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!