27th December 2009

Bruno, our mad 'chasseur' gundog, was lonely. I asked Him indoors whether we should think the unthinkable and get him a little friend to play with. 'Are you mad?' he said. 'We can't control Bruno as it is. How are we gonna look after two? And think of the vet's fees if they get ill?' Practical as always. But, being a woman, I persisted and so, when a nearby friend suggested we accompany her on one of her regular visits to nearby Figeac rescue centre, I dragged the reluctant Him indoors and a panting Bruno (or was it the other way round?) to the most heartbreaking place you could imagine. There are hundreds of abandoned dogs there and because it's not funded by the SPA (French RSPCA), they struggle to house and feed them. One of the dogs that my friend regularly exercises was a cute Springer spaniel, a gundog like Bruno, but black with brown freckles on the nose. The good thing here was that the dog itself had no specific 'issues' - she was there simply because the owner was an alcoholic and could no longer look after her. She was so so placid, unlike Bruno (and Him indoors) and I thought maybe she would act as a calming influence. How could I resist?
We're now back home and I'm looking out at the front garden. Him indoors is busy raking the leaves and Bruno and her new pal Tina are racing around, stirring them all up again.
I 'ordered' our new doggie Tina on the same day as my new children's book 'Tina and the Colosseum of Rome' (2nd in the Rainbow series, after 'Rose') became available on Amazon.
A happy ending after all!

20th December 2009

There's snow all around and 'tis the season for goodwill, so we decided to go to the annual festivities put on by the old-age group in the village here. I know! It'd be all right if all those old people weren't there. But, him indoors was in the right spirit -or rather he'd had a tot of the right spirit before we left - so we tottered along. And you know what? It was really rather good. The catering was the usual French fare: 500 courses, so if you didn't like anything, you just waited around and, like the buses back home, another one was sure to turn up. Whilst eating the salad, I asked the toothless French lady what was in the salad. She kept saying something that sounded like 'mashmash'. I thought it was her lack of teeth, but asked someone else. It was 'mache' - lamb's lettuce. So now we know.
Of course, him indoors not wanting to waste a comedy moment whilst the accordionist was playing, regaled all the English with his usual patter. 'A man went into a '60's/70's music shop and asked the proprietor if he had anything by the Doors. The moronic man replied Yes sir: a fire bucket and fire extinguisher'. And during the dessert course: 'What d'ya call a blindfolded horse? Mascapone!' And, whilst talking of sport: 'A jockey, whilst winning the race, was hit by an apple seed. He was pipped at the post.' Can't leave out football. 'The Sheffield football manager was fired for only working 5 days a week - he couldn't manage Wednesday!'
Hope all that has cheered one and all. Season's Greetings from Olga - your favourite blogger in France!

13th December 2009

There was a survey that showed that 45 million people worldwide would like to move permanently to France and start a new life here. Apparently France came joint second, above the US. Imagine! There are probably many reasons why people are fed-up with their lives at present, wherever they live. But for me, my favoured place must contain the following ideals:
A community that shows respect for each other, for people in authority and for those older than themselves. A place where families, rather than the State, take on the responsibility for looking after their own families, especially the older members. In this ideal scenario, there would be many knock-on effects. Taxes would be less, because the State would no longer be expected to pick up the tab on just about everything. There would be fewer hooligans on the streets because the families and society would take on the old idea of teaching their young respect for others. The police would therefore be able to target their resources on major crimes. Our hospitals and care homes would be freed-up to cater for those in real need, rather than those for whom no-one in the family was prepared to help out at times of crisis. Schools could go back to the old idea of teaching Eng, Maths, Biol, History and Geog, rather than crowd-control.
I have a dream, brothers and sisters...
But in the meantime, France rural life will do for me.

6th December 2009

For my birthday I bought myself one of those super-dooper laptops. In my old life (i.e. in the UK), this would have been the height of extravagance but things change. Possessions I used to have back then that were so important are now no longer so. Living in a remote part of France, new items that previously would have been considered a luxury now become an absolute necessity.
A large part of my life here is spent writing and dealing with administration/banking/shopping - all dealt with remotely. As such, being a worrying sort of a person, I began to think what if this 'fixed' PC breaks down? What if that elusive publisher suddenly decides to offer me a 7-book contract and wants my manuscripts pronto and the PC doesn't work?
So, I bought a portable laptop. However, nothing comes easy. It's a Dell Inspiron - naturally bought on-line. I managed to get it customised: i.e. bought in France so it complies with French modem requirements(?), but with English qwerty keyboard (clavier) and English Microsoft 7 set-up etc. Thought I'd done everything, but it's now arrived and - help - I can't connect it to the internet!! Unfortunately the instructions are all in French. Suddenly everyone's talking tech. jargon to me: have you got a wireless router?? How many gigabytes? If I need to connect it somehow to the PC, what's the point of it being portable?
Why when you buy something do you have to be an expert on stuff beyond your understanding? Why can't things be simple like they used to be years ago? When I think back to those glorious years of learning to type on an Imperial typewriter, when did it all change?
I'm getting too old for all this.

29th November 2009

I see that Thierry Henry, the French footballer, is all over the news for his 'hand of God' efforts to secure World Cup entry for France. At least I was able to watch on free French TV. Why isn't Britain allowed free access to show nationalistic spirit any more?
However, like Henry and Maradonna before him, everyone today will 'spin' or out-manoevre everything and everybody to achieve easy success for themselves. Whether it's reality TV, football or even politics, you must win at all costs.
Similarly, there is spin and 'corruption' in the slow build-up to a new EU State. It's never the best 'man' for the job any more - merely a way to progress hidden agendas. The unknown English Baroness was given a new role merely so that the former French foreign minister Michel Barnier could be named as new financial man for the EU. There were the usual howls of dissent from Britain, but what could they expect? How could you choose a British EU financier when they hadn't even embraced the euro?
However, a new EU nation is definitely rising. Whether you like it or not, a new (more moderate) power has risen from the ashes of continual war - to rival America in the global power stakes. It'll be interesting to see what comes next. Will current countries become individual 'States' of a new federalist Europe? Will they keep their identities or slowly merge into one autonomous whole? For me, all that matters is world peace. Everything else comes second.

22nd November 2009

Visitors to rural France often comment that they don't know what people actually do behind all those shuttered up houses. As you drive through French villages, the inhabitants seem to have all left home, everywhere deathly quiet. Closed-up volets, empty streets, not a scrap of litter, the few shops dark, and restaurants always closed outside those crucial hours of 12 - 2 and 7 - 9. I often expect to see a sign outside saying 'gone to lunch'. So, where exactly is everybody? And, if they are at home, what are they actually doing?
There was a court case recently where a nosey-parker in Aix en Provence regularly climbed a tree in his garden to observe his neighbours during the volets-open season. He spent hours in the ash tree that overlooked his neighbours' property from where he took photos of what was happening. From his high perch, he was able to see not only what was going on in their garden, but could also see right into their kitchen, living room and even the couple's upstairs bedroom. After the police said that no criminal action was being committed (typical!), the exasperated couple brought a civil action against him in the French courts. But, even the judges proclaimed that the man didn't seem to be causing any nuisance! Eventually, an appeal to the supreme court of France, le Cour de Cassation, succeeded. The man has now been ordered to stay out of the tree.
But, that still doesn't answer the question: what exactly is it that French people do in rural France? I must contact that tree-climbing man in Aix en Provence and ask him.

15th November 2009

There's an expat website called TotalFrance. They asked me whether I knew anyone who had gone back to the UK and what resources we had called upon to cope with the ongoing problem.
And my answer? Like everyone else today, we have to make a choice. Nowhere's perfect. Is it better for me and 'him indoors' to return to the land of grey skies, chewing-gum-encrusted pavements and general air of self-deprecating depression? Or should we stay here and benefit from the 'free' sunshine, clean air and joie de vivre of the French?
But, I hear you say, what about money? Well, yes. We can't escape that, but would we be any better off back home? Probably not, and we no longer have a home back there. Keep checking your bank balance on the web - it's no good burying your head in the sand - and follow tips on how to survive financially as an expat senior citizen in France:
1. In the winter, collect free firewood wherever you see it - along the river banks, woods etc.
2. On your annual French tax return, claim for any eco-work you've had done on the house. Last year, amazingly, I received a cheque from the French Centre des Impots for 2,000 euros!
3. If disaster strikes and your spouse passes away, you can claim 1 year's bereavement allowance from the UK.
4. If you're over 65 and your income is less than 1,100 euros p.m. for a couple, claim means-tested ASPA from French social security - look it up on the web.
5. Buy the return leg of trips back home from a UK website in pounds.
6. Go to big supermarkets like Intermarche on days when they offer discounts and get a store card. On average, I receive c.5 euros off my bill every trip.
Above all, keep weighing up the balances and wait for next year's sunshine - something you can definitely rely on here!

8th November 2009

All the TV programmes in the last few weeks, English and French, have shown presenters wearing the ubiquitous red poppy - even the presenters on last night's Strictly Come Dancing. What few realise is that it was a French woman who developed the idea. Back in 1920 Madame E. Guerin saw a market for mass-producing paper poppies to raise money for veterans, their dependants and destitute French children. She assembled a group of war widows in N. France to make artificial flowers by hand and approached veterans' organisations across the globe to join the poppy appeal. And from there, the idea blossomed, so to speak.
Whether you commemorate Remembrance Day today or, like the French, at the 11th hour on the 11th day, it's always good for the soul to take a few minutes in your life. Few of us remember anyone who died in WW1, so I personally like to remember those in my own family who died during my lifetime. Unfortunately, by the time I was 24, as many as 8 family members had died - with many more since. If no-one remembers you after you've gone, what's the point of your life? So, here in our village, on Wednesday I'll walk to the tiny memorial in the central square and listen to the lone accordianist play La Marseillaise....allons enfants de la patrie..ye.., and realise my own mortality.
And then, from Thursday, I'll get on with my life. There's much to get done. I mustn't waste a second...

1st November 2009

There's not a day goes by without a pic of an 'airbrushed' Sarkozy in the French press. He uses all the aids he can get to look taller and more attractive - especially when pictured next to the tall, glamorous Carla.
But now a French MP is mounting a campaign against 'touched up' images. Valerie Boyer, who represents the governing UMP party in Marseilles, says enough is enough. She's the mother of three teenagers and a leading campaigner on bulimia and anorexia. She says that ultra-perfect pictures 'created' via computer programs such as Photoshop can lead people to believe in realities that do not exist. She argues that if advertisers are not allowed to tell lies about their products, they should not be permitted to show misleading pictures either.
Well, yes! But I would go further. My main gripe with the L'Oreal ads is that they use models who have obviously had face-lifts, Botox etc. - and then try to tell us that their looks are entirely due to the cream they're promoting! L'Oreal should be prosecuted under the trades-descriptions Act for misleading the public. Similarly with all those shampoo ads. The models are picked because they have good hair in the first place - not after they've used the shampoo. When I use the product, my hair doesn't (and never will) look like that!
In the meantime, I'll follow the Brigitte Bardot lead and do my own natural thing. (Still wish I looked like her, though).

25th October 2009

As we struggle to change all the digital clocks back one hour this morning, I can't help but think that more than anything else that's happened in my lifetime, it's the constant advance of technology that's the most worrying. Yes, I know, technology is supposed to be a good thing. But in my view it needs to be targeted better, or we'll all be the worse for it.
Take mobile phones. New results from a £20million, decade-long WHO investigation, has revealed that heavy mobile phone users face a higher risk of developing brain tumours later in life. Children, in particular, need to learn to use such devices for important, not spurious, reasons. France, quite rightly, is one of the first governments to publish the risk and take urgent action. The problem is that so often the benefits of technology are being taken over for stupid, commercial reasons, like Wiifi and other games. We're constantly urged to buy a new Nintendo 'brain' game, when surely a Sudoko book or simple paper crossword puzzle would work just as well?
I would urge all techno engineers to target their expensive efforts away from the superfluous to the real needs of society. It makes me smile to see such wonderful new plasma, super-thin TVs - but still with the old fiddly plugs attached. Come on techno whizz-kids, give us simple click-on plugs with click-in fuses, i.e. really useful aids in this techno age.

18th October 2009

I see that Big Brother and Jeremy Clarkson are at it again. A new black box in cars and lorries has been designed to give a verdict on our driving performance, red, amber and green lights installed in the cab. I wonder what happens if, heaven-forbid, you get the dreaded red? Stand in the corner of the motorway with a dunce's cap on? And, Clarkson is no better in his different way. Every article he writes shows him slavering over some super-shiny new boys-toy that zooms at racetrack speeds in 0.1 secs.
And the French? Their latest wheeze is to make cars from flax! I kid you not. PSA, the French motoring group that makes Peugeots and Citroens, has a 'wonderful' plan to increase by six-times the natural and renewable materials used in all its vehicles by 2015 to reduce energy use and CO2 emissions.
But, hang on a minute here. Has anybody bothered to ask people like me what I would like in a vehicle? Here is my top-ten list, and it has nothing to do with CO2 emissions, Ferrari-like engines, or even appearance:
1. It MUST start every time I turn the ignition.
2. It should be made to last much much longer than current models.
3. It should cost much much less than currently.
4. It should have a super-safe exterior, capable of keeping me safe in the event of a crash.
5. Stronger tyres so that in the event of a flat, I can still drive to the nearest garage.
6. In-built phone as standard, with link to nearest garage.
7. Impossible to steal.
8. Oh, and if possible, can the rear have some built-in doggie-friendly components, e.g. unspillable water/food bowl, plastic bone, unchewable/replaceable mat, doggie seat-belt etc.?
9. Small enough to park easily.
10. Easy enough for a woman to maintain without being a techno/mechanical genius.
Is there a car manufacturer out there who is willing to listen to what I want, not Clarkson??

11th October 2009

Global warming and its effects are still much in the news. Despite the fact that many, including me, cast serious doubt over whether it's caused by man's actions at all, we are still going to have to deal with each government's alarming hysteria over it all.
I read that UK households can expect £2,000-a-year energy bills over the next decade if the country is to hit 'greenhouse gas targets' and build enough new power stations — and thousands of wind turbines — to secure the nation's energy supplies.
And even normally slow France has caught the fever too. A new taxe carbone will put up vehicle fuel and domestic energy costs from January. It will cost the average family 74 euros extra per year. However, before the excitable French race to block the barricades, Sarkozy has promised tax rebates. Each adult will get 46 euros if they live in an urban area, whilst those in rural areas like me will get 61 euros back. For those who pay French income tax, the rebate will come off next year's first provisional payment in February. For those who don't pay income tax because of poverty or criminal intent (!), a cheque will be sent.
PM Francois Fillon calls all this "a real ecological and fiscal revolution". I call it a load of rubbish, trying to 'fix' something as elusive as global warming, which could well be a result of normal astrological development, well out of man's ability to fix. But, comme d'habitude, it's the ordinary man in the street who always has to pay.

4th October 2009

I see that, surprisingly, Ireland has voted resoundingly in favour of the EU's Lisbon Treaty in a re-run referendum, overturning a previous No vote. I say surprisingly because I thought that they would follow the standard English mindset: 'over my dead body...'. And yet, there are many people applauding the Irish today - including me. Somehow you get a clearer picture when you move away from entrenched opinions. The ancient nomads only saw the whole of Mt. Sinai when they moved further away.
Talking about the Middle East, did you read the astounding news that Mr. 'I'm in a dinner jacket' , controversial leader of Iran, was born Jewish to Jewish parents? Apparently his family decided to convert to Islam when he was a boy, changing their name and religion in the process. As I understand it, those who convert to Islam must decry their former religion. So, the Iranian leader, rather like Hitler before him, has Jewish connections. There are other similarities too: both had a previously misunderstood, pathological hatred of everything Jewish. But now, all is clear. Guilt, Guilt, Guilt! If I had my way, leaders of all nations should have a psychological clean bill of health approved before they are allowed to be elected. But then, when did non-democracies ever listen to reason?
So, let's hope that Ireland's truly forward-thinking vote will progress to a fully-democratic world where isolated, psychologically-disturbed, leaders are consigned to the wilderness where they belong. Even if the new EC president is likely to be our own Tony Blair..........

27th September 2009

Some time ago I wrote of an internet scam whereby £500 was taken out of my bank account by fraudsters unknown. Some, including me, may well have thought that in future you'd avoid buying things via the internet and only write cheques in future. Well, now it seems that even that payment method is open to abuse, especially here in France.
A British fraudster called Warren Templeton recently stole millions of euros from expats. He posed as a financial advisor, asking his victims to make out cheques to a well-known French bank Societe Generale. He told them that he would invest their money into one of the bank's high interest funds. Instead, the conman was able to pay the money directly into his own personal accounts - and fund his own lavish lifestyle of luxury cars and a chateau in the Dordogne.
What is particularly worrying is that it is apparently standard practice in France for a customer to be able to deposit a cheque into their own account, despite it being made out in the bank's name. All you need to do is sign the back of the cheque! This practice has been outlawed in many countries, including the UK, for many years - but not in France!
So, expats in France, be warned. If you need to make out a cheque to an organisation, make sure you also include a specific account no. on the payee line. If you don't know these details, put something on the back of the cheque like 'the destination of this cheque is ...... and is intended only for the benefit of......(your own name)/it should not be countersigned'.

20th September 2009

I'm back! Somehow I'm still in one piece, but I don't know how. On Friday, me and 'him indoors' returned to France from a great trip to the USA, but the return journey was a complete disaster. Don't get me wrong - the planes landed safely, but everything else that could go wrong, did. The American end of the flight ran smoothly enough. The trouble started at the changeover at Heathrow. We were very tired at the London customs point and almost didn't notice the beep as we walked through the customs xray door. But now I understand why Diana Ross made all that fuss several years ago. For some reason we were both roughly body-searched. Yes - us - an ordinary couple in our 60s. Then, whilst struggling to put on our shoes and other outerwear, a rude second official said, and I quote, 'if you don't hurry up and move your bags from the belt, I won't be responsible for my actions!' When we finally boarded the European flight, we - along with the rest of the passengers - sat for some time listening to a horrendous 'sawing' noise coming from one of the engines. Eventually, the pilot said there was a fault and that we'd all have to get off the plane and wait for another one to be made ready. But, shouldn't the engineers have checked everything before we all boarded?? And, had the second plane been checked? Didn't fill nervous fliers like me with much confidence. Two very weary passengers arrived at Blagnac, Toulouse after 10 hours travelling without any sleep, only to find our checked baggage missing - the only ones from the whole flight! Had they gone astray in the US, at Heathrow or here? As usual, no officials in sight as we frantically tried to locate them. Eventually I spotted a BA stewardess and she explained to me. The monitors that showed that our flight's baggage had gone to belt 2 did not refer to those, like us, who had made a connecting flight from somewhere else! Oh - I should have realised that??? Our bags were sitting all on their own on a completely different belt, but as I struggled to put them at last on our trolley, a customs official appeared from nowhere and asked me what was in my cardboard box. I told him it was a new pool cover bought in the US. Where is the receipt? I didn't know or care. But, when I told him the price in dollars, he shrugged and said O.K. waving us on and out of the airport. You think that was the end of it? No. When we went to the carpark payment machine, we discovered a horrendous charge because, whilst we were away, our usual P2 park had changed from long-stay to a daily rate.
Sometimes I wonder why we go on holiday at all! Oh well, c'est la vie!

2nd September 2009

A while ago I wrote about Vera Lynn, the 'forces' sweetheart'. As tomorrow will be the 70th anniversary of the start of WW2, I was amazed to see that Vera is the oldest person ever to appear in the music charts - her new album is currently no. 20! Not bad for someone in their 90s.
It seems that I'm not the only one to love the nostalgia of the old days. The old Victorine Studios in Nice, that produced such memorable films in the '50s as 'To Catch a Thief' by Hitchcock, starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, has now been reborn by popular demand as Studios Riviera. Another film from the same studios starred that French bombshell Brigitte Bardot in the never-to-be-forgotten 'Et Dieu..Crea la Femme' (And God Created Woman) in 1956.
When BB first burst onto the film scene, France was in post-war austerity and her vivaceous looks and wanton displays on film made her box-office dynamite. Unfortunately time never stands still, and BB is 75 this month. Famously she has eschewed cosmetic surgery as she now concentrates on animal welfare and her love of St. Tropez.
To mark BB's 75th, the first ever exhibition of her life opens on the 29th of this month in Boulogne-Billancourt where she filmed 6 of her films. If you're in the region, don't miss it. Called The Carefree Years, it includes extracts from her films, details of her lovers, posters and, of course, images of the young BB with heavy eyeliner and a riot of tumbling blond hair. The exhibition runs until next January, entrance 11 euros.
And me? I'm feeling a little old too so will take some time out to recharge my batteries. Don't worry....I'll be back reinvigorated on the 20th.

30th August 2009

I've always hated guns. I just don't understand why anyone would want to take someone's or something's life away. And to those who belong to 'responsible' shooting clubs and ask why they should be denied such enjoyment, I would ask if people should be allowed to use atomic bombs for bowling practice - after all, they're responsible people and they enjoy it, so why not?? And, for protection? If there were no guns, then no-one would need protecting from one. Man is a temperamental beast and inevitably, when he is angered, he may well reach for the nearest weapon. It's a vicious circle. Be like a woman: no-one ever got killed from a rolling-pin!
So, I dread the start of the hunting season in France, which runs from Sep - Mar each year. The hunters make up their own rules, especially when the land borders two departements with different rules. No self-respecting dog-owner can even think of walking in the woods at this time for fear of being shot! The hunters themselves are required to wear fluorescent jackets, but what about everyone else? I was pleased to see that wildlife preservation group Aspas has called for more controls to be put on the sport and has described the lack of a single nationwide set of rules as 'scandalous'.
But, if you're unfortunate enough to own property within 150m of 'hunting' land, beware! It's no good saying 'I told you so' after you've been well and truly shot. Whether it's an accident or not, you're still dead!

23 August 2009

I see the English A-level results are out. They make disappointing reading. Today no-one fails. After a lifetime spent working in university admissions, never have I seen a time when practically every applicant offers straight As or Bs. Years ago, this was rare - such students inevitably going to high-flying medical schools. Universities are now reduced to offering their own more rigorous entrance exams, making a nonesense of the A-level exam in general.
So, what does France do? At 15, continuing education is decided by exam, students with the greatest aptitude going to a lycee (high school) until 18 to study for the baccalaureat exam. In the second form, students can choose to follow the vocational system in law, science, medicine, dentistry, fine arts etc. or the more rigorous selection system. A much better system.
In today's Guardian, the UK government-appointed science tsar, John Holman, says that science exams are 'not fit for purpose'. I would go further and say that the whole English education system is not fit for purpose. Many years ago I wrote to the then Education Minister, Sir Keith Joseph, and said that what was needed was to retain the excellent grammar school system but to upgrade the old English secondary-moderns to new, improved technical schools offering apprenticeship schemes allied to industry. But, what did they do? Abolish the grammar schools, and send everyone to dummed-down Comprehensives! If only they had listened to me!

16 August 2009

Full summer in the Tarn et Garonne. Temperature: 37 degrees and rising. Pool: like chicken soup. Tourists everywhere: mainly Brits and Dutch. You can tell the Dutch: taller, thinner versions of the Brits, but they don't spend any money, they arrive in caravans, and even though they're entering the land of le bien manger, they bring their drink and sandwiches with them.
For those who are gite owners, there's the usual confusion over taxes. French bureaucracy rules O.K. 2 main types of tax: auto-entrepreneur and the micro system. Difference? Under the former, you have to pay mandatory 'social charges' (as do all French employees; it's like English N.I.) based on turnover, while for the latter tax is paid on profit after expenses. Apparently the crucial difference is if you are providing extra services (!), then it's deemed a business and you pay 21.3% social charges rate.
As someone who never understood tax laws even in the UK, don't ask me. Why do the authorities have to make things so difficult? Well, I'll tell you. It's the same on the roads. They love to instal as few kph road signs as possible, for long, long stretches of road, so that strangers never know the max speed limit. Then, as with the 'deliberate' tax obfuscation - someone in authority can enjoy schadenfreude and bonus points at catching as many 'criminals' as possible.Oh no, I fear the job's worth song 's here yet again:
Job's worth, job's worth
It's more than my job's worth
I don't care, rain or snow,
whatever you want, the answer's no
I can keep you waiting for ever in the queue
And if you don't like it, you know what you can do....

9 August 2009

Ever since the days of Enoch Powell there's been discrimination against immigrants, all over the world. In those far off days when first I read his 'rivers of blood' speech, I never thought we ourselves would one day be immigrants in a foreign land. But, here we are. And what has all this taught me? That there are many things we can learn from others - especially how they look after and care for their families.
Here in France there is a law that says 'children owe maintenance to their father and mother or other ascendants who are in need'. For this law to kick in, the father or mother (or both) must be in need; that is to say he or she cannot sustain themselves as their estate and revenues are too little. In this case children are personally obliged to contribute, in proportion to their respective wealth. However, the obligation of a spouse to maintain his/her spouse comes first, so the children can refuse to comply if the other parent is still alive and in a position to provide.
When parents and children do not live in the same country, the Hague Convention applies (signatories include the US and the EU). In practice this means that if a parent lives in the UK but the children live in France, the parent could apply to a French law to enforce the maintenance responsibilities. Elsewhere, it's possible but costly to enforce a ruling abroad.
But what a thing, when you need to go to court for something that should come naturally. Wasn't it the 4th commandment (or was it the 5th?): honour thy mother and father?
So, those arriving families from the 3rd world - with grandmothers in tow - can still teach us a thing or two.

2nd August 2009

Have you noticed how TV's obsession with gameshow formats is seeking ever-strange genres? Recently I was watching Masterchef with that cheeky Greg Wallace - the one with the dimples, hinting of a seedy past. Masterchef is a kind of Hell's Kitchen meets Pop Idol, putting contestants through hell for the gullible viewer. And now I read that Meryl Streep is to appear in a film about America's original TV chef, Julia Child.
Why food as a genre all of a sudden? We live in an age where more and more people are over-large. I should know. What I don't need is TV programmes showing me the delights of wonderful food. The irony is that when I was young, I was skinny in an age when everyone aspired to be a curvy Jayne Mansfield, and now I am Jayne Mansfield, everyone aspires to be Victoria Beckham. You just can't win.
And yet I live in the land of le bien manger. What to do? Well, I've learned more about food in the last 4 years than I ever did in the UK. Just think: I now know how to open a jar or bottle that's jammed tight. No, don't laugh. I remember in the '50s my late mother ruining the kitchen door by twisting the offending lid in the door jamb. It was actually a Frenchman who told me pityingly that all I had to do was turn the jar upside-down and run hot water under the rim for a few secs. Similarly, to avoid crying while peeling onions, don't cut the root off until you've finished chopping.
And la piece de resistance? If you want to lose weight, don't return to all those horrible foods in the UK like oily cheap diet margarine. Eat good quality food, but use a smaller plate.

26th July 2009

It was our anniversary on Thursday, so how to mark it? We enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Le Moulin restaurant, on the banks of the Aveyron, a short stroll from our house. And Bruno, the dog came too. He likes to lie under the table, especially fretwork ones with holes in, so that he can benefit from any manna from heaven coming his way.
Tourist season in French villages means there are local fetes everywhere. As there was an Occitan-dance listed in nearby Negrepelisse, we and two visiting friends decided to go. Occitan is a dialect linking Spain with France. In fact, the Languedoc region is named after it (Lange means language, so 'Language of Oc'), and some car reg. plates display the letters OC. We arrived to find the usual French lack of commercialism. We parked where we liked. No yellow lines, nor car parking attendant. No admission charge, and no ice-cream stalls or similar. The music was a cross between English, Scottish and Irish, and the dancing merged the old country dancing we all did at school with barn dancing and lots of stamping of feet. Great fun, even though in the dance which started with a circle, with partners moving around, Him indoors found himself partner-less halfway through, with another single individual on the other side of the circle! Good excuse for a drink.

19th July 2009

Every week I help out at the tiny bibliotheque and tourist office in the village where we live. I was quite pleased with myself over the winter months. However, my comfort zone was shattered as soon as the warm weather arrived, hordes of tourists wanting instant answers to difficult questions.
In some ways my sessions there have been liberating. I realised that here in France nothing is 'signposted' for you. You sometimes have to learn about things by the 'seat of your pants'. Unlike in England, where these days everyone is treated like a child. English TV ads, whether the stupid Lloyds Bank puppets or food ads, all have juvenile images, even when programmed late at night. English signs too treat us all like babies: 'Caution - surfaces may become slippery when wet'; 'Walk this way'; at Horseguards Parade 'Beware - horses can kick and bite'. Bit by bit, safety notices swamp our intelligence: every few yards a sign warning about the dangers of slipping, tripping or wagging fingers saying you can't smoke, drink or run. From CCTV cameras to micro-chips, Big Brother is everywhere, watching your every step. Keep the emergency signs, of course, but the rest.....
Think I'll stay in rural France where there are no signs or CCTV at all. It may be 'every man for himself' but I prefer it to being treated like a child or a moron.

12th July 2009

A hundred years ago, a man called Schueller developed an innovative safe hair-dye formula in his French kitchen at home. This was despite his former boss warning him that his idea was 'very limited for the future'. But something spurred him on. He called his product 'Aureole', later becoming 'L'Oreal'. After his initial modest success, he employed the Oxford graduate Lindsay Owen-Jones who dreamed up the slogan 'Because I'm worth it'. That's all it needed. From Schueller's original 1909 notion of helping women to improve their natural hair colour, a business developed, an innovative slogan deployed which tapped into women's minds, and voila, suddenly there's a turnover of 17.5 billion euros!
Similarly, a hundred years ago this month, another 'mad' Frenchman had a strange idea. He decided to put together some ash planks and canvas, tied together with piano wire and perched the lot on a pair of cycle wheels. His name was Louis Bleriot. Despite the fact that his odd contraption actually managed to lift off the ground in Sangatte, just outside Calais, only a few locals bothered to turn out to witness the event. But, something caught the public's imagination.
All this makes me wonder how many other 'brilliant' ideas never see the light of day because either the mad inventor didn't have enough perseverence or chance didn't happen to step in. It's not just Alan Sugar you need; it's the 'chaos'/domino effect too to push the idea along. Sometimes, it's only a chance of fate that decides whether a 'strange' new idea takes off or whether it's left to languish forever unknown in someone's head.

5th July 2009

Someone once said that from the moment we're born, we're dying. We have to allow ourselves to grow old and learn to face the inevitable. Children must be educated. No longer must the young look at older people as if they're aliens from another planet. What they need to say is: that's me in years to come.
France is not only having to rethink its attitude to older people, but to elderly ex-pats too. Until now no French care home has accepted purely English-speaking residents. However, all that is changing. The new Residence Retraite Mouans-Sartoux, near Cannes on the Riviera, is being built as the first Anglo care home in France. It's about time. Research has shown that in dementia, one of the first things to go is the ability to speak a second language, so such people would be totally lost.
The costs, though large at 3,000 euros a month, still compare favourably with UK care homes. And, EU ex-pats can get social security benefits to help with costs through allocation personnalisee d'autonomie. There will also be some beds subsidised by social security which will be available to all as well as some limited financial aid from the home itself.
As in the UK, there is a growing realisation that the generational time-bomb is ticking. Too many old people versus younger, tax-paying contributors. But, in the meantime, the current older generation must help themselves financially. If nothing else, there is always the viager system to raise mortgage cash to fund a care home, which means your spouse can still remain in your own home.
Remember my phrase 'constructive negativism' - be aware of hazards and plan for the future so that you can relax and enjoy the present.

28th June 2009

I didn't intend watching Wimbledon because of all those grunting women players. So off-putting. But, tennis did develop in 12C France from a palm game called paume, and I had nothing better to do. And, once I'd hit the mute button, it was quite interesting.
Did you notice the uniforms that the officials were wearing? I think Wimbledon called in a so-called top fashion designer - probably one of the Queen's designers from nineteen hundred and frozen to death. All those office shirts with white collars, ties and tight white trousers....what on earth were they thinking of? These people - who tend to be middle-aged because of their years of experience in the game - have to lean forward at top speed to see whether the ball is out. (Incidentally, the ball popped out from the long skirt of one lady official like the goose who laid the golden egg). The last thing they need in the heat of summer is tight clothes, especially around the waist. What would I design? A simple light cotton tunic and loose cotton trousers (rather like hospital technicians wear) in Wimbledon colours of dark blue and green, so that they blend into the background - as do the ballboys/girls. This would also help disguise the many large-chested women officials! Why are English women so large-chested anyway? French women don' t seem to be; especially not the French player Mauresmo...but that's another story.
Did you see that other French player mid-week? He looked just like Sarkozy. But then, he did end up entangled with a young girl at the net on centre court, right in front of the cameras - no change there then!

21st June 2009

Following the terrible Air France disaster and yesterday's smaller air disaster in Eastern France, I see the investigators are still no nearer finding the reasons. Some say it was iced-up pitot tubes; others that it was the very stormy weather. What is clear is what I've always said, to much critical dismay, it remains dangerous to fly. In the air we all rely on myriads of things: pilot perfection, mechanical excellence, no turbulence, air traffic controller perfection, perfect flying by others, birds.......
So, I was interested to read about survival techniques in the Sunday Times. They talk my kind of language. 'Denial and inactivity prepare people well for the roles of victim and corpse!' So, I've very kindly listed below some survival tips for those about to gamble on flying. Ways to improve your odds:
1. Do not, like most people, freeze when something bad happens.
2. Do not follow your habitual patterns of behaviour. React instantly to the unexpected.
3. Memorise the safety card.
4. Remember where the exit doors are. If possible, sit right by one.
5. Wear suitable clothes. This is not the time to wear those 4 inch fashionista heels and tight-bandage dress. (Him indoors: please note).
6. Do not treat air travel like some kind of party in the air.
There are only 2 variables in air travel accidents: either complete disaster for everyone, or a situation where human pro-action can be the difference between life and death. Above all, think: what is your life worth?
Happy flying everyone.

14th June 2009

I was interested to see that the French euro coin still displays those historic words Liberté Egalité Fraternité. Freedom is such an emotive word. Yesterday, I was chatting to some English tourists in our local market. The sun was blazing down at 36 degrees, yet the topic of conversation was, for once, not the weather. 'You're so free here', said one. 'There are no yellow lines, no white lines, no Don't Park Here signs....', said another. Yes, she'd got it in one. But, is this just the difference between rural and urban living?
In yesterday's Telegraph, Columnist Vicki Woods compared the French capital with London. And her conclusion: 'After my trip to Paris, I long to be back with the free French'. Unlike at typical London rail stations, there were no barriers at the Gare du Nord. Taxis wait right outside the station entrance - all parked haphazardly on the cobbles bang outside, in a typically French muddle of 30 or 40 cabs, all arrayed like spilled matchsticks. There was no parking supervisor, no Community Support Officers(!) and no concrete bollards to give nameless officials their daily dose of schadenfreude. In typical joie de vivre, the cab driver threw Vicki's wheelie-bag in the back and began beeping his way out of the muddle. And in London? St. Pancras is laid out to annoy, confuse and cause the maximum discomfort to tired passengers, its taxi ranks miles away from the trains.
That's what I like about France. We don't want Big Brother cameras, yellow lines, traffic islands every few feet. Yes, life can be hazardous, but if you're brought up to respect others, man has sufficient brainpower to make his own decisions. He doesn't need them made for him to the n'th degree, as in the UK. That George Orwell knew what he was talking about.

7th June 2009

I always liked Vera Lynn, even though her songs were before my time. It was back when singers were famous for the quality of their voice rather than their dancing ability!
I was thinking of her yesterday whilst watching the news items in Bayeux on the 65th anniversary of the first D-Day liberation there. Sarkozy not only forgot to send the Queen an invitation, but also Dame Vera - both, in my view, instrumental in the allies' success, Vera winning over hearts and minds with her optimistic songs.
Surprisingly, Vera never came to France during the war to entertain the troops, although she gained her famous title 'The Forces' Sweetheart' from the British Expeditionary Forces in France. That was the result of a ballot run by the Daily Express for their favourite singer. Her programmes were heard all over Europe, people listening in cellars, haystacks, anywhere they were hiding.
She corrected her absence by buying a home in Golfe Juan in the Alpes-Maritimes, where for the past 30 years she and her husband Harry spend much of their time. At 92 she still has glowing skin and sparkling blue eyes - healthy like her French neighbours. She always felt that she would have been successful in France during the war years as "they sang my sort of song" - with a story to tell.
But We'll Meet Again is more than just a melody - it's the story of hope and courage of a whole generation, never to be forgotten.

31st May 2009

Several months ago I wrote about the problems other people had experienced in renewing their British passports. What I didn't realise was that, even if it's not yet due for renewal, there are still complications to be overcome. We plan to travel to the US in a few months' time and thought that, as British citizens, we would simply be covered by the usual 'visa-waiver' programme - but that's when our troubles began. One friend told us we need to get our irises scanned; another told us that, as residents of France, we are no longer eligible and need a visa. The US embassy has issued the most complicated instructions imaginable - mostly based on the exact date your passport was issued:
If issued on or after 26 Oct 06, the passport must be a biometric one.
If issued on or after 26 Oct 05 but before 26 Oct 06, the passport must be machine readable with a digital photo.
If issued before 26 Oct 05, the passport just needs to be machine-readable.
If you don't qualify for any of the above, then you're not eligible for 'visa-waiver' and must obtain a visa + biometric scans. And how to do that if you live in a tiny village a million miles from Paris or London??
Also, everyone needs to complete a pre-departure on-line authorization form called ESTA - you know the sort: where was your grandmother born? etc. etc. (The fact my grandmother was actually called Esther is neither here nor there). And what do people do who are not computer literate? Oh, and if you bought your ticket online, you will be refused entry if you haven't brought with you a print-out of your complete itinerary.
It's all become so much hassle, I'm surprised anyone bothers to travel at all!

24th May 2009

Ever since I broke my arm last year and experienced the French health care system - literally at first hand - I've been telling everybody about the excellent French system. It's also been interesting to hear our Canadian friends say how much better French health care is to the Canadian one, where people still have to sit in long queues waiting in casualty units.
However, Sarkozy wants to change it all. French doctors are in uproar over a proposed reform they say will sacrifice the quality of medical treatment in order to save money. Where have I heard all this before? France’s generous health care system is undergoing a serious shake-up that has set doctors on edge for the last few months. But, in the meantime, local hospitals like La Chartreuse in nearby Villefranche de Rouergue continue to welcome everybody, comme d'habitude: carte-vitale holders, tourists and even inmates held by the police, offering all inpatients a choice of wine with their meals. Just like back home - I don't think.
French Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot and the Senate met on 12 May to push through a reform to balance the books in French hospitals and boost the powers of the hospital directors. Haven't they heard of the disastrous mistakes the UK has made over the last fifty years or so?
Please, Mr. Sarkozy: don't follow the terrible litany of errors of the NHS. What's that old adage? If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

17th May 2009

This last week has been one of mayhem, confusion and embarrassment, with a liberal sprinkling of double-entendre. Where to start? I had booked a club outing to nearby Caylus with two of my Canadian book 'fans'. Thought the date was the 12th. So, when our vegetarian son arrived, I asked the club if he could come. Answer: no, because the French caterer (like most French) thinks that to be vegetarian is un catastrophe. But, after cancelling, I found that the actual date was the 14th, a day after our son went home, so I called the club to reinstate the booking. But then our Canadian friend Bill became seriously ill and is now in intensive-care in Villefranche. Yet again, I had to contact the club to cancel! Embarrassment all-round. Added to this, I discovered a fraud on my online bank account. Someone had kindly removed £500 from my account to put a bet on at Ladbrokes!! Him indoors calmly asked if the horse won! Have therefore been going to-and-fro between the bank and the local Gendarmerie - something not to be recommended in a foreign language.
On Wednesday we returned our son to Blagnac airport. Inching up to the narrow barrier, the screen said Complet - full. So, after a few muttered 'merdes' (no translation necessary), I reversed along the narrow channel to promptly crash into an unseen stone kerb, damaging the door sill. We drove again around the airport, saw a digital sign now saying 6 places available, so returned, only to be met with Complet yet again! I tried arguing with the unknown man via the barrier audio control, who merely directed us to the only available spaces in car park P5. However...two French camion lorries were digging up the entire P5 access road. Our son calmly said 'that'll be why they've got spaces'.
I'm sure the French have a saying for all this. Mine? Unprintable in any language.

10th May 2009

Every so often a day happens which defies description - and not just in the way you'd expect. Yesterday started normally enough. Our son Jon is visiting us for a few days and we enjoyed his favourite breakfast before leaving for a day out. Because of our new secure gate, we decided to leave our dog Bruno - for the first time - in the garden all day whilst exploring the Cite de l'espace in Toulouse.
Toulouse proved to be bright, vibrant and spectacular. We enjoyed a vegetarian lunch at our son's favourite restaurant, Les Faim des Haricots (literally: the hungry beans), in the rue du Puits Vert, a short stroll from the Place du Capitole. En route there were spectacles around every corner: a wedding group, hooting its way through the maze of cobbled streets, brightly-dressed ticket sellers and packed pavement cafes every few feet. No credit crunch there. Le cite de l'espace was an interesting contrast to the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, with its many outside exhibits and realistic participant moon-walks.
So, we were pretty tired when finally we drove home after our hectic day. I was worried about Bruno and how he'd coped all day without us. But, as we drove up, all seemed well. He was at the gate to greet us, tail frantically waving. However, when I checked for phone messages, there were several agitated calls awaiting from a friend in the village - each one more concerned than the rest: "...it's 11.00 and I've just seen Bruno wandering outside the bibliotheque......it's now 3 p.m. and we've managed to round Bruno up and 'post' him over your fence. He's really distressed..."
How ever did he get out from our locked gate?? Plus ca change, plus la meme chose!

8 May 2009

Do you have young relatives? My brand new novel 'Rose' - hot off the presses - is now available, just for them. It's published by the Arts-Council-funded YouWriteOn site, but available from all leading bookstores plus major websites such as Amazon. Here's a quick summary to whet their appetite:

This magical novel will enthral all young adults from 9 – 15.
Mystery surrounds Rainbow Lane. It is a mystery that involves a strange old lady, a professor as ancient as time itself, and the number seven.
Rose - representing the red, outer, band of the rainbow - is first to learn her special task as she is propelled at lightening speed towards the Ancient Temple of Petra in Jordan, where she meets a young Jordanian boy who falls in love with her.
By the end of this series of seven novels can each of the rainbow girls do the impossible and finally fulfil the Professor’s long-held dream?

To buy on-line, simply click on the green link on the right. Alternatively, you can order it from any walk-in high street bookstore by quoting my author name of Gillian Green and the ASIN No.: 1849238847.
That's all there is to it.
Hope they enjoy it!

3 May 2009

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my identity crisis (and a belated thank you to Margaret for her kind words). The longer I live here, the more I notice the subtle difference between English and French attitudes to life. England has become a mini-USA with its commercialism, price-reductions, 2for1 syndrome etc. However, this inevitably has its consequences in shoddy goods and 'built-in obsolescence' (as my brother used to say). Gone are the days when things were built to last. England has become a throw-away nation. Don't even think of repairs - just buy a new one (even cheaper and shoddier than the last).
With food, the difference is even more noticeable. French chefs have greeted a UK plan to put calorie counts on menus (to beat Government anti-obesity guidelines) with a mixture of horror and laughter. The French, quite correctly, say that the English don't understand about food and about our responsibility to eat well and nutritiously. It's not about buying the cheapest possible or ready-made convenience foods to fit into busy lives - then having to cope with the inevitable obesity that ensues. Le 'bien manger' is the most important French phrase ever. It's what fuels our bodies. Eat the best (not the cheapest), in small portions, at regular mealtimes. And don't snack on rubbish inbetween.
No wonder the French are laughing. They see the English spending their greater incomes on all those consumer items, expensive cars, expensive houses - then taking their children to McDonald's.
Enough said!

I dreamed a dream...

My father once said to me: to be famous you need to say the right thing at the right time to the right person.
Watching the YouTube video of Susan Boyle - from the Britain's Got Talent show - brought this home to me. Here was a middle-aged woman, who walked in front of an audience and got the typical reaction: laughter. How dare someone so old, plain and out-of-fashion have the effrontery to think she was a star? The cameras panned onto the faces of the illustrious judges, then across the young faces in the audience. All were laughing in sheer disbelief.
And then she started to sing.....
If you haven't watched the video, I recommend it. Not so much for her voice - which brings a tingle down the spine - but for the story it unfolds. Just Google on Susan Boyle, then turn on your PC speakers. From the first few bars of 'I dreamed a dream' from Les Miserables, it was absolutely obvious that she was a star.
In another genre, I was reading about a new Star Trek movie just out. Back in my heyday of the early '60s, the original TV series was a flop. It wasn't until they relaunched it in the early '70s that it suddenly took off (literally).
What I'm trying to show here is that my father's original message was correct. Having talent or an original idea isn't quite enough. Susan Boyle's voice wasn't any less good when she got thrown out from the X-Factor and all those other auditions she tried. The Star Trek series broadcast in the '60s was still just as good. For both of them, the message was right, it might even have been to the right people, but it wasn't the right time.
Maybe for me and my writing, I'm like Susan Boyle. The message is right. Maybe the right people haven't yet read it. Maybe the right time is just around the corner.......

26th April 2009

I see that Mr. Darling has introduced a £2000 scrap payment when exchanging your 9-years-old+ car for a new greener model. I'm pleased at last that he's starting to look to France and Germany for some good ideas. (Pity this hasn't yet extended to health care).
I'm pretty hopeless with tech things. I knew that when we bought a new French car 4 years ago that we didn't need to pay an annual road tax - good! - but wasn't sure about the equivalent to an MOT. Well, now we know. Just before 4 years are up, the garage which originally sold you the new car sends you a leaflet for a Controle technique, required by French law. It gives you the date by which you need to get 116 different mechanical items checked over - this is called a Pre-Controle. (After this is done, you need a Controle technique every 2 years).
I thought, 'Oh, here we go...', remembering all those English garages of yore. You bring the car in, with absolutely nothing wrong with it, and they always say it needs hundreds of pounds spending. One particular occasion about 20 years ago, the UK garage said they had replaced the spark plugs so we foolishly paid them. When him indoors later looked under the bonnet, the spark plugs were still covered with the original blue paint of the car! (In other words, they hadn't replaced the plugs at all!!).
So, this time, with sinking heart we went back to the garage in Montauban after the 1 hr pre-Controle, ready for the bad news. Lo and behold, they said the car was fine, nothing needed doing and there was nothing to pay!!
I like it here in France.

19th April 2009

Lately I've been experiencing a bit of an identity crisis. When children ask what's the point in learning subjects like history (it's all dead and buried), the wise history teacher will say that unless we know where we've come from, we'll never know who we are.
The French, for all their faults, know exactly who they are. From the blockading fishermen in the north to the village townsfolk in the south, their culture is supreme. I even saw in our village bibliotheque a leaflet on how to renovate ancient crumbling houses so as to maintain French local heritage and history.
I see in the Sunday Times that Prince Charles is battling to stop a monstrous glass and steel reconstruction of the ancient much-loved Chelsea Barracks in London. I agree with him. A lot of what's wrong with the UK is not the crumbling edifices of its houses, but the crumbling edifices of its culture. When will planners get the message that unless we conserve the essential character of our past, we destroy not only our heritage but the essential character of who we are.
So, I suppose my own id crisis is caused by being an Englishwoman with eastern-Europe ancestors struggling to be accepted in yet another country. Like the teeming nomads in history, cross-circuiting the globe in search of a better life, I too need to find the essential ingredient that tells me who I am.
Answers please (not on a postcard) but by the comments section here!

12th April 2009

Sorry to disappoint everyone, but it seems that the article due to appear in The Sun has been delayed. Here's what Charles Rae, their finance journalist, had to say when I asked if he could confirm the exact date of publication: "no unfortunately I can't . It was due to appear on tuesday but the cashflow supplement has been put off until next month and I don't have a new date. I will try to let you know when I get another date, thanks, charlie". I'm not sure how the financial machinations of fine journalism work, but I'll confirm the date as soon as I know it myself.
In the meantime.....
In our village there is a tiny bibliotheque/tourist office, which serves as a local library as well as information point. I had borrowed a reference book before when I was researching Philippe Petain for my book 'Je ne regrette rien', but hadn't read any novels because they're all in French. However, I was pleased to be contacted last week to ask if I would be interested in volunteering one day a week to 'man the stall'. Now, this was a challenge I couldn't resist. It would test my level of French, the names of local residents, as well as my knowledge of the local area (the latter being rather sketchy). But, the tourist season is building up now it's already Easter weekend. I'll probably be O.K if the tourists are all English, and even if they're Dutch (because many speak English better than I do!), but the French?
Oh well. Must be mad. On verra....

5th April 2009

Regular followers of this blog will know that I'm constantly seeking marketing opportunities for my writing. It's the same old problem. In this difficult economic climate, traditional literary agents and publishers seek only celebrity authors to make a quick buck - rather than search out new quality writing as they used to do.
So, I needed to find a 'third way' as Tony Blair would say. Imagine my surprise, then, to be contacted by a national UK newspaper journalist! Yes, a seasoned hack by the name of Charles Rae rang me last week to interview me over the phone. His basic interest was my own experiences in being an expat: how the current financial climate was biting in France, how we were dealing with it and whether (as so many others have already done) we were planning to return to the UK.
Of course, knowing me as you do, I didn't want to miss an opportunity - and, besides, it was relevant to the article - so I told Mr. Rae that, no, we weren't planning to return to the UK, and that we were currently riding the global economic storm by capitalising on my writing.
The newspaper? It's The Sun. I told Mr. Rae to please go ahead with the article, but not to picture me on page 3!!
So that you can all go out and purchase a copy on the right day, I was told that it would be published around 15th April, with a picture of us outside our French home. Hope Charles doesn't let me down now I've told you all.

29th March 2009

First, thanks to those who read and left comments on last week's entry. I haven't published most of them because I couldn't verify the sources they cited. However, I can assure everyone that I sourced my information from the March 09 edition of The Connexion - a well-respected national newspaper in France.
I was surprised to hear how much it now costs to renew a passport, and couldn't understand why it's cheaper to renew a British passport in the UK than at the Paris embassy. But, the British Consulate in Paris has warned against using friends and relatives in the UK as a sort of go-between to obtain your passport at the cheaper price. Apparently some have obtained an application form via people in the UK, who then receive the passport and forward it on to you. But the Paris consulate has said 'non'. You should apply for a form via http://www.britishembassy.gov.uk/, print it off, and send the signed form together with attachments (including the exorbitant cost). Paris says that it's dearer there because they don't have the expat resources to deal with such things as the UK does.
The UK rate of £72 (including delivery) compares with 143 euros plus 21 euros delivery for those living abroad. Apparently, the only way to get the cheaper price is for you personally to arrange a pre-appointment, travel to the UK, apply in person there and then be around to sign for it when it arrives at your friend's/relative's house! You must also check whether you 'qualify' for an iris-scan!!
Why does everything need to be so difficult?
'Job's worth, job's worth
It's more than my job's worth,
I don't care, rain or snow,
Whatever you want,
The answer's No!
I can keep you waiting for ever in the queue
And if you don't like it, you know what you can do......'
(courtesy of John Williams).

22nd March 2009

Many people who have left the UK cite reasons such as 'too many immigrants have been allowed to enter the country, without feeling obligated to take on the new culture and language'. So, I was interested to read that France is introducing free and obligatory French lessons to immigration candidates before they leave their country. Those currently applying to join family members in France - some 35,000 people - must now take a test to ensure their French is of a high enough standard. Also, answer questions like 'In France, does a young woman need the permission of her husband to go to work?' Interesting words because they reveal the immense gap between different cultures. Those who fail the test will have to take lessons in their own country.
France will be the first country in Europe to introduce such a scheme. Of course, France says that the tests are not a prevention to immigration. However......
For me, although I approve of these measures, it is not nearly enough. I have always liked the US style of requiring immigrants to swear on oath to 'uphold the principles' of the new country. There is a subtle difference there. It's one thing to be forced to learn about a new culture, quite another to change long-held beliefs and behaviour patterns so that newcomers begin right from the start to integrate fully. By that, I mean: wear the clothes of the new country, speak the language, integrate with the indigenous population and don't live in ghettos with former immigrants. One can hope I suppose.

15th March 2009

At last - the warm weather has arrived in our region. This last winter was much colder than usual. But the last few days have been gloriously warm and we have been sitting out on our terrace to enjoy lunch.
However, my relaxation was spoiled by two events - the dentist and the tax man - surely the two most dreaded things in anyone's life. The first was much soothed, though, by a wonderful woman dentist in nearby Cordes. Her name is Dr. Julie Bacque and she is so so gentle. Although I needed root-canal work + crown on one tooth - because my old UK filling was more than 30 years old - the only pain I felt was via my wallet! The cost was high - 400 euros - but this was tempered by a reimbursement of 230 euros by CPAM (the French health service) and 70 euros by our top-up health insurance. (I do like the top-up health insurance system because you don't ever need to claim - it's done automatically by CPAM). So, not too bad. The second - the dreaded taxman - was necessary because I had misunderstood the complicated French tax rules. (I never had to complete a tax return in the UK). I had 'foolishly' thought that because the interest paid on my one English bank account was paid 'net', I didn't need to declare it on my French return. Wrong! So, now I need to pay the UK tax for the last few years again and hope to get reimbursed sometime in the future via the double-tax treaty. Let's hope all this is in my lifetime.....life's too short.
But at least I can now relax again in this glorious sunshine - at least until the next unknown French problem hits......

8th March 2009

A British couple from Pas de Calais are threatening legal action against the UK government if certain benefits (e.g. DLA, attendance allowance, carer's allowance) are not restored to expats in France. All this raises the much wider question of all British rights available to expats. The whole thing is an unknown zone, pushed under the carpet by the UK in the hope it will go away. It won't.
I, myself, paid N.I. contributions for over 30 years, but it goes to fund payments for the present population. This is clearly unfair. What you don't need is for someone to deny one's hoped-for security blanket in old age just when you need it - simply because the current economic climate can't afford it. There are hundreds of expats in the former Commonwealth countries who don't receive the annual State pension increase in April, whereas those in Europe or the U.S.(!) do. Additionally, all expats (including me) are denied the extra benefits that are available to UK pensioners, e.g. top-up pension credit, winter fuel allowance etc. - for WFA, you had to have applied whilst still in the UK.
There seems no logic to any of it. UK pensioners who have paid into the system all their working lives, should receive the benefits no matter what.
I say: change the system in a graduated way so that NI contributions go into a guaranteed 'insurance' pot for when an individual reaches retirement age - whatever the future national economical situation might be.

1st March 2009

There are some Brits here for whom, economically, times are really hard. They are the ones who relied on either working (even the French can't find work) or living off interest savings (which have plummeted to zero). When things get really desperate and the outgoings exceed the income - like Mr. Micawber in Dickens - there are basically two options. You can either go back home to the UK and stay with a relative whilst looking for a regular (all-year) tenant for your French property, or consider downsizing in France.
For the latter, you can usually get a French bridging loan for 70% of the value of the existing property, which you can use to buy a pretty village home in France - there are loads of cheap properties available all over the country. These loans are normally granted for a period of up to two years which can be extended in some cases, but you don't need to pay it back until your original house is sold. In the meantime, you put your original property on the market at a realistic price and when it eventually sells, you pay off the loan and bank a large cheque.
Of course, you need to take account of all those extras, like estate agents' and notaires' fees. There is no standard agent's percentage - you need to check out the rates in their window. Certainly avoid those who charge more than 8%. A cheaper way of selling is to do it via a notaire. They are required by law to stick to a standard fee, which is always cheaper than an agent's fee: 5% of the selling price up to 45,735 euros and then 2.5% thereafter plus tax. Details of properties on sale via notaires can be found at http://www.immobilier.notaires.fr/.
The rule remains the same here: secure a regular income (it doesn't have to be large - we've found that you can live quite well on 1000 euros a month). The sun is shining, the air is clear and life is good.

22nd February 2009

When we first moved to France in 2005, £1 was equal to 1.50 euros. That was before the big nose-dive. I've just looked to see if there's been any improvement: nope, it's still only 1.1 euros. But then I thought, it's not long 'til April when I should get an increase in my British State pension. I walked down to the postbox and, lo-and-behold there was a letter from Gordon Brown telling me that in April I would get the princely sum of £88.88 per week! But, before you start passing the hat around, I do get a small occupational pension - though I'm constantly worried that the small pension-provider involved might go bust.
So, things needed to be done to boost our income, but what? A little lateral thinking was required. Recently, I've been successful in bidding for projects on the excellent Peopleperhour.com site (PPH). This matches creative-writing providers like me with suppliers. In order to get chosen, though, you have to bid low. It doesn't make you a millionaire - well, not yet anyway - but it has helped to bridge that gap between the current low exchange rate. And, what I like about it is that I can work from the comfort of chez-nous, and my employer doesn't need to know my age nor how presentable I look!!
Well, a few days ago PPH asked me whether they could profile me and pass it on to the media. The story was that it isn't always necessary for the thousands of British people living in France, for example, to return home when times are tough and their French isn't good enough to get a job in France. IT is always there to gain access to funding opportunities. Lulu.com, the organisation that has published my 4 books, are also interested in profiling me. So, all is not yet lost. Maybe I can turn it into a publicity campaign for my writing career. I'll then be able to change my slogan of 'I'm NOT a celebrity - get me published' to 'I AM a celebrity......'
We'll have to see.

15th February 2009

There was thick frost last night in the Tarn et Garonne, but this morning the sky is blue and the quality of light is breath-taking. It lifts the spirits and reminds us why we moved here. We're also nicely placed for visiting either Biarritz, 2 hours due west, or the Cote d'Azur, a couple of hours south-east.
There's an amazing carnival which takes place in Nice this month. It's the biggest in Europe, reminding me of that other parade which dances down Main Street in Florida. The Nice Deputy Mayor Rudy Salles stressed that he wants the carnival to have a truly international dimension and see its reputation and influence grow throughout the world. Certainly the links are there. A spokesman for the world's carnival capital in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil recently said that 2009 is officially 'the year of France' in Brazil and extra special efforts have been made to ensure the Nice carnival will be represented in Rio.
This year's theme in Nice is Roi des Mascarades (King of Masquerades), which is all about transforming yourself. Looking at all the cartoons in Europe's financial papers, there is plenty of transformation going on. The fall in the pound has incurred the wrath of Mr Darling's continental counterparts, with French finance minister Christine Lagarde urging the bank to intervene in foreign exchange markets and the Germans pledging to put the issue of currencies high on the agenda. I've also seen spectacular caricatures of Carla and Nicolas Sarkozy doing a Punch-and-Judy-like spat over who should get all the media attention.
Wish I could make one of the floats at this month's carnival in Nice! There's no lack of puppets on the world stage - wonder if I could make one of Tony Blair?


8th February 2009

It's been a funny old week. Sarkozy's rubbished Gordon Brown's VAT-reduction, saying the economic solution is to boost industry. I agree. And the old country, i.e. the UK, is still up to its old tricks. The first ID cards are here - but no one in the UK can read them because the necessary finger-print scanners haven't yet been produced! Then there's the thought-police who've not only positioned Orwellian spy cameras on every street corner, but now are set to force their way into homes to check that you're eating properly. And the weather's gone beserk. There's white-out Arctic conditions in normally moderate Britain, so everyone's having to take the ice-trucker route to work, but without the snow-chains. Climate change has certainly started with a vengeance - maybe it's the last billion years of the Earth's existence. I certainly prefer this, natural, explanation rather than the man-made greenhouse gases reason. Everyone's gone recycling crazy, even though when you investigate what happens, the answer is 'nothing'. Apparently more energy is needed to recycle our rubbish than is saved. Our local French binmen tip each recycling container into one big heap in the back of their lorry anyway! And lightbulbs: don't get me started. Here in France our beloved 100w bulbs can no longer see the light of day, all to be replaced by the stupid so-called energy-efficient long-life bulbs. Do people realise that to save money at all, you have to keep these new-fangled things on all day? You can't keep switching them on and off or they won't last. And you won't be able to use your relaxing dimmer-switches any more. And, to cap it all, it takes more energy to dispose of these new lights than they save. You couldn't make it up.


1 February 2009

There are some new things planned for this year in France:
New diagnostic. When you sell a house in France, if your electricity system is more than 15 years old, you must now get an electricity installation 'diagnostic' (check) done by a professional.
Livret A. All banks and post-offices now offer this popular tax-free investment bond - was 4% in January.
Euro elections. Elections will be held from June 4 - 7 - the only ones in France open to voting by British nationals.
Rent increases. A new supplement 'supplement de loyer de solidarite' is now payable by social housing tenants whose incomes go above a certain ceiling. It's to encourage only those who really need social housing to stay in that sector. Good idea!
Virtual police station. This summer you will be able to report minor crimes on a website. (Wonder if a virtual policeman turns up to investigate it?)
After-sales advice. If you need to complain, or to ask for advice, on a product bought, businesses must now only use non-premium telephone lines (so keeping customers' blood-pressure low).
Alcohol. Legal age for buying alcohol and drinking in bars is going up from 16 to 18.
Gendarmerie. I've never really understood the difference between the gendarmes and the police, but at least they are both now run by the same body: the Interior Ministry (not the Ministry of Defence).
Train mediator: If you have a dispute with the SNCF, you can now contact the Mediateur de la SNCF at 66 rue de Rome, 75008 Paris. Let's hope you are not left stranded and have to walk all the way to Paris to do so!

25th January 2009

It's rare to experience heavy winds in this region. In fact, living in inland France the normally calm weather is one of the things we love here. How could we forget that the UK, being a tiny island, is forever battered by winds from the Atlantic meeting those from the North Sea, then churning with those from the North as they meet the Channel currents. How smug we felt with recollections of all those ruined umbrellas, blown inside-out in the ever-present English gales. Well, as you've probably gathered by now, pride often goes before a fall. On Friday an unusual storm hit us totally unprepared. Gale-force winds tore down our fences and very heavy rain swelled the nearby River Aveyron so that all the nearby houses were flooded up to cellar level. The cover on our pool tore free from the ropes that Him indoors had assured me were guaranteed to keep it tethered. I certainly wasn't going to hang on to all four corners as it flew up into the air. Paragliding is not my favourite pursuit. Life's hazardous enough. But that's not all. Suddenly our electricity went out. Of course, being in the country, this is quite a frequent occurrence for intermittent minutes. But not for 2 whole days! T.G. I'd implemented my plan B when we moved here: never rely on just one power source, just in case. We've got a gas hob, electric oven, microwave and open-fire. Therefore, if anything happens to one....... And if all else fails, I thought back then, we could always throw some jacket potatoes on the fire. Well, we waited and waited for the usual intermittent electric interruption to return...and waited...and waited. The worst is that living here, it's very difficult to find out what's happening. We could hardly turn on the TV/radio/PC etc. Eventually we found out that a giant pylon in the Aveyron region had been blown down. But TG, as you can see, it's now just returned. Just as well. We'd run out of candles, matches, hot water, residual heat and food. So, I live to blog another day. Hope to see you all next Sunday, electricity willing!

18th January 2009

Like many British expats in France, I have been looking to supplement my dwindling pension due to the ever-continuing exchange rate crisis. Although a former administrator, I knew that however improved my skills in the French language, I would never be able to hold my own in a French office - it's the phone that's the killer.
Some time ago I wrote about my discovery of job bidding by the internet. To date, following my success with peopleperhour.com, I can report that this is a marvellous way to earn income supplements. All from my own computer I can send my creative articles, my own invoice and receive monies directly into my French bank account. Now that's my kind of job - all without leaving the house.
But, of course, this raises the question of French income tax. So, I was interested to read that easier ways of starting mini-enterprises like mine were introduced this month in France. The new auto-entrepreneurs system means you do not need to be formally registered on the registre du commerce (saving a fee and much bureaucracy), but you can apply on-line at www.cfenet.cci.fr (you can also subsequently close the business there too). Declarations and payments can also be managed on-line via http://www.lautoentrepreneur.com/. You also have 3-years exoneration from taxe professionnelle. For the thousands of Brits who run gites, the government has decided that the status is not obligatory for those not already formally registered on the registre du commerce. At present, it is only obligatory if your turnover is more than 32,000 euros p.a. Fat chance!
Of course, nothing comes easy, but what I like about it is that if you earn nothing, you pay nothing., unlike some other business regimes.

11th January 2009

I was interested to read that there's a new form of equity release which has started here in France. It's called Foncier reversimmo, by a French bank Credit Foncier. This new equity release is different from the old 'viager' system in that the borrower remains the owner of his property, and the scheme is reversible. That is to say that if the borrower is a ditherer, he has the option of paying back his loan with the money plus the generated interest. When the owner of the property dies, it's transferred to a spouse or an heir. If the heirs want to keep the property there is the option of paying back the loan, which is not the case in a traditional viager sale.
Why the scheme is particularly interesting is that over-65s who own a property but suddenly need extra money as they get older - perhaps for a care-home - they can release funds without selling their home. The amount you can get depends on your age. At 75 you can get up to 45% of your property value, at 95 up to 75%. The factors which see the loan ended are the death of the last of the joint borrowers, if the property is sold or given away, or if the property is transferred (except for that resulting from the death of the first joint-borrower). If, on the death of the last of the borrowers, the debt is greater than the property value, the bank is responsible for the loss! So, the heirs - in leaving the property to the bank - will have no debt to pay back.
Sounds good to me - but then, you know what a worrier I am. I always need a Plan B.

4th January 2009

January in the Tarn et Garonne region started snow-free but it's icy cold at night. Most days seem to follow the same pattern of minus degrees overnight, followed by early morning givrage then by noon the cold mist clears to reveal sunshine and blue skies.
But it's not just the weather that brings shivers. Some English people in our village have decided to return home. I can certainly feel an unsettled air around the place. Of course, the main problem has been fuelled by the global economic woes which are affecting people everywhere, coupled with the general air of depression that winter always brings. Most English people we know who have returned home do so for 2 main reasons: 1) to be near their grandchildren (...I wish.....but that's another story) and 2) because, fueled by so many TV relocation programmes, they miscalculated by confusing capital with income. I reiterate my important economic message to those contemplating moving here: make sure that your income is sufficient (e.g. at least 1000 euros p.m.) and regular. Don't forget that, although UK pensioners receive annual increases in State pension (unlike those in Canada/Australia), they don't receive additional benefits such as pension credit. Many can easily fund the purchase of a nice French house here via the often considerable capital from the sale of their homes in the UK, but it's the regular income that always proves the sticking point in the end - especially in these days of 0% interest from the banks!
But all this doom and gloom is bound to clear, like the weather, in a few months. I can't wait for the swallows to return, flying higher and higher to catch the insects in the summer heat, and for our annual difficulties treating the water in our swimming pool. We're such novices and still haven't got it right. Ah! such difficulties. Bring it on.