Happy Retirement, M. Khodri!

I have worked for ILS for 9 years now. I remember my first meeting with M. Khodri, the director – previously I’d been working in St Etienne, at Wall Street Institute, and although I liked the people, it was a long way to travel (taking about 1.5 hours to get from door to door) and I wasn’t very keen on the method of teaching employed by the company. So one day, I took a few CVs and letters of motivation to Clermont Ferrand and decided to trawl round the language schools there. I called in at WSI, and had a slightly bizarre interview with them (they turned me down) and then I called in at ILS. M.Khodri saw me immediately and sat me down in his office for a chat – my French being even worse than it is now, and his English being practically non-existent, it may have been a little awkward at times, but after about half an hour he offered me a job with the company!

I was very happy teaching there – mostly in-company, but sometimes at the offices of ILS – and the majority of the work done was for Michelin, which is one of the biggest employers in Clermont. It was also the golden goose for ILS, with, I’d say, at least 85% of the English teaching work being done in partnership with Michelin. Unfortunately, with money-saving becoming more important, and technology becoming more prevalent, Michelin decided to move over to e-learning, which meant that ILS, who had put all their eggs into the Michelin basket, was a bit stymied.

For a few months, in 2012, it looked as though ILS might be going down the pan, and sadly this meant that 6 or 7 of the English teachers had to be made redundant. I was one of them. I remember that M. Khodri was so distressed at having to make me redundant, that he said to me that anytime I wanted to come into the office to use the resources, or to use one of the rooms for private telephone lessons, or to make photocopies for my private lessons, then I was welcome to do so!He was always very supportive, and so even when I wasn’t working for them, I still popped into the office from time to time.

Happily, the company survived, and I, plus most of the other teachers, were re-employed, but as “auto entrepreneurs” – that is, we are self employed and on a contract basis. It means ILS do not have to pay any of our social charges etc. Not so good for us (no sick pay etc) but better for them. I’m still happy to work for the company, however, as it is a real family company. We know each other, we support each other; the Head of English is a really lovely woman, the staff are friendly, the resources are plentiful. Even though we are not “salariés” – directly employed – we are considered as part of the team, rather than as sub-contractors, so our relationship with M.Khodri, and the other admin staff, is exactly the same. When I’ve got myself in a mess with French admin papers, M. Khodri has always been willing to spend time with me, helping me to complete the forms and calming me down.  And, most importantly, there is quite a lot of work!

Recently, M. Khodri decided to sell the company and retire, together with his wife, who is the accountant for the company. I have only met the new owners very briefly, but Claire, Head of English, assures us that they are dynamic, and forward thinking, and want to move the company onwards and upwards. As you can see from the photo of the offices above, it is looking a tad tired and old fashioned, and Melissa and Thomas want to modernise. I’m a little concerned, as I have to admit that I don’t take to change very well – especially if that change requires me to learn new technology & new ways of doing things that I’ve been perfectly comfortable doing “my” way for a while – but I’m going to try hard to embrace this. After all, I won’t have a lot of choice in the matter!!

So, on Friday, it was Monsieur and Madame Khodri’s retirement do. It was in the restaurant in Le Jardin Lecoq, in Clermont Ferrand, a lovely public garden not too far from the office.

I booked into the Holiday Inn, just across the road from the park, as I didn’t want to drive afterwards, and I didn’t know how tired I would be. I’m happy I did so, as it meant I could have something to drink, and I didn’t need to leave too early.

We gathered at 7.30, and stood around chatting, and at about 8.00, we were led to our tables, all set up outside. There was a four piece jazz band who entertained us

and it was good to catch up with some people I hadn’t seen since Christmas. We started with a glass of fizzies (I had some sirop in mine to sweeten it, so I could enjoy it) and we gave M & Mme Khodri their gifts: a voucher for a dinner in a very good restaurant, and a cave à vins – a temperature controlled cupboard to keep your wine in – plus some starter bottles. Note we didn’t actiually give them the cave à vins: Yacine, their son, who works for the company as well, had set it up in their house so it would be a surprise for them when they got home.

M. Khodri made a little speech and then we got on with the food!

Unwrapping their presents

We started with an amuse-bouche, (a little something to tickle your taste buds) which was a verrine of something – noone was quite sure what it was, but the general consensus was finally a cold pea-and-mint soup; it was okay, but as I’m not a great fan of peas, or cold soup, I couldn’t get too enthusiastic about it. Here’s the empty verrine, as I forgot to take a photo before I ate it! :

Then the starter arrived – a galette with roast vegetables and mozzarella, and salad in a lovely honey vinaigrette dressing

I remembered to take a photo halfway through!

A pause, while the jazz band played on, and then the main course was brought out:

I remembered to take a photo before I started eating!

This was delicious – white fish, chorizo and a scallop in a buttery sauce, served with polenta, roast tomatoes and a giant crisp thing. I’m not sure why the crispy thing was there, as it didn’t really add much to the meal, but it tasted fine! I’m glad I’m not vegetarian though, as their meal was peas-and-asparagus, roast tomatoes and potatoes. Not very inspired – as vegetarian meals in France so often aren’t!

Dessert was profiteroles – I couldn’t finish mine…which is unlike me. I’m thinking that the intake of my stomach has shrunk a little during chemo, as I’ve not been eating the same amounts. Perhaps I need to encourage this!

Claire, Head of English, clapping along to “Ain’t Misbehavin‘ ” We both started singing the lyrics soon afterwards!

M. Khodri boogeying on down with Alyssia, one of the English teachers.

And still the band played on… as it was getting on to 11 o’clock, and I was flagging, I decided to leave. Also, there were others going at that point, and as I didn’t know where the gate was, and didn’t want to be wandering the park in the dark, I tagged along with them.

It was a really good way to say “Goodbye” to a very kind (sometimes slightly incompetent!) employer. Thank you, M. Khodri, for the opportunity to work with ILS, and here’s wishing you a good and happy retirement.

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Food Nostalgia.

There was an interesting article in Saturday’s Guardian partly about convenience vs “proper” food, but also about food eaten regularly in the author’s childhood. While I was interested in some of the comments made, I found myself distracted by nostalgia for certain foods of my childhood…I wonder how they’d taste to me now? That is why I have enjoyed the BBC series “Back in time for…” and particularly the 60s and 70s, which were the decades when I was growing up.

What do I remember…?

Mum was a good cook, and she loved “entertaining”, and having friends for dinner. But I think the everyday feeding of three children, and a hardworking husband, while also holding down a job as a teacher probably wasn’t such a joy to her. She did rely on convenience foods to a certain extent, such as packet sauces. Meals I remember were

the occasional Vesta curry, served with chopped banana and raisins, for that “exotic touch”

The prawns were tiny, and slightly rubbery, but oh! We felt so sophisticated!

I didn’t like shepherd’s pie night – the tinned tomatoes were never really broken down, and I didn’t like mum’s addition of a tin of baked beans. Of course, now I understand she was stretching the meat content, but then I couldn’t work out why she would do this!

Butterscotch Angel Delight though was a different matter – Mum would usually serve this over chopped bananas, and with a crumbled Cadbury’s Flake over the top. I’d be very willing to help transport the dessert from the kitchen, and put it on the trolley in the dining room, because that gave me the chance to snaffle the largest pieces of chocolate from each dish! It was always served in little metal Sundae dishes.

And then, as a special treat, we might have a ring doughnut, served with vanilla ice cream and hot jam sauce! They were special times.

Sometimes she’d make “apple snow” – which wasn’t my favourite dessert, but was better than plain old stewed apple, or rhubarb “steamrollers” (thick pieces of stewed rhubarb)

I don’t think mum was a great pudding maker – relying on such things as Angel Delight and doughnuts – but she was well known for her apple pies. She has always had “pastry hands”, which I have not inherited!, and most Sundays we would have an apple pie, baked on one of those white enamel pie plates with a blue rim

Pastry top and bottom, stewed apple inside – I remember sitting in the kitchen on a Saturday morning, watching Mum peel the huge Bramley apples, and I’d beg her to try to cut it off all in one long spiral. She’d let me eat the peelings. Served with cream this was the perfect end to a roast dinner. Then Marks & Spencer started selling food, and Mum discovered “Lattice tarts”

Now, while these were acceptable as a midweek convenience pudding, there was near uproar when she brought out a rhubarb lattice tart for Sunday lunch! Poor mum! She did persevere though, and we did finally accept Lattice Tart from time to time. Just not every week!

We were not encouraged to eat biscuits and so on. I don’t remember a biscuit tin or biscuit barrel being readily available. But I do recall the cosy pleasure of “supper” when I was 16 or 17. My brother and sister had gone to university or the world of work by now, so it was just me, and my parents. Just before News at Ten, we would have a little something – a glass of milk, and either a slice of hot buttered toast, or a couple of digestive biscuits.

Dad tried to help out when he could, but he was a busy GP, who rarely got home before 7.30 in the evening. He had Wednesday afternoon off, and would go and play golf with his GP pals, but then would come home and cook a three course meal to give mum a night off…initially using Delia Smith’s “How to cheat at cooking” I remember a “cheese paté” made of cream cheese with chopped celery and red pepper in it.

But once Dad grew confident, he graduated on to using “The Hungry Monk” recipes, which were rather more sophisticated, being recipes from a real restaurant!

Dad was one for new food experiences – when the fish & chip shop at the Old Roan closed, but then reopened as a Greek restaurant, he took us there. When the Greek restaurant closed, but then opened up as a Chinese restaurant, we were first in the queue!

He bought Paul Masson wine (at the garage!) which came in its own decanter – there’s posh! – and mum and dad would have a glass with their meal

But the best times were when we went out for a meal to either a Berni Inn, or to Flynn’s Steak House, both in the centre of Liverpool. I think that maybe dad would be working in Liverpool, so maybe the rest of us would go in on the bus, and meet him for dinner. They really were special times! I couldn’t understand why we didn’t do it more often, but of course it must have been quite expensive to pay for 5 people, especially when I don’t remember there being a children’s menu – but maybe my memory is playing tricks.

I think the Berni was underground, which made it even more special – going down the red carpeted stairs made me feel really grown up! The choices were no doubt limited – I guess there was prawn cocktail or soup to start, but then it would be steak, chips, peas, button mushrooms and possibly onion rings. The ice cream or cheese and biscuits just topped off a sophisticated dining experience! I wonder what I had to drink: I don’t remember Coca Cola being allowed, or even tasted. Maybe an orange juice and lemonade, or just lemonade? It was such a special occasion to go out with Mum and Dad for a “grown up” meal.

Here’s an old advert for a Berni in Grimsby, with some of the choices that were available

 

And then there were the sweeties – again, I wasn’t really allowed many sweets, which made them all the more alluring. When we went to my Nana’s for Sunday tea, she would always give us one sweet from the sweetie tin just before we went home – there would be lots of different kinds of sweets: Nuttals Mintoes, strawberry Ruffles, Opal Fruits, and many more. Being a basically greedy, and remarkably unsubtle child, as the clock ticked nearer to 7.00, when we would leave to go home, I would start singing a little song that I had invented, which emphasised certain words: Candy and Andy and Sweetie-Pie…, I would warble irritatingly, until the tin came out.

I would often steal the odd sixpence from mum’s purse, when I was doing the shopping, and buy myself sweets – here’s a picture of various sweets and chocolates from the 70s. Do you remember any?

I remember the “Weekend” box of chocolates/sweets – which were often a disappointment – Caramac, Bar Six (basically KiKat by a different name), Spangles, Old Jamaica chocolate – I seem to remember this had shreds of something in it? – and orange Matchmakers. Oh, they were posh. Mum would serve those after dinner with her friends ( never After Eight, or mint Matchmakers, as she hated the combination of chocolate and mint!)

Talking of stealing, I remember (still!) stealing half a crown (two shillings and sixpence) from mum’s purse, which was a lot of money back then. I wonder how many problems that caused for the housekeeping that week. I went to the local Sayers cake shop and bought FIVE cream cakes (I told you I was greedy!) I sat in the park and ate them all myself, furtively cramming them into my mouth. A mum from school came across me, and asked what I was doing; I made up a story about an event at school, and mum giving me my picnic tea to eat – I wonder what she thought of the local doctor’s daughter eating five cream cakes for tea!

Well…there’s a meander through some of my food memories. What about you – is there anything you particularly remember from your childhood?

 

What’s cookin’?!

Actually, nothing at the moment, but tonight we’re going to have Mary Berry’s “Fast lasagne”, so I thought I’d share the recipe. I really like it.

For the ragu and spinach sauce

  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 450g/1lb pork sausage meat
  • 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 2 fat cloves garlic, crushed
  • 150g/5oz button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 x 200ml/7fl oz carton full-fat crème frâiche
  • 100g/4oz baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the tomato and thyme sauce

For the lasagne

  • 6 sheets, about 75g/3oz quick-cook white lasagne or fresh lasagne
  • 50g/2oz strong cheddar cheese, grated

A post about chemo

This is a chemo & side effects post. Don’t feel you have to read it.

I’ve had a fairly grim couple of days – more mentally than physically. It’s interesting how this new chemo regime has had different effects to the first three “cures”. With the FEC100 I had a “lost weekend” when I was really tired, then slowly, over the following week I got my energy back, until I was almost back to normal, unless I tried to do too much. I lost my appetite for about 5 days, but then it was fine. Yes, I lost my hair, and had a touch of nausea, but it was (almost) a breeze.

This has been a harder regime… about a week after the first dose I started losing my taste buds, and salivary glands. Now there’s still the vestiges of sweetness that I can taste, but not much else.

The neuropathy – pains in the extremes (hands, feet, lower legs) + joints, caused by damage to these peripheral nerves – comes on about 4 days after, and lasts for another 3/4 days. This hasn’t been as bad this time round, as the doctor reduced the dose a little. It’s been bearable.

Interestingly, I haven’t had the same fatigue at the beginning – witness my Royal Wedding excursion! – but again, 4/5 days later it has hit me like a ton of bricks. Today I could barely walk the 500 metres to the podiatrist’s surgery, and I’m needing a 2 hour nap after lunch. And, although this does get slightly better as time goes on, I don’t think I could contemplate the 3 km walk I did back in March in my third week.

But both the first time, and this time, I have had a couple of days of depression, again at the same time – 4/5 days after the chemo. Because this has happened twice at the same time, I am assuming this is another side effect… I’ve tried very hard not to utter the words “it’s not fair”, but last night I had a good old moan, and weep to God. Especially about the taste bud issue. I reminded him of “my” verse and demanded that he kept his promise…and, do you know, I think he did.

I felt he was telling me to think about why this was happening – so I read some articles on the internet, that explained the reasons, and that gave some suggestions. I also felt he was telling me to think about how I coud learn to live with it better, and so gradually, I was able to calm down and make plans.

The biggest thing is that I haven’t been eating properly – which has probably affected my mood too. My mouth is now more sensitive than before, so all suggestions like “eat mints”, “spicy food” etc are no good, because they hurt! Textured food is still okay, but I’m going off too crunchy, again for the slight pain factor. So because of this, I’ve been eating badly. For example, yesterday I had a slice of bread and butter and a little madeleine cake for breakfast, lots of watered down fruit juice, and egg sandwich for lunch (2 slices of bread, one egg), and a small bowl of pasta, mince & aubergine for dinner.  Not exactly full of goodness!!

So, putting my plan into action today, I started the day with a banana/raspberry/strawberry smoothie, made with some ice cream. That helped get some vitamins into me, and, because of the sweetness, I actually enjoyed it.

The next part of the plan was a veggie soup for lunch – carrot, tomato, sweet potato & lentil. The best laid plans… I was too tired to make it today, & as Mr FD had cleared 8 litter trays, and had a meeting for the Cycle Club, I didn’t want to ask him to make it. Tomorrow, then!! But I did have a goats cheese & lettuce sandwich, with some cherry tomatoes, plus a piece of pannetonne. Not sure what dinner will be, but I’ll make sure it has veggies. If I drink, and drink, and drink, the salivary glands are a little better and food is (slightly) less cardboard-and-cotton-woolley!

So I’m going down the smoothies for breakfast, and veggie soup for lunch, plus a good meal in the evening. Plus DRINK, drink, drink!! That way I will get the good things I need to help me face up to this bastard cancer.

I don’t want to ever use that phrase “it’s not fair” – getting breast cancer is just life. The statistics are stacked high:, with 1 in 8 women contracting it. I don’t know what the repeat statistics are (& those are the ones that frighten me) but I ask those of you of a praying bent to remember K. She had a mastectomy in December 2016, and chemo & radiotherapy. She has just learned that the cancer has returned to both sets of lymph glands, and it has been diagnosed as Stage 4, that is, it has spread further, and is incurable. The shock for K has been enormous. A year after getting the all clear from her initial breast cancer she is facing this. Now, somehow, that IS “not fair”.  Please pray for her. I don’t know what to pray, but something…

A right Royal event.

I was very busy last Wednesday writing scheduled posts, as I thought I’d be wiped out until at least Tuesday of next week. However, this dose of chemo has affected me differently – I guess the leg pains will start in earnest tomorrow, which I think was the pattern last time, but at least I have a better idea about how to manage them this time round. On Friday, I stayed in bed until after lunch, and then got up; I watched TV most of the afternoon, but I did go for a tiny stroll. Then yesterday, (I’m writing this on Sunday, but scheduling it to publish tomorrow, Monday) I felt great – I’d slept well on Friday night, so I felt up to accepting the invitation of Friend Richard to go to watch the Royal Wedding at his place, together with Friend Cathy. Mr FD turned down the invitation, preferring to stay at home to watch the Giro d’Italia, the rugby, and the FA Cup Final.

I’m not a Monarchist, but nor am I a Republican. I think the role of the Monarchy needs to change – and I think, very slowly, it is – but I think that generally the Royal family probably bring in revenue to the country. I don’t really know much about it though. Whether the reported £ 30 million  spent on security for this wedding should have come from the tax payers’ pockets I don’t know – but presumably, for other public events (concerts, FA Cup Finals etc) the public purse pays, so why not for this.

ANYWAY – I probably wouldn’t have bothered to watch it had I been at home by myself, but with a couple of friends, it seemed like a fun idea. So, in the morning, I made an elderflower cordial and lemon cake, just like Meghan and Harry’s wedding cake.

 

I bet you can’t guess which one I made!

Apparently it was delicious – I couldn’t taste it – and so I will be making it again when my taste returns. If you should be interested, I used this very easy recipe.

Friend Cathy picked me up, and we drove over to Richard’s where he had the Union flag flying outside! We had both chosen to wear patriotic clothes – I had my red trousers, white shirt and blue tunic top, and Cathy had a white skirt, red T-shirt and blue cardigan! While I was tying my blue turban/scarf round my head, I suddenly remembered I had a Union flag scarf, which I had bought for Summer School last year. I’d thought about either wearing it, or pinning it up in the classroom. Finally, I did neither, as we decided it seemed a bit “National Frontish” , but it seemed like the perfect thing to wear today!

Richard has an enormous TV, so it was a bit like being in the cinema! While he plied us with delicious nibbles – vegetarian Nems (spring rolls) and little vegetarian “sliders” (I believe they’re called) – we watched the guests arriving, and critiqued the outfits.

   

As the service started we had a cheese-and-tomato toasted sandwich. I enjoyed the service very much – Richard, a confirmed atheist, disappeared into the kitchen until Michael Curry had finished his address.

I think Bishop Michael is an inspiring speaker, and I could listen to him preaching quite happily – however I felt this address was maybe just a few minutes too long. It was, however, a great message, and I think it fitted the mood of the service very well. It was a bit tricky guaging the reaction of Her Maj, however – she did rather look as though she was sucking on a lemon some of the time!

As the married couple drove around Windsor, waving at the plebs, we enjoyed the cake, with strawberries (I can still just taste strawberries!) and then, as I was starting to flag a little, Cathy drove me home.

Here we are in our patriotically coloured outfits.

Mr FD was firmly ensconsed in front of his sporting events, so I sat and snoozed, and stroked cats. With pizza for dinner, and some recorded comedy programmes that rounded off a good day.  I was in bed by 10.30 and went to sleep about 11.30. Unfortunately there was quite a bit of cat action, with Bib giving me quite a nasty nip, so I was awake from about 4.00 am through to 6.30, listening to Kermode & Mayo’s film review – very soothing voices, which sent me to sleep.

And now, I’m up again, and trying to keep moving (although with the fatigue it does take it out of me ) because all advice seems to be that the more one moves around, the better it is for the neuropathy, as the movement gets the blood pumping to the very ends of the nervous system.

Some people have got no taste…

In fact, for me, that baby foods taste of nothing…

It’s an odd sensation,eating food that looks delicious, has a faint (but tempting) aroma, and yet tastes of zilch. Nada. Nuttin’ at all.

For the first couple of days after this happened I went off the idea of eating. I existed on porridge and bread (not so good for the bowels!) but Mr FD and I decided that this was no good. Different sites gave different advice, but many said to try strong flavours, such as curry, chilli and so on. However, although I couldn’t really taste these flavours, they still burned my mouth, which is quite sensitive. I’m lucky enough not to have developed ulcers (yet!) but strong flavours hurt – including mint. I find that toothpaste is too strong a mintiness, so I only have a tiny smear. And extra-strong mints have me whimpering “the pain…the pain…”

Working on the fact that I was enjoying a warm hard-boiled-egg sandwich for lunch, with iceberg lettuce and a few crisps, we thought that a way I might – at least partially – enjoy food was if we worked on a variety of textures and sensations. The sandwich was giving me warm/cold, plus crisp/soft/crunchy. A chocolate chip cookie gave an interesting mix of crunchy plus melty (and a tiny hint of chocolate at the very end).

Mr FD’s chilli was a success on Saturday, with the softness which didn’t hurt, a tiny edge of chilli (just enough!), the different textures of beans, mince, rice and so on. Yesterday he made this salmon-and-asparagus-pastafrom my newest “go to” site for recipes

Oh, it looked lovely! It smelt delicious! It tasted of – nothing! BUT at least it had an interesting mix of textures and mouth-feel: soft salmon, slippery pasta, crunchy asparagus. Happily, it also includes 2 of my 5-a-day (which I’m not keeping to, by any means!)

We’ve planned a vegetable/chicken stir fry tonight – carrot, beansprouts, mushrooms, cabbage, noodles – these will all help make it a bit more interesting to eat. And, if it’s a particularly “umami” sauce, I may get a slight taste of that too.

I thought I’d try a different breakfast, and was really looking forward to this Bircher Meusli, that I made yesterday evening, from the same site:

I thought that there would be a variety of textures in this. When I looked at it, I couldn’t help but imagine the deliciousness of the berries, and honey, and creamy yoghurt…digging my spoon in, I took a big mouthful…and nearly gagged! The creaminess combined with the tastelessness just didn’t work! I’m determined to try it again, when I get my taste back, because I think it is probably very nice, but sans taste? – no, thank you! Back to banana sandwich, or honey-on-bread!

What is very bizarre though is the fact that I can still taste drinks – fainter than before, but I can still taste them. So I enjoy my apple juice/ orange & cranberry juice drinks – but I am right off coffee. Very bitter!! I am watering the juice down though, 75% water, 25% juice, which is better for me, but drinking about 2 litres a day. I know 500 ml of juice isn’t great, but I’m letting myself off that for the duration.

I’m slowly losing weight at the moment, mostly because snacks and alcohol hold little, or no, appeal! There’s no point having a biscuit with your mid-morning drink, if you can’t taste it! There’s no sense of “I like something sweet in the evening” if you can’t distinguish sweet from anything else! There’s no “Oh, I really enjoyed that, so even if I’m full I’ll have a bit more!” There’s no “Let’s have an apèro, and a few snacks and nibbles” when the drinks taste bitter, and the nibbles are crisp enough to hurt my mouth and taste of nothing! I’m down about 2 or 3 kg from my last weigh in, but I’m still way too heavy. So, I’m aware that when things are back to as normal as possible, things need to change…

Knowing that we need to up our vegetable intake, and reduce our red meat intake, I think this site will be useful. These are some of the recipes we’ll be trying:

There are lots, and lots, and LOTS of recipes. I also like the way you can see (on some ) how many portions of fruit/veg they provide. I’m also going to be going back to my copy of “River Cottage Veg Every Day”, which I used a lot when I first got it. Here is a link to my old blog pages, with the tag “River Cottage” should you be ionterested in finding out more. I’m enjoying Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s series on BBC1 at the moment “Britain’s Fat Fight”…

I also really, seriously, need to think about exercise. But that’s for another day…

But, over to you, dear ones: do you have any suggestions for meals which would tempt me on the texture front, and Mr FD on the taste front?

 

I was right!

Yesterday I told you that we were going to a birthday party, and wrote: “Of course, being French, it starts at 8 pm and is likely to go on until Lord-knows-when in the morning. It’s not considered a party in France if you’re not still awake when the cock crows! Thankfully, I have my illness as a perfect excuse to slip away at about 11.00 pm. “We would love to stay, but I’m afraid…” Mind you, the last big birthday party we went to they had only just served the main course at 11.00 pm, so we may not get the full meal!”

We arrived just after 8.00 and were one of the first there. We greeted our friends and then stood round like a couple of lemons – both Mr FD & I are introverts and useless at starting conversations. We drank either beer (Mr FD) or a wine-based cocktail (me). Lots of platters of pastry based snacks were being passed round, so we ate quite a lot of those, and we chatted together. Finally I was getting tired, so we sat at our table, until an English friend arrived and joined us. She knew another couple (Franco-Hungarian) and so we chatted to them too. Then Jean-Luc (the Birthday boy) and his band played a few numbers. Finally at about 10.00 the first course appeared – oysters! One of the few things I really don’t like (to me they are like eating snot in sea-water) and also raw shellfish really isn’t a good idea for someone with a dodgy immune system. I had a piece of bread and butter.

Then Jean-Luc and his band played a few more numbers…and the fish course arrived – marinaded salmon and green salad. It was really like raw fish, but cured in its marinade. I wasn’t totally sure about eating it, but I was getting a tad hungry. It was actually very nice, and I have suffered no ill effects. But I was getting really tired.

At 11.15, with no sign of the meat course, I had to throw in the towel. I was falling asleep in my seat. So, despite Mr FD urging me to see if I could stay for a while longer (I think he was still hungry too!) I had to insist we went home. If we were going by the rhythm of the rest of the evening, it would have been meat at 11.30 (at the earliest), cheese at midnight (or later!), dessert at about 00.45, champagne and cake at 01.30 and dancing until whenever.

Of course, when I was in bed, despite being so tired, I couldn’t get to sleep for ages, and Mr FD woke in the middle of the night with terrible acid indigestion from too much beer with not enough food!

It was lovely to be invited, it was great to catch up with our friend who we haven’t seen for ages, and to celebrate Jean-Luc & Traudel’s birthdays…However, I do wish French parties didn’t go on so long into the night!! I can’t manage them, even when I’m fit and healthy (although I might have held out until the end of the main course!)