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!