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.