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.