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).