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.