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.