The Empire Writes Back

Convention tells me a Year Abroad blog should start with an apology for not updating every week like initially promised. But sod that for a game of soldiers. I apologise for nothing. I’m not updating this because I’m having too much fun. Since my last blog post I’ve been to Toulouse and Sheffield, I had my outlook on life shaped by Skyfall and I’m loving life a lot more. The most defining aspect of my month came on Friday when I received my Grant. I’ve never liked the word Grant, it always reminds me of Grant Mitchell, who always annoyed me far more than Peggy and Phil. In fact, if it wasn’t for Billy Mitchell I’d hate Grant the most… I appear to have digressed somewhat. Anyway, Erasmus, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to give me ‘shit loads’ (their words – not mine) of euros which has made life twice as much fun. I seem to have got through a lot of it already over the last 4 days but that doesn’t concern me too much – if I ever have to return to more austere times I can always console myself with the words of Homer Simpson


HOMER: Well, he’s got all the money in the world, but there’s one thing he can’t buy.

MARGE: What’s that?

HOMER: [thinks] A dinosaur!


Anyway, there’s a brief summary of what’s been happening in my life. The nitty gritty starts now. Or rather it doesn’t … I’m on Erasmus year in Aix en Provence – there’s neither nit nor grit here.


If GCSE French taught me anything … Its that life can be divided into 6 very simple topics which we can then talk about in an oral exam. (It also taught me some degree of French to which I should be fairly grateful). Today I’ll discuss the obscenely broad topic that was Health and Fitness.


I’ll start with Health, or use health as a euphemism to discuss food in a bold attempt to give this blog some semblance of structure. The food here is incredible. If I was doing this Year properly I’d be cycling down to the marché each morning with a large wicker basket. I’d carefully select the legumes that are in season and then go home and make a ratatouille or something Provencal like that. I’m going to shock you all (all 2 of you reading) and say that I don’t do that. Instead I go to the other French Catedrale de Cuisine that is Carrefour. God I love Carrefour. My adoration of French supermarkets is no secret. I bloody love them. They’re just so much more exciting. Long Eaton Tesco may have a fishmonger and a butchers but there really is no comparison. Carrefour has it all – their butcher has all meats from Horse to Rabbit, the Charcuterie gives you all sorts of options from a variety of cuisines – there was an incredible looking Bouillabaise there yesterday – I was tempted to buy it in a vain attempt to try and attract Fleur Delacours attention – Beauxbatons surely can’t be that far away?  And then there is the Cheese Counter. My god. The Cheese Counter – (It deserves Capital Letters – in fact – it deserves a bloody parade). With so many delights on offer you really have to restrain yourself.I went on a mad one yesterday and spent €100. I think the Swordfish and the Sushi I bought attests to that. Usually I’ll aim to shop for half that price which is very easy in there. If you can resist temptation that is.


Finances aren’t the only impediment to my purchases. The kitchen really isn’t for the Harriots or Worral-Thompsons of the world (don’t know why I’ve picked the two shittest chefs). I’m frequently heard to complain about the two hobs and a microwave (sounds like a shit football chant) in the kitchen. But it really is a disgrace. How they think that’s appropriate for 30 people I will never know. The lack of oven is particularly annoying – this rosbif can’t have rosbif until he returns.

    In a classic Little Britain episode, Stage hypnotist Kenny Craig uses the term cupboardy to illicitly win a game of Scrabble. Apparently that was cheating because it isn’t a word – yet it seems most appropriate. My kitchen is the least cupboardy place on earth. Aside from the cooking implements there is nothing in that room. My bedroom slightly resembles a poorly run Netto superstore, random tinned goods are strewn over the shelves. Its fortunate that I dedicated so many maths lessons to playing Tetris on my iPod because that’s the only way I manage to fit my weekly shop into my mini fridge. But its all good fun and all fuel for my other exploits.


Mainly rugby. I’m a massive fan and coming to France is a golden opportunity for me to improve as a player. I play for the Fac de Lettres, they play a series of fixtures each year against other University teams en Provence – from as South as Marseille to as North as Avignon. The differences between playing here and for Sheffield Oaks are pretty vast. In all aspects! Noticeably at training – the first half an hour is essentially taken up by les bises – greeting every player on the team with the obligatory kisses – that’s a tradition I can’t see being adopted by South Yorkshire. A depressing statistic for this straight, single man is that I’ve kissed far more men than women during my stay in France. Its fantastic for my French though, for about 6 hours a week I’m surrounded by a very French environment and culture which has helped my language far more than any class could. The guys are really supportive too and there’s always someone to assist when I invariably am lost behind a language barrier.


Our first game was yesterday which was great fun. A game at 20:00 on a November night in England would never work – but we were in Marseille under the floodlights – it was brilliant. The first noticeable change was when I discovered the scrums were uncontested – it might as well have been Year 9 set 5 PE class. It was shocking. But this made the game a bit more expansive I suppose. French rugby is hilariously true to stereotype – they just want to play with flair. There was very little rucking and plenty of offloads/side steps etc. The lads were taking the piss out of me a bit after the game for eating my  post-game pre-prepared salad. ‘Where is your rosbeef?’ and ‘that eez not feesh and cheeps’ were two such witticisms but that’s #AixBanter for you.


Given my aversion to lectures I suppose it is fair to say that eating and playing rugby take up the bulk of my life – apart from going out of course. Its impossible to believe that in 4 weeks home I’ll be sat excitedly in Marseille departure lounge (flying with BA no less!) and constantly playing ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ on my iPod. Its quite hard to feel too Christmassy at present because the sun is shining everyday and I’m walking around in a t-shirt half the time. Its also quite sad to think that some friends who I’ve made over these last few months are moving on to pastures new. But that’s all part of life’s rich tapestry. Here’s to the final four festive weeks in Aix.






You Only Live Rice

This blog format to update everyone on my daily movements has failed drastically. I’ve been as unsuccessful as the denial policy of the Cornelius Fudge administration upon Voldemort’s return, but here is the chance to make amends for it all (I am directly comparing myself to the Order of the Phoenix now). It would be folly to give some accurate account of the last five weeks, instead I’ll just keep you up to speed with recent events. Today’s blog concerns a haircut! Now that I have your attention …


As a young Englishman I owe a lot to James Bond, the aspiration, the one-liners and now it transpires the hairstyle. As the world rightly celebrates 50 years since Dr No (or ‘James Bond 007 contre Dr No’ as they concisely call it here) and the imminent release of Skyfall there seems to be a new wave of excitement for the ultimate Brit Abroad. And I’ve never been so grateful to my fictitious hero.


  It has to be said that a haircut is never the simplest of things for me. Even in Sheffield I know exactly what I want yet don’t really know how to express exactly how I want the excess on the top of my head styled. Knowing that I’d struggle in Aix I ultimately opted for the hairdressers who appeared to have the most beautiful clientele. A shallow way of looking at it, but I don’t care.


To be honest the whole affair wasn’t the Lion’s Den I’m describing it to be. It even offered student discount so I didn’t feel I was disgracing notorious penny-grabber Alan Rice by going to such a poncey place. I noticed that most places in Aix were around the ludicrous price of €20 anyway. After making an appointment for later in the evening I returned in a fashionably punctual way. I was immediately taking upstairs and asked what drink I’d like. I naively plumped for thé anglais and recieved Earl Grey, not the PG Tips I was anticipating but surely 007 would approve. Then my hair was washed which was an odd experience for a standard trip for a trim yet seemingly par for the course in France. The hairdresser was actually causing me neck pain by her angle of washing but not having the vocabulary to ask for a change, and actually quite enjoying having my hair washed, I stoically soldiered on.


All these allusions to Bond must seem a bit tenuous, Bond Day alone isn’t a recent for a punbelievable title. But 007 was my saviour in the barbers. Instead of me asking in very broken French for a certain cut and style I had the fortune to be next to GQ magazine, this month fronted by Daniel Craig himself. I’d been told before I went to the barber’s that I should take a photo in with me to ask for that style. One particular individual handed in his manliness at the Coiffeurs door when he took a picture of some 90210 actor in. Thankfully I could just point to Daniel Craig and ask for a longer version of his hair. The whole haircut story ends there really, small talk seemed to be very minimal in the place. A key difference seemed to be the lack of inane chat between Hairdresser and client – I wasn’t even asked if I was going somewhere nice this year…


What an anti-climatic end to a story that seemed to have no direction. But this seems to be this year abroad anyway. Every single bloody thing is a mission, be it visiting the barber or completing reams of paperwork to receive grants that I really don’t deserve. Still, I’m happy, got a lovely haircut which showcases my rugby scars which will hopefully go down a treat in Toulouse this weekend. Which I’m sure will be the highlight of my next blog. This was mainly written to appease the high demand for my work (one request) and just to get back into the swing of things.


Hopefully on Monday I can regale my readership (word doesn’t change if my readership numbers 1 or 20) with tales of a mad weekend in Toulouse and a glorious win for the Leicester Tigers too. Maybe even some photos too! But let’s calm down – this isn’t the Times magazine. Also, sorry if the title misled, hopefully I can get up to some crazy world-saving Cold War capers at some stage to justify another pun.

Until next time.

I’ve finally made it and moved into Halls! There is far too much to blog about and in my hungover state I don’t feel I’m in any position to do so. But I’m alive and happy. That’s all you really wanted to know anyway.

Le Crunch

As every day goes by I realise I’m getting closer to the Crunch. But like Naboo I’m just a tourist to it, I’ve visited France, but never properly. I know nothing of the crunch. This has been an increasingly apparent problem as each day goes by. Can’t help but feel the tantric loving, ex Geordie, Sting summed up my impending predicament in ‘Englishman in New York‘. Admittedly the references to famous gay Englishman in NYC, Quentin Crisp, don’t transfer but

I don’t drink coffee I drink tea my dear … You can hear it in my accent when I talk I’m an Englishman in New York’

You’ll all be pleased to know I’ve stayed true to the Police frontman by taking a bumper box of PG Tips with me and continuing to use my horrific Franco-East Midlands accent. Currently I’m on holiday with my family in the South of France. Yet even in the security of the family bosom (still a hilarious turn of phrase) my French flaws are being exposed. I thought being referred to as Mlle Rice was fairly humiliating, but apparently not. When the staff at Maccies can’t work out that you’re ordering a Coca-Cola and Big Mac Maxi you know there are issues. Looks like me and Google Translate are about to start courting.

Le Crunch is always used to describe clashes between England and France at rugby, sadly its beginning to describe the situation between this Englishman and France. But I’ll stop whinging. Its currently 30 degrees, I’m going to Montpellier tomorrow and I move into Aix on Wednesday! I’ve never felt  I’ll leave you with some pictures of the tiny village in Languedoc that I’m staying in (nighttime photos as I can’t find my camera – pro blogger). Now its time for me to stop the day trip and move in.

A la prochaine fois…

Pack to the Future III

I promise this is the last of the Tweets of the Problogue series. It of course concerns packing. Definitely not my favourite hobby. If truth be told I got my Mum to do it. She’s Aixceptional at it and ensure that I would be going to France with everything I need. I chose what to pack though so at least I can claim some degree of maturity. Choosing what to take provided a different challenge.
I wish I could report on the aixciting choices I made. Instead I was sensible. Technology helped a lot. A massive hard drive with every episode of the Simpsons, Community and The Muppet Movie amongst others was essential.  Furthermore my Kindle (my new best friend) and 11,000 books for it saved onto my computer have saved me lots of space – 7 Harry Potter books stack up. (The downside is I’ll have an empty bookcase when I move in so I won’t look particularly intellectual).

Obviously I couldn’t take zero DVD’s – there was no neglecting my beloved British sitcoms which I’ll mercilessly inflict on my new foreign friends. Can’t wait for them to enjoy the finest humour that Bolton Norwich and Slough has ever provided – In many ways I see myself as a Cultural Ambassador.

As a student of language and culture I felt that I had to take some books to show of love of academia. Consequently there’s a very well-read copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner Of Azkaban (pound for pound the best book) and John McEnroe: Serious. You really can’t mess around with your own enlightenment.

An in a final bid to show off my national pride I got a lovely poster of 2012 Olympics, an England rugby ball and a map of the East Midlands. Very important to stick to your roots. I often make emotional attachments to my possessions, in many ways they’re friends and therefore it was tough to work out which objects I should take with me. ‘It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends’ said the greatest wizard of any generation.That particular attitude got me through packing and hopefully means I will be as prepared as I possibly can be for whatever this year will throw at me.

That was the last post set in England. This blog’s now going global.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I don’t think …


(Despite writing this from a small village in the South of France you’ll just have to imagine I wrote this in the rainy paradise of South Derbyshire.)

A successful Year Abroad is all about prudent planning. To quote a former geography teacher; the Akela of Long Eaton 15th Cubs and Winston Churchill ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail’. Wise words that I failed to heed and remain a constant theme throughout. To catalogue my many failures would be needlessly time-consuming so I thought I’d write down my top two to reassure other Year Abroaders that even if they are unlucky in the process so far, they at least aren’t stupid…

I have read approximately 13 pages of War and Peace, my knowledge of Dostoevsky all derives from the Quiz episode of the Office and having not studied Ancient Runes at Hogwarts, Cyrillic is an alphabet that I will never understand. I believe they are the three primary factors then for me  opting to do Russian Literature in a French University. Yes, my first bout of incompetence occurred a good four months before I start my studies. Never fill out module forms with only 2 minutes to go before the deadline. I had to quickly rely on an email which informed me of previous modules done by Sheffield students in Aix. Hopefully I can change module or else I fear myself and Mr Tolstoy are going to get very well acquainted. Actually, I have no desire to get acquainted with Tolstoy, I’d better start emailing some professeurs …

Sadly I didn’t learn an important bureaucratic lessons on not filling in forms too quickly. My main fears about moving into halls come from the fact that on the paperwork I accidentally clicked on the wrong title. All correspondence is now addressed to Mademoiselle Rice. Admittedly this error just means that I’ll appear to be a very convincing transvestite or a Mademoiselle trapped in a Monsieurs body to the accommodation people. They do say the Year Abroad is all about trying new things …
I’ll leave you with the unlikely notion that I’ll take up cross-dressing, even if Sean Bean did so on BBC last week. Nearly finished my Prologue blogs. Now just have to pack …

There and Twat Again.


This is the 100% official blog documenting the travails and travaille of my Year Abroad. I’m afraid this blog offers very little from the multitude of blogs that seem to be as much of a Year Abroad rite of passage as the first baguette, mountains of bureaucracy and battles with the paltry baggage allowances of budget Airlines. Hopefully it’ll delight, entertain and inspire using the most contemporary culture references available. Yet realistically  its just another medium to read about the adventures of a middle aged man trapped inside the body of a twenty year old.

This particular post was only ever intended as an introduction, attacking the question in a way that would at least let my former teachers know that I listened to them at some stage. I also thought a post warning that there will be various allusions to Harry Potter and the many other subjects that I devoted far too much time devouring since 1992. Frankly I just didn’t want to start this blog without an introduction.

I appreciate this may seem to renege on what the Year Abroad should be about. This definitely isn’t cultural immersion. But as part of generation Xp (Aix-P), where Social Networking is an inevitable fact of life it just seemed rude not to.
Try not to have any expectation of this blog, even if it doesn’t excite,inspire or entertain or whatever my original objectives were. It’ll at least inform you that I’m still alive. Hope that’s of comfort.