26th December 2010

So, it's Boxing Day. Some say it dates back to medieval times when the poor used earthenware boxes to save up all through the year. At Xmas they would break open the heavy boxes and share the money around to fund Xmas festivities. I'm all in favour of DIY saving, much preferring the old box under the mattress to being ripped off by today's financial institutions. At least then you know that the amount of notes and coins hasn't alarmingly reduced or the wicked taxman hasn't suddenly grabbed it all away after all your careful planning and patience.
It seems that the custom wasn't just English either. Back in the 17C, the French called those boxes tirelire, having a cleft on the lid or the side through which you put spare cash. Apparently in France it was used by begging friars. I don't like the sound of that, but I suppose it does give a link to the tradition of giving 'Xmas boxes' to tradespeople who had served you well all year.
But today, glancing at all the papers, Boxing Day has come to symbolise sport. Whether it's English football or French rugby, that's all that dominates today's news.
Him indoors, who's not interested in sport, says what happened to the ancient custom of rewarding long-suffering husbands......

19th December 2010

My mother would have been 100 today. Certainly in her lifetime she would have enjoyed futuristic comics and those early TV black and whites showing flying cars and aliens in our midst. Somehow nothing was as frightening as those early Quatermass stories and aliens who could only be identified by a bent little finger.
But, no-one could have predicted the deadly advance of the PC, something that has altered all our lives. Now, with one click of that same little finger, we have the whole world at our fingertips. I remember my mother's confusion in '71 with the advent of the UK's decimal currency. How would she have coped with or even comprehended today's confusing techno world?
However, the older I get and the more different people I encounter, some things never change. It matters not a jot what you wear on your head, nor what faith you espouse, nor how technology has changed your life. It's what's in your heart that matters. The essential things remain the same, wherever you live: treat others as you would yourself and always do the 'right thing'. What was it Mill, the philosopher said? Do whatever it takes to make yourself happy, as long as it doesn't hurt others.
That's what my mother would have said back in 1910. Plus ca change, plus la meme chose. Bon anniversaire, Mom.

12th December 2010

What has the recent ridiculous vehicle conflab between Prince Charles and the public got to do with the French? Not much you would think. And, it's not often the French copy anything English. In fact, ever since Chirac, English as a language is almost banned. It's common to buy goods here in France and search in vain for instructions in English - one of the most widely-spoken languages in the world. Regularly included on product ads are words in Portuguese and Dutch - hardly international tongues.
So it came as a surprise to find that Paris is soon to buy a product that is a byword in London: the humble black cab. Paris taxi drivers have been eying up the TX4, the latest version, with a 2.5L diesel engine that emits 212g of CO2/km. What the French like is the classic 5-seat passenger configuration. A lady called Elisabeth Young, from importers EMG, said that the French were particularly interested in the ramps for wheelchairs and the security partition between cab and passenger area. Well yes.
So, Prince Charles, if you're listening, perhaps now is the time to order one (a snip at 334,000 euros) via www.london-taxis.fr.

5th December 2010

It's icy. Even our visiting Canadian friends say it's warmer back home. Only one thing to do. Eat! So, the four of us went to a famous truffle market in the nearby pretty village of Limogne in Quercy. Despite the cold, there were trestle tables laid out under the oak trees in the square, and the farmers set down their wicker baskets before carefully removing the checked cloths. But, the contents are worth a fortune. Last year, some went for as much as 4,000 euros per kilo! They're found under oak trees at this time of year, especially in SW France. Farmers used to use pigs to root them out, but now generally use trained dogs with good noses. The truffles are a kind of fungi about 7 cm in diameter and have their highest perfume in Dec and Jan. Some say it's the perfume rather than the taste that makes them so delicious.
Him indoors? He says he prefers that other delicacy in this region, especially this weather: Armagnac. Here's a recipe just for him: Soak some raisins in the alcohol, then drain. Mix in some ricotta, 2 whole eggs and pepper. Whip 2 egg whites and stir into the ricotta mix, adding some cubes of some local Roquefort cheese. Bake in buttered ramekins at 200C for 20 mins. Ah, le bien manger!

28th November 2010

'Tis the season. It's curious comparing French attitudes. In the UK, for months there's been the usual false glitz on all the ads. But, it's always the women of the world who spend all their money on others. You only have to look at the Boots' ads. Where's the lesson on charity for others for the kids? All it is for them is 'me, me, me'.
Rural France is so different. No outward signs of the season at all until at least the week before, and then usually only some sparkling decorations strung across the village main road. Oh, and a few Santas climbing up crepi walls. What the French do well, though, is the numerous Xmas fairs all over the country. It's like the summer 'vide-greniers' (car boot sales), but better.
Some enterprising English expats in the Lot region have even taken it a stage further. They've used the idea to set up un marche de Noel to thank all the locals for welcoming them to their region. The Maire has agreed to waive the rent on the Salle des Fetes village hall and all proceeds will go to their own village to fund equipment for the school and retirement home not provided by government.
What's so great about this is that, not only are these expats actively integrating into local life, but they've used local customs to actually pay back the village for welcoming them. Now that's what I call the way to live in another country!

21st November 2011

There's a new law in France. Cyclists and pedestrians now have absolute priority on French roads, from immediate effect. Whereas before they had priority only at certain spots like pedestrian crossings, now they can cross wherever they please. Pedestrians only need to show an ostensible gesture to cross, e.g. a hand gesture (!), and all approaching trucks must come to a crashing halt. Drivers who ignore the new rules face a fine of 135 euros or lose 4 points from their licence. Cyclists too are now allowed to skip red lights to turn red. But, they've always done that anyway! Cyclists have always loved the apparent flexibility of the road: to choose whether to obey the road laws or the pedestrians' - so now the law agrees.
Chaos looms. And what should French parents teach their children? Now they can cross wherever they like?? But at least I don't see in France what always happened in the UK: mothers pushing baby buggies down the kerb, using it as a battering ram, and placing their vulnerable child on the road until a vehicle stops. Ordinary people don't generally have the knowledge of precise stopping distances for large vehicles like trucks and buses. They often wander into the road, chatting to friends.
Quel catastrophe!

14th November 2010

'Sacre bleu!' The government has resigned, en bloc. Panic. 1789 all over again. I peered out the window in some trepidation, expecting to see anarchic riots on the village streets. What was that creaking noise? Could it be the sound of the approaching tumbrils as they arrive to cart away those pesky expats? Mais non. All is calm. The creaking noise was only the usual sound of our wooden volets banging against the crepi walls as we unlatch the nighttime pins. That distant cackling sound was not the rising tide of gallic dissent, merely the white turkey-like creatures pecking in our neighbouring field.
So, what's going on? Surely Sarkozy can't rule all by himself, can he? Well, no. French government moves in mysterious ways. It's apparently standard practice, ahead of a cabinet reshuffle, for the PM and government to 'resign' before some being re-elected again. It's like applying for your own job only to be shocked later to find out that somone younger and more beautiful has got your 'cast iron, totally secure job'. Let's hope that new, young Robespierre doesn't get the job!
When will I understand all things French? Never, probably. In the meantime, man the barricades and cancel that trip to the Bastille in Paris. C'est la revolution!

7th November 2011

Hypochondria rules o.k. Time to brave the rigors of the French health system. You turn up at the surgery any morning and hope the waiting room is empty. It wasn't. But, you can telephone and make an afternoon appointment. (I still don't understand. What symptoms require an afternoon appointment?) The doctor greeted me. 'Ca va?' Well no, that's why I'm here. I showed him a rough sketch of my family history. I'd circled everyone in my immediate family who had passed away with the big C. Unfortunately there were 6, 2 of whom both siblings. He said I must take tests. But, but, I feel O.K. And anyway, not all of the Cs affected the same part of the body. N'importe quoi.
Trouble is, medical science has only devised tests for certain parts of the body. So, what about the other parts? You must hope you don't get it. Great! But I did read recently that researchers have discovered a rogue protein that masks C cells, fooling the body that the C cell is injured and must be protected. Now, all they need to do is zap this protein so that the proliferating C cells will be destroyed by natural immunity. Where's Dr.Bones of Star Trek when you need him? I need him to run an electronic gadget all along my body to pick up annually anything untoward BEFORE any symptoms present themselves. And it needs to be in my lifetime..... In the meantime, here's what I take every day: 75mg aspirin, 1 glass red wine, raw carrot, tomato, orange, sunshine, home-made veg soup.

31st October 2010

Now I've heard everything. Doctors in France are to offer medical services via webcam or instant messenger! A government decree authorising the online consultations has been published in the Journal Officiel. Health Minister Rosalyne Bachelot believes online surgeries will offer much needed support for rural areas where there is a shortage of doctors. Patients would log in to a secure website where a doctor will ask them a series of questions.
But it seems some doctors have their doubts. One doctor in Brittany told Le Telegramme that, although medical advice has long been given to known patients over the phone, that is not a consultation. No indeed. He explained that a consultation isn't just an exchange of information, it requires a physical exam. Well yes. You need to listen to a patient's breathing, for instance, without which an incorrect diagnosis is likely. I'd have thought there were other dangers too. I have found that French doctors don't recognise my English first name as feminine, so what's next? My being diagnosed with prostate problems?
And Him indoors? Don't ask. He says he's just waiting for the time when all medical consultations are over the phone: If you've got a bad leg, press 1; if you've got something unmentionable, press 2......
Enough said.

24th October 2010

Chaos theory reigns supreme. Take England. Please! We had arranged an early-morning hotel wake-up call for the Tuesday morning so that we could pick up our daughter at Heathrow. So, we were now 3 in the hotel room, she on crutches following breaking her foot. After a tiring day dealing with funeral agents, we were in a deep sleep when, you guessed it, the phone jangled at 04.30! 'Your early morning call, madame'. No! That was yesterday. 'It's on our system, madam'. After sorting that out, the following night loud bells again woke us. I blinked at the clock: 02.00h. Unbelievably, a fire alarm. Struggled out into the cold. The fact I had forgotten to pack my nightdress in the rush to leave home did not help! No fire wardens, no-one at all to help, nor to tell us when it was safe to go back in. Finally got back to sleep, when loud bells again woke us at 06.00h. On enquiry at reception, the under-manager had arrived for duty, heard about the fire alarm and was testing the system! I could almost hear Sybil shouting 'Basil, Basil...!' and Manuel 'Mr. Fawlty, eet iz only a drill'. Later, after the funeral, our sorry group returned to the hotel, feeling despondent, only to be met by a riotous wedding party and loud, jarring drumbeats all night.
After all that, the French strikes are almost a relief....

17th October 2010

Why do others make life so difficult for ordinary people? First, the anti-terrorist brigade - otherwise known as English customs -confiscate simple things in our luggage like the memorial candles for my late brother. I told them I'd just returned from the funeral, but 'he was only doing his job'. Yes, I know, it's the terrorists of this world I should be complaining about, but it's still hard. Some things in your luggage are simply too private and personal to be bandied about for the whole world to see.
Then, what happens when we're finally back in la belle France? Rioters on the streets, waving placards, throwing tear gas. Oil refineries shut down, so there's a real threat of running out of petrol - a worry for those of us living in rural areas where the car is an absolute necessity. Forgive me for thinking we're back in 1789. And what grave concern are all these Frenchmen protesting about? The perfectly reasonable and mild suggestion from Sarkozy of moving the retirement age from 60 to 62.
What's up with everyone? Life is difficult enough and ordinary people like us just want to be left alone to get on with our lives. Is that too much to ask?

10th October 2010

We are in England, returning to France tomorrow. Life is so strange: one minute you're going about your normal routine, then one phone call can turn everything upside down. My last remaining brother died suddenly and I was the only one to arrange the funeral, so over the last 7 days I've run the full gamut of funeral directors, coroner's courts and solicitors. But throughout it all, individuals have been so kind and thoughtful.
My head's in a whirl, so I'm glad I haven't been doing the driving. My head loses all its spatial awareness when approaching a traffic island on the 'wrong' side of the road. But all traffic rules these days are crazy anyway. A woman driver in Perigueux had to pull her car inches past a red traffic light to allow an ambulance with flashing lights to get past. It was just the sort of situation where a policeman would have assessed and understood the situation, but a mechanical GATSO camera? Yes: it flashed and she was issued with a ticket. Pay or else.
This past week has convinced me.
Please can we have more people and fewer machines!

3rd October 2010

Ever wondered what the French earn? The subject is a definite no no in France. It's more outrageous here to ask what someone earns than asking about their sex life! Currently 7.8 million French live below the poverty level of 949 euros p.m., with half of those living on less than 773 euros p.m. Actual poverty levels are worked out by calculating 60% of the average French wage. In 2008, this median figure was 19,000 euros p.a.
Him indoors said How Much?? But he's always pleading poverty, and says government statisticians have never asked him what he earns here. I remember only too well when we were in the UK. The bank manager said "we have a policy here Mr.......: you're supposed to put some money IN occasionally!" And even here in France, when he visited the chiropracter and the doctor said "this is going to hurt", Him indoors replied "why, are you about to give me the bill?"I know - you've heard some of his jokes before. But what can I do? I tried to emigrate away from them, but they're still with me!
The bottom line: apart from houses, wine and sunshine, France is expensive. Expats won't get benefit credits here, so don't make the move unless your monthly income is at least the above poverty levels.....Him indoors now knows.

26th September 2010

Our son is here for 2 weeks!
Blagnac airport at Toulouse has changed beyond all recognition since our last visit. Must have been that nasty letter I sent them last year. The arrivals hall no longer has that baggage claim area where the man off the street could saunter in and take bags directly off the revolving carousel before arriving passengers get through passport control! Whilst waiting for the plane to land, I also noticed the brand new litter bins, complete with different 'green' sections for separating your waste coffee cups from newspapers from other dechets...trouble is, the inside was just one large plastic bag, to be disposed of all together!
Yesterday we went on a treasure hunt in the nearby village of Laguepie (literally means 'the wasp' - the locals must have known something). Anyway, it was v. entertaining. It's a global treasure hunt, which you co-ordinate to any area in the world from your cell phone. As we followed instructions, a clue came up: 'detruit par les ducs de joyeuse' (destroyed by dukes of pleasure). We looked up and saw a ruined castle. Sure enough, as we climbed up the hill, the cell phone beeped - 20m to go. And, there was the 'treasure' tucked in a hole in the crumbling wall. Inside a small box was a notebook and pencil to record our message and date and treasure we could exchange for our own. I left a pen.
If you want to play, go to: geocaching.com
Bien amusant.

19th September 2010

I have written before about problems caused by differing laws across the EU. Napoleon's old statutes still rule: blood ties only are allowed to inherit automatically. So, where a woman's husband dies and she marries again with a 'clause tontine' written into the marriage contract, only children from the current marriage stand to inherit when the surviving spouse dies. Blood is all in France.
Some years ago now, in the UK, I suffered from the aberrations of a relative's last wishes, irrespective of family ties. I, therefore, have some sympathy with the French. Imagine a 90-year old rich widower, his children growing up expecting to inherit his estate, only to see their expectations floored by a dying man's new need for a young companion! Think also of the many wealthy elderly ladies who leave their entire estate to the local cats' home.
On the other hand (and I'm very good at 'on the other hand'..), I also think that when you move to another country, you must accept their laws. I remember only too well how many in the UK would shout to new immigrants: 'if you don't like it here, go back to where you came from!'
The big question facing Sarkozy is: should he stick to Napoleon's original dictat and only allow blood relatives to inherit? Or, should he acknowledge the new, increasingly, complex family structures and allow people to leave their money to whomsoever they wish?
On verra.

12th September 2010

So, French workers are 'revolting' again! On 7 Sep as many as 200,000 took to the streets in Paris, 110,000 in Toulouse. And what's it all about this time? Sarkozy has suggested moving the retirement age from 60 to 62 in 2018. This doesn't even include workers from the French utility companies like my neighbour, who was able to retire at 50 with a handsome pension.
Remember England in the 1970s? Whenever there's unrest, there's a union representative. This time it's not Arthur Scargill but a Frenchman called Francois Chereque. He's so overjoyed he's called another day of action on 23 Sep. In response, the Employment Minister Eric Woerth has introduced some concessions for those whose jobs have left them unable to raise their arms above elbow level. Cue thousands of doctors' notes to that effect.
I'm very glad of my English state pension, earned after working all my adult life, but it's nothing like the amount the French receive and I didn't get it at 50 either. What's up with the French? Don't they realise we are all living longer than when pensions were first introduced?
Oh well, cue 23 Sep: barricade the doors. The French are indeed revolting again.

5th September 2010

The 4-year saga of our swimming pool continues. The glossy brochures never tell you how difficult they are to maintain. It all started when we realised that pools in France are a necessity, not a luxury. In hindsight (and all is so clear in hindsight, literally) we chose the wrong company, who charged us the earth but used the cheapest materials possible! As Him indoors says: it's a hole in the ground into which we pour money. Then, the leak followed in quick succession by the collapse of the pool because it was only the water that was holding it up.......and the fact that they said this kind of fault wasn't covered by their guarantee. Words failed me. But, even after the installation of a new liner, thick green algae started to grow and multiply. Nothing would kill it. Until now! At last, due to a chance remark from a friend, we found the man to fix it. However, even he couldn't clear 4-years' worth of algae regeneration. So, despite the danger of pool collapse, we emptied the pool, cleaned the liner with a special algicide then, importantly, added lots of sodium hypochlorite - liquid chlorine - as the water filled up. And, guess what? Our pool, at last, is crystal clear!
Him indoors says: before he could see a flaw in it, but now it's clear he can definitely see a floor in it.

29th August 2010

I've always been a 'what if....?' person. Something in the local news brought this home to me this week.
Josianne Vermeersch received the news we all dread. Her brother had died. Despite her sadness, she arranged that the interment would be at the cemetery in Hellemmes, N. France. All the family were contacted, including her ex-husband Elie Langlet, but she couldn't reach her 42 year old son Oliver, who lived alone nearby. When he still failed to answer, she left a message on his mobile phone that he should attend his uncle's funeral. However he failed to turn up. After the funeral, the family sadly made their way back along a cemetery path, when she suddenly let out a cry. In front of her was a newly-dug plot 'Oliver Langlet, 1968 - 2010'. The local mairie confirmed Oliver's death and said that they had sent a letter to the family, but the address they used was out of date. In French law, as in many eastern religions, interments are required to be carried out quickly. So, in cases where the family cannot be found, the burial goes ahead without them!
In today's society where increasing numbers are living alone, it's vital that individuals leave up-to-date next-of-kin contact information with their local doctor and/or their mairie in France. The doctor's a good choice as it's usually he who writes the death certificate. Once done, constructive negativists like me can get on with their lives.

22nd August 2010

70 years ago Churchill made a famous speech '....never in the field of conflict was so much owed by so many to so few'. I was reminded of all that his speech entailed - particularly with the ensuing Holocaust - this week in the French news. Despite the fact that France is hailed around the world as a symbol of secular democracy, the country saw fit to expel a named group - the gypsies - from its shores. In an apparent, but mistaken, attempt to cool the growing furore over the matter, France's Interior Minister, Brice Hortefeux, is planning to meet his Romanian counterpart next week to discuss re-integrating the expelled gypsies back into Rumanian society.
As an expat myself, I understand that newcomers must abide by the laws of their new country. This includes each individual doing his or her best to speak the language, to integrate and to contribute financially via taxes (according to individual circumstances) to available facilities. It is certainly not right for individuals to expect to use land and facilities without paying any contribution towards the cost and upkeep. However, these laws must be assigned individually - not to whole groups. To expel a whole group smacks of xenophobia and racism. Above all, it means that the world has learned absolutely nothing from the horrific mistakes of the past.
Sarkozy: I thought better of you!

15th August 2010

Have you seen that bloke on TV called Paul Yarrow? People started to notice that on important UK outside broadcasts, there was always this scruffy little man in the background. At first I thought he was one of those 'hello Mom' nerds, but curiously he never smiled or waved at the camera - just talked on his cell phone or read the paper. When finally discovered and tracked down, he said he was on a mission for the plain, fat, ordinary people of this world - to make a stand against the media's obsessive interest in the young and beautiful. This struck a chord with me.
When I watch France Vingt-Quatre (24) on French TV, this 'obsession' with youth and beauty is even more pronounced. I often wonder where all the past TV presenters, models and air hostesses are, once they've outlived their 5-mins of youth and beauty. It's the same with the literary world. I don't want agents to look at me: just the quality of my written work. Did they check out what Shakespeare or Jane Austen looked like before they published their work?
So, more power to your elbow Paul Yarrow. Continue your original approach and make people listen to the fat, ordinary and plain people of this world. It's about time.

8th August 2010

When me and Him indoors first arrived in France some 5 years ago, it was a triple whammy to our senses. New country, new language and being together 24/7 for the first time in over 40 years. If you're not to come to blows, you have to recognise what each is good at and learn to complement one another as best you can when difficulties arise. I have absolutely no practical skills whatsoever, so Him indoors is detailed to change those fiddly electric sockets, light switches etc. plus changing the water filter (to combat calcium deposits) and dragging home half-trees in the dead of night to keep us stocked up for the winter, whilst I do all the worrying(!), housework, bill paying and swearing at the PC.
This is a wonderful system until something goes wrong, like last week. Storms wrought havoc causing power cuts, which led to losing our English TV channels and internet - again! Couldn't check bank balance or anything. Eventually I was able to use the phone and call in France Telecom, who suggested a new 'para foudre' wire in the garage. Then came the casual mention that we'd have to get a new livebox - a short 50 mile drive to Montauban and all that entails. Him indoors asked the engineer: how many times is this going to happen? 'Je ne suis pas le bon Dieu!' came the gallic response.
Life is never boring here.

1st August 2010

A Surrey woman was recently shocked to receive a letter in French - headed obligation alimentaire - asking for details of her income as her father was in a Normandy care home. French law obliges children to have maintenance duties towards parents in need, but according to French avocats such as Gerard Barron in Boulogne, this is the first time that a French body has tried to enforce such a maintenance obligation against a non-resident, non-French 'maintenance debtor'. The French are obviously serious in trying to deal with increasing numbers of the old and frail by also introducing new 'care insurance' for all over-50s. They recommend a compulsory private insurance package called assurance dependance, to cover the cost of home help or staying in a care home. Likely cost? c.30 euros/month. But, will the insurers pay up?? Discussions in parliament are currently ongoing.
I have a feeling that the problem experienced by the Surrey woman will not be the first in the widely-differing laws across the EU country states.
But, in some ways I agree with the French maintenance law. We could all learn lessons from eastern cultures by repaying what our parents did for us. Vive respect for our elders!

25th July 2010

For some time, the French government has promised easy ASDL connection for all. But, take this with a pinch of salt. For those who do manage to get onto the internet, when they look on French websites like Costorama, what do they see? Lots of colour, glory, techno language and opening hours, but hardly any hard facts to aid the consumer like what their goods actually cost.
Many are the expats who bought large properties in rural areas several years ago who now find that because their village hasn't got Wifi and is unlikely to get it anytime soon, there is real depreciation of their property value. Apparently they should buy expensive satellite connections, and..er no..there are no grants available towards the cost. Many of the special offers from companies like Orange for bulk packages including TV and phone are useless to those without fast connections, and they can't get the free TV either.
Ironically enough, there is one French company that has a wonderful website, full of facts and ease of access to consumers. Its name? You guessed it, the French tax office! But for the rest of the WiFi-free rural zone inhabitants, the internet is as elusive as before. Nothing moves fast in France - ask the poor old snail, and you know what happens to him: he gets taken with a pinch of salt and covered in sauce. C'est la France.

18th July 2010

Everything's fine living here as long as all's going well. But when things go wrong? Double the trouble. It's not just having to use a foreign language; attitudes in France are very different from those back home in Birmingham. There, the general air of pessimism was renowned. In shops everywhere could be heard the refrain: 'I don't suppose you've got one of these', the customer wondering why he'd even bothered to ask, so unlikely was the trader's answer gonna be. So France was bound to be the same, wasn't it?
Living in the middle of nowhere, one of the worst things for me is when the internet goes down. I have one of these 'blinking' liveboxes, but it's not supposed to blink. Disaster. Ringing France Telecom is a nightmare: the usual musical tones, then the Queen asking you to press 1 for this, 2 for that etc. And then, when you finally get a real person - impossible to explain the technical jargon for what's gone wrong, even more the answer. But, my fairy godmother was at hand! I found an English-speaking service that actually had technicians at hand to help. Not only did they come chez-nous, they fixed the problem (a chewed wire underground + changed our old rusty phone socket) for free! Now that's something you don't see everyday. The tel. no. is charged at local rates:
See. I told you everything'd be all right!

11th July 2010

It's hot. Too hot to eat hot food, but you can get tired of salad every day. French legend has it there was once a beautiful girl called Ferline, whose poorest suitor brought back some strange seeds from a trip to S. America. He planted them in a sunny spot and, after offering Ferline his harvest, they fell in love. The fruit was called pomme d'amour until the 18C. And the fruit? Yes, the humble tomato. The town where Ferline grew up was Marmande in the Aquitaine, which holds a Tomato Fiesta every year: this year it's in the Place du Marche July 23 - 25th.
Try this wonderful cold soup recipe. It's absolutely delicious and, above all, easy - especially if like us you've managed to grow some tomatoes yourself this year.
Provencale tomato soup
Bake 4lb large ripe tomatoes in the oven, after seasoning with salt, pepper, pinch of sugar, and drizzling a little olive oil over them. After 1hr, the tomatoes should have burst and have black tops. Remove from oven and leave to cool. Pull off skins and put tomatoes and all their juices into a food processor. Puree and add some creme fraiche. Eat lukewarm or iced. Garnish with a little chopped cucumber or red pepper plus a sprig of parsley. Enjoy!

4th July 2010

4th July - an important day for the Americans. In 10 days it will be an important day for the French. And for the English? Exactly. Why are we all so different? Although the French are noted for their lack of irony, an unknown called Darren Tulett is the television presenter fast becoming France's most famous Briton. Following the world cup debacle, he introduced a Monty-Python-type programme called "Match of Ze Day". Whilst Sarkozy called a crisis meeting and held talks at the Elys̩e with striker Thierry Henry, Mr Tulett was teaching self-deprecation. Although the highbrow Le Monde says the dysfunctional French team is a 'mirror' of French society Рselfish, money-grabbing and 'split into clans', Tulett brings a TV montage showing "Zidane is rubbish" - the country's most recent superstar.
Tulett's show is now a hit on Canal Plus, France's premium pay-TV channel with around eight million subscribers. With all our disillusion with the English team, at least we wanted them to win, unlike the French, who actually wanted their team to lose! Something had to be done. So meet Britain's most unlikely unofficial ambassador. Tulett says "At least a dozen French strangers have stopped me in the street to say: 'I never much liked the English, but you have reconciled me with England."
Who'd have thought it.

27th June 2010

A bad week for the French. First, no warning from France Meteo about the terrible floods in the Var region. One poor woman opened her front door and found herself swimming to her neighbour's house. Then, the debacle with the French football team, where everyone blamed the manager.
And now, the UK'S former Europe Minister, Chris Bryant, calls French a 'useless' language and questioned whether it should still be taught in British schools. A fine cultural ambassador he is! Meanwhile, a study here in France found some top firms were unable to deal with phone calls in English. Try talking to British or American firms in French! It is our job to learn their language, not the other way round. French, Spanish and Latin should be mandatory lessons in school - we need more linguistic scholars, who could then turn to Mandarin and Arabic/Hebrew. It's common for Chinese business people to communicate in several languages. The official language of the UK for about 400 years was Norman French, so it's at the heart of our language with only 184 pure Anglo-Saxon words remaining in the English dictionary.
So, in summary: Don't worry when things go wrong. It's just a dip in life's ever-changing graph. Teach discipline and respect for those in authority, and bring back language teaching. Only when we understand each other can we live in peace.

20th June 2010

According to a recent report in the Guardian, apparently more and more English expats in France are ordering food online from cheap UK supermarkets like Asda: even stuff like wine and croissants! Can you believe that? I don't believe it for one minute, and I certainly haven't seen any giant Asda lorries in our village - not that they'd be able to fit into our tiny lanes anyway. Maybe in the Costa del Sol, where cafes advertising 'Tea like mother used to make' and 'Pie, beer and chips' are always full of red-necked English. But in France? No, no, a thousand times no. One of the first things you learn here is that the food we eat must have a greater priority in our budget: it's what governs our health and the length of time we live. Far more important to spend more on the superior quality and freshness of French food and less on so-called 'must have' consumer goods.
There was another report that English people moving to France were 'quite mad' - especially when moving from a busy working life in a city to the quiet French rural countryside. I can understand this report a little more. It's certainly a big culture shock - not only is it so very very quiet, but me and 'him indoors' are together 24/7 for the first time in our lives.
Enough said.

13th June 2010

World Cup fever. Painted faces, tribalism, everyone obsessed in trying to beat the other team in the name of 'nationality'. In 1969 Karl Deutsch said that a nation is '..a group of persons united by a comon error about their ancestry and a common dislike of their neighbors..' Very true.
But for expats everywhere, there's a feeling of identity crisis in all this. Indeed, the other night even the weather joined in. A local thunderstorm wiped out our Sky transmissions and we were 'forced' to watch the terrestrial match between France and Uruguay! Quite enjoyed it actually. There's something about the 'ugliness' of Ribery that seems to match that of Rooney, dare I say it, but they're both very good players.
But then came last night's England v USA match. I don't mind if we don't win due to honest endeavour, but that fumbled, inept, shambolic goalie error.....Words fail me.
So, from my own actions last night in nearly kicking in the TV screen, it's clear that I still feel English in thought and deed. And, what happens when England play France? It's clear I should be committed to integrating fully in our new country. So, who will I support? What do you think? Courtesy of Rupert Brook..There is some corner of a foreign field that is forever England....Come on England!

6th June 2010

How to enjoy English books when they're so elusive in French shops?Amazon? Not really. Amazon.com in the US and amazon.co.uk mean hefty delivery charges, and the English section of amazon.fr gives free delivery but too-high retail price. I recommend the BookDepository.co.uk, which gives reduced prices plus free delivery anywhere in the world.
As a writer, I'm always looking for good books to read. And that means not those published due to the celebrity-status of the author, but due to the quality of the written word. Well, I've now found a real gem. Although first published in 1937 in Germany, this beautifully-written novel is only now available in English. It's pure poetry in motion, it's 1,000 pages long, and I find myself lingering on every word. For lovers of good books, I can only recommend it here, but make sure you get the original, unabridged edition - (not a shorter version with different title from Penguin).
Here are the details: 'Wolf among Wolves' by Hans Fallada, published by Melville House, isbn 978-1-933633-92-3. It's a novel set in 1923 Germany and gives a vivid account of the collapse of the German economy and the mindset of the people at the time. Its characters are dark, desperate and full of invention on how to circumvent their lives. Its original German edition was published despite fears of Nazi retribution. Read it!
Let me know what you think.

30th May 2010

What have Jamie Oliver and a walk in the French backwoods got in common? It all started last Tuesday. Our visiting Canadian friends wanted to go for a gentle walk somewhere flat. We located the perfect spot in a tiny village called Bach (pronounced Bash in France). The walk was excellent and even had marked trees as signposts for those of limited walking experience. But of course we cut it short. 1k one way and 1k back was all we could manage - but it was good. And, we were able to let Bruno and Tina off the lead because there were no cattle, railway lines anywhere. Excellent.
Then we looked for a place to eat in Bach...well it is the land of bien manger. By some lucky chance we hit upon the wonderful Auberge Lou Bourdie run by la charmante Monique Valette. The food was advertised as 'cuisine traditionnelle'. It was superb. Great bowls of cresson soup served in giant 'gesunders' (goes under the bed!) and giant earthenware pots of 'tian courgette' - a sort of veggie kugel, platters of rare beef and duck for the meat-eaters, plus home-made roast potatoes. Servez-vous. With wonderful desserts, good wine and coffee, the total cost for 4 was 77 euros. Excellent value. And Jamie Oliver? We missed him by 2 days. He had been cooking there just 2 days previously, complete with camera crew. Mme Valette showed us the pictures to prove it!
Ah, this is the life.

23rd May 2010

Should America follow the NHS system or the carte vitale, as in France? Following the passing of the new US health bill, Former CNN news anchor Veronica de la Cruz visited France to find out. She found that the French don't really understand the American system, so she told them: 'give me your carte vitale, now work out how you are going to pay for your health care - that's what it's like in the US'. Veronica's own brother Eric died in the US whilst waiting years for a heart transplant. He couldn't get insurance due to a pre-existing condition.
The NHS was originally a brilliant post-war idea, with its universal free health care for all, but it fails if there are too-many people, especially a top-heavy old v young working population, calling on its services. Many English now follow my brother Robert's example and avoid hospitals at all costs by following his simple rules: don't sit down for more than 2h at a time, walk around a bit and go to bed early.
France was ranked no. 1 by the World Health Organisation, so Veronica wanted to find out why. And then she found out the hard way: her taxi hit a scooter, injuring her head. Despite being a foreigner, the Paris hospital saw her right away and did tests. And the cost? 22 euros! And they said they would send the bill to her address in NY. In the US you can't even walk in the door without an insurance card, and even with one, it would have cost her $10,000.
Well done France!

16th May 2010

What a week. The UK has the youngest PM for over 100 years and the first coalition government since 1945. The good news, already, is that UK state pensions are to have a bigger guaranteed increase each April whichever of incomes or 2.5% are the greater.
And what's this I read in the news? Sarkozy threatens to leave the euro, and German savers hoard gold. Nothing new there then! The Greeks are rioting and can't understand why they can't continue to retire at 45 with full pensions, even though their government has debts of billions. And what does the EU do? It responds in the same way world leaders responded to their bankrupt banks – lends them more money. The road to ruin, I say. All the while, across Europe, voters are asking why they should be asked to pay for the rescue package, worrying they might be next. And don't forget the on-going bankrupt state of the US housing market.
It's all getting worse. If the euro breaks up and others try to devalue their currencies, we'll be back to the economics, or even the governments, of the '30s! Beware another Hitler knocking on the door!
What was it my mother used to say? If you haven't got it, don't spend it.

9th May 2010

What a shambles! The loser receives all the media coverage, thousands of voters locked out of polling stations, and a party of third-world observers from tinpot African countries report that the UK's electoral system needs modernizing!
How can the Tories, who received the largest number of votes by far, agree to implement policies from the Lib. Dems. which the voters largely rejected? What a farce. In this high-tech digital age, should we really be seeing images of runners with cardboard boxes, rushing to get to the counting houses on time? Should we really be seeing queues of people, right round the block - bringing memories of the Odeon picture-house matinees of my youth? And what about individual voter id fraud?
Of course, from a French-resident point of view, there may well be some Lib. Dem. pro-Euro ideas in the package that could be advantageous to us. Steve Webb, their spokesman for work and pensions said that if you accrue years of entitlements in a country but later go to live elsewhere, you should still be entitled to the benefits you paid for. Hear hear!
And Him indoors? He says the new Cabinet should use Liberal ideas, Conservative taste and Labour-saving devices.

2nd May 2010

The letter said 'be at the prefecture, Montauban, at 14.00 hours', so as the guilty parties we had to obey. But, what to do with the dogs? Too long to leave them at home. Besides, she cries in the house and he wrecks the place (rather like me and Him indoors really). So we all piled in the car, with me (as the innocent party) driving. I knew the whole place would be shut between 12 and 2 p.m., so there was only one thing to do. I wasn't complaining as we found a special 'offre du midi' at 7.50 euros each for 3 courses.
Montauban was hot, so we were lucky to find an underground car park to keep the dogs cool. It was light, cool, very clean and even had piped music to keep them happy. So, we trudged up to the Prefecture with dread in our hearts. But, I was sure I had all the necessary paperwork - essential in France. I even took copies of his birth certificate, passport and our EDF bill just in case.
Result? Success. Him indoors now has a French licence. They differ from English ones (which start with no points) in that they begin with 12, which you lose when you make a contravention. Points lost are reinstated after 3 years of good behaviour, but beware. If you lose even one point just before the 3 years are up, you have to serve another 3 years of good behaviour! The good thing is that French driving licences are for life (not until 70, as in the UK), so we won't require a medical or re-test in French (!) unless we apply to drive an artic. - unlikely I'd have thought - or lose our licence completely..... Drive carefully!

25th April 2010

Everybody's watching it. No, not American Idol. The British election race! I can't remember one being this close, ever. From the innovative TV debates to the opinion polls, it's riveting. However don't look at the superficial things: which one looks the best, which wife is the most stylish etc. No, no, no! It's too important for that. If I had my way, every voter should take a test on the policies and leaders of the country before being let loose at the polling booth.
A leader should have the essential gravitas to be able to act on the world stage. A wishy-washy style just won't do. The job requires strength and above all a superior education and intelligence to deal with the difficult tasks ahead. Let's not return to the old class-wars in Britain. In the US, if you see someone with a high style of living, you try to emulate them. That's how it should be, not trying to knock everyone down to the same low level as everyone else.
Why am I interested? I live in France but British policies like pensions still affect me. I do hope that on May 6, the 'best' party wins: the most intelligent leader, with the best back-up team. A 'hung parliament' is no good to anyone. When such a committee meets to discuss a horse, you end up with a camel (an attempt to please everyone, but which in fact pleases no-one).
Whatever you think of Sarkozy, he shot to power saying "The mark of a statesman is to change the course of events, not just to describe them". Blair: please note.
Let the race begin.

18th April 2010

There's a property programme called Location, Location, Location. The title is correct. Where your house is, is far more important than its physical characteristics. You clearly wouldn't want to buy your home near a volcano (Iceland or otherwise), but I think the flood risk is far greater. Homes that were severely damaged by floods during the recent storm Xynthia in France and are no longer habitable are being bought by the government and destroyed. Sarkozy says "we will not let people move back into homes situated in areas where there is a life-threatening risk". The risk has been heavy for farmers too. 45,000 hectares of arable land were flooded and crops burned by salt in the Vendee and Charente-Maritime areas alone. Coupled with all this is the state of crumbling sea defences around the world.
So, why do people still dream of that home 'by the sea'? Why are house prices still so expensive in coastal areas and on tiny islands? To my mind, these should be the cheapest. House prices are supposed to be market-driven, but are too slow to change. Also important is the ease/speed of broadband connection in this internet world. We were able to buy our modest home with super-fast broadband connection and well away from the sea at a ridiculously cheap price. That's why we're here.

11 April 2010

I suppose it had to happen some time. An envelope with Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite embossed in the corner arrived with the usual trash mail. Thought it was the annual tax declaration form. But it was worse than that. We've been clocked for speeding in France! It's the most bizarre thing. You'd think being English, we'd know all about rain but in France it's crucial because there's a different speed limit when it's raining than when it's not.
The big question is: what speed to drive when it's just spitting with rain??
The Avis de Contravention says 'votre vehicule a ete controle a 121 km/h, pour une vitesse limite autorisee de 110 km/h'. French motorways have a limit of 130 km/h when it's dry and 110 km/h when it's wet. But, how can we argue on that specific day on that particular bit of road that it wasn't really raining at all?
Of course, with all things French, there's the usual mountain of paperwork to process. Because our licence is an international one, in order to add these new point(s), we need to obtain a French licence. And, to do that, we must take photos and every id we possess to the prefecture in Montauban.
I don't know what it is about so-called driving offences. Why treat 'ignorance' of the system by law-abiding people as a full-on criminality offence? Oh well, c'est la vie.......

4th April 2010

Everywhere I look these days, health issues are in the news. The current French system is that the government pays 70% of a patient's costs, the remaining 30% paid by the individual. French working people contribute via their pay towards this 30%, but some hardy, optimistic expats hope they'll never get ill. The remaining worriers (like me) take up top-up insurance. There are a few problems with this. Some new early-retiree expats with a residual medical history are discovering that private insurance companies are refusing them cover to bridge the gap until they reach full retirement age.
But I've now discovered that we British expats shouldn't be paying this 30% at all (however it's funded)! I think there's a big con going on. It seems that the UK pays France c.100% for each of its pensioners who've paid N.I. contributions all their lives, but then individuals pay the French government this 30% anyway. So France wins hands-down!!
As it's a large part of our monthly outgoings here, I've written to my British MP, Lynne Jones - who may listen in this run-up to the election. In any case, let's hope that, if the Conservatives get in as predicted, the only big con in the future is David Cameron. And Him indoors? He says all parties are short-sighted anyway, like him. Yesterday he said, you'll never guess who I bumped into? Everyone.

28th March 2010

We're back in S.W. France again! It feels good to be home again, Bruno and Tina's tails wagging in unison like windscreen wipers. The house feels a little musty, but we've flung open the volets and windows, the forsythia bushes are a riot of yellow, and we can see bright blue between the clouds. Summer's coming at last.
The holiday's made me feel a bit strange: a re-run of my past life. My brother and I re-visited the house we grew up in. Everything looked so tiny. We walked around Perry Hall Park, where I used to play, feeling sad that the old canteen where our mother used to work was no longer there - burnt down in an arson attack years ago. At least the old oak tree was still there, under which I broke my arm doing a cartwheel fifty years ago. We enjoyed going to Villa Park again, cheering wildly when our team scored, even if I sadly now understand the vernacular all around me!
It was lovely to chat to old friends and hug close family, but...... How to compare the two countries? The Paris and London roads are both chockablock and maddeningly impossible to navigate around: Paris with its multitude of E road numbers - is it the E15, E05 or A3?? How can it be all 3? What I've got to do now is relax chez-nous and work out in my own mind where I feel happiest. I certainly can't do without the sunshine and bright blue skies, so perhaps I've already made up my mind. Time will tell.

23rd March 2010

I'm on a flying visit back to my roots in Birmingham, UK. Always good to take a fresh look at the old place. Nostalgic? Relieved to be 'home' and speaking my own language again? Well, yes and no.
Managed the notorious Paris Peripherique ringroad without taking our usual argumentative 'scenic route'. Arrived at Calais in one piece and even navigated through the screen registration process and onto the Tunnel train without mishap. But, listening to the tannoy announcements, I don't think French is meant to be spoken with a strong Estuary accent somehow. But then we hit a rainstorm in Folkestone. Things didn't improve when we were stuck on the M25 (London orbital route) for hours, cars stationary with no explanation whatsoever, grey leaden skies above, windscreen wipers going like the clappers, anxious people everywhere.
Hotels are always interesting, the best ones not always the ones you expect. Scores for the Ramada Jarvis in Watford? 2/10. Sorry Ramada, but non-arrival of our room service breakfast and then blithely saying 'Oh, we must have forgotten' did not go down well, nor did the trickle of cold water from the shower! By complete contrast, the Westmead Hotel in Hopwood, just outside Birmingham, scores 9/10. Breakfast very good, shower fast and hot, room large, clean, and with free Wi-fi access so that I can write this. Full marks Westmead: you've beaten London hands down.
So, should we stay or go back to sunny France and sunny people? Answers on a postcard please.

14th March 2010

It's mothers' day or mother's day if you want to be more personal. I was thinking how different life is today to that of my own late mother. There have been more changes in the last 50 year period than any other. I think back to worktime faxes, Apple Macs, then PCs and email. For those then in their 40's like me, we were too young to retire so we just had to learn how to use it all. One older secretary back then tried to use Tippex on the PC screen. Fortunately, she was able to retire before any more damage was done.
Now retired in France, I am so glad that I was forced to learn the new technology. Living miles from anywhere, it's a real boon to be able to do my banking, buy online and contact family on the other side of the world. The French papers say that more and more younger expats are arriving here: not to work in traditional ways (due to lack of language skills), but to work online. One said: 'Thanks to my broadband link I am happily straddling the sedate French rural life and the high-tech fast lane'. I do hope though that these younger expats still learn French. Even if you don't need it to work, it's essential to integrate with the locals. What must not happen is lots of English cliques. Let technology be the route for more understanding, not yet another difference to cause riots.
And Him indoors? When in the shop, he would look at the computer and ask 'Which button do I press to find out who's pinching the stock?' Some things never change.

7th March 2010

Lots of UK election sound-bites afoot about much-needed changes, particularly in education and health. Good! Generations of UK schoolchildren have been short-changed. The brain must be trained to think independently before introducing PCs, calculators and more advanced education. Bevan's original postwar NHS ideal has collapsed due to too-many people chasing ever-increasing health treatments and cost-driven drugs. Result: blow-out.
French schoolchildren have always followed a traditional regime, primary children attending 6h p.d., 4 days p.w.
French healthcare is rightly lauded as the best health system in the world, but I doubt if the UK would ever accept the switch from free care to one based on regulated payments and refunds. Besides, illegal immigrants wouldn't like the automatic id checks via the health cards! A new French innovation is a website like http://www.icalin.sante.gouv.fr/ where results on 5 key indicators, superbugs, illness prevention, post-operative infections, antibiotic use, post-operative deaths, can be checked hospital by hospital.
And my experience? In our French village I see that even primary children greet me politely in English in the street, and that hospital patients return home praising their treatment. Enough said. And Him indoors: he tells the doctor he has a low pain threshhold, so the doctor says the next procedure will hurt a bit....here's the bill!

28th February 2010

Strange noises in the house. Ghosts? Don't panic.
A neat hole on the bag of dog-meal under the sink gave the game away. The farmer's Spring-time cultivation must have disturbed some field mice, who've moved into our house. (Brings to mind the time when I sent Him indoors to the computer shop in Caussade. Did you buy a new Mouse? No, the assistant just grinned at me. What? Oh, you must have asked for a 'sourire' (smile) instead of a 'souris'!!)
I remember trying everything last year to get rid of the real mice humanely but to no avail. These French are very clever. They work out how to extract the cheese then run away! But then, in desperation, I did something extremely foolish. I threw a mouse-poison sachet behind the office cabinet, thinking Bruno couldn't possibly reach it. But, yes he did and nearly died.
So, this time I've come up with a foolproof plan. Get a very large glass jar, grease it liberally on all inner surfaces, sprinkle some seeds or cheese inside, then - la piece de resistance - put a ruler or polystyrene ramp up to it. The mouse is certain to run up the ramp, fall inside and then, in the morning, I can deliver him to safety far away.
If not, Him indoors says that if we've run out of cheese, we could put a picture of some cheese in the mousetrap, but then in the morning, we'd find a picture of a mouse!

21st February 2010

There's a phrase I hear all the time here from English ex-pats: Times may be harder, but we're so much happier here. Why is this?
When I think back, I was constantly chasing my tail in England. A never-ending cycle of debt owed to others. Paying the mortgage never went away, and every 3 years yet another credit contract for a car. Constant peer-pressure, struggling to keep up with the Joneses. And what does it all add up to? A lifetime of work, stress and tiredness.
So now we're old and looking back at it all. Like most UK ex-pats living in rural France, we're retired and living off a pension. Those of working age looking to move to France should think very carefully indeed. How will you support yourself? It's natural for the French to employ native French-speakers; the only way is to work for yourself on-line.
And Him indoors? Like Harold MacMillan, he's never had it so good. He laughs to think of all those bank managers of the past. 'We have an arrangement here, Mr....., you're supposed to put some money IN occasionally!' Mr. Cuprinol, he used to call them: he treated them with dis-stain!
TG that's all over with. We may be poorer but we don't owe anything to anybody: no mortgage, rent or credit cards. Now we can relax and enjoy la vie en rose. We've earned it!

14th February 2010

It's Valentine's Day, but forgive me if I'm just not interested. This isn't a 'headache' moment; merely commercial interests overriding the incomes of the poverty-stricken masses.
Talking about poverty stricken, several weeks ago Him indoors looked at the meter on our gas citerne - that bomb-like cystern out the back. With all this cold weather, I dreaded the news. But, sure enough, the meter read '20': time to call in TotalGaz to fill up the tank. The giant lorry duly arrived, down our narrow country lane (not designed for any vehicle larger than the ubiquitous Berlingo). Our neighbour's horrible dogs scattered in fright - good! - but then the lorry driver tried to negotiate our newly-erected gate. Buried in cement, underneath the gate, is what they call 'un sabot basculante' - to enable the gates to shut. Well, the lorry driver didn't use hydraulics to lift the vehicle, he just bulldozed straight over the sabot and damaged it beyond repair. We subsequently obtained a devis quote and sent it to Total Gaz. Yesterday we received their reply: '...when we installed your citerne we inspected your access route. By building new gates, you have changed the access, so we are not liable. Please do something about it before the next delivery. Respectfully.....'
Him indoors says 'sabotage', try not to take a-fence, and time to make a bolt for the door......
Grrr! St. Valentine's massacre of my own.

7th February 2010

We've been invited to a family celebration 'back home' in the UK.
Now, how to get there? Looking at myself in the mirror (never a pretty sight), I decided not to subject all and sundry to a full-body scan by some nameless cretins at the airport, so it's the car and Eurotunnel then. But that brings its own problems. Wasn't sure whether we needed a 'Green card' for travelling with a French car to the UK. But, all Google brings up is English cars driving through France. Tried our bank, which oversees our car insurance, and they say I can drive 'en toute tranquillite'. That's all right then!!
Then, I looked at UK hotel chains. Times have changed. If I try to email them from France, they either don't answer or some central call-centre responds with the ubiquitous FAQs. Urghh. It's so condescending of people to assume they already know what you're going to ask. The reason you're emailing them is because your question is non-standard. Why can't you get a person to respond to emails personally these days? It's the same with phones. I remember when we left Birmingham in 05, if I tried to call New Street Station about a non-standard issue, I'd get someone in Bangladesh!
So, I'll continue struggling with arrangements. After all, I've got to keep Him indoors in the style to which he's always been accustomed.

31st January 2010

Don't you just hate all those childish English TV ads, especially that one for Lloyd's bank? You know the one, where Julie Walters does a condescending voice-over, whilst Lowrie-like people rush about. Neither do I like the B. Soc. ads where some young girl who looks like an incompetent telephonist smiles and talks to you about your children.
I much prefer the old-fashioned quality of French banks. I don't want to be put at my ease in the middle of a waiting area full of eavesdropping queuers waiting for the one vacant counter. I want to go into a soundproof, private office, to talk to an older man (sexist/ageist, I know) who has spent years in the banking industry and knows his trade. As such, Credit Agricole has always offerred that plus the modern stuff like internet banking - vital for those who live in the countryside.
However, recent news is that French banks are starting to close non-profitable accounts, much to the chagrin of their customers. It appears that banks want to get rid of people who do not make enough use of their (paid for) banking services, i.e. those who don't use credit cards, insurance on which the bank makes a profit. An account with 350 euros in it and no movements is an expense to the bank! M. Dos Santos, president of a major French banking union, said "a bank is not a public service".
That says it all really.

24th January 2010

English expats are revolting! Well, in one sense anyway.
It all hinges on whether all those National Insurance contributions we paid during our working life in the UK were for us personally in our later lives, or for the retirees back then. I know what you're thinking: it's those baby-boomers complaining again. But it's a fundamental issue really. Don't get me wrong. I understand completely that income tax should provide for everyone at the time: for police services, hospitals, fire stations, parks, amenities etc. But National Insurance contributions are something different.
What's happening at the moment is that the UK government are picking and choosing what expats may claim for: essentially just the pension. We can't claim for any benefits at all, not even disability benefit or income support for the poor, unlike our fellow-retirees still living in the UK. And, most expats living outside the EU don't even get annual increases on their pension either.
But, what a surprise. There must be a general election looming: one in which maybe, just maybe, there might be a 'hung parliament'. In other words, they want our votes. Yes, even we expats who before have been treated like discarded old rubbish.
So, now is the time to be revolting! Man the barricades, drag out Mme Guillotine, we expats are on the march. Allons enfants de la patrie. We want what we are entitled to. Call me Dave: are you listening?

17th January 2010

I was feeling miserable. I even joined Facebook, but that told me I only had one friend. So, something had to be done.
On Monday we were wandering around the market at Caussade. The winter stall-holders were stamping their feet, their mingled breath telling their own story as they struggled to make a living. The only conversations I heard were steeped in occitan dialect, the ends of words having a special musical cadence all their own.
It was then that we passed the music stall. 'I know that voice,' I said. A shiver ran down my spine. 'I'll take it,' I said to the grateful stall-holder, shoving the CD deep inside my bag. It was just what I needed. When we got home and warmed up with a cup of chocolat chaud, I clicked the disc onto our radio/CD player.
And then she sang 'L'hymne a l'amour'. Oh my God. Have you heard it? The melody is just so haunting. Unmistakeably Edith Piaf. (Google Piaf, '20 Chansons d'Or' and listen to that song on your PC).
A message to Simon Cowell: when, oh when, is someone like Edith Piaf going to walk into your auditions and start to sing like that? That's what I long for. I don't want to hear karaoke, I don't want to hear rap. I want to hear someone who sends an instant tingle down the spine.
Simon: I'm waiting......

10th January 2010

Bienvenu to all new readers. You're very welcome indeed. Me and Him indoors need all the help we can get in this new year. His aches and pains are getting worse, but when the doctor says it's his age, he says his other shoulder's just the same age and that doesn't hurt!
So, I wonder what this new year will bring to we hardy souls? We've actually got snow outside. Imagine. It's supposed to be the south of France, but no-one told Him upstairs. Of course, everyone's sceptical about global warming and saying someone's having a laugh. But my feeling is that - just maybe - all that melting Arctic ice has made the Atlantic waters rise just enough to skew the warming Gulf Stream away from the UK and western Europe. You've only got to look at an atlas to see how far north the UK is - much further north than, say, Maine in the US, yet look at the winters they get. Maybe the days of mild English winters are changing. On verra.
More certain French changes in 2010 are: new Ryanair flights from Leeds to Carssonne and Montpellier; Parisians will be able to use their mobile phones on buses instead of travel passes; you can now use the internet to vote, replace your carte grise, carte vitale, French driving licence etc.; and mobile phone manufacturers will use the same kind of adapter (micro-USB port) to simplify life for users. We need some welcome, helpful news. The doctor tells us we're not getting any younger. Him indoors says: it's not younger I want to get, but older.....

3rd January 2010

So here we are in a new decade: 'Twenty-ten' - much quicker than the old 'Two thousand and nine'. In any case, there was always confusion with the Americans, who called it 'Two thousand nine'. So now we can all say the same. I asked a local villager whether he would be calling it 'Vingt-dix', but he just shook his head at this crazy Englishwoman and said 'Non. C'est Deux milles dix'. So now we know. You can't argue with the French.
Let's hope this new year is better than the old one anyway. The pound isn't too bad at 1.12 euros, so could be worse. And, to ease headaches when selling property to English buyers, a new ruse is for the buyer to arrange a bank transfer of the purchase price in sterling into the UK account of the seller. Although advertised in euros, and the French notaire/agent are paid in euros, the rest avoids excessive currency transfer charges. Voila!
Naturally Him indoors has his own way of beating the new year doldrums. He'll pay our tax once a year (Taxe fonciere!), and says he must start the year like he used to leave his old jobs 'Fired with enthusiasm!'
Happy New Year to you all.