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!