushions every single evening without fail
  • mopping up spills and croissant crumbs so that the ants don't take up residence
Happily my father is not a martyr to these many jobs. He is great company and likes nothing better than to drink a glass or two of wine and chat with family and friends long into the evening. But nevertheless, everything that needs to be done to keep the house a delightful place to live, gets done.

A baby lizard rescued from the perfectly pH balanced swimming pool.

The best illustration is the old wooden, homemade stool that Dad picked up for €2 at a second hand fair. G or I might have bought the stool and then would have taken it home and put it into use straightaway in the front room or a bedroom, marvelling at the bargain. But Dad bought the stool and when he got it home took the time to treat it with two different types of wood preserver and was so that it shone like a new conker and would not stain. There is a thoroughness in the pottering sort of tasks he does which makes their house such a wonderful place to live.

So G and I came home with a new phrase which we have been asking each other ever since. "What would Michael do?"

Well, he wouldn't leave half-unpacked bags lying around our bedroom for days. Nor would he leave the kitchen floor unwashed or six-month old cobwebs up at the top of the windows. He would sweep up the mess in the yard left by the nesting birds and he would wind a little bit more of the flourishing clematis around the trellis every single day. All those little things have been uncharacteristically done on time this week after one of us muttered "what would Michael do?".

Mind you, we still haven't fixed the door knobs that have been broken since before O was born (yes, really; seven years). This meticulous attention to detail does not seem to come naturally to us. But we are trying.
And I'm sure that my father is delighted that after thirty-seven years I have finally understood that a little bit of care and attention to the more mundane of life's tasks is well worth it. He's probably been trying to tell me this piece of wisdom for years, but you know what children are like. They never listen.

Dad sawing a branch for C to make a wasp trap


  1. Oh my. That was a WONDERFUL post. I voted for France and sewing and got one today with a promise of the other to follow!! Your commentary was great - but has left me greedy for more photos. Esp of your parents' home - the glimpses of it you have teased us with make me want to see more - it looks so so lovely!! Just like something out of a storybook. All that lovely yellow stone and blue shutters! Your sweet dad sounds so wonderful.

  2. What a beautiful house they have. It sounds and looks idyllic.
    There are definite similarities between Michael and my own version, Andrew. He will always put the bins out on time, never leave things til tomorrow that could be done today and is extremely practical. If something needs fixing he will have the exact thing for the job. It must be a Dad thing!
    Now can we have cake books? Can we?

  3. my dad has two types of wood preserver too, but none of his wisdom has rubbed off on me yet, I'm so glad there's hope...

    paris sounded amazing.

  4. Brilliant - now I can't wait for the cooking/craft one.

  5. What a lovely holiday, makes me want to pack up and go off to France!

  6. I had to comment on this blog entry. I would hate anybody to think that I (Michael) am an absolute paragon of virtue! I do procrastinate over things I don't enjoy, I really do. Here is a short list of some of them:
    - getting the documentation prepared for my tax returns; ask my accountant.
    - doing domestic filing; see the 'filing' tray in my study
    - making difficult phone calls; ask my wife.

    However, here in France the jobs that keep the establishment going are far more enjoyable and hence are done promptly. So, in the last 24 hours, jobs I have done include the following:
    - unblocked a blocked up outlet from a shower
    - evicted a mouse from our bathroom
    - installed two retractable washing lines
    - pumped excess water out of a swimming pool, following a thunder storm
    - been to the tip with several items of encombrage (French for junk).
    Finally, if Katherine is yearning for France, she should go onto for details of the holiday house we rent out here in sunny Tarn et Garonne. We are taking bookings for this year and next!

    Love, Dad

  7. Great list, Dad! But I still think your procrastination list is longer than mine! N. x

  8. It is a relief to discover that I am not the 'Michael' whose approach to living is followed by others, it would be a disaster.
    My progress through life has been determined by standing with my back to the fire saying "something will turn up".
    The only words of wisdom that I have ever offered have been 'always make sure that your glass is more than half empty at any official or social gathering as your host will refill it at every passing'.
    I am humbled by Dad's virtues (have been doing my tax return today though!)


Even though I often do not have the time to reply to everybody, I really appreciate all your comments so much - thank you for taking the time to read my blog and share your thoughts on what I've written.