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.