30th December 2012

The new year 13 is nigh. Hope, despite its number, it's a lucky one.  We should all take a moment to reflect on how our lives are going, and I can't think of a better time than when one year ends and a new one dawns. Is there anything we can learn from our mistakes and do better?
For us, living in France is still an uphill climb - but we're learning. And slowly, slowly the EU seems to be recognising that there're a lot of expats living in France who need a helping hand. Whether it's restrictive French inheritance laws, completing onerous tax returns each April or health rules - gradually the French (with a nudge from Brussels) are easing their 'living in the box' mentality to recognise the needs of expats.
Last April expats in France got a boost from their language struggles by reading that  being bilingual helps your brain and even wards off Alzheimer's.  There was even a lovely story where a British woman is helping French dementia sufferers by taking her two dogs into a care home in Nice. One male sufferer, who can no longer speak, laughs out loud when the dog licks his face. I know - you're gonna say this is unhealthy. But sometimes, anything that reaches deep within a person's soul and gives us a reason to carry on living can only be a good thing in my book. Him indoors joins me in wishing you all a very happy, healthy and loving New Year - wherever you live. Keep smiling. :)

23rd December 2012

Hurray!  We're all still here.  Unless you're all part of my virtual world?  Hard to tell from some strange things happening lately. Some joker tried to sell the English port town of Dover to the French!  I know that the English once owned Calais, but this is ridiculous.  Even Dame Vera Lynn (she who sang of the White Cliffs during WW2) is up in arms.  But it does look as if something is moving very subtly. Not just us but a host of British brands have fallen for that Gallic charm – or at least cash – the latest being Hamleys, which runs the world's biggest toy shop in Regent Street, London. Groupe Ludendo has just spent £60m buying the 250-year-old company. And there's more:  Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen, maker of the Duchess of Cambridge's wedding dress are also at least half owned by the French.
But the Scots are up in arms. A Paris-based luxury goods group, LVMH, spent £300m chasing off competition from local rival, Pernod Ricard, to secure control of Glenmorangie, one of the best-known single malt scotch whisky producers. Him indoors doesn't care where it comes from, though. He says they serve it in a tumbler to stop you falling down. He's scotched all rumours and wishes you all very slurry grestive feetings.

16th December 2012

My grandparents hailed from Kretinga near the Baltic in Lithuania, which may have been Russian a few centuries ago. That's before pogroms and depression forced the family to flee.  But, depression still rules.
Are mysterious, elemental forces still about today?  Wednesday saw the strange date 121212 (the French called it Le Douze) and there's the phenomenon of the dieback of the ash tree - something that some say foretells the end of the world. The disease has just reached the town of Aspatria (called the ash tree of Patrick)  in Cumbria, an English county where the tree plays a special part in history and folklore. Legend has it that the saint struck his staff into the ground and up sprouted an ash tree.  Strange that that's just where the present ash tree disease has been discovered. Then, there's water. Lots of it. Rising waters worldwide mean that no-one should even think of living near the coast or even near a river. At least the canny French build their living areas a floor above the ground. 
Well, let's hope all this folklore and worry is mere superstition. After all, there's a certain Friday the 21st fast approaching. See you all in Bugerach. Him indoors says not to worry - he's ordered a poster saying all is well, and has arranged to pay for it on the 22nd.....

9th December 2012

There's trouble brewing in the Loiret region. An infants' school in Montargis has attracted a storm of controversy because it foolishly axed a visit by Father Xmas because of pressure from Muslim families. The head teacher of the Grand-Clos school said she wanted to 'respect different beliefs' so told the children that Xmas would be different this year. However there have been threatening phone calls and emails denouncing the head teacher, many from people not even connected with the school.
I remember back in Birmingham, England, when the Council foolishly decided to call Xmas 'Winterval'. As a child I remember quite happily moving to a side room during school Assembly. I can even remember humming to the carols and hymns sung by the other children. The lesson I learned very early on is: if your beliefs differ from those of the country where you live, practise them quietly at home, never try to proselytise others, and embrace the local culture. It's up to those of different faith or culture to that of the country where they live to fit in, not the other way around.
So, as a 'foreign' expat:  peace and goodwill to you all, or as Him indoors puts it: Happy Crotzmech!

2nd December 2012

Why are French women so thin?  For decades now, countries like England and the US have assumed that the French must be eating less fat.  So, since the 1980s we stopped eating butter, cheese and fatty meats like duck and lamb.  Success?  No. English and US obesity levels have doubled since then, and we all seemed to be yo-yo dieters. Well now a leading UK diet doctor, Dr. John Masefield, says that to be healthy we should all eat French. Here's his list of what to eat:  Eggs, butter, full-fat milk, cheese, all meats including the fatty ones, all fish, all vegetables including potatoes (but not chips), all salads, wholemeal bread, grains and pulses, all fruit, one glass of red wine a day, water. Avoid:  sugar, confectionery, white bread, cakes, desserts, beer, soft drinks, processed foods.
Of course, we all live in a body that has its own unique way of metabolising food. If you've got a body that, despite what you eat, never puts on weight, then still follow the above diet for good health.  If yours is otherwise then you MUST do something about it. So, during the festive period eat that fatty roast duck, ditch the margarine, buy whole fat milk and cheese and from now on don't search for the cheapest food, only the best quality.  (For economy, cut down on those cheap nasty presents that will only get thrown away in the new year.). What you put in your body is the most important thing of all - it'll help you live longer.  Him indoors says all this is very hard to swallow.....  

25th November 2012

The end of the world is nigh, and salvation is in our region!  Well, so the ancient Mayans prophesied.  And, we haven't got long to prepare for the day of the apocalypse: 21 December 2012.  The tiny village of Bugarach, nestled amid breathtaking landscapes is the place where tourists are heading from far and wide.  It's so small there are only two narrow cobbled streets and less than 200 residents....well there were until the world descended on the place. The publicity boys have been in full flow: 'come and book your final doomsday destination'.  Of course, the puzzled inhabitants don't know what to do. Some have decided to get out while they can by putting their old terraced houses up for sale.  Typical French. Why would anyone want to buy a house when the end of the world is nigh?  The mayor, Jean-Pierre Delord, a 60-year old farmer has been rushing around like a self-important headless chicken, proclaiming special security measures and the like. But what can he do to prevent the apocalypse other than make money from all this unexpected tourism? Meanwhile, planes from the US have been fully-booked for December by passengers with one-way tickets! And the village sign and mountain pebbles have been stolen to be sold as profit - but if there's no future, there are no buyers. Couldn't understand why one budding entrepreneur was charging 5 euros to bury last wills and testaments in the last place on earth until I noticed Him indoors had gone missing....

18th November 2012

Is it just me?  The whole world has gone 'virtual crazy'.  But even I never thought that wars would be partly conducted on social networking sites!  It's a sign of the times, but never before has the start of a military campaign been announced on Twitter - as happened last Wednesday. Both sides of the current Middle East debacle are apparently tweeting and uploading videos onto YouTube non-stop. The tweets are both direct and aggressive, both sides countering each other tweet by tweet!  It seems that such sites are not only used to share information with the rest of the world, they are also on the conflict's frontline. But, I suppose any means that can help innocent people in a conflict are good, e.g. a recent tweet: 'Try sticking plastic tape onto window panes and school books' as a preventative in case of sudden attacks. I can't understand how apparently impoverished people, sometimes living in one room, can afford to have the latest technology.
The danger with all this is that not only are virtual - sometimes amateurish - sites reporting on global news, but they also give a blank canvas to mad people giving vent to individual furies. Unchecked, unprofessional, comments can now be published globally, causing mayhem and blowing events up out of all proportion. This ageing, insecure writer is feeling worried. Please can we go back to a time when all news events (and God-forbid) wars are reported and dealt with by experienced people properly trained, selected and educated?

11th November 2012

What's up with the English?
Today everyone should be remembering those who died so that we could live in freedom and democracy, and be able to vote for those who will determine our future. That's what democracy is all about - it's set out in the Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations.  However, that basic right is denied to British expats resident in Europe for over 15  years.  There's a British 90-year-old called Harry Shindler who lives in Italy and patiently waits for his inalienable rights to vote again - but the wheels of justice move exceedingly slow. The answer may not come  in time for him.
So, is that what the English are justifiably up in arms about? What, says Him indoors, by chains?? No! As usual, the English are obsessed with sex, perversion and paedophilia.  And, they've even dragged my favourite BBC broadcaster into all this. Of course, the average UK policeman would much rather be dealing with these salacious matters - I can see them all salivating now - than actually dealing with mundane street crime.  The French can't understand it at all. For them, the big issue is not sex but money, money, money.  The only 50 shades of grey that concern them are the complexion and doings of Francois Hollande, who is rapidly ruining the French economy - but that's another story.

4th November 2012

Fifty shades of grey?  Fifty shades of nothing, say the French.  E. L. James' best-seller has now been translated into French, but literary it is not.  Connoisseurs of the arts are horrified. What do you do when sleaze apparently outsells Shakespeare? It's grunge v the opera, graffiti v Renoir. This week I read that Pippa Middleton was advanced hundreds of thousands for her completely juvenile, illiterate book.
A sign of the times, I suppose.  Makes me wonder why I continue to struggle to achieve something literary in a world where perversion is news and being famous is more important in a writer than the beauty of the written word.  Good job Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Shakespeare aren't about to submit their manuscripts today. None of them would count for much in the looks department!
I was saying all this to a French friend the other day. She had recently read a French novel, the writing of which had brought tears to her eyes. The James' saga couldn't happen in France, she said, promising to read one of my novels and even to translate it into French!  Worth a try, I suppose, but I'm still sceptical it'll achieve anything positive in today's world of cash-strapped literary editors and publishers.
But, anything that will lighten my gloom would be a glimmer of hope as I contemplate the stirrings of a new novel in my fervent brain. One thing's for sure:  this may be France, but the Marquis de Sade I'm not!

28th October 2012

An unsettled week - in mind and body. Following our neighbour's faux pas in calling the police on us, we watched as a steadily-growing heap of leaves and branches rose next door.  Sure enough, last Monday the unmistakeable smell of pungent smoke. Our hypocritical French neighbour had lit his own fire!  'Momzer' shouted Him indoors.
To take my mind off things, I decided to watch the Miranda programme on TV. She's a tall, ungainly English comedienne, whom everyone tells me is just like me!  Every time I watch her, all the inner gaucheness and inferiority of my youth come to the fore.  Arriving at a grand occasion in posh wrap-around gown, she slammed shut the taxi door, a bit of the dress caught and the taxi drove off with dress flying along with it - leaving her just in her underwear.  My worst nightmare.
So, TV was no good.  I know, I'll hang up our new curtains that good friends had made up for me.  The rail was too high, so I fetched the step ladders - ensuring the lock was tight - and proceeded to climb up.  Said step-ladders must have been faulty, ladders and me collapsing in a heap on the floor.  Now bruised not just in pride but body also.
Meantime, Him indoors - still smarting in mind and nostril - marched down the garden to confront the neighbour. Having just read about the classic Dreyfuss affair, and feeling confident about French history, he shouted what sounded like 'Jack Hughes, Jack Hughes!'  What?  What?  Oh, you  mean that condemnation by Emile Zola 'J'accuse'.  Said neighbour continued blithely on with his gardening.

21st October 2012

So the Scots are to have an in/out referendum on being part of the UK.  I fear this is the stepping stone towards one for the UK being part of the EU.  We all know what the answer to that one would be. I remember a certain phrase from the past:  Maggie, Maggie, Maggie - out, out, out!   In times of uncertainty, people cling to their own little tribe - a warm, cosy unit where we all feel safe.  But, politically, it's an illusion.  Things have changed.
As an ageing expat I realise that the England I miss isn't really the one I left behind. The England of my youth seemed so much better than the England of today. Fond memories of respect for our elders and authority, coupled with the absence of global TV, meant that our ignorance was bliss.  But now no-one wears rose-tinted glasses any more:  the harsh reality of life is laid before us every minute of every day. Today's British youth have never experienced the appalling casualties of war - and the ones who did are now almost gone.  We must never forget - ever. The recent Noble Peace Prize awarded to the EU is very timely. Current EU inequalities, with some democratic tweaking, can in time all be ironed out. For centuries life in the old tiny, nationalistic countries proved disastrous.  So, if we get an in/out referendum on the EU - vote IN, loud and clear.....much better than the alternative.

14th October 2012

No smoke without fire.....
We've had some lovely warm days lately, so even I was tempted outside. When's the best time to light a fire? I asked Him indoors.  Always a difficult question, as the French law seems so unclear. Each departement has a different code.  Some say a garden fire is o.k. if it's at least 200m away from the nearest house, others say more than 50m, whilst some areas have no discernible law at all.  Some expats on bonfire night each year invite people around (including the Maire!), and light a huge bonfire. All year we regularly see fireworks exploding in neighbouring gardens - presumably for family celebrations.
.....so we both agreed - should be o.k. to light a fire; do it during the day so we can be sure to put it out before nighttime. Soon a plume of sweet, grey smoke was blowing lazily sideways right at the bottom of our very long garden - well away from any houses. I resumed my weeding until Him indoors shouted 'The police are at the gate!'  You're joking?  For once, he wasn't.  'We've had a call. You must put the fire out', they said.  'Who on earth called you?' They looked sheepish.What kind of person calls the police on a neighbour?  In my book you should never, ever make an enemy of your neighbour. They are often the nearest person to help in times of crisis. I'll never understand the French mindset.

7th October 2012

One of the first things I did when we arrived in France was to buy a giant English:French dictionary. It's not just the words I needed to know, but the phrases.  But for Him indoors, all he needs is the free catalogue from Brico Depot.  Armed with this and the phrase 'avez-vous quelque-chose comme ca?', he's happy.  One of the reasons he liked this house in the first place was its proximity to this store. Our railings and gate were rusty and badly in need of freshening up  so last week we set off to buy some blue paint. Now, you'd think that because so many houses in the Midi-Pyrenees region have blue shutters, this colour would be easy to find.  Wrong.  Even Brico didn't have any, but what they did have was this amazing, computerised mixing machine.  I'd never seen one before, but it seems they take a tin with some sort of colourless liquid inside, put it into a kind of kiln, type onto a keyboard a magic reference code, and voila - out comes a tin with blue paint.  Back home at chez-nous, the job was going well until Him indoors tried to fix the tin to a hook on his ladder....you guessed it, the tin fell, and a pool of bright blue paint went all over the concrete in front of the garage!
Neither he nor I needed a dictionary or the Brico catalogue - the language was already blue!  Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'the job needed doing badly'......

30th September 2012

Allons aux barricades.  No, it's not 14th July - it's the neighbours who're revolting! Something'll have to be done, but what? Regular readers of this post will guess what happened recently.  Yes - Bruno again.  After his second episode of climbing the fence and attacking the neighbour's chicken, we resorted to attaching him via a long rope to our terrace.  Sounds cruel, but it wasn't. It was long enough to allow him to go under nearby bushes or to come into the house to see us.  He's very much an outside dog and much prefers being in the open air. Then, when we brought him into the house, we would unclip the rope and shut the doors. This worked very well until the day we forgot one of the windows was open. He heard the crack of a nearby hunting gun (grr) and jumped out. The problem with the neighbours is that they have poulets tondeuses (chickens bought to run over the grass) as well as geese.  But, this isn't the countryside - it's a town. And the chickens provoke our chasseur dog by pecking near the fence. Well, the neighbours drove round to our front gate. I didn't let them in. They waved a letter and threatened to call the Gendarmes. I said I would pay one more time - but think they're diddling me by demanding I buy 6 more chickens when only one was attacked. Enough's enough. No more. Friends say have we tried electrocution. I say, what the fence?  Him indoors says, no, the neighbours....

23rd September 2012

If only......
Yesterday French President Hollande and his German counterpart Angela Merkel celebrated an important anniversary. 50 years ago Charles de Gaulle made a speech to German youth that marked the start of the two countries' close relationship, sealed by signing the new Friendship Treaty with Adenauer.  Yes, despite all the hate that Hitler had shown and the appalling atrocities against their own innocent countrymen, the Frenchman found it in his heart to tell the German youngsters that theirs was still a great country.  Even more amazing considering that De Gaulle was the only senior French officer never to accept the terms of the June 1940 armistice nor the Vichy regime following France's defeat by the Nazis. It was that speech that set the scene for an amazing reconciliation between the two countries that would have been inconceivable a decade before - yet still persists today.
Fast forward to 2012: where are the statesmen willing to do what De Gaulle did?  Why can't someone have the guts to talk to the youth living in Muslim countries around the world.  Tell them that, despite the past, theirs is still a great country and we would like to sign a friendship treaty with them.
The enemy may have changed, but the hatred persists.   So, do something.

16th September 2012

A funny old week for modesty.  First, France's education minister Vincent Peillon has called for 'secular morality' classes to be introduced in schools, leading his predecessor to recall similar calls by disgraced Vichy leader Marechal Pétain. But, wait a minute, isn't this the country known for its laissez-faire regarding sex? Then, everyone's 'horreur' at the topless pictures of Kate taken in Provence - yes, France, a country famous for its topless beaches.
Well, now an on-line petition has been launched in a bid to get rid of those awful open-back hospital gowns. - those that show a patient's backside.  The petition was actually started, not by a patient but a doctor on his blog. It's apparently already reached 4,000 signatures and when it gets to 10,000 it'll be sent to French Health Minister Marisol Touraine.  Clearly, patrons all along the boulevard cafés argue 'aren't there more important health issues to discuss than that?', whilst others say 'mais non, c'est une probleme du respect'.
Him indoors, recalling his August sojourn in an Albi hospital, knows exactly what they mean about modesty. When handed a suppository, he asked 'I'm s'posed to put it WHERE?'

9th September 2012

A week of blaring headlines.  The terrible massacre of the English family in the French Alps. The French police now have the world pointing an accusing finger - were they incompetent by not discovering that poor little girl early enough?  The police are so concerned in following the 'correct procedures' that they don't move in to a crime scene quickly enough. Various hostage scenarios in the past have shown the same pattern. Thank God firemen and doctors don't do the same!
The ECB 'hero of the hour', Mario Draghi, seems to have stemmed the tide of the dying euro - but for how long?  If only the working practices of each European country could be brought into line. Someone suggested the Greeks need to work 6 days a week. But, no good unless their fundamental working practices change.  They need to follow France's lead.  France certainly knows how to produce a really skilled workforce - much better than Britain or the rest of Europe.  But France itself needs to learn more about customer service and technology, like the US.
Him indoors is thoughtful. Tell them to bring in Hugh Jeffert (huge effort) to show the police how doctors deal with emergencies, and to teach Europe how to work efficiently. But, will they listen?

2nd September 2012

September. A month to be feared in France for all those who love animals. Hunting here is an absolute scandal, and I can't understand why nothing is done about it. It starts every September and hunting with hounds continues until the end of March every year.  Even going for a walk is dangerous, especially in wooded grounds where hunters may lurk.  Even the 1982 law introducing a residential safety zone doesn't help much as hunters are allowed to shoot as long as they fire away from homes. So that's all right then!  Now, before all farmers reach for their pen and shout that they must protect their livestock from 'marauding' animals, why is it that appalling cruelty and undoubted schadenfreude on the part of hunters are condoned? Hunters regularly send their terriers into badger setts who then bite the badger from behind so they can't move whilst others dig down to unearth them before stabbing them or throwing them to the hounds.  There's a big difference between 'necessary' conservation and taking gleeful pleasure in causing bloody and painful suffering. Him indoors says he'd like to cause gleeful suffering to the hunters themselves.
No hope for anything new from Hollande. Owners of hunting lodges even get tax breaks from this government!  If you go out in the woods today, be very very scared...

26th August 2012

Would you believe it?  Just when I've got everything sorted regarding English radio and TV here in France, sod's law has stepped in.  Word has it they're launching a new Astra 2F satellite in September which will affect reception of BBC, ITV and Channel 4 programmes in Europe.  Of course I know that the BBC isn't happy that people living abroad aren't paying their licence fee, but even so it's a bit mean to deliberately narrow the beam so it can't reach mainland Europe.  I know that Sky's broadcasting licence covers only the UK but the BBC and some other channels have always been available in unencrypted format by satellite so essentially available to all.  My recommendation?  Fix an enormous new satellite dish on the roof - one that will pick up channels from Mars if necessary.
Isn't it about time the EU gets its house in order and irons out national inconsistencies?  We pay French taxes (yes, even on our UK pensions) and French TV tax so what's the problem BBC?  Just liaise with M. Hollande and sort something out. Him indoors is enraged. He says he pays Scottish TV tax and so demands British TV. Scottish? You know, you pay up front and only claim it back if you haven't got a TV. It's called inertia (in Ayrshire!) selling.

19th August 2012

The European Court of Justice has finally come up trumps. When you first start work all European countries say 'pay national insurance and we'll guarantee you benefits in your old age'. What the UK doesn't say is that benefits like the winter fuel allowance (WFP) which all UK-resident pensioners receive automatically, will not be paid to those who subsequently move elsewhere in Europe before the first payment.Well the European Court of Justice has now ruled otherwise. All UK pensioners born before July 1951 can now claim directly from the DWP. Of course, inevitable 'outrage' in the UK press who think we're all lounging on hot beaches every winter. Ian Duncan Smith, the Pensions Secretary, has said that before everyone applies, they'll have to check temperatures in other countries! Last winter here was the coldest in living memory - far colder that England. But, that's not the point.  Old-age benefits should be guaranteed in full for all contributors, wherever they subsequently live. Either the UK should pay, or the European country you move to. They can't both opt out! Annoyingly for us, the UK has ruled that in a few years all pensions will automatically rise and include all benefits for all, but not for current pensioners.  Him indoors is already sharpening his wood saw. To cut down our trees for fuel? No, to attack Ian Duncan Smith.

12th August 2012

Him indoors isn't happy - no more alcohol!
It'd been building up for months and couldn't be denied.  The dreaded visit to the doctor's.  Tests at the Clinique Claude Bernard in Albi were prescribed.  In England it's normal to have to wait months, even years, for a visit to a medical specialist, but in France just 5 days, then 7 days for admittance to the clinic. What an amazing experience it all was.  No stupid starched caps, tight blue dresses or black fishnet stockings - and that was just the nurses.  Everyone at the Albi clinic - from the doctors, to the nurses, down to the cleaning staff - all wore loose cotton tunics, loose cotton trousers and soft shoes.  Everywhere was so clean, calm and friendly. The room where he stayed the night was like a hotel - complete with wardrobes and en-suite bathroom.  And, after his treatment the following morning, within 30 mins he was given a glossy brochure with a typed report, colour photos of his insides(!), plus a lengthy diagnosis.  And you know what?  Because we had top-up insurance, it hasn't cost us a penny.
Had to smile in recollection. When the nurse was struggling to fix a catheter in his arm and he kept wriggling, she said 'Do you want some Scotch (French for sellotape)?'

5th August 2012

So, team GB's habitual 4th has now moved up to 1st  Cycling, rowing, long-jump, heptathlon, 10000 m....don't know whether I can cope with all this success. Much more comfortable with losing, unlike the Americans whose dreams of winning are built into their DNA - chests puffed out, muscles bulging, eyes glaring - and that's just the women. In the opening events even the visiting French president, Hollande, gloried in team France's then-superior medal position, sarcastically thanking Cameron for laying out the red carpet for his athletes. Hollande even seems to have introduced new French words to the Olympics like Repechage and Domestique, but don't even think of introducing any more English words to the sacred francais! And what's with all these 'new' English verbs like 'to medal'?
All this excitement too much for me, but Him indoors is literally having a field day. From the opening Korean flag gaffe (don't make a Korea out of it), to the 'oarsome' display of the GB rowers, when will it all end? And, I'm sure his sideburns looked longer when 'Wiggo indoors' cycled to the boulangerie this morning!

29th July 2012

Last week we were in England - bombarded by Olympics' news everywhere.  As expected, M25 traffic at a standstill, then had to pay for the privilege at the Dartmouth bridge toll-booth.   Inner-city road lanes much too narrow for our French left-hand drive car. The people - as usual, depressing self-deprecating characters everywhere - and that was just in our car! 
And then I saw the Olympics' opening ceremony.  That showed exactly what it's like to be English - completely mad, off-the-wall but brilliant.  No other country could have devised such a thing. 'Normal' countries would've produced something like youngsters training to be fit for the future and linking all 5 continents in a blaze of fireworks or something, but we don't seem to do 'normal'. The English production could've been a disaster but wasn't. I loved the way it moved from rural to the industrial age, using characters like Brunel, Shakespearian words and actors, reminding the world of our heritage. Fantastic. And when a torch-holder was asked how it felt, he said 'hot'! But then I saw yesterday's usual British sporting disappointments. Same old, same old. Him Indoors says our competitors must've been told to '..go Fourth and multiply...'!

22nd July 2012

Our son, like most of the younger generation, understands modern media systems much more than we do.  After all, my family didn't get a TV until I was about 10 years old and it wasn't until I was at least 14 before we even had a telephone - fixed line of course.  (You remember the type:  heavy black base with stiff dial and brown rope cord). It sat in the corner waiting to ring with bad news. Never did it occur to my (depressive) family to use it for bright, chatty reasons. There it stood to be used only for dire reasons.
So, a few days ago I told our son what I missed most from England was BBC radio - especially Radio 4.  It would go some way to combat my depressive leanings. Of course we already receive English TV via satellite, and I know that I can receive English radio via the internet or if I want to keep our large TV on all day.  But, what I really wanted was a simple, cheap radio that I can leave on all day without worrying something might burn out!  Result:  said son went out to LeClerc and bought 2 speakers (one with an off/off switch and volume contol) + cable, then expertly wired it to the satellite box.  Et voila!  It all works brilliantly, the radio stations being programmed via our TV handset. Apparently we're lucky we live on the Western side of France - it may not be possible further East.
Tomorrow's media headlines:  BBC radio combats depression - that's until you hear the global news that is.

15th July 2012

Yesterday was Bastille Day. Fireworks all night frightening the dog, and for what? To celebrate when Madame Guillotine cut people's heads off.
Back in 1889 there was even a proposal to erect a 900 feet high guillotine in Paris in its honour. Fortunately, the organisers of the Paris Exhibition back then plumped instead for a monstrous tower designed by a nobody called Alexandre Gustave Boenickhausen-Eiffel. Even so, people were just as alarmed as our dog. What? A giant iron structure that has absolutely no function at all?  Madness. And yet today, there it stands - possibly the most famous city icon of all. (Even the Statue of Liberty has the same internal iron structure). But, in today's super-tech world, queuing and ticketing problems have led the Parisians to tinker with the famous design. Because the Champs de Mars is a protected site, another two floors are to be added but below street level. So, the existing barriers and ticket offices can be removed, freeing up more space under the tower.
However, as in 1889, Parisians say it's all madness.  The giant iron legs will fall in and crush whole neighbourhoods below. And Him indoors:  I always said Parisians are in-Seine....

8th July 2012

Sometimes bizarre things happen. Saturday Toulouse was really jumpin'.  Like most of France, shops were busy with their annual sales - held nationally from 27 June 'til the end of July. Buoyed up, after saving 23 euros, we headed for the metro at Capitole. Now a dab hand at the ticket machine manoevres, we waltzed through the turnstiles and marvelled again at the wonderful synchronised doors that save so many lives at the platform.  We whizzed through the now familiar stations to the terminus at Balma Gramont. Walking towards the escalators Him indoors searched for our metro tickets. Oh, I blithely told him, we don't need those any more as all outgoing turnstiles open without them. So, he threw them in a waste bin. And there, at the top of the escalator, right in front of the turnstiles was a line of policemen!  Identity cards and tickets please, they shouted.  I went cold. This had never happened before. One approached us. Er, we don't have an identity card as we're not French. And, er, we don't have a metro ticket as we threw them away. He looked sceptical.  Bizarrely, he asked us where exactly. What?  Oh, in the waste bin down there. I pointed vaguely. So, the policeman led Him indoors away to rummage in a wastebin like a vagrant. Thankfully he found both tickets, and after checking my credentials the policeman allowed us to leave. Phew. That was a close call, said Him indoors. P'raps I shouldn't have asked if I could help him with his enquiries?

1st July 2012

July. Hot and sultry here.  Sometimes all you can do is close the shutters, switch on the air-con and watch TV. And for sport lovers, what a spectacle.  Yesterday at Wimbledon - at last a worthy British player in Murray. And today's the Euro football final between Spain and Italy.  Looks like it was their week too in politics. Not only did they get together to scupper Angela Merkel by threatening to block everything unless she agreed to do something re all that financial pain, but it actually worked without a drop of blood being spilt.  Ah, what would Churchill have said?  To jaw jaw is always better than to war war.  Yes, yes, yes! No more ridiculous bloody wars like the 100 year war between England and France.
So, as Cameron deliberates whether to agree to a UK referendum on the EU, he should think long and hard.  Joe Bloggs on the red double-decker will undoubtedly vote to come out of the EU. But, the common man doesn't always see the wider picture.  Whether it's tennis, football or summits between european nations, all that democratic aggression joined together peacefully in contained settings is far better for settling differences.   Ultimately that's the test. Why else has Europe been without war for so long?

24th June 2012

Last week was the Journee du Patrimoine, its 2012 theme being food. I'd invited five new friends round to chez-nous. As usual, I panicked. It all started when we'd been invited round to lunch in Toulouse one Saturday a few weeks ago. We had a great time, walking through the beautiful Jardin des Plantes near the Esquirol metro, and meeting all these lovely new people. But now it was my turn. First worry: the menu. Our French guests had roots in five different countries, and our veggie son also had to be accommodated, so I didn't want to disappoint. Watching the culinary horrors of  'Come Dine with Me' on TV, I realised the best way was to cook everything in advance, so I prepared chilled fresh tomato soup, slow-cooked goulash (for our friend from Russia) with potato latkes and red onion pie (for our son), followed by fruit compote with cherries and other fruits from our garden. A minor disaster: one fruit compote dish fell over in the fridge directly onto a soup dish below! Fortunately, the tinfoil cover took the damage.  How did it go? T.G.: a resounding success, so much so that our Russian friend wants to buy my cookbook! But, Him indoors nearly ruined everything when they arrived by saying he was on a seafood diet: 'when I see food, I eat it'.....

17th June 2012

Nerves are jangling all over Europe. No, not the football - though being an England supporter is bad enough.
Despite beating Russia no less, have the Greeks lost their Marbles? Today's the day when we'll all find out.  I've never known an election so closely watched by other nations.  France's new leader Hollande is as nervous as everyone else.  Three days ago he was interviewed on Greece's Mega TV channel. If the Greeks vote for Tsipras from Syriza, the anti-austerity party, Hollande's in trouble. Major French banks - particularly Credit Agricole - are heavily indebted to Greek banks like Emporiki, and could even fall if the euro collapses. He's even got problems at home. New partner Valerie Trierweiler has her sharp nails firmly embedded into his cast-off partner Segolene Royal. Valerie is actively supporting Segolene's political opponent in France's local elections!
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned! But surely it should be poor Segolene, his former partner of 30 years and mother of his 4 children, not Valerie?  Ironically, the famous phrase is from a poem called 'The Mourning Bride' - something I suspect Valerie, like her predecessor, will never be!
As ever, Him indoors:  It's all Greek to me.

10 June 2012

It's now a year since we moved to Gaillac, and our son is visiting.  A good time.  We decided to take him to the Toulouse-Lautrec museum in nearby Albi - the capital of our region.  The museum is very grand, housed in the stately Berbie Palace, but beware:  the prices are as steep as the steps leading to it!  There was a 'family ticket' for two adults and a child 'over 13'.  Him indoors says that certainly fitted us, but somehow the cashier didn't agree. Perhaps if our married son had been wearing short trousers?  Anyway, onwards and upwards we trekked, from one dark room to another.  I liked the impressionists the best. There's something about all that riot of colour and faces and action that really appeals. Very stimulating.
Lautrec lived in Albi, where he was born in the late 19th century, his family being descendents from a long line of Counts of Toulouse. The man himself was a bit of an exhibitionist - a bit like Him indoors really, who enjoyed the whole exhibition enormously. Well, he would, wouldn't he, with all those nude paintings and statues. But the security guard kept telling him to move along - they were stock-taking!

4 June 2012

Queen Elizabeth II. Jubilee Time.  Everywhere I go, the French mention the Queen.  Do they regret axing their own monarchy at the infamous Bastille?
I'm old enough to remember the Queen's ascension to the throne - just!  All schoolchildren in the UK were given a silver spoon and commemorative mug imprinted with the Queen's face and the date.  Wish I still had them now, but I don't think they would be worth anything as so many were produced.  Many streets had their own party, with a long wooden trestle table down the middle of the road.  Jellies galore.  But, for me, it all brought back memories of how free children were back in the 1950s.  In the summer holidays I remember being sent out to play with the rejoinder:  come back at 6.00 for your tea.  I don't believe there was any less crime:  because it wasn't much reported (no TV or media saturation), no-one knew about it, therefore didn't worry.  Today in the UK, I think people like having a stabilising, continuing monarchy. It's a comforting, familiar thing against the uncertainties of the future.
And M. Hollande for the French?  People would prefer if he married his partner!  What on earth is he going to say when he makes a state visit to countries like Saudi Arabia, where it's a crime to have sex outside marriage? Also, how credible will he be to the Pope?
On verra.

3rd June 2012

I see that France is planning to axe cheques completely. As usual, it's the brainwave of some stupid government committee - probably a new suit aiming to make a mark (or euro!) for himself. Of course, the real reason is that banks at present make no money at all from cheques. Clearly this cannot continue!  But, for the ordinary consumer, what free alternative is there?  Using plastic and holding a current account costs us a monthly fee here, and is the reason for lengthy queues at the supermarket checkout - the canny French write cheques everywhere to save a bit of money. And, how would we pay the workmen who do renovation work at the house?  I've never yet met a plumber who carries a little card machine in his overalls.
Back in 2005 when we first arrived in France, we did have difficulties. How to work out the amount in French, then spell it out on the first line; how to write the amount in the box:  where to put the comma or the dot, etc. And, we noticed that for a couple, don't even think to call yourself M. et Mme on your cheques (better to be M. ou Mme) because then, on the demise of one of you, the remaining account holder would not be able to access the funds from the frozen account.
It's all been too much for Him indoors, who says he knows why we took out a joint account - because of his sprained wrist.

27th May 2012

Once a year Gaillac hosts a welcome soiree for all new arrivals in the town. Not one to miss a free drink, Him indoors and me went along to find the Abbeye de Saint-Michel.  We took the Land Rover, as it was situated about 2 km from chez-nous. As usual in France's ancient town centres, we had to negotiate a series of very narrow lanes and - you've guessed it - managed to scratch the wing mirror on his coveted prize possession. Good job no-one in the vicinity understood English invective! The Abbeye itself is historic, housing a cave, museum and tourist office. Around 50 newcomers enjoyed a video show, explanations of how the town is run and plenty to eat and drink. What I hadn't realised was that on each Friday night in July and August there's a free show on the riverbank gardens alongside the Abbeye, including drinks, jazz music and fireworks on special occasions like Bastille Day.  Sounds good fun.
One charming member of the Mairie's committee took the time to show us the beautiful river view and ancient bridge from on-high.  We had long discussions with him about many things French including the current euro crisis.  When Him indoors discovered his first name, he ventured:  'I'll be Franck with you, if you'll be Ernest with me!'  Clearly, the man had much to learn about dry English humour.

20th May 2012

What on earth are we supposed to do about the euro?  All British expats in France have the same worry at the moment.  Do we leave what little savings we have in our French bank, or transfer it (and lose at current exchange rates) to a British bank? Dire warnings from the British Council don't help. In the, previously unlikely but now decidedly possible, event of a total euro collapse, all euro banks would close, cashpoints would be shut, and even border controls would apparently be manned to prevent residents from fleeing the country!  But, if you leave your money in a Euro bank which subsequently reverts to its previous currency, it loses half its value overnight.
Optimists tell me:  don't worry!  The G8 group of nations is meeting as we speak, ready to sort out all this mess. Oh really?  Reports last night said that the current worry re Spanish banks wasn't even up for discussion. So, what to do?  Can't even transfer euros to pounds via my PC at home, as my French bank makes a great fuss and insists you go personally cap in hand to the branch. Certainly keep enough cash under the mattress to tide you over for a few days, but with thoughts of 1930's Germany, do I subsequently buy a large wheelbarrow ready to carry home masses of worthless old French francs?
Him indoors says he always used to be indecisive, but now he's not so sure!

13th May 2012

So, from today France officially has a new President.  Is this a new trend - state leaders taking their names from another country? Or is he making his own wry statement:  France woz Holland??  All week on the French news, I've been wondering:  do we ellide the s at the end of Francois onto the aspirate H of his surname - Franzwozollande or Franzwah Ollande?
Looking at the man, himself, though is a different matter.  How can a man who feels it's acceptable to father 4 children without being responsible enough to marry their mother take on the much greater responsibility of leading a country?  Will he leave France in the lurch, too, as soon as it becomes expedient for him to do so?  He certainly faces far greater problems than simply 'shall I or shan't I'.  Fellow EU country Greece is suffering long lines of previously working people, waiting patiently for food parcels - like a third-world country.  Hollande thinks he can solve this for France by simply dismissing all ideas of austerity and living within his country's means by taking on huge loans to feed people's immediate needs. Without a care for tomorrow. So the economic circle turns.
Him indoors says the man's got chutzpah, or rather what he calls Hollandaise Sauce!

6th May 2012

People often ask me why I moved to France. The answer's surprising really. Quite simply, I'm the last remaining member of my family.  Apart from our children, all my family died from cancer.
Researchers at the Institut Nationale d'Etudes Demographiques have studied lifespans and quality of life across the EU. Apparently, French men can expect to live until they are 78.2 years old, French women 85.3 years - the longest life expectancy in Europe. Those with the shortest life expectancy live in countries like Bulgaria and Slovakia, where women can expect to live only to the age of 77.4.  My mind races to my family's eastern European origins.  Is this the reason for my health fears?
So, armed with this knowledge, I asked our new family doctor in Gaillac.  I recounted briefly my family's terrible medical history, then told him the steps I was currently taking: daily consumption of 75 mg aspirin, a glass of red wine, raw carrot, tomato, leafy green vegetables, sunshine etc.  'Doctor, is this enough?  Will it override the huge genetic risk I face from cancer?''Je ne suis pas le bon D.ieu', he says, shrugging his gallic shoulders.
I turn to Him indoors, who asks the doctor: 'So, French people live the longest?'  'Yes, says the doctor, but you've got to remember, you're not getting any younger.'   'It's not younger I want to get, but older!'

29th April 2012

Enough politics already. Had to laugh when I saw that the Maire in a tiny French village called Sarthe had come up with a wonderful plan to deal with all their rubbish.  Back in England, the mounds of rubbish piling up in the streets is a big problem. Birmingham, for instance, had this stupid idea of telling all residents to leave black bin bags on the kerbside the night before collection days - a field day for the urban foxes strewing everyone's rubbish far and wide.
But, back to the village Maire...her idea is to give each villager a pair of laying hens. Yes, hens. She says they're eco-friendly, they eat kitchen waste, lay 300 eggs a year, produce fertiliser for the garden and improve everyone's diet (cutting down on health costs).  The Maire calculates that each laying hen should cost around 10 euros each and she hopes to negotiate a bulk discount before distribution in September.  You may think all this an April fool joke, but I kid you not. Belgium (yes, of course) already runs such a scheme with considerable success, I understand. The way councils pay for rubbish collection is changing, being charged on how much rubbish is actually collected, so economies with this new scheme can be made.
Him indoors says all this is just a poultry(!) excuse...

22nd April 2012

Election day. Many French won't vote in this crucial first-round as they're not bothered. I used to be like that, but life has taught me you can't just do nothing. Be alert! Things can change: slowly, slowly and before you know it, your life's changed alarmingly. After 7 years away from England, I already notice the change.  Years ago England, misguidedly, tried to be fair and polite to all newcomers from around the world. Result? The whole tenor of the country has now changed beyond recognition. I remember receiving council notices printed in as many as fifteen different languages - and English wasn't even at the top of the list! Why did the government allow that to happen?
However, maybe it's the fear of the far-right that'll be the reason why today 57-year old Mr. Hollande, the quiet, grey man of politics, is on course to succeed the late Mr. Mitterand as France's first Socialist President in 24 years. The French compare Sarkozy with Margaret Thatcher. Heaven forbid they should have as leader someone as strong and opinionated as that. And yet......socialism can lead to the situation we currently have in Britain, where weak politics of the past has created a situation where strong-willed people attempt to change fundamentally the culture and way of life of the whole country.
Him indoors, if faced with a voting slip:  'None of the above!' And who would I vote for in France?  That's easy....anyone but Marine Le Pen!

15 April 2012

Must be dreaming....a thin, reedy whistle's emanating from downstairs. Is it a bird, a plane?  No, it's Him indoors staring at his new baby yet again.  His life-long dream's finally arrived and he can't believe it.  But, we had a few scary moments.  No, it wasn't trying to find the garage in Montauban. This time, we actually drove straight to it in our old Citroen C4 - you know, the one where Bruno had chewed the corner off the driver's seat and the inside roof material. But, relief  - the garage still paid us the promised 4000 euros. And the new Freelander? As you can see, it's in Galway Green - modern equivalent to the old British Racing Green.  And, it's got GPS!  Hurray. Now, surely, we won't get lost all the time?  Wrong.  Well, not exactly.  We managed to change the system from French to English, and en route home, sure enough there was the Queen's voice (with a hint of Brummie thrown in, just for us).  However, I found myself shouting at ER all the way - she sent us double the distance, via all the autoroutes.  Next problem - don't panic. It's so big - will it fit through our narrow entrance gates, and worse - is there enough roof clearance on the garage?  Yes, yes, yes. It just fits.
So, now there he still is, staring at his new baby. Sudden thought from a mere woman: where's the key-hole in the door handle?  Where's the ignition keyhole? Patiently, he explains 'you have to use the telecommande'. Sounds like Star Trek - beam me in Scottie.  But, but, what if the battery goes flat?? In the old days, if the engine didn't start you'd use the starting handle and could always camp out inside the car.  But, with this system.....
Why do I always have to worry about everything?

8 April 2012

Did you read about that man from Maine-et-Loire who was published globally, relieving himself in his own backyard? Him Indoors says: fancy making a fuss about a little thing like that......
But, seriously, what's happened to our privacy?Yes, the internet and IT technology have brought huge benefits and ease of living, but at what cost? Every time I use my debit card, it gives literally carte-blanche for every bank clerk (and subsequent advertising agencies) to know private details of my life. They know where I shop, what I buy, where, when and how I go on holiday, when I'm ill, which prescriptions I use, which doctors I visit and for which illnesses!  When did I give permission for them to know all that?  I suspect it's the same at doctors' surgeries and hospitals everywhere:  when you give your name at reception, I dare say the receptionist calls up all your medical records. Does this mean that even if you present with a sore toe, all your gynae(!) details are on view for all to see??  And, don't even mention airport x-ray machines.
Back in the old days, we used cash or cheques, and your private details were kept in the manager's office under lock and key.  I'm sure that bank records of cheques had only the date and number listed.  And, of course, cash was much much better.  Then, you could spend with absolutely no record anywhere.  Certainly nothing published globally on Google!  When will this unwarranted intrusion into our private and personal lives stop?  I agree with that Frenchman. Orwell must be turning in his grave.

1st April 2012

'Twas on a Monday morning....April Fools' Day it may be, but...After two weeks, absolute chaos in the house. Furniture covered in brick dust. A large plaster hole has appeared in the ceiling. No kitchen, no bathroom, plates and utensils in Outer Mongolia and the electric plug converter for the old cooker downstairs missing. But that wasn't all. Various electric sockets had been moved and no dial tone on the phone. No hot water at all, and a peculiar sewer smell emanated from the bathroom. Oh, and the TV: 'No satellite signal is being received'. Aargh!  
Coincidence, he said, when confronted with the useless phone, TV and the fallen plaster. For the phone (and what do I know, I'm no engineer) I suggested he try putting the phone wire up in the loft. Voila. It now works. Later, when I asked the tiler, he said that the plaster problem happened when the electrician was up i the loft. Finally, our friendly (English) SkyinFrance man arrived. In the loft he found that the TV cables had come loose and someone(!) had refixed them wrongly causing the diplexor to blow. At last, someone who knew what he was doing. When I asked the electrician for a reduction due to all the problems, he replied 'Ah, non'. Trouble is, our French electrician is also the plumber....last seen scratching his head over the foul drain.
....It all makes work for the working man to do.

25th March 2012

I was never really a fan of Robespierre. Wasn't he the organiser of the reign of terror during the French revolution?  And yet....
Today, at 5 p.m. sees a silent march through the streets of Toulouse. It calls on all citizens, public bodies, civil authorities and people of all religions to join in a show of solidarity in homage to the innocent lives lost this week.  Importantly, no banners will be waved nor any symbols of allegiance.Why? Because a banner gives you a false sense of an exclusive 'family', distancing yourself against other groups. And then?  As with football supporters, you feel the need to fight and jeer at others who aren't part of your exclusive club.
I was quite proud of Sarkozy this week. He showed himself, in times of need, to be a true statesman. With looming elections, the French people need to think long and hard. Forget personal idiosynchrasies. A leader isn't just someone to lower taxes, but someone strong enough to represent a nation amongst other nations.
As with Robespierre's 1793 declaration of liberte, egalite, fraternite: he who oppresses one nation declares himself the enemy of all.  As with today's march: against terrorism, hatred and extremism. The clock's gone forward...maybe there's hope for us all yet.

18th March 2012

I don't like flying, but as Him indoors says, it's better than the alternative. So, it was with trepidation that we recently took Alitalia flights that required a change-over in Rome.  Well, we certainly survived, but consistent they weren't. Although both connecting flights used the same airline, one airport accepted liquids in hand-luggage, the other didn't. Alitalia at one end allowed our hand-luggage on board, the other didn't. One airport waved me through security, the other connecting airport gave me a full, thorough body-search!  Yes, I know: just like Diana Ross.  I understand the need for security, but..
What of other airlines? EasyJet appeared in a Paris court yesterday accused of discrimination against a disabled passenger. A 39-year-old woman in a wheelchair was forced to leave a Paris-Nice plane because she was unaccompanied - despite having made the outward journey without a problem. Several passengers volunteered to 'accompany' the woman, but EasyJet said the accompanying person must be recorded before check-in.  I can see that a wheelchair might be a problem in an unforeseen evacuation of the plane, but it's the inconsistency that appears to be the problem.
Him indoors says it was St. Patrick's Day yesterday. So? Well, we should have used O'Flaherty's Travel - O'Flaherty gets you nowhere.....

11th March 2012

We're back!  I'm seeing our French home with different eyes.  Come, follow me in. First, notice our new front door with its secure 5-point locking system. (The last owner must've been more paranoid than me - 4 separate locking bolts.  Him indoors always tells everyone that my blood group must be B-negative!). Anyway, into the hall and a workman is still hammering away at our new kitchen. I can't wait. White stone, irregular floor tiles, and special antique-looking kitchen units. He greets me with a cheery wave. Always cheerful. Must learn from him somehow.  Continue down the long hallway, and there's our new bathroom on the left. This had to be modern. Never did like those old Victorian hip baths plonked in the middle of the room. Hip they're not. Prefer plumbing that works! Anyway, hurray it's almost finished.  Thank God the fashion for avocado baths went out the window. We've dressed up a simple new white bath witih large dark blue floor and wall tiles, coupled with a streamlined white vanity unit. And yes, we've also got a bidet.  Well, c'est la France.  Now cross over, through the lounge, and out onto the balcony. Out of shot of the picture, amazingly we've got palm trees. Still alive after the most bitter winter I can remember over here.
I touch the warm mellow stones of our home and feel a sudden rush of gladness in my heart. Oh how far I've come from the austerity, inbuilt guilt and shame of growing up in 1950's England.

19th February 2012

So many opinions about British expats are stuck in the dark ages.
For some time a small group of British expats have been campaigning to get the Winter Fuel Allowance for British pensioners who don't qualify, like me. One of them, Brian Cave who lives in Gourden, reports how at long last the plea has reached parliament via a House of Lords debate from Lord Lexton.  They need to know what conditions are like for some of us. Truth is, there's 54000 of us here in France, many having moved because of the cheaper house prices, many existing solely via their British old-age pensions. 
What does citizenship mean? Shouldn't working and paying taxes all your working life guarantee payback at pension age (wherever you subsequently live?).  If I take out insurance from a private insurer, country of abode at payout time is irrelevant. It's clear that the citizenship of British expats is recognised by paying the basic state pension, so it's therefore illogical to discriminate by withholding add-on benefits enjoyed by pensioners still resident in Britain. Other countries, like France, even give their citizens living abroad their own government representatives.  
How to change the way the resident British public view the Briton Abroad?  We all should follow the lead of 90-year old veteran Harry Shindler in Italy, who has a case before the European Court of Human Rights.  He's visiting England in May to meet some MPs. Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!' 

(Olga needs to take a break:  see you all again in 3 weeks).

12th February 2012

So, Queen Elizabeth has been on the throne for 60 years. Back then, all us kids were given special coronation mugs and silver spoons to commemorate the event.
But, looking back, all I can think is how different everything is today. Not so much the material things, but general attitudes and the things we said. It's one of the reasons we moved to France in 2005. I so love the old-fashioned courtesies still prevalent in today's France. At the moment we've got local French workmen in the house renovating our kitchen and bathroom. There are two young apprentices learning the trade from the skilled older artisan. I wish this practice was still used in the UK. Young people have so much to learn from those who've learned the hard way. But what I've particularly noticed this last week is how very courteous and respectful they are to us. Just like England, I don't think! I know we must move with the times, but some things have proven value, so shouldn't be changed.
A good thing that has changed over the years is the Queen's plummy voice for one more suited to today. Him indoors notes how the Spanish all talk with a 'th' lisp, apeing a former King who had a speech impediment. He says it's a good job the King back then didn't walk with a limp!!

5th February 2012

Not a good week. Someone's been misbehaving again (no, not Him indoors this time). Plus, in sub-zero temperatures, when the new cast-iron fire gives a good blaze, the overhead wooden mantlepiece gets red-hot. So, we called back the poelle-man to fit some sort of metal fireguard. As Him indoors says: yet another paying opportunity.
For those who've not met our dog Bruno, he loves to run and climb fences with all four paws off the ground. All of which makes life difficult. We've discovered that the patch of ground to the left of us is rented out to the man whose property lies along the bottom. So, when yet again Bruno climbed the adjoining fence, it's not our immediate neighbour who's at war with us, but the one with the gun(!) in the next road. (And, of course, our neighbour can't take our side because he doesn't want to lose his rent money!) Fortunately for Bruno, we managed to catch him and lead him back, tail between his legs. Sigh of relief.  But then, that evening, the ubiquitous white Berlingo arrived. Him indoors was out walking the dogs, so I opened the gates and let whom I thought was our poelle-man into the drive. But it wasn't him.  It was the irate couple from the next street!
Nothing for it. Despite the icy, hardened ground, Him indoors went off to Brico yet again to arm himself with more materials to fix a sturdier door to the dog pen. Will it be completed this time? As he says everytime he puts his key in the door: 'what have I let myself in for?'

29th January 2012

Ever wondered why you don't see a pawn shop in France?  With unemployment at 9.8%, how are the poor coping?
There's a 400 year old French bank called Credit Municipal de Paris, or the Mont-de-piete, the bank of the poor. Back in the 19th century people whose only possession was their mattress would carry it to this bank and pawn it. With that money, they could then buy potatoes, sell them for a profit during the day and then buy back their mattress at night. How's that for enterprise! And it wasn't only the common people. Celebrities of the day also secretly used the bank. Even royalty. The 3rd son of Louis-Philippe once pawned his watch to settle a gambling debt. Ashamed, when asked what had happened to it, he said 'I left it at my aunt's (ma tante)'. To this day, getting help from 'ma tante' is a discrete way of saying you've been to the 'poor people's bank'. It's like a hospital emergency room. Everyone comes to it at some point.
But, miraculously, as a gesture towards the poor, thousands of lucky French people have now had their financial obligations forgiven. Yes, the bank's wiped the slate clean. One woman, Genevieve, an elegant woman in her fifties who had pawned her wedding ring, said: 'When I needed money, the bank was there. I'm very happy. You don't often get something for nothing.'
Hurray. There's some goodness in the world.

22nd January 2012

French workmen - a whole new ballgame.
In England looking in the yellow pages was always a risk.  Cowboy hucksters everywhere. But here, everything's different.  When we moved in, there was an unexplained space in our handsome stone fireplace. It was crying out for an antique cast-iron poelle or stove. You know the sort: one with a pipe that leads up through the chimney and through the roof.  So, you find an artisan and say 'I've seen a stove at our local Brico that's really cheap....'.  Response: a very loud Non.  We've learnt that there's a highly-involved network with all artisans.  The client (i.e. us) must go to the outlets they recommend where they have established contracts.  And, of course, those outlets have the most expensive items imaginable.  So, nothing for it but to find more funds and go along with the status quo. When in Rome...
Result?  Good job we did. Our artisan discovered that the last owner had damaged the chimney and blocked it up. If we hadn't employed someone highly skilled, we'd have set the whole place on fire. French bureaucracy may be irritating, and difficult for small businesses to set up trade, but at least there's no room for cowboys.
Last night, toasting our toes in front of our new (expensive!) poelle, Him indoors mused  it's like when he left his last job rather like he started it,  fired with enthusiasm.

15th January 2012

Him indoors has reached a certain age. A photo of the two of us taken 45 years ago:  yes, our faces look older now, but the rest of us? Despite the fact that he daily eats double portions, he can still fit into jackets from the 60's. (I know, should buy him a new one). But me?  Enough said.
I read that French schools are following the Jamie Oliver approach and limiting salt, sauces and chips from school meals. Good idea. We all inherit our bodies and as children we learn what it can do. Changes in facial features we notice straight away and much money is spent on cosmetic changes, even though no health issues are involved. What's difficult is recognising when our individual, internal body metabolisms gradually, insidiously change over the years. No point getting annoyed about how other people look. It's the health aspect that's important. If BMI gets beyond a certain medical safety point, do something about it. With me, that point has now arrived. Question: what's my particular eating problem - fat or sugar? Answer: fat  So, for one week so far I've cut out bread and butter. I realise that this isn't short-term, but for the rest of my life. But, the result's encouraging: I've lost 1 kg.
Of course, I'll still have to make a birthday cake for Him indoors, laced with sugar and alcohol.  He says you know when you're getting older - the candles cost more than the cake!
P.S. Thanks to all who've left messages, but I've yet to learn how to reply to you all.

8th January 2012

We'd bought one of those 'Pack Illimite' vouchers, which means our regular train rides to Toulouse cost just 9 euros return. Much cheaper than those exorbitant prices in the UK. But, what on earth are those yellow 'Compostage' machines at the station? Him indoors says that, at home, we put grass cuttings in ours. But, realisation dawned. Tickets are open-dated, so when you're about to catch a train, you need to show the inspector your ticket's been stamped with that particular day and time. Now, no more hiding under the seats at sight of a peaked cap.
Toulouse was its usual bustling self, despite the rain. First, I needed a get-well card for a friend back home, so looked in a large papeterie. No joy, so Him indoors was reduced to acting like a 'lame duck' for the amusement of the shopkeeper. At last, he cottoned on. 'Ah, retablissement'. Should've realised that! Next, a trip to C &As. But, being a lady of quite ample proportions, I was not pleased that the changing-rooms had ill-fitting curtains and they allowed men inside the area who could stare in!  Oh well. Time to get back to Matabiau station for the short ride home. But, you've guessed it, couldn't make out which platform (voie) to take. No monitors at all at platform level.  Oh, Mr. Porter, what shall I do.....Will we ever get used to living here?  Only time will tell.

1st January 2012

New year. 1..1..1..2. Sounds like a three-legged soldier struggling.  A bit like me really. But it's a new beginning. I wonder how things will pan out. Will the UK finally leave the EU, causing chaos for us? We'd be real foreigners, needing residence permits, and to pay full cost health insurance. Will the euro collapse?  Now that would be dangerous. The British Embassy would need to step in to get us out of the country, as analysts say that in that scenario, ATMs would be closed (no access to French or English money), as well as all French airports.
But, enough of all this. Here's some good news.  The popular Livret A and LDD bank accounts plan to raise savings rates from the current 2.25% to 2.75% in February;  the current euro woes mean we get a good exchange rate on our UK pensions, currently 1.19 euros:1 pound;   a new 'no contact' bank card is imminent. We'll just need to wave these in the air, rather than insert them in a fiddly machine; and pharmacies will be reducing 'generique' medicine costs. Always ask for these rather than branded ones, as they're much cheaper.
Many years ago a young office colleague, half my age, taught me a lesson in life. No more could've, would've, should've:  just get on with it. So, that's my NY resolution for 1112
A happy and healthy New Year to you all.