26th December 2011

Re-read my Dickens-like blog: nothing's quite what it seems.  Xmas may be a Christian festival, but all religions are merely a different door leading to the same house.
As HM The Queen said yesterday, whatever your personal ethos may be, family is all-important.  But it's not the material things like gifts that matter, it's the communication.  Stop and listen to the birds who live in our urban landscapes.  The din from traffic, sirens and people has become so strong that many have stopped their traditional song. Tragically, some have started mimicking burglar alarms.  A desperate plea for help, but is anyone listening?
Someone once said 'give 'em the flowers now', and it's very true.  It's vital to show the people you love that you care.  Not by buying them material 'flowers', but by telling them.  Don't wait until after they've gone.  Many are the glorious eulogies read at funeral wakes.  Too late.  Give 'em the 'flowers' now.
Communication. That's the key.  Tell the right thing at the right time to the right person, and all will be well. You know who they are. Don't wait.  Do it now.
Season's greetings to you all.

25th December 2011

Xmas Day in the workhouse
The rain was snowing hard
A barefooted girl with shoes on
stood sitting in the yard
Xmas Day in France. Who'd have thought it.  No glitz, no sparkle - and I love it.  I know - bah humbug. What the Dickens is the matter with me?  But who exactly is buying all those presents back home?  Women of course, spending money they haven't got just because it's expected of them. And what's it all for?  There's no spiritual message in it. If there were, people would be giving charity to the homeless, the poor and the deserving - not loading up pampered members of their own families with commercial glitz and rubbish they don't really need. I liked the pictures of Wills and Kate visiting that homeless charity in London, with Wills doing an urban dance with that Afro-Caribbean girl. His mother would have been so proud of him.
Here in France it's traditional at this time of year to give etrennes - tips to tradespeople who give good service throughout the year.  Here, as in our last house, the local firemen came knocking on the door offering their seasonal calendar. I'm always happy to contribute to them, as they're quite literally life-saving and are generally volunteers.
Him indoors, Mr. Bah Humbug himself, has scotched all the above - he's too busy searching for the real Xmas spirit, the one labelled Johnnie Walker.

18th December 2011

News and weather too depressing. Time to lighten up. I know, I'll apply for a new passport. It expires in March and you can't travel within 6m of the end date. And so the saga began.  Why does everything need to be so difficult?  First thing to notice is that the application system for French expats has changed. You now need to apply to the Embassy in Paris. But where's the address?  Must have spent hours scrolling before finally finding it: Paris Regional Passport Processing Centre, 18 rue d'Anjou, 75008 Paris. All-important website: ukinfrance.fco.gov.uk. Next big problem is the price.  For 2 people, total cost was c.350 euros!  Have to start saving for the next one now.  After locating 2 willing 'official' people who have known you for 2 years, they countersign the form and photos to say 'I certify that this is a true likeness of....'.  I've never been photogenic, but mine looked so unbelievably ugly, their statement made us all laugh. Anyway, the price includes return of the passports by special courier. But why, when we had to pay twice for 2, did they both come returned in one envelope! Don't even think of contacting the Embassy. Only fight the battles you've got a chance of winning.
After inspecting the new e-passports, complete with embedded e-chips, Him indoors commented:  oh good, now even our travelling will be virtual.  Might as well stay embedded at home then.

11th December 2011

Oh Mr. Cam'ron, what shall I do?
I wanted to leave old B'ham to go and join EU,
Take me back to London as quickly as you can
Oh Mr. Cam'ron, what a silly girl I am!
Last swan song for all us expats?  26 nations of Europe are not only forming a ‘fiscal union' , leaving Britain alone outside, but also will merrily sign away all sorts of treaties. No say for Britain, inevitable referendum.  And we all know what the result will be.  Out of the EU for good. 
Will this be the Domesday scenario: 
No longer able  to move and live freely in any EU state, regardless of income?
No longer able to vote locally or receive local health care cover?
No longer able to receive any local welfare benefits, or local state pensions for those who've worked in the EU?
Difficulties in withdrawing/accessing money in the EU state?  
Would life still be comfortable for we British expats just in the EEA instead?  Doubt it.  My paranoia's already setting in. Sure I'm getting strange looks from the Frenchman over the road. But there again, he thinks les anglais are all mad anyway.  War time thoughts are looming yet again.  Should David Cameron have been Neville Chamberlain waving his paper of appeasement?  And is our Nicolas Monsieur Daladier all over again, ready to appease Angela 'Hitler' in her grand plan?
Pack your bags ready.

4th December 2011

The clock's ticking. Eurogeddon looms. As we speak, British embassies are finalising contingency plans for expats. Back home English bloggers are barely disguising their schadenfreudish glee!  See, we told you we shouldn't join the EU in the first place.  I understand that when the USA was formed, Texas was the last 'man' standing. So, are all you Texans happy about being part of the large Union, or do you miss your original 'sovereignty'? Britain needs to know.
But, for now, what should we expats do?  1. Send some money back to the UK; 2. Keep some money in your home country to cover your daily expenses;  3.  Hide some large-denomination notes under the mattress;  4.  Hide some gold bars or jewellery (but not under the mattress - too lumpy).  That way, whatever happens, you've got options.
Trouble with France, though, is nothing comes easy. Many French banks won't let you transfer euros to a UK bank via your PC. Annoyingly, you have to go to the bank and fill in legions of forms - often in the public welcome area. All privacy/secrecy eroded. I'm sure that le Bourse traders don't have to do that! Him indoors recalls his name for the bank manager: Mr. Cuprinol - treats everyone with de-stain.

27th November 2011

....so Monday morning we set off in good time for the test drive. Don't have GPS, so mappy.fr gave me the directions. Looked easy enough. Came off the motorway o.k. But then, oh no - isn't this the slip road to the motorway again?  Look, there's a big sign 'Land Rover', but unfortunately it was behind the barrier at the side of the A20! How far to the next exit?  30 km.  Nothing for it. Need to get off there and return and try again. 30 mins later, unbelievably, it happened again!  Eventually, with the aid of a very patient postlady, we found the garage - wasn't a road at all, just a dirt track leading to an industrial area, the garage hiding behind another building.
It's done. We've ordered Him indoors' dream car, but he'll have to wait until April for delivery from Solihull. I wanted the manual version, but they all carried that impossible 'Stop:Start' system. Imagine starting the engine on a cold morning, only to have it deliberately stop at the first set of lights. All in the name of global warming. Nonsense. Yes, the world's ice-caps are melting, but it's all probably just a natural planetary phenomenon. Meantime we're all suffering from the scientists' unproven nonsense.  So, ordered the automatic Freelander model, without that stupid system. And, of course, with GPS - complete with a Brummie (B'ham) voice. Where am ya? Turn roight at the next loights..... Now we're sorted.

20th November 2011

Have you had an unrealised dream your whole life?  Step up Him indoors.  In the very year we were born, a certain Maurice Wilks came up with an idea that's plagued us our whole lives. It didn't help that, growing up, the young Him indoors would wipe his sleeve against the misted-up bus windows and stare longingly at the factory on his doorstep.  Dad, please can I have one?  No; wait until you're older!  The dream? A brand-new Land Rover.
At last, 60+ years later, the chance has arrived.  So, my French being better, I looked up the nearest dealership and tried and tried to arrange a test drive.  Sounds simple enough doesn't it?  And, surely when they realise here's a customer interested in a brand new model, they'll be all over us?  Well, no. I rang about 3 times in all, each time being fobbed off by the dealer's promise to ring me back.  And, you know what?  He never did!  Can you believe it?  Problem was that when I looked for a different dealership in this area, it had the same man's email address.  Clearly someone too itinerant to be much use. Yet again, c'est la France. Can any Americans reading this please teach the French some customer-service?
Good news, at last.  I found another dealer further away (and not the same man, hurrah), and we've now fixed un essaye de voiture for tomorrow!  Tune in next week to see how we got on....

13th November 2011

Memories, like the corners of my mind...
At the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th month of the 11th year, we stood on our French balcony staring up through the autumn canopy of our majestic trees. How our lives have changed!  Now we 'do as the Romans do', following the French way. National days here are always on the exact date, rather than the following Sunday or Monday as in the UK. Usually I can't remember them all, so am grateful to our local Intermarche supermarket, who always alert me by sticking a large poster on their door:  'We are open on the morning of......'  On Friday a number of French were wearing the Bluet de France cornflower, which acts as support for France's armed forces. Funds raised are used to provide social and recreational aid for the wounded.  I'm all in favour of teaching our children the meaning of the past.  To those who say 'what's the point? forget the past', I say it's only by understanding the past that we can know who we are, our failings, and aim for a better future. 
.....of the way we were.... postwar deprivations, hardships...but decades later, our generation's been lucky.  Property, employment came easily. But now the difficult bit...growing old. Him indoors: '...it's not younger I want to get, but older.....'

6th November 2011

So, in the end we sold our first French house at a loss.  I know, I know: the idea is to make a profit. I read that French property values have dropped 20%, and I can confirm that's certainly true around here. But, at least we recouped the loss by buying our Gaillac house at 20% less. Swings and roundabouts. What's surprising is so many people who still have the 'old' mindset of what they think their house is worth: 'Yes, it's terrible; our house has been on the market now for 6 years but, of course, houses in our price range aren't selling at the moment....'  No, no, no!  There is no 'price range'. A house is only worth what someone's prepared to pay for it. If 'values' have dropped, then you must drop your price.
What's galling is all the unforeseen extras. I've just had to pay the local vidangeur 200 euros to empty the septic tank. As the buyers so aptly put it:  chacun a son caca!  And, whatever you do when conversing with the vidangeur, don't make my mistake of confusing the French word 'vide' (empty) for 'remplir' (fill up)!!! A certain, appropriate, expletive comes to mind: merde!
And Him indoors? He doesn't trust the euro or banks in general. As he says, should we put our (reduced) net profits under the mattress or in the apparently new lunar bank headed by that well-known safe-as-houses net-keeper Ban-K-sy-Moon!

30 October 2011

At the third stroke it will be 07.35, precisely. Traditionally we all looked forward 1 hour to summer, and back with gloom to the winter.  Ever since 1847 (and no, I'm not that old) when GMT was first adopted by the GB Railway Clearing House, we all fell into line. But in this digital and techno world, is it still the best way? GMT could be a thing of the past in more ways than one hour if new plans for coordinated universal time (UTC) by a Paris body are enforced. Proposals by the Int. Bureau of Weights and Measures in Paris could see GMT sidelined. Something to do with an apparent 'leap second' that is needed every 18 months.
Of course, Britain objected - as they do with all things EU! British Science Minister David Willetts grumbled about 'undercurrents of nationalism'. Only last week Cameron annoyed Sarko by having the chutzpah to tell him what to do with the euro, even though Britain isn't even in it. Hanging on for grim death to its isolated island status will, I fear, mean that Britain is nanoseconds away from its own Waterloo.
In the (not Greenwich) digital meantime, there's a generation of children who no longer understand the term 'clockwise'. But what's more important: history, national pride or technological progress? Only time will tell.

23 October 2011

Canny those Chinese. In a week of Greek strikes and anti-capitalist rallies, there was little Jin Qin. The solution, said Jin, Chairman of China's sovereign wealth fund, is for Europeans to work harder and for longer, rather than being cushioned by the welfare system. "The root cause is the overburdened welfare system built up since WW2 in Europe: sloth-inducing, indolence-inducing labour laws," Jin told Channel 4 News. The average Chinese working week is nearly 48 hours. "We work like crazy," said Jin.  Trust the Chinese to hit the nail on the head.
And what's happening back home? In the UK everyone's arguing for a referendum to get out of the EU. My father used to say if the UK joins Europe fully, then Hitler would have won. But the world's changed. No Empire; we can't go it alone any longer. I never thought I'd say it, but I rather like Angela Merkel. She eschews facelifts and US-style power-dressing, sticking to her own quiet style of pastel jackets and black trousers - perfect for concentrating on the essentials: the terrifying financial burdens facing us all.
And the message from English expats to the UK? Please don't vote to leave the EU. Bereft of our link to health care, we'd all have to come home again, swelling even further a UK population bursting at the seams. Him indoors says we should all follow China's lead, but not like Mr. Yu - when asked what to call him, he said anything but A!  

16th October 2011

Toulouse yesterday.  Place Capitole vibrant. Everyone looked happy. What a difference to our Birmingham UK origins, where typically a customer would greet a retailer with the memorable lines: 'I don't s'pose you've got one of these' - almost not entering the shop, so sure was he that they wouldn't have one!
And there, right on the corner, was C & As - last heard of in Corporation Street, Birmingham decades ago. I hadn't realised how much I'd missed it until I walked through the doors. Picking up a dress, there were the old familiar 'Sixth Sense' and 'Canda' labels.  And, oh joy, large-size tops. Now at last I could actually choose something, instead of grabbing anything, anywhere that was near to fitting me. Just like old times. Except, footwear.  French women everywhere have small feet, and women's shoesizes stop at size 41 (UK size 7). What am I, with size 8 (French size 42) supposed to do? Clomp around in men's shoes? I asked the saleswoman why, and memorably she said 'Oh, I have the same problem too'.  Well, order bigger sizes then!!
Him indoors was O.K. though. Everything fitted him well. But, he then insisted on buying a 7-pair pack of socks. All well and good until we got home and saw that each pair was emblazoned with a day of the week. I knew what would happen:  Wednesday'll get mixed up in the wash with Sunday, and because of his increasing longsightedness, each foot, each day, will display different days. A veritable 'Feet (fait) accompli'!

9th October 2011

Autumn. A chill in the air.  In the summer, the sun's all I need to raise my spirits, but in the dark days to come?  Time to stock up on my favourite winter pick-me-up - for me an essential antidote to my seasonal affection disorder.  Music to the ears of the organisers of the 17th Salon de Chocolat taking place at the Porte de Versailles on the 24th.  During the Spanish Inquisition, Jewish artisans, who had become experts at making palatable chocolate from Mexican beans, were expelled yet again from Spain and Portugal and settled in Bayonne where the European chocolate tradition was born.
I grew up a stone's throw away from the Cadbury factory in Bournville. Ah, those Dairy Milk bars, Fruit n Nut and Whole Nut.  Bournville in the early 50s was an idealised social village, where workers were housed, fed and looked after by their employer. As a child I remember school tours around the factory, being handed wonderful samples as we watched all the different varieties being produced, and being given treasured gifts of assortments and Cadbury pencilboxes as we left. But, today in France, I have taught myself to only eat dark chocolate, the healthier variety as I struggle with my weight.
Researchers recently reported that eating dark chocolate does not raise cholesterol, has the same health benefits as exercise and definitely works against depression.   So what can I do but succumb?

2nd October 2011

Aux barricades!  Yes, the French are going on strike yet again. Tuesday 11th, the five main unions are calling for coordinated action against the country's austerity plans. 
It's all deja vu. I'm thinking back to the '70s when the unions brought the whole country to a standstill.  Yes, it was a different country, yes it was a different union leader, but the motive and rationale were just the same:  we don't like the country's leader - far too arrogant, the party's not to our taste and I'd like some of that power and glory for myself.  And, while all this prancing about and celebrity-chasing was going on, the ordinary man in the street was suffering.  No services, no transport, no vital utilities.
You can be forgiven for thinking all this is 'crying wolf'.  France is hardly in Greece's position, yet. But what if things were really bad (like in 1930s Germany), would anyone listen to the unions then?  This is a democracy:  if you don't like the government's policies, simply vote them out. At a time when the economy is at such a critical stage and we're all worried about the euro, it's preposterous of the unions and the strikers themselves to cost the country even more money. Him indoors says any striking aircrews should stage a walkout at 30000 feet....

25th September 2011

Ask an Englishman what's the most taboo topic for discussion and he'll say Sex. Ask a Frenchman, and he'll say Money! So what's a poor expat to do?  In times of crisis we don't have State benefit protection any more so we all need access to transferable cash. But if no-one wants to talk money, where can you get advice? An IFA's no good if you don't want to be pushed into Grotley's Offshore investment bond.  If you read the financial press, both the euro and the EU are about to go zplat any moment, but in England there's UK tax and exchange rates to worry about.
Time for lateral thinking. Always been good at that.  The best French investment is known as assurance vie - but it's nothing to do with life assurance. No inheritance tax or French income tax, funds grow tax free, and if you're not talking to your children any more, you can leave the money to whomever you wish. Yes, it overrides the draconian French succession laws.  Of course, a worrier like me was bound to ask: if the bank or EU goes bankrupt, is my money guaranteed by the State (and if so am I covered as a non-French national)?  Interestingly, the bank said yes, you're covered for 100000 euros, but the same question put to LaPoste, and the answer was no.
Nothing comes easy. Him indoors says when he asked the bank manager 'how do I stand for a loan', the reply was 'you don't stand, you grovel'.


18th September 2011

Selling a house in France? Sounds easy, doesn't it? Go to your nearest estate agency, sign up, then sit back and wait for the cheque.  Well, no.  It's a veritable minefield.
Last February we signed with one agency. We waited and waited and waited. Nothing. I asked for some feedback and was told 'we have too many houses to do that'.  French agencies in our price range take a minimum of 9000 euros (compared to only 1.5% in the UK); one wanted 15000 euros. (Him indoors says he now knows why they call themselves immobilier: they're all immobile!). By May we signed with 3 more French agencies and waited. After lowering the price, I took matters into my own hands and placed an ad in LeBoncoin.fr. A bit like ebay. Immediately I received enquiries. Difficult though. If you have a fosse septique, a new law requires sellers to provide a certificate of conformity to the law (67 euros), and if you have a gas citerne and the new buyer doesn't want it, the seller has to pay the gas co. 300 euros to take it away, and everyone must provide an energy report costing 400 euros. And notaires deduct automatically any capital gains tax for the treasury. Still want to sell your house? Him indoors says: if you make a capital loss, do they pay you??

11th September 2011

9/11 ten years on. For one French woman today has especial meaning. Dening Lohez had been married just 3 months when she heard the fatal news that her new husband Jerome had perished, one of the 4 Frenchmen working in the twin towers of Manhattan. Since then she's visited several Arab countries in an effort to try to understand why they committed such an atrocity, and has since started the Jerome Lohez foundation in her husband's memory, helping young people.
I was amazed to see how this French woman, who must have been devastated, still managed to stay focused enough to travel to the Middle East to see and talk to ordinary Arab citizens.  It's clear that understanding is the key to resolving the enormous differences between West and East. Of course, in the pre-IT era, people only worried about problems near to home. Now, with the vast global network, we're daily confronted by scenes of people living completely different lives. How terrible for people suffering from perhaps malnutrition, drought, and the daily drudgery of making enough money to eat, to see people in the West living lives of apparent luxury. 
If I'd been Mayor of NY, I don't think I'd have used those millions of dollars to build that Freedom Tower. A more fitting memorial would have been to use that finance to redress some of the balance between East and West - maybe then we could hope that such a terrible thing borne of conceived injustice could never happen again.

4th September 2011

Today my daughter is 42. I'm sure she'll forgive my telling you, as age doesn't seem to matter so much today and my blog name is a pseudonym. As a mother, my mind inevitably flicks back to September 1969. Mindsets and attitudes were so different back then.   In that Birmingham maternity ward, I listened to the nurses and never dared complain.  Although a normal birth at 9.5 lb, my first, and I was desperate to breastfeed and establish that vital mother-child bond, the nurses took the baby away to the nursery for 12 hours. By the time they brought her back, the bond was broken. Did they realise what they had stupidly done?
Are things better today?  A British man, David Bromley, lay dead in the tiny Normandy village of Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte for more than 7 months. His family hadn't enquired, and the other village residents didn't realise as the man was 70, didn't speak French nor had he tried to integrate since his arrival.  How sad is that?
All of this reinforces the need to keep contacts with your family, friends and neighbours. Don't be isolated. Show your family you care; don't let them break contact with you, however far away they may be. 
And to my beautiful daughter:  Happy birthday!

28th August 2011

It's been a mad week of dogs, chickens and building works. No, we're not moving again. You may remember that Bruno had scaled a high fence and attacked our neighbour's chicken.  I've read that French hunters expect to lose many of their gundogs, simply because they're known for running off, following their noses (the dogs, that is). So, nothing for it - we'd have to build a pen (not for the chicken, which would've been a lot easier).  Fortunately we've two amazing English friends who arrived, complete with their own logo 'FencersRus'. On the hottest day of the year, we set about measuring out a large area (Bruno's a chasseur, so needs to run), shopped for the required fence posts and tons of green wire. The men did the hammering and the girls did the fiddly bits. At last it's finished. And everyone's been giving me advice: give the dog treats in there, play with him, make him see it as a nice place to be. So we did.
Here's a picture.  But, yesterday, I caught a sly glimpse of our French neighbour, no doubt wondering what these crazy English 'rosbifs' were up to now. Sacre bleu, he thinks, looking at his own dog-hovel - it's better than Central Park.

21st August 2011

The canicule continues - 40 degrees today and rising. And CPAM, the French bureaucratic health body, includes those my age as those at risk! However, whenever I think I've got the health system licked, something happens to confuse me yet again. From E106, E121, S1 - the forms go on for ever, including the sub-bodies like Secu, CMU.
But now I hear even the locals have trouble with it. M. Rolland from Argenteuil was told by his pharmacist that CPAM  wouldn't reimburse costs because the patient was 'dead'. Secu refused to believe the pharmacist, so M. Rolland and his wife marched into the CPAM offices themselves to sort them out. However, a few days later his pension fund wrote to 'the heirs of M. Rolland' asking for a death certificate. When he rang to protest, they told him to get a 'certificate of existence' from his mairie, who subsequently said such a thing didn't exist. The pension company then asked him to provide a copy of his birth certificate with a signed note to confirm he was still alive. All well and good until he made a chasing call and was told he'd died a few weeks ago!
Him indoors says I never See Pam anyway, and I don't get ill 'cos I'm on a seafood diet - when I see food I eat it...

14th August 2011

Anarchy abounds. In Middle East dictatorships it was ever so, but in the democratic West?  Of course, the French have always been quick to shout revolution.  But in England?
Unlike societies of the past, modern media is awash with images of young people enjoying expensive lifestyles. I blame John Lennon. Ever since he stood on that stage at the London Palladium and showed no respect for older people in the audience, things started to change.
When I first started work 45 years ago, my wage of 8 pounds p.w. was standard, and it was expected that I run errands and make tea for more senior workers. But, over the years - and it was very hard - I climbed the ladder.  There was no alternative - no welfare benefits - so I had to be patient. And, because at 16 I was forced to work, I had to wait until I was 50 to earn my English degree.
But today, the impatient young see what they want and they want it NOW.  By every means possible: smash, grab, injure, shoot and steal.  John Lennon, instead of singing Please Please Help Me, should have sung I Will Work and Work until I Can Improve My Life. It can be done - I proved it!

7th August 2011

I've always hated guns, coming from a town like Birmingham famous for manufacturing them. I'm alarmed by the general unconcern of ordinary people to having a gun at home.  In France it's perfectly acceptable for private citizens to own a handgun.
Yesterday Bruno, our pet spaniel (who happens to be a gun dog) managed to shimmy over our normally adequate fence and attacked one of our neighbour's free-range chickens. We immediately went next door, full of apologies and explanations, offering to pay for a new chicken, but to no avail. We were met not only with alarming hostility but with the threat of using a gun!
In France, a kill is not seen as a function of a gun that has somehow run amok, but a problem of the inadequate detection and treatment of madness. And with livestock, the law always sides with the farmer. But we live in a town. This wasn't a farmer, but an ordinary citizen. Officially, persons treated for established mental illness are ineligible for gun ownership, but what about testosterone-driven rages when the rational flies out the window?
So, Bruno must now be kept on a lead at all times. For goodness sake, get rid of all guns.

31 July 2011

Would you believe it - our second speeding ticket!  Are we boy racers then, preferring to travel at whatever speed we choose, oblivious to the danger to others?  Or, is it the recent decision by Sarkozy to remove warning signs about radar traps?  No, none of these of course.  We just weren't sure of the prevailing speed limit.There's one particular point where the A62 gives way to the A620, and the speed limit drops without much signage. Doesn't the government just love the confusion this causes, rubbing their hands with glee:  yet more revenue for their coffers.  My solution, in all countries, would be for the central road line, currently painted white everywhere, to reflect the prevailing speed limit, e.g. painted say orange for 30 kmh, blue for 50 kmh, white for 110/130 kmh on motorways, etc. This way, at any point on the road, you just need to look down at the road.  But, governments wouldn't like this of course.  They prefer to class all aberrants as 'criminals' who deliberately choose to break the law. In the meantime, nothing for it but to pay the 55 euro fine (to delay or foolishly contest it, costs 180 euros), collect a few moe points on our French licence, and incur more hoots from following lorry drivers on how slow we're driving in future!

24 July 2011

It was our wedding anniversary, so spent the day in Toulouse. Balma/Gramont metro only has one line and is the terminus, so what could go wrong?  The car park barrier, surprisingly, was open.  We love the metro:  easy maps on the walls and a voice which announces in advance each stop. Must have known we were there. 
The day started to go awry at lunchtime. Thought smoking had been banned in restaurants, but apparently not under canopies.  What is it with smokers? They think it's perfectly acceptable to light up after their meal and, infuriatingly, rest an elbow on the table and bend their arm away from their face, so a continuous stream of smoke blows into yours!  Ruined our whole meal. Next, the heel came off my shoe, and the local shops only stocked women's shoes up to size 41 (I take 42, size 7 in UK). Nothing for it then but to kick both shoes off and walk in bare feet. Luckily it wasn't raining. However, couldn't find the car park. Balma/Gramont has a multitude and it took an age to find it. Didn't help that Him indoors had drunk too much whisky during the day, so was completely out of it by then. And then....all exits from the car park said 'Exit with ticket only' and we didn't have one! 
A good anniversary?  Him indoors, recalling 44 years ago to the day, muttered 'seemed like a good idea at the time'.

17 July 2011

The loudspeakers woke us. Bleary-eyed, I looked at the clock.  8.00 already? As usual, all night our imbecile dog Bruno has been prancing around, panting away, wide awake, whilst all day he sleeps peacefully under the steps outside!  Great. But even I knew the noise wasn't Bruno this time. It seemed to be coming from the end of our chemin. That'll be the Tour de France, says Him indoors, for whom lack of sleep doesn't seem to have the same effect. So, we trawled up the road to find out what was going on.  The Gendarmes were out in force, looking ridiculously young. Promotion cars were whizzing past - Skoda Superb, VW Passat, Sky Jaguars, together with menacing, low-flying helicopters. And even commercialisation, of sorts - normally unheard of in France:  a caravan tried to sell us all things yellow, especially T-shirts emblazoned across the chest. Time was when I'd have liked one of those, but I no longer need anything to draw attention to my chest! At last, the riders whizzed past, with motorcycles and cars galore, inches from the spinning wheels, doing their utmost to crash into them.And Him indoors? He looked disappointed. None looked like his heroes of yesteryear: Tommy Godwin and Reg Harris.  Oh well, time's moved on.  Now I know why he's always saying I should get on my bike...

10 July 2011

It's now been 5 months since we put our first French house for sale, and it's feeling a little sad - it wants a new owner. Unlike English estate agent jargon, here are the facts we all want to know. You know what I mean:  cut to the chase. 
Price: reduced to 179 000 euros (includes agent fees). High-speed broadband access.
3 bedrooms. Gas CH. High-range kitchen, including integrated Bosch dishwasher, Ariston oven and Scholtes fridge-freezer, Ariston 6-burner ss gas hob.  Bathroom with power/massage shower. Land 2133m2 (half-acre), with clear views to the rear. Pool 9 x 4 m with salt filter. 2 terraces. Situation: on edge of village, walking distance to shops and nearby Aveyron river; 5mins to SNCF station. Mediterranean sunshine!  Minuses: rural location, need a car to get to larger towns and stores.

 So, what do you think? Worth the money? Would make an ideal holiday home. No reasonable offers refused - I'll even throw in a few extras......

3 July 2011

And so the adventure continues.....
We need to make regular trips to the 'pink city' of Toulouse, so decided to buy one of the new Pack Liberte tickets which allows 12m unlimited returns with reduced prices for ancients like us. Yesterday we tried it out. Problem 1 (you didn't really think everything would go smoothly, did you?): no trains!  Work on the line preparing for the new TGV service Bordeaux to Toulouse. By the time we turned up at le Gare Gaillac, no turning back, so we boarded Le Car - a surprisingly comfortable and efficient coach and joined the French holiday crowds on all roads south.  Problem 2:  I've realised I'm a machinaphobe.  Couldn't fathom the high-tech ticket machines at the Matabiau Metro and needed the inevitable 'young person' to show me how!  This, despite my super high-speed typing skills from another age and my university degree.  N'importe quoi.  The big surprise was the layout on the Metro platforms.  Closed electronic doors, which suddenly swish open in synchrony and perfect alignment with the incoming train. Reminded us of monorails at Florida airports.  So, even if he wanted to, Him indoors couldn't push me under the next train. He said it reminded him of bookmakers of old:  what've you got TouLose...

26 June 2011

I hate tourists!  I know what you're going to say, but it's the English particularly.  I remember one particular (OK Yah) woman in our old place showing some friends around:  '...and here's our Mary....'.  I looked around, expecting to see some cute little girl, only to see her pointing grandly at the castle ramparts where resided the French town hall (mairie). 
So, it was with some trepidation that we showed our son around nearby Albi, capital of the Tarn.  Success. Not only did we not encounter a single other tourist, but we found that rare place - a French vegetarian restaurant. (I remembered our old neighbour, on learning that one of us didn't eat meat:  'Mais...c'est un catastrophe!).  The Albi central streets are charming, full of cobbled alleyways and delicious little shops and boutiques. We trudged up the slope past the Musee de Toulouse-Lautrec and found the surprising Jardin du Palais de Berbie, which winds down stoney steps to the cool waters and the Pont-Vieux over the Tarn beneath. All in all, a great day.  Even Him Indoors enjoyed it. Normally he just rushes us around so he can get a beer back home. Some Englishmen never change.

19 June 2011

Thought you might like to see our new home - taken last winter. Lots of refurb needed, but it has a certain faded charm - a bit like me really, some would say! This last week I've struggled to make various utility people understand we'd rather like some electricity and water. Same old irritation with centralised phone systems - trying with my best French to make someone based in the wilds of Martinique understand. That, combined with the dratted 'if you want this, press 1....'. Grrr!
Sunny day yesterday so we strolled down our long garden to the little abri (shed) at the bottom, only to discover a deluge of water pouring out of an open pipe within. Great lakes soaking into both our land and our new neighbour's! Him indoors says the plumber looked like Monsieur Poireau...... (French for leek). Oh well, It all makes work for the working man to do....

12 June 2011

Bonjour to Gaillac and le Gaillacois!  Where exactly is it? It's midway between Toulouse, Albi and Montauban. For wine lovers, it's the best place in the world, famous for its Pays des Bastides, with rows of vines regimented like soldiers up the rolling hillsides.
Well, that's the tourist ad. Now down to the nitty-gritty.  It's very hard work, this moving lark. TG I changed my mind at the last minute and decided against the do-it-yourself move.   At last we found a local removal firm who charged less than 1000 euros. I know..everything costs here.  It would have killed us to do it ourselves. How on earth I'd managed to accumulate so much stuff, I don't know. But, we're acclimatising ourselves. Gaillac has 3 market days per week, all a cycle ride away. And, there's a group from the tourist office at the Abbey St. Michel who welcome new arrivals.
Now all I've got to do is locate the electricity and water meters - know they must be around somewhere? And, find the dogs and Him indoors - hiding in the long grass, or should I say meadow at the bottom of the garden.

5 June 2011

The bells are tolling in Paradis. As I walked around the village yesterday, touching ancient crepi walls, I bid a silent farewell to our home of six years.  Nothing much had changed. The swirling waters of the Aveyron were still gurgling over the weir at the Moulin; the charming old men still doffed their hats. So why? 
Nothing in life's perfect. Village life's a bit like Trumpton of yesteryear:  there the miller, there the firemen, there the grocer.  But, can life be lived permanently like this?  For those of us who've reached that benchmark of 60 years, it becomes increasingly obvious that more is needed. A car here is a necessity. But, what if eyesight fades so we can't drive any more? What if we can't reach the shops? Idealism is all well and good, but at some point reality kicks in.
So, merci beaucoup Paradis but we're now moving on.  La vie francaise must continue but tweaked a little. Like the French Derby winner yesterday, Pour Moi is now tout important.

29 May 2011

Money, money, money...it's a rich man's world. And yet, if you retire to another country like France, don't be confused. Yes, you may have capital from the sale of your English overpriced home, but that means naught if you haven't got a decent monthly income or pension.
Why do we pay social security payments all our working lives?  Shouldn't it be to secure financial security for yourself in your old age? Seems not. It goes to pay for the young and feckless at the moment. Everyone says, when you yourself are old, those who are young then will pay for you. But, if you then move abroad?  Current UK expats in France who paid state contributions all their working lives receive just the basic pension, no benefits and no top-ups.  And France? They're stopping the only top-up benefit available to expats (ASPA) who become ill or hit hard times. What then is the EU for? Every country can't cop out of paying. Someone must pay the tab - the buck stops here.

22 May 2011

Is it me, or has the world gone mad?  First it was that mad US preacher who predicted an apocalypse at 6 p.m. last night. Don't know about you, but I still seem to be here. Then there was 'Houston, the Pontiff's calling' , as the Pope talks to astronauts. Right. A perfectly standard thing for the Catholic head to do. Doesn't he realise that religion and science don't mix? It's that old paradox: matter v the spirit. And now I read that the EU are going to pay French fishermen to fish for.....plastic!
At least this week's French news that extra traffic police are to be called in is more normal - if not typical. Signs throughout France warning of radar speed traps are to be removed. It's nothing to do with gaining more revenue for the state, though. 'Course not. So, in typical French fashion, there's to be a national road-block day on 2 June to protest. All well and good, except that it's being called not by the poor harrassed motorists, but by the radar sign manufacturers (who fear going out of business)!
It's all a sore trial to my sanity.

15 May 2011

What is it with France and culture? Financial austerity everywhere, but don't touch our culture, say the French. At last night's Eurovision song contest, William Hill's had French entrant M. Vasilie at odds-on to win. At last, an entrant who could actually sing, competing against pop dross all around. Of course, he lost. And then there's the ongoing Cannes film festival, where Woody Allen proposed his own 'idealised' version of Paris. What chutzpah - making a film full of touristy cliches, employing the French first lady and telling the French in France how Paris should be.  Of course, what all this proves is that it's not the individual merit of each entry that's important, it's political correctness that counts. If you belong to a national culture where supporting your neighbouring country is paramount, then forget quality - la politique essentielle is the thing. Secular France may not espouse public religion, but la cultur embodying national affiliations - now that's very different. Bring back De Gaulle, that's what I say.

8 May 2011

It may be VE day here, but for me stress abounds. What is it they say? Don't move house, don't suffer bereavement, don't move abroad and don't get old. Enough said.
So, I was interested to read that French women are the longest-lived in Europe. It seems that if I drink more water, take more olive oil, eat broccoli and dark chocolate (anti-depressant), walk more and climb stairs it will help. Age simply creeps up on you. Once that social status of working and living in your 'home' country has disappeared and your own declining physical image shouts back from every mirror and camera, what's to be done? Here's what. Get involved with other people in your new surroundings, 'be nice' and they will reciprocate. And, realise that it's only now you have the opportunity to do all those things you couldn't do when you were younger.
It may be VE day in France, but as I can't bring back family members who've passed on and I can't stop the progress of time, as I approach moving house in France I can at least take note of all the above things which would be an amazing personal victory for me.

1 May 2011

What a week!  Two people made an important commitment, there was much signing of names, officialdom everywhere and a future for the happy couple in new accommodation.  The royal wedding?  No, just Him indoors and me buying our new home in France.
It all started early last Tuesday.  What to wear?  It was hot, but I didn't want to be too casual. (And French women are so chic). I decided against wearing Sarah Burton from Alexander McQueen, so instead plumped for a simple black T-shirt, black trousers and a green jacket from that so chic Evans branch of Birmingham UK.
The notaire's office was crowded. The 2 vendor brothers, 2 notaires (one bilingual), estate agent and us. We shook hands all round in true gallic fashion. 4 hours later, arms stiff from signing G-d knows what, we'd bought our new house.  Hurray.  The French estate agent even pointed us in the direction of that free vendor website leboncoin.fr, our current house being too far away for him to deal with. Now that's good service. We then zoomed away in the ubiquitous Citroen - deciding against the open-topped landau with liveried postillions.
Wills and Kate? We beat them to it 44 years ago, and at least our initials aren't WC!

24 April 2011

It's now 6 years since we came to France.  In 2005 the property market was in such full flow, anything seemed possible.  But, slowly, slowly, the economic bubble started to burst.  Just this week came news that  Russian “Nickel King” Mikhail Prokhorov made an offer of €390 million for one of the largest villas on the Côte d’Azur. When the economic crisis hit, however, he pulled out and sought to get his 10% deposit back through the courts. The Tribunal de Grande Instance de Nice ruled against Mr Prokhorov and he lost all his 39 million euros!  Admittedly, the 'lucky winner' will be a new Alzheimer's Centre in Nice, but that doesn't help Mr. Prokhorov.
But despite all this, we're still set on signing our own Acte de Vente (the final procedure) this week for our new home in Gaillac. In retrospect, when we bought our present lovely home 6 years ago, we were still thinking in 'holiday home' mentality. Now, we're much more French street-smart. In these harsh economic times, we're no longer holidaymakers; we need somewhere that is a cast-iron investment - and that means a city - where the workers and the buyers are. Also, as we age and our eyesight gets dimmer (making driving more difficult), we'll be nearer essential facilities. That's the key for us right now.
I'll let you know how we get on next week. 

17th April 2011

So, Wills and Kate are soon to be married. What a quandary everyone's in.  Should the people celebrate uproariously as in the past?  Or should they follow William's lead:  keep everything low key, don't be seen to be affluent when so many are struggling.  But isn't spectacle, wealth and glamour what the royal family's all about? Isn't it diminished to the point of absurdity without it?
And what do the French think about it all? Magazines such as Paris Match have tried hard to show that the French are fascinated by the British Royals. Indeed, 3 years ago polls showed that  24% thought that having a King as head of state was a good idea. And yet, around me here in rural France I see general indifference. Perhaps there's still a deep guilt complex centuries after the atrocities of the Revolution.
I wondered even whether any of the top brass in France had been issued with a must-have invite.  But then, who?  Should it be the (republican) President and his glamorous wife?  Or should it be the 2 main pretenders to the French 'throne', Henri d'Orleans, descendant of Louis Philippe, or Louis de Bourbon, descended from Charles X? In practice, I doubt whether any of them have been invited. By doing so, the Queen would be seen to be making diplomatic considerations.
Him indoors just shakes his head, saying it's likely to be a very sad affair - even the cake's in tiers.

10th April 2011

Some time ago, amidst the furore of the pre-General Elections in the UK, I bravely sent an email to David Cameron's office stating that if he were to change the then overly-complicated system of means-testing pensioners to allow for top-up pension credits and, instead, consolidate all the benefits into one larger pension for all, this could be cost-effective as it would cut out unnecessary admin costs.  Of course, this would have benefited me and all other expat pensioners who currently cannot claim the extra top-ups.   So, I was particularly pleased to read recently that there's a new Green Paper that says the UK State Pension is to rise to around 150 pounds sterling a week.  Hooray!  But, wait a minute, what's this:  '...current pensioners will not benefit....'  Typical!   You work all your life, paying c.40 years of National Insurance (tax) payments, only to find the government moving the goal posts just when you get there.  It's particularly galling to read that those who will, in the future, qualify for the new much higher UK pension, won't have paid nearly so much - even if they do have to wait a bit longer to get it.
As I've always said, would have been much better to have deposited all those 40 years of payments under the mattress, then I could have used them as I wanted.
Is that a government cuckoo I heard just now?  Aren't they known to rob everyone else to feather their own nests?

3rd April 2011

It's Mothers' day - at least in the UK. In France, it'll be 29 May, and in the US - not sure. Confusing. What's a mother to do when one child's in England, the other in America? Some would say good job there's no mother-in-law day - the greetings card industry would have a field day!
And then there's the political worry about another woman here in France: Marine Le Pen, President of the NF party.  She's already won a lot of regional votes. She's known for being a Euro-sceptic and hates immigrants. What if she becomes French President next year?  She could throw all we expats out. Trouble is, as with all young females, she's photogenic and comes across well on TV. She's mild-mannered and apparently entirely plausible.  My worry is she will entice the French with her artificially-sweet, saccharine words and then?  A natural progression is to think back to Germany in 1933. The youthful Hitler snared the poverty-stricken Germans with encouraging words about food and jobs - and indeed, in power, fulfilled all these promises - but then, all that glory and popularity pushed him to reveal his true, evil hard core.
Today may be a day for women but, especially in politics, beware the wolf in sheep's clothing. Sometimes, better to stick to the devil you know.

27th March 2011

The pitfalls of selling your house - I suppose the same wherever you live, but in France the agony is much prolonged because there are no buyers!  First, I made a herculean effort to spruce up the place for the 'glossy' estate agent photos.. (I pictured in my mind the continuous annoyance of seeing washing-up permanently in the sink)...not realising that I would need to keep up this impossible perfection for ever in case that elusive buyer walks up the drive.  Every day I seem to notice something that makes me panic, ordering Him indoors to quickly fetch that brush to put a fresh coat of paint over everything bar the dogs; (he says he'll gloss over that, and anyway they already have distemper!).  I've tried to think of everything, should that longed-for phone call announce an imminent arrival.  Action-stations will include fresh coffee on the perk and dogs out of the way in the car. But, above all, I've got to realise that the French do things differently.  Let the agent do the showing around.  Make yourself scarce; hide in the garage if necessary. But first I need to find a buyer.  Take a look if you're curious. It's on http://www.agencedisc.fr/  (ref. 0211 8208). For a holiday home with pool in the sunny S.W. of France, it's a snip - no reasonable offers refused!

20th March 2011

Normally English TV is a good antidote for my depression. However, I've learned to restrict news bulletins to one a day. 
Yesterday my football team lost, so I watched the Rugby, only to see England lose to Ireland. Then, flicking through the channels - typical Saturday night rubbish - left me watching Dad's Army. I dozed off, only to wake suddenly and think I was still in war-time.  I blinked and struggled to wake up my senses as I scrabbled myopically for my glasses. In the foreground was undoubtedly the Elysee Palace in Paris, but there seemed to be a mix of historical figures standing on the steps between the gothic pillars.  The tall fellow to the left looked like the stately Charles de Gaulle, back erect, weak chin and sharp nose.  In the middle was, strangely, Napoleon!  Very short, arrogant stance, tiny feet, dark-haired and well turned out. Standing behind was none other than Winston Churchill.  Must have been him with that shiny bald head, short stature - and I'd know that voice anywhere.  I strained to hear him say '..we'll fight 'em on the beaches...' but the sound was too low for me to hear.  And, standing next to de Gaulle, was that Margaret Thatcher in the pink jacket and handbag, being wooed by that small 75-year old Italian Casanova?
Clearly I must cut back on all that Gaillac wine!

13th March 2011

In the Guardian recently was an article about publishing on the latest gadgetry. I suddenly realised that the latest Kindle might be a good idea - particularly for older readers of my 'Paradis' book.  However much you love books in their true form - which I do - you can't make the print any bigger!!  And many are the times when people sit on their wretched reading glasses or need a magnifying glass to read.  (Him indoors says: whatever you do, don't try to eat soup with it).  For all these reasons, the Kindle seems like an excellent idea if it enables you to increase the font size, and is less likely to get lost down the back of the settee.
So, I went to the Amazon.co.uk site to try and publish my work on their Kindle. They use what they term a Digital Text Platform (or something), but they guide you through each step of the way. You can even upload your own cover, if you're a whizz with these things, but it will only appear in black and white.  But, most importantly, it doesn't cost anything to upload your work.  I did try to fix a cheap buying price (you know, pile 'em high 'n sell 'em cheap), but the cheapest it would let me put was $2.99.  If you're one of my (many!) fans, you can take a look by logging on to amazon.co.uk and go to the kindle site and search for Paradis, Rose and the Ancient Temple of Petra or Tina and the Colosseum of Rome.
Anyway, while I wait to become a millionaire, I'll carry on regardless.

6th March 2011

Dogs always embarrass you - usually at the worst possible moments.
We went down to Gaillac, as planned. As usual, we were 'forced' to take Bruno and Tina with us in the car. (Bruno wrecks the house if left alone or leaps over the garden gate; Tina just sets off a plaintive cry....I know, I should be more masterful). We pulled into our new driveway and shook hands with the owner family, who were on their best behaviour. We were still within that nerve-jangling 7-day cooling-off period and they didn't want us to pull out. We went into the house and were discussing the relative merits of various items of furniture when Madame said 'why don't you let your dogs out of the car? They can run around the garden.' Foolishly, a trifle nervously it must be said, we did so. Both dogs raced around, then nosed their way into the house via the ajar French windows. We all ignored them until an unmistakeable aroma pervaded the room. OMG - doggie droppings all over their best rug!! Ironically, the owners couldn't complain for fear of putting us off the sale!
On the way home, Him indoors said laconically: '....wasn't quite the deposit the owners had in mind'. Quite.

27th February 2011

What's a passport for? No, not a silly question. It always used to mean that you were off travelling somewhere. However, for expats it's essentially an identity card. The French have their carte d'identite, which they use ubiquitously at shops to delay queuers. No way will they use plastic - it costs too much!
With this in mind, I was aware the clock was ticking as our 'essential IDs' will be out of date Mar 2012. Passports are supposed to last 10 years, but effectively it's 9 and a half as Customs won't let you on the plane during the last bit. But then I read the renewal system is changing. Typical! British expats will no longer be able to renew passports via the Paris consulate. From 1 April the consulate will still receive renewal requests but will do so on behalf of the UK Identity and Passport Service (IPS), which processes passports within the UK. What it means is that expats like us will receive passports directly from the UK. You know what that means - yet more expense. But it's already a massive rip-off. An expat's passport in France costs 178 euros, compared to 77.50 pounds (includes free postage) for UK residents. That's 356 euros for the two of us. I'll certainly be keeping an eye on the ukinfrance.fco.gov.uk website to check for further price hikes. Understandably, Him indoors says in future you'll recognise UK expats via the threadbare caps being passed round at communal events.....

20th February 2011

Spring's in the air and new beginnings are budding. Sometime this year we're moving to Gaillac, land of sunshine and vines. We've just signed the Compromis at the notaire's office. New laws mean that they give you a detailed report listing all that's wrong with the property (termites/asbestos/ghosts...), then give you 7 days to change your mind! Not good for my nerves. Don't they realise I'm the ultimate 'On the other hand' person?
In the meantime, the family of 7 adult children who've inherited their parents' property, have invited us to Gaillac today to see if we want to buy any furniture in the house. Furniture (meubles) is generally very expensive in France, the cheapest outlets being stores like Conforama, But, Fly or the depot-vente places. However, I know from past experience with Him indoors never to buy self-assembly. In France it's doubly complicated, with indecipherable French instructions translated from Korean and never enough screws. (Told him not to make a Korea out of it!). Of course, there's always the Vide Grenier or Brocante shops, but the prices are often a joke.
So, I've spent the last few hours brushing up my haggling skills, but pleading poverty just won't wash somehow. They already know that I have to keep Him indoors in the style to which he's always been accustomed....

13th February 2011

Yesterday we enjoyed a good night out with our friends at the local cinema Le Querlys in St. Antonin. Really enjoyed The King's Speech but, where were the chocs on sale in the foyer, where the usherette of yesteryear offering Kia-ora and Mivvys? Don't be silly. C'est la France. Commercialisation hasn't yet arrived.
However, what was striking about the film was the underlying message. It's no good sticking with old, rigid prejudices. Doesn't matter whether you're King or mere mortal like the rest of us. N'importe quoi you live in Cairo, steeped in the old repressive mores of your country. Sometimes problems require you to get rid of all that inner baggage, forget what other people think, ignore the standard rundown ways of your countrymen. The Royal family have had to learn over the years since George VI that you can't continue with old rules, however traditional, in today's world. Anne was allowed to marry her Commander, Charles married Camilla. How different would Margaret's life have been if they'd let her marry Captain Townsend, the love of her life? There are lessons to be learnt. As King George VI and Winston Churchill discovered: you can succeed if you do the unthinkable and travel that extra mile.
But for Him indoors, the 'important' lesson he learnt was via the French subtitles: he now knows how to swear profusely in colloquial French!

6th February 2011

New digital driving licences are arriving in France. At first glance, I didn't worry too much. As you know I'm of the 'constructive negativism' ilk. Always have a back-up plan should the worst happen. So, I kept my old English licence, whilst Him indoors obtained a French paper licence (admittedly at the suggestion of the gendarmerie, but that's another story). A good plan because, whilst UK ones need replacing at 70, there wasn't any age limit on the French ones. And clearly (although not so clear these days!), with the onset of age comes fading eyesight so neither of us wanted to be faced with future medical tests. Even less, the horrible thought of having to take another driving test in French. Can you imagine?
But now, what have they done? Just when I thought it was safe to go out, Sarkozy has introduced a brand-new plan. As from 2013 new digital licences will be introduced, to combat fraud they say. They will include a digital photo of the driver, to be updated every 15 years, and drivers will be able to check the number of points more easily (don't tell Him indoors in either case!). But, there's also some insidious small print: you need to take a medical test.

31st January 2011

At last! Light at the end of the tunnel: hope it's not an approaching train.
Recommendations for English house-hunters in France:
1. When negotiating an offer, do not list its weak points in order to justify a lower offer. The seller takes it personally.
2. Don't suggest a discount because the bath is in avocado. The owner will counter that it's perfect, get upset and refuse to sell to you. Instead, say 'I think the house may be too dear, especially in today's market'.
3. If you're retired, look at property outside the main employment areas. Young French workers rarely want to live more than 30 km from work; (they hate commuting.)
4. Watch the French news. Sarkozy is proposing CGT of 33.1% on the sale of main residences! Decision due this month. Unlikely to be brought in, but.... Meantime, this is certainly the case when you sell a second home, so if you're in this position tread warily on which home you designate as your principal residence.
And Him indoors? Good idea to sell to that buyer called Mr. Balan Singh - he can do your accounts for you......

23 January 2011

I'm seething. Stress and blood pressure levels are dangerously high. Ever since a near relative died 4 months ago, unnecessary obstacles have been mounting. First, because this was an intestacy estate and I live in a non-English-speaking country, I had to drive 120 miles to find a Notaire who understood written English to swear the Oath certificate. Then the UK Probate office decided the original wording on the certificate was insufficient, so another certificate was produced requiring a second 120 mile journey, cap in hand, to explain to the puzzled French Notaire why she must sign another paper. Eventually my poor relative's family home was sold, the new buyers moved in, but the solicitors still held on to the proceeds apparently looking for all and sundry to dip their hands into the pot. But I thought this was 'my' money! Now, the UK Dept. for Work and Pensions (DWP) has stepped into this apparent goldmine sitting in the solicitor's office and declared it too is making a claim on the estate! But, wait a minute. Was this a millionaire, with yachts and mansions to the fore? No, simply my poor bachelor brother. He lived and worked in the UK all his life. All he had in the world was his pension and his home. So, the DWP in its wisdom has decided that the estate cannot be distributed until it first investigates to see if the original pension claim by my 67 years old brother 2 yrs previously, was correct - and this could take months. At the most upsetting time imaginable, bureaucracy steps in in all its gleeful schadenfreude to cause unnecessary mayhem. Words fail me.

16th January 2011

Estate agents and solicitors. An inscrutable bunch. You never know where you stand with them. And their charges! But, whatever you do, don't tell the English lot what the French charge, or there'll be a riot.
Typical English charges: solicitor's fee for selling your house - 700 pounds plus VAT (now 20% - can you believe it?); estate agent's fee - 1.5% of asking price.
Typical French charges: notaire (solicitor's) fee to the buyer only: 18,000 euros. Yes, you heard it. 18,000! Apparently, most of this goes to M. Sarkozy, not to the notaire. Estate agent's fee to the seller only - 6% of asking price. So, for a house selling for 200,000 euros, the agent picks up 12,000 euros.
So, all in all, the French win hands down. Mind you, the French agents in particular work hard for their money. Not only do they accompany all viewings, they arrange notaire appointments, attend all signing appointments at the notaire's office, acting as translator where necessary, and meet all parties back at the new house after the signing.
Him Indoors says he remembers that old solicitor's firm in the UK called Sue, Grabbit and Run. Enough said!

9th January 2011

New year, fresh start. We're house hunting. Nothing wrong with our present house - it's just in the wrong place. So, we're looking to move nearer to Toulouse. It's interesting what this exercise reveals. French ads have much better practical info., e.g. square metres of each room and land area, type of heating, amount of annual taxes etc., a refreshing change from the typical English ads: '....a deceptively spacious.....'. Most French houses for sale, though, don't have a recognisable For Sale board outside (some have a board on the wall, but most have nothing). This means you can't go round and look from the street but must make an appointment first. If you're like me, you know just by looking at it whether it's for you or not. A good plan when relocating within France is to try and stick to the same Departement (they're pretty big). This way you don't need to re-register the car, nor with the local CPAM (health) and prefecture, and can easily arrange a transfer of your bank account to a nearer branch. I've discovered that most French don't use expensive removal firms, they hire a 'U-Haul' or similar - but you have to be fit to do that or have amazingly good friends! Him indoors says he remembers a removal firm in the UK where a settee fell off the back of the van - the police had to 'recover' it!!
Some things never change!

2nd January 2011

Any point in new resolutions? Well, yes. Ever since Janus - he of the 2 heads - started looking both back and forwards in the year 153 BCE, it's been a good time to reflect on your life. Here are a few of my own, made from personal experience here in France:
1. Take a tip from the French and never sing Auld Lang Syne on new year's eve. No-one knows all the words anyway, even the Scots.
2. Improve your language skills. Here's Happy New Year in various languages: French: Bonne Annee; Hebrew: Leshonah Tovah Tikatevu; German: Prosit neujahr; Hindi: niya saa mubaraak; Chinese: Shu ten shan; Arabic: Kulaam u antum salimoun. But, I quite like the Brazilian: Boas Festas e Feliz anno Novo - enjoy many good parties. I'm all in favour of that.
3. Get more exercise. At a recent occitan dance I was amazed at how even 80 year olds had so much stamina - they were still dancing when I left exhausted at 2 a.m.
4. Learn from listening rather than looking things up in the dictionary. You can easily come a cropper without realising it - and you don't have to be English to do that. Below is how a perfectly knowledgeable French gite owner fell into the trap:
'Warning! Do not put hot bottoms on the worktops.'
No answer to that. A very happy and healthy new year to you all!