Idiots on the Road

Most people do it, and I’m sure most people hate it. Driving. The bane of my life since I got my license. I don’t know about you, but I find driving in Reunion an outright nightmare. Driving on the right, indicating when you overtake on the dual carriageway, fine, I can handle that. What I can’t handle are the thousands of other drivers out there who don’t know how to bloody drive!

I don’t know what annoys me most. Is it people who don’t know how to stay in their lane? That really grates me. No, I think what’s worse are those maniacs who drive right up your backside when you’re on the overtaking lane. As if their very presence would tempt me into forcing myself into the right-hand lane.

How many times have I been cut off by people who just forget about their stop sign? Too many to count I think.

Naturally, I get angry when I drive. I shout at people, I show them various fingers in frustration, naturally. My wife sat beside me, doesn’t like it when I get angry. Especially when I’m at a roundabout and nobody knows where they’re going!

Her advice to me is as follows: ‘Be a rubbish driver too’. Ridiculous. Unimaginable. Me, stay on the right lane, no matter which exit I take on the roundabout? I suppose that would mean that I couldn’t get cut off, but that’s not the rule!

Thank you for listening to me vent my frustration. I’m finding this very therapeutic.

When self-driving cars become mainstream, I will be a happy man. I can just imagine myself sat there on the way to work, hurtling down the Tamarin road, drinking my tea and eating my rougail saucisse with the window open. Calling to fellow drivers “Good day dear sir, lovely day for a drive, isn’t it? Toodle pip!” I have a strange imagination.

A question for all of you; What annoys you most about driving in Reunion? Is it the idiots on the roundabouts? The fools who forget they have indicators? The psychos who drive “this” close to your boot? The dopes who run stop signs? I’d love to know.

Well, have a lovely week, stay safe on the road and don’t forget to use your flipping indicators.

Vocabulary

bane – fléau
license – permis
outright – carrément
dual carriageway – quatre voies
to annoy – ennuyer

to grate – agacer
backside – arrière
overtaking – dépassement
to shout – crier
roundabout – rond-point

rubbish – nul
vent – décharger
self-driving cars – voitures autonomes
mainstream – courant
to hurtle – lancer à vive allure

fellow drivers – compagnons de route
toodle pip! – ciao !
fool – imbécile
to run stop signs – brûler les stops
indicators – clignotants

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WTF is that!?

Imagine the situation. I went outside at 8pm to feed the cat. Dusk had arrived, a mist had settled on the horizon. The only sound is the rattling of the cat food as it dropped into the bowl. A bush rustled, “Must be Satan, the cat” I thought to myself. But out of the bushes came a giant tailless rat.

As it came closer, it actually looked kind of funny. It had a big fat hind which was wobbling side-to-side as it sauntered towards the cat food. It also had this minuscule face with a long coneshaped snout. It approached the cat food and, strangely enough, didn’t seem to mind me standing just a foot away from it.

So, that was my first experience of a tenrec. I went straight on the internet to look up some information about it. Apparently tenrecs are practically blind, possibly the thing came that close to me because it didn’t know I was there! Also, the reason that it took the risk to come so close to a house is that it probably just had a litter of children that it needed to feed. Tenrecs can have as many as 32 offspring per litter! Wow.

I’m certainly not going to chase it away if I see it again. I might even leave some extra cat food out for it and its family. I’m sure Satan won’t mind. I don’t intend to eat the creature either. Many Reunionese that I know have eaten tenrec and, to be honest, I’d eat pretty much anything in cari form, but after seeing its cute posterior swaying side to side; I just couldn’t bring myself to eat it.

Another incredible piece of information I found online: Despite their resemblance to hedgehogs or porcupines, tenrecs are actually closer genetically to shrews.

Fascinating animals. Here’s a last piece of information so you will go to sleep tonight as a more intelligent human being. Tenrecs hold a world record. Are you ready for this? This is amazing. Tenrecs hold the world record for the most amount of nipples on a mammal. Up to twenty-nine of them! There you go. You can share that information with the family when you’re having your rougail saucisse tonight. You’re welcome.

Vocabulary

dusk – crépuscule
mist – brouillard
to settle – se poser
rattling – claquements
to rustle – bruissement 

tailless – sans queue
funny – drôle
hind – derrière
to wobble – osciller
to saunter – se diriger vers 

cone-shaped – en forme de cône
snout – museau
tenrec – tangue
litter – portée
to sway – se balancer 

to bring oneself to – se résoudre à
hedgehog – hérisson
shrew – musaraigne
nipple – mamelon
mammal – mammifère

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Cyclone Ready

Anyone who hasn’t spent a cyclone season in Reunion will simply not understand. For those people, imagine not knowing if the shops will be open the next day in order to get food to feed your family. Imagine not even being allowed to leave your house. Even worse, imagine sitting down on the toilet to do your business and not knowing if the toilet will flush your business away.

January to March every year is a very special time weather-wise on our lovely tropical island. Scorching heat? Check. Torrential rain? Check. 160km winds that cause over three million euros of damage? Unfortunately, check.

Quite honestly, cyclones can be a real pain in the arse for the reasons mentioned above. Only, however, if you are unprepared. Myself and my family are certified cyclone ready!

Out in the back garden, we have a water tank with 350l of tap water. We got it at the hardware shop for a modest amount of money. Indispensable during a cyclone. You might think that this is a lot of water, honestly, it really isn’t. Especially when you consider that some toilets use 10l per flush. 10l! When you couple in the fact that gastroenteritis is prevalent during this season too, you’ve got some serious water-usage on your hands.

That’s enough about that. Food! Over the past six months or so, we’ve been adding about 5% of our shopping to a special box upstairs. Now it’s got enough tinned and dried goods to last us a couple of weeks. So even if every shop in the south has to close for a few days, we needn’t worry. We might get a bit sick of tinned cassoulet after a while but hey. And, will I miss rougail saucisse? Of course.

Torches are almost just as important. During a massive power cut you’ll need to be able to see when it’s dark outside. If you have young children, they’ll be less scared of the power cut if they regard the experience like a camping trip. We found some hand-cranking re-chargeable torches for a decent price in a sports goods store.

Games are not to be underestimated too. We’ve got a huge supply of board games at home. Enough to keep us busy for a heck of a long time.

Are you prepared for cyclone season? If cyclone season is over when you’re listening to this, were you prepared enough? Or were you one of the poor people queuing for hours to buy a pack of water and a half-dozen tins just before the red alert? Let us know below.

Vocabulary

weather-wise – météorologiquement parlant
scorching – brûlant
heat – chaleur
unfortunately – malheureusement
quite honestly – très honnêtement

pain in the arse – embêtement
back garden – arrière-cour
water tank – réservoir d’eau
hardware shop – quincaillerie
especially – notamment

tinned – en conserve
to worry – inquiéter
to get sick of – se lasser de
power cut – coupure de courant
to regard – considérer

hand-cranking – manivelle
board game – jeu de société
a heck of a long time – un sacré bout de temps
enough – assez
let us know – nous tenir au courant

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Tourist for a Day

At one point during the school holidays, the wife and I decided that we were going to be tourists for the day. We booked a guided tour of St Denis, we also booked my mother-in-law so that she could look after the kids. Bright and early on a Tuesday morning, off we went!

The guided tour was of the main street in St Denis, Rue de Paris. If you’re not familiar with St Denis, it’s the road leading from the coast, all the way to the national park in the centre of St Denis.

Let me tell you that there is there a lot to see there. The tour started off at the town hall in St Denis, which is an outstanding building. High ceilings, twisting traditional staircases created using rare, local wood. Upstairs is a lavish meeting room; in which you could fit hundreds of people. The courtyard surrounds an ancient fountain, and there are dozens of paintings of the man himself, Denis de Paris (who only seemed to appear in his ‘headless‘ state – surely he is known for the things he did before his head and his body parted ways…).

Out of the town hall we carried on up the street. We visited several town houses that each had interesting stories, famous inhabitants or both! Take for example the story of the rich man with four young daughters. One day the father discovered that his youngest was pregnant with the grounds man’s child! Well, the father did what any other father would do: he forced the four girls to wear white and to remain virgins for the rest of their lives, thus saving the family name! Quite a different world it was back then…

Aside from the historical gossip, the beautiful houses and their grounds, the guide also showed us a «Palme à citron» It’s true! We also discovered various trees, plants and leaves that grow in the gardens, houses tiled with tamarind, the features of the famous Reunionese porches whose design is important to keeping social traditions. You’ll have to take the visit to see what I mean exactly, but it’s all about showing where a guest stands on the social ladder compared to the host. A guest would be invited for a drink on the porch (which is one step up from the garden), and if that goes well the next time they would be invited inside the house (which is one step up from the porch).

All in all, an excellent morning. I did regret not wearing my sports shoes though!

Vocabulary

to book – réserver
bright and early – très tôt
town hall – mairie
outstanding – exceptionnel
ceiling – plafond

twisting – sinueux
staircase – escalier
lavish – luxueux
courtyard – cour
to surround – entourer

headless – sans tête
to carry on – continuer
pregnant – enceinte
grounds man – jardinier
aside from – à part

gossip – commérages
porch – varangue
to stand – situer
social ladder – l’échelle sociale
step – étape

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Peter Piper

There’s an old English tongue twister that goes as follows:

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.

A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.

If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,

Where’s the peck of pickled peppers that Peter Piper picked?

This poem has been around since the 18th century, and it’s probably the most famous tongue twister in the English language. It also lent its title to the American poem book “Peter Piper’s Practical Principles of Plain and Perfect Pronunciation.” Why don’t you try reading the poem yourself? If you can get through it all without messing it up, I’ll buy you a beer. But, back to the point. Who is this mysterious Peter Piper that is destined to pick peppers for the rest of time? Well, strangely enough, the man has a strong connection to Reunion Island.

Just up the hill from the town centre of Saint Joseph, you will find the local High School. As you enter, straight in front of you, is a bust of the man himself: Peter Pepper, or Pierre Poivre. Such a local folk-hero is he, that the town of Saint Joseph decided to name said High school after him: Lycée Pierre Poivre.

So, who was Peter Pepper? Well, he was a French author and horticulturist. Not at the same time though, as he only had one arm. In his heyday he was administrator of both Reunion and Mauritius, this was in the 1760s. During this time he was responsible for the construction of botanical gardens on both islands. In fact, his botanical garden of grapefruits is still thriving in Mauritius to this day.

When the trade in the Indian Ocean was controlled by the Dutch, he had to come up with clandestine methods of smuggling herbs and plants around the area. In fact, he introduced clove and nutmeg to Reunion during this time. Cheeky fella.

He lost his arm in the way that most people lost their arms in the 18th century, it was smashed by an English cannonball and his arm had to be amputated. Perhaps that’s why the poor Peter Piper can only manage one peck of pickled peppers in his poem. The man authored two books, his first “Voyages of a Philosopher” was a favourite of Thomas Jefferson.

His story is an interesting one, and I’ll be on the lookout for any other tongue twister stars in our midst. So I’ll keep an eye on the sea shore for the lady selling sea shells, and that famous French hunter who knows how to hunt without his dog, you know the one!

Vocabulary

tongue twister – un vire-langue
a peck – une unité de mesure obsolète
to lend – prêter
to mess something up – faire une erreur
hill – colline

high school – lycée
bust – sculpture
folk-hero – héros populaire
heyday – apogée
both – les deux

grapefruit – pamplemousse
to thrive – prospérer
trade – commerce
to smuggle – passer en contrebande
clove – clou de girofle

nutmeg – noix de muscade
cheeky – culotté
fella – type
on the lookout – à l’affût
midst – milieu

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Something Only Adults Do

About six months ago I decided to become a grown up. I’d done lots of grown up things in my life before; I’d emigrated to Reunion, opened a company, had children, killed a chicken, but all of this was child’s play compared to: ‘Getting a mortgage!’

You don’t have a word for mortgage in French, you do have a word for ‘re-mortgage’ though, which I’ve always found odd. The English word ‘Mortgage’ does have French roots, the word literally means ‘Death Pledge’. Scary stuff.

Anyway, enough of that. Once all the boring bank stuff had finished, we started looking for land. Our stipulations were simple: The land had to be cheap, big, and close to the coast. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, you’ll be surprised to know that land like that does not exist in Reunion!

We wanted to move out of St Louis to somewhere in the west so that the wife could be closer to her job, teaching in St Paul, also so that we could be near the beach for the kids’ sakes. We visited some land in the St Leu area that looked promising; 500 square meters for about €100,000. Right in our budget! The only problem was that it was in La Chaloupe. If you’ve never been up there, it’s high. Really high. So high, in fact, that it took forty-five minutes just to reach the route du tamarins. Back to the drawing board.

Anyway, weeks of stressful land-hunting continued, until we found the perfect spot. Just the right size, just the right price and only ten minutes from the route de tamarins. We found it right around the corner, about one hundred meters from our current place. Now I know we said that we wanted to move to the west, but hell. I love the south. I love going to St Pierre with the kids, I love the new school that my youngest started in this year. Also, of course, I love being near my parents-in-law. Who, not only look after the kids free of charge, but who cook the second best rougail saucisse on the island. (Second only to my wife’s, of course).

So it looks like I’m staying in the south for the perceivable future. No worries, the girls in St Gilles won’t miss me that much. Plus, to be perfectly honest, I much prefer the lagoon in St Pierre to that of Hermitage. There are far fewer tourists taking up the space! And you show me another free babysitter that cooks rougail saucisse on this rock!

Vocabulary

grown up – adulte
child’s play – un jeu d’enfant
mortgage – prêt immobilier
pledge – gage
boring – ennuyeux

land – terrain
to move out – se déplacer
promising – prometteur
to reach – atteindre
to go back to the drawing board – retourner à zéro

size – taille
but hell ! – bref !
parents-in-law – beaux-parents
worry – souci
to miss – manquer
space – place

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Eclipse!

On the first of September 2016, La Reunion became one of the few places on Earth where you could witness the annular solar eclipse! An annular eclipse is when the moon is far enough away from the Earth during a solar eclipse, that the outer edge of the sun can still be seen.

The first of September was a Thursday so I was at work at the upper school in St Joseph, I had a group of second-year students to look after during the event. I briefed them on the dangers of looking at the sun, and handed out their glasses. They were really excited all afternoon; jumping around, asking questions. Some were even worried about becoming blind if their glasses became damaged!

The annular eclipse was to pass over central Africa, out over the Indian Ocean and pass over La Reunion early in the afternoon. I reminded the students how lucky they were to be provided with glasses, as it was doubtful that every child in the African continent would be protected against the harmful effects of looking directly at the eclipse.

Back in Saint Joseph, the weather was not great, the sky became overcast late in the morning and it looked like it would not change. All the students gathered outside and looked up at the grey sky. There were groans of disappointment, but we were all still hopeful that the sky clear, even for a second. Twenty minutes passed and the clouds started to disperse just a little. Everyone looked up, hoping that the hole in the clouds would pass between the eclipse and us. And it did! Cheers of joy erupted on the playground! It was like the home team scored the winning goal in the 90th minute!

Every thirty minutes or so another hole would appear in the clouds and the same shouts would sweep over the school! Now this was an interesting way to experience the eclipse!

In total we must have seen it for about a minute all afternoon. I called my wife and James later who were in Saint Paul and Saint Denis respectively, and they told me that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky for them! Ah, well. Maybe next time I’ll have better weather. I think I’ll be about two-hundred…

Vocabulary

few – peu
to witness – témoigner
far away – loin
outer edge – bord extérieur
upper school – lycée

to look after – prendre soin
to hand out – distribuer
to jump – sauter
blind – aveugle
to be provided – bénéficier

harmful – nocif
overcast – couvert
to gather – rassembler
to groan – gémir
hopeful – optimiste

hole – trou
to sweep over – engloutir

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Komidi

I was really into going to the theatre when I was younger. In my town in England, we had our own place called the Mowlem Theatre where I would regularly watch shows and sometimes perform in them. Moving to Reunion in 2007, I found it hard to enter the theatre scene (pardon the pun). This was for two very good reasons, firstly I couldn’t understand French, and secondly because I couldn’t drive, so I would have had a hard time getting to and from the theatre. By the time I had learnt how to drive, I had totally forgotten about the wonderful experience going to the theatre could be.

While looking for family activities during the school holidays, I found out about the Komidi theatre festival. I had already missed the majority of the festival but luckily there were still three days left. I had really wanted to see a piece for adults, but we decided to see Thumbelina because it was for children, and this would be the first French show that my daughters would see. We arrived in St Joseph early to walk around the town and appreciate being in a new environment. Stopping off for some ice-cream too we really felt on holiday.

In the theatre, there were thirty of us crammed into a very small area. The stage was set already, and the curtains open. As the last of us took our seats, the house lights dimmed. A woman entered the stage and smiled at the audience. She took out a book and started to read the story. Soon into the performance, however, the story took over, and she became the characters she was narrating. Quick on-stage costume changes followed as she moved from one character to another. Going from a witch, to a mouse, to a mole and to Thumbelina herself without breaking a sweat. The stage transformed too, from a bedroom, to a lake and to a forest. All of the children in the audience were gobsmacked.

What a show! I’d never been so enthralled and entertained by a one-man performance even if it was aimed at children from the age of three. If you haven’t guessed already, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The Komidi theatre festival takes place every year in the south of the island and I highly recommend you go. There are plays for all ages and tastes. Even if you’re not a theatre lover, your children will absolutely fall in love with the magical experience of the children’s shows. At €1 a ticket, it’ll hardly break the bank! Next year I’ll remember about this festival, and I won’t miss the chance to see as many shows as I can.

Vocabulary

own – propre
to have a hard time – avoir du mal
Thumbelina – Poucette
crammed – entassé
curtains – rideaux

to dim – tamiser
to take over – prendre le contrôle
witch – sorcière
mole – taupe
sweat – transpiration

gobsmacked – stupéfiés
enthralled – captivés
thoroughly – complètement
taste – goût
to break the bank – être coûteux

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