The Kettle Explained


One of the blogs that intrigued me on those excellent blogging 101 and 102 courses was T.J. Paris’s A ma vie de coer entier, with its tagline, “La Vie est Trop Courte pour Boire du Mauvais Vin”, its array of medallion photos, and above all its ongoing account, in the style of an 18th Century novel, of a trip to Oxford by a certain Papa Bouilloire.

One gets an idea of who bloggers are through  their About page, where T.J. writes:

La Vie est Trop Courte pour Boire du Mauvais Vin. “Life is too short to drink bad wine” penned Goethe in one of his lighter moments and it has a real resonance for me. If you are going to do something, then make sure it is worthwhile! (Drinking good wine is also highly recommended!)

A ma vie de coer entier – To my life with all my heart This is an ancient inscription and message of love, found on a poesy ring inscribed, in quaint and badly spelled French dating from the 15th Century. I chose it for the name of my Blog as I believe that living a rich life is something that you should dedicate your whole heart to.

Informative as this is, it didn’t quite satisfy my curiosity, so I wrote to TJ asking if I could send him a few more questions. His answers are here:

1. Where does your interest in France come from?
My Grandfather was an author who loved European literature and culture so we were always encouraged to read from his library and I fell in love with France through books, mainly 18tth century and 19th century histories, travel stories and early novels. Like most Australians, we had a great mixture of predecessors  from all over Europe including England, Scotland, France and even Schleswig- Holstein (as my grandfather was fond of telling) so European music, art and culture was a staple diet between trips to the beach and mucking around “in the bush”. Throw in a compulsive interest in French art and design then I suppose you have the recipe for the perfect Francophile. Mind you it was a close run thing between France and Regency England for a while.
2. Where does the (brilliant) name Papa Bouilloire come from?
I noticed that, unlike a sensible English (and Australian) hotel which usually supplies a kettle and some sort of tea and coffee making facilities, French hotels have no such thing. Consequently I thought it very clever of me to take a small electric kettle with me to France so that we could have a hot drink in the hotel in the evening. I proudly told this wonderfully sensible measure to my French friend thinking he would praise my good judgement. Unfortunately he was horrified and when I asked him what I was to do when I wanted a coffee in the evening he said simply “Why, you go out and buy one of course.” Because of my yokel attitude he dubbed me “Pa Kettle” in French and said it also matched my “pot boiler” writing style. We are still great friends but the name stuck.
3. Your Bouilloire writing style is deliberately ‘old-fashioned’. Does this reflect your own reading preferences?
I definitely prefer earlier writing and found the early English (and French) novels composed as a collection of letters particularly enjoyable. I also love Tobias Smollett’s great travel story “Humphrey Clinker” which no one seems to have heard of any more but is an absolutely hilarious tale of a misfit family’s journey through England and Europe in the late 18th century. These early novels never take themselves too seriously and I just love the mock heroic way they talk of the most mundane actions to show how absurd people and situations can be.
4. Where does your interest in porcelain come from?
In my other life I actually speak Japanese and developed an interest in Japanese art and antiques as part of my studies. In a strange twist I became aware of how much French art and design from the mid 19th Century until the 1920s was directly influenced by Japanese art and went from loving Japanese porcelain and art objects to European porcelain and antiques. I love the fact that most of the Impressionists were also great collectors of Japanese woodblock prints.
5. Who do you support when France play the Wallabies? (Had to put that in, being Welsh, but maybe you don’t like rugby at all!)
Western Australia has only just become Rugby wise. When I grew up it was strictly Cricket and Australian Rules Football. We had heard of Rugby and soccer but only as something “The Brits” play. I would have to say Wallabies out of loyalty and a sense of hope for the underdog. [Comment: Perhaps when they play the All Blacks, TJ, but they’re never the underdogs against Wales!]
With TJ’s consent, I share these answers with you, and for those who don’t know it, invite you to visit his blog. It has some beautiful photographs, a haiku poetry challenge, and of course the Papa Bouilloire story, with the name now fully explained. Bonne lecture!

The end of this blog?


Llewellyn had been a soldier himself once, of a lowly rank. Never could he have achieved the status of those he was now so eager to watch: fifteen warriors, known as Dragons, the finest men of the realm, selected to fight for their country. On the outcome of this battle depended the future of his homeland.

He was far away. Sent on a distant mission, he had no grandstand view of the battlefield, which was bordered on all sides by a moat where crocodiles lived. But he’d made his way to a vantage point and had the next best thing – a pair of magic glasses, procured after much haggling from a peddler of wondrous devices. As the signal was given, and the first attack was launched, he squinted through them and marvelled to see each thrust and parry, each clash of sword and mace.

It wasn’t a senseless battle: there were rules. Points were awarded for each opponent thrown into the moat, and at the end, the whole country of the losing side must swear fealty to the victors. Llewellyn’s heart was in his mouth – the Dragons would either emerge victorious or bow down to their dreaded enemy, the Roses.

For 70 minutes, the combat swung back and forth, each soldier straining to push his opponent back, but not a single man yielded. Then, with ten minutes remaining, the Roses found a new resolve, slowly driving the Dragons towards the moat.

Unable to bear the tension, Llewellyn looked away. He uttered a prayer. The next few seconds would decide the future of his country. Eventually, his mouth dry with apprehension, he turned his head – and saw nothing.

‘What?’ He fiddled with the controls, shook the glasses furiously, desperate to see even the haziest blur that would tell him if his country had won or lost.

A couple of passers-by, who stood, perplexed and alarmed, observing him, later spoke of a madman hysterically jumping up and down on the remains of an inanimate object.

This is a true story. It’s happened before and I fear in my bones it’s going to happen again. Tonight. The Six Nations. Wales v. England. That’s Rugby Union, if you’re wondering. The rules are slightly different from what I’ve described, but basically that’s what it comes down to. Getting no official coverage in Mayotte, I have to go through some shady internet streaming site that chooses to freeze at the most vital, heart-stopping moment. So please don’t worry if you hear no more from this blog henceforth. It’ll simply mean I’ve smashed my computer.

British? What’s that?

I left the topic of nationality on the prickly question of Britishness. And prickly’s the word – not for nothing have our Celtic friends north of the border adopted the thistle as an emblem. Whether they ever secede remains to be seen, but they’ve got the message across: not all Brits are created equal.

When I say friends, I also mean cousins. Because my Mum was all Welsh (but would have preferred to be anything but) and my Dad was half Welsh (but didn’t seem to mind what he was). Which makes me 3/4. But then, shortly after becoming French, I annexed the remaining quarter. Think of it as a form of compensation.

Strictly speaking, it was probably more than a quarter. We lived in Powys, then called Radnorshire, a stone’s throw from the border. Practically on top of Offa’s Dyke. I went to school in England. Never spoke Welsh in my life. Still don’t know the words to Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau. Never been to an eisteddfod. Don’t like leeks. Got an accent as RP as they come. People say to me, ‘Welsh? You haven’t got an accent.’ And I answer, ‘No, I’ve lost it.’ Truth is, I never had it.


Prediction: We’ll be leading until five minutes from the end. And Gatland will say, ‘There were some positives to be taken from the game. But we have to be more clinical.’

But as Tom Waits put it , ‘I never saw my home town till I stayed away too long.’ Or in my case, ‘Never found my Welshness till the French got it all wrong.’ Because after the millionth time you’ve heard all Brits referred to as ‘les anglais’, you start to feel the tug of those non-English roots, drawing you back where you came from. A windswept hill with clumps of fern and grass grazed bare by sheep. Might not be everyone’s bowl of broth but hey, to me it was home. Cymru am byth!