27th September 2009

Some time ago I wrote of an internet scam whereby £500 was taken out of my bank account by fraudsters unknown. Some, including me, may well have thought that in future you'd avoid buying things via the internet and only write cheques in future. Well, now it seems that even that payment method is open to abuse, especially here in France.
A British fraudster called Warren Templeton recently stole millions of euros from expats. He posed as a financial advisor, asking his victims to make out cheques to a well-known French bank Societe Generale. He told them that he would invest their money into one of the bank's high interest funds. Instead, the conman was able to pay the money directly into his own personal accounts - and fund his own lavish lifestyle of luxury cars and a chateau in the Dordogne.
What is particularly worrying is that it is apparently standard practice in France for a customer to be able to deposit a cheque into their own account, despite it being made out in the bank's name. All you need to do is sign the back of the cheque! This practice has been outlawed in many countries, including the UK, for many years - but not in France!
So, expats in France, be warned. If you need to make out a cheque to an organisation, make sure you also include a specific account no. on the payee line. If you don't know these details, put something on the back of the cheque like 'the destination of this cheque is ...... and is intended only for the benefit of......(your own name)/it should not be countersigned'.

20th September 2009

I'm back! Somehow I'm still in one piece, but I don't know how. On Friday, me and 'him indoors' returned to France from a great trip to the USA, but the return journey was a complete disaster. Don't get me wrong - the planes landed safely, but everything else that could go wrong, did. The American end of the flight ran smoothly enough. The trouble started at the changeover at Heathrow. We were very tired at the London customs point and almost didn't notice the beep as we walked through the customs xray door. But now I understand why Diana Ross made all that fuss several years ago. For some reason we were both roughly body-searched. Yes - us - an ordinary couple in our 60s. Then, whilst struggling to put on our shoes and other outerwear, a rude second official said, and I quote, 'if you don't hurry up and move your bags from the belt, I won't be responsible for my actions!' When we finally boarded the European flight, we - along with the rest of the passengers - sat for some time listening to a horrendous 'sawing' noise coming from one of the engines. Eventually, the pilot said there was a fault and that we'd all have to get off the plane and wait for another one to be made ready. But, shouldn't the engineers have checked everything before we all boarded?? And, had the second plane been checked? Didn't fill nervous fliers like me with much confidence. Two very weary passengers arrived at Blagnac, Toulouse after 10 hours travelling without any sleep, only to find our checked baggage missing - the only ones from the whole flight! Had they gone astray in the US, at Heathrow or here? As usual, no officials in sight as we frantically tried to locate them. Eventually I spotted a BA stewardess and she explained to me. The monitors that showed that our flight's baggage had gone to belt 2 did not refer to those, like us, who had made a connecting flight from somewhere else! Oh - I should have realised that??? Our bags were sitting all on their own on a completely different belt, but as I struggled to put them at last on our trolley, a customs official appeared from nowhere and asked me what was in my cardboard box. I told him it was a new pool cover bought in the US. Where is the receipt? I didn't know or care. But, when I told him the price in dollars, he shrugged and said O.K. waving us on and out of the airport. You think that was the end of it? No. When we went to the carpark payment machine, we discovered a horrendous charge because, whilst we were away, our usual P2 park had changed from long-stay to a daily rate.
Sometimes I wonder why we go on holiday at all! Oh well, c'est la vie!

2nd September 2009

A while ago I wrote about Vera Lynn, the 'forces' sweetheart'. As tomorrow will be the 70th anniversary of the start of WW2, I was amazed to see that Vera is the oldest person ever to appear in the music charts - her new album is currently no. 20! Not bad for someone in their 90s.
It seems that I'm not the only one to love the nostalgia of the old days. The old Victorine Studios in Nice, that produced such memorable films in the '50s as 'To Catch a Thief' by Hitchcock, starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, has now been reborn by popular demand as Studios Riviera. Another film from the same studios starred that French bombshell Brigitte Bardot in the never-to-be-forgotten 'Et Dieu..Crea la Femme' (And God Created Woman) in 1956.
When BB first burst onto the film scene, France was in post-war austerity and her vivaceous looks and wanton displays on film made her box-office dynamite. Unfortunately time never stands still, and BB is 75 this month. Famously she has eschewed cosmetic surgery as she now concentrates on animal welfare and her love of St. Tropez.
To mark BB's 75th, the first ever exhibition of her life opens on the 29th of this month in Boulogne-Billancourt where she filmed 6 of her films. If you're in the region, don't miss it. Called The Carefree Years, it includes extracts from her films, details of her lovers, posters and, of course, images of the young BB with heavy eyeliner and a riot of tumbling blond hair. The exhibition runs until next January, entrance 11 euros.
And me? I'm feeling a little old too so will take some time out to recharge my batteries. Don't worry....I'll be back reinvigorated on the 20th.