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local mairie confirmed Oliver's death and said that they had sent a letter to the family, but the address they used was out of date.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!