26th February 2017

The excitement began last Tuesday.  All seemed a bit vague. Our notaire didn't contact us but the buyer casually mentioned that we should be at the notaire's on the 21st. No paperwork. Just his casual mention.  Oh, OK then. I made some cinnamon and ginger biscuits in an attempt to sweeten everyone up. Tuesday arrived and, from past experience, had to assume that the venue would be the buyer's notaire in Lisle sur Tarn. Arrived early comme d'habitude and bit our nails.  Would the buyer arrive? Walked in and stared sightlessly out of the window. Voices were heard in the car park. Buyer had turned up!  All were ushered into an office, I placed my biscuits centre table, and the spiel began. Questions were asked. Did we know of any reason that neighbours might object??
 No, not to our knowledge, we said....I know, I know. Papers were passed to and fro, signatures were requested on innumerable pieces of paper. Everyone ate a biscuit.  So, is that it? I asked our notaire.  Oui! she said. Finally, the house is sold and all monies would be sent immediately to our French bank!!! Meantime, we've agreed with the buyer to remain as tenants whilst we await completion of our new-build English house.  Perfect.  A new stage in our lives. Here's a pic of work in progress. Support all around...just what I need myself!


19th February 2017

As I and the NHS approach our 70th birthday, we both need a full body scan! No more standing on the scales myopically ignoring the obvious. The problem is nostalgia. No-one likes change, even when it's so obvious. Using the French health system shows up strikingly all that is wrong with the UK and the US systems. Here's a plan: 1. UK: raise your annual GDP from the current 9.1% to at least the French 11.5%. 2. US: introduce a national, fair system based on the French model. 3. Each government to pay 70% of all health costs; individuals 30% - the latter paid for via Government-approved, cheap health insurance. 4. Built-in safeguards for free access to the low-paid and the terminally ill. 5. Introduce French-style carte vitales, with built-in health history microchips to use at all pharmacies/hospitals/surgeries for instant, free access to care.  Why? UK: this will cut at a stroke the excessive queues for urgent care, no longer 'not enough beds', whilst providing free taxis from home to hospital for those with long-duration conditions. No need for so many highly-paid administrators as the system won't need them. US: no longer can you say you can't afford to go to the doctor.  Nostalgia? Forget it. It's a thing of the past.

12th February 2017

This comic opera called global politics continues... Have you seen the new Mr. President book by Steve Bannon (http://www.thepoke.co.uk/2017/02/08/donald-trump-mr-men-cartoon-just-superb/). Says it all really. Here in France it's not much better. Since the Conservative Fillon's fall from grace, who's left in the imminent race for the new French President?  Yes, you've guessed it: the current 'It girl francaise': Marine Le Pen.  And for other expats reading this, have you heard the latest from her lips?  She will stop all dual citizenship!  Does she realise, I wonder, that following Brexit there were only 2 options for British expats here: to take dual citizenship or go back to the UK?  Yet more booking their passage home then. Of course, there's always the new young garcon on the block, Emmanuel Macron, who plans to stand in the election under the banner of En Marche!, a centrist movement he founded in April. But already there's a closet gay suspicion about him. Shouldn't make a difference but in the world of anonymous voting, who knows? So, the right-wing bandwagon morphs on.
...Bacharach's comic song springs to mind: One wheel on my wagon and I'm still rolling along.....

5th February 2017

Back in France after a whirlwind tour of all the 'scenic routes' of Birmingham. I know, I know...but so much has changed in 12 years. There were the familiar Burlington and Piccadilly arcades; turn a corner and Mars has landed. And don't even mention the University I worked at for 30 years. What's happened to the old Gun Barrels Pub on the corner? Now a sports centre it seems.
So, what's happened whilst I've been away? A terrorist attack by a machete-wielding Egyptian in the Louvre, and PenelopeGate in French politics. Seems the Conservative frontrunner, Fillon, has been paying his wife and family loads of government money. Still prefer him, though, to the alternative...And that man over the pond is still grabbing all the headlines. Despite Theresa May's charm offensive (she's the charm, he's the offensive!), to the rest of the world he clearly didn't go to presidential school nor to diplomacy college, preferring to use the old streetcred tactics he learnt on the backstreets of downtown Bronx. I picture him as the worst kind of nightclub bouncer:  no, this is my place and if I say you can't come in, you can't come in. Has much changed, then, in the week I've been away?  No. The world's still just as mad as ever.

29th January 2017.

We're in the U.K.  Should we go ahead and progress the purchase of a house or not? There lies the rub. What does Him indoors say? So we went to the site with son Jon who thinks we're mad anyway. Why would anyone move from the south of France to grey, rainy England?  Take a look at what Clarkson said in last week's ST. Pretty clear. He says Nice is his fave place of all time. But - and here's the punchline- only to visit on holiday. Never to live there permanently. There's only so many boule games you can play and what's the rest of the family gonna do there?
Decided then. Follow Clarkson and Branson's advice: screw it. Let's do it!  House reg signed. And Him indoors? Can't go wrong following Clarkson's advic

22nd January 2017

"The man on the podium raised his right arm in salute. The crowd were in a frenzy, screaming themselves hoarse 'ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer.' There was even a band playing nationalistic music...The crowd whispered that in front of them stood their saviour - the man who promised to give them at long last their prosperity and a better life..."  Extract from Lamplight (authl.it/4q0) by Olga Swan
Yesterday Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the USA, bringing with him a new era of nationalism, alongside Putin of Russia, Modi of India, Xi of China and Erdogan of Turkey et al. Their talk of international relations takes us back to the 19C world of sovereign powers following their own national interests. Here in France, the V-P of France's Front Nationale declared 'French independence soon'. Reminded me of my own words in Vichyssoise (amzn.to/2bg3kkG) after the French - like the current US voters - voted in the 'wrong' man, Petain, who then went on to 'collaborate' with Hitler: "Gentlemen, I propose armistice with Hitler..." Will Trump soon 'collaborate' with Putin? This world of mutually-congratulatory nationalism is ruining all the post-war endeavours of so many presidents and other global leaders, and threatening the very existence of Nato's guarantee to Europe. This nationalism we've seen before. Always starts with high hopes and crowd fervour and always ends in tears.  I'm old enough to remember the Cuban missile crisis. Are we heading for another similar nationalistic leader clash against maybe Xi? Let's hope Trump doesn't end up like Petain: tried and condemned by his own countrymen!

15th January 2017

A great big tree grows near our house; it's been there quite some time
Woodman, woodman, spare that tree; touch not a single bough
This tree's a slipp'ry elm and very hard to climb, the only tree my wife can't climb..
For years it has protected me and I'll protect it now.
Phil Harris 1947
Since the storm in November I've awaited a local woodman to call and take away 3 trees that fell in our garden. But, as usual, nothing moves fast in France. At last, a lorry arrived and 3 Frenchmen scratched their heads whilst contemplating the work. At last they came to a decision: they would need to chop up the giant lime into smaller chunks before carting away. Now, before you tell me we should have kept them: it was a living tree, so therefore usable as firewood only after we've left. But they agreed to chop up the other two (dead) trees which are now safely logged and providing warmth in our salon poelle each night. Success.
Yesterday on France24 news, the Donald was spouting his own peculiar brand of 'wisdom' re building his own barrier between him and his neighbour Mexico, and with typical chutzpah, sending the bill to them! What's next: an even bigger wall along the length of Canada or between Alaska and Canada?? No, Donald. The aim of a world leader is to tear down barriers, not erect them. Whilst shaving this morning he must have been singing his own version of the Phil Harris song: 'Congress, congress, spare that wall..it's very hard to climb; for years it will protect me and I'll protect it now...'