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!