29th December 2013

Some say 13 is unlucky. Well, 13 has certainly been a rollercoaster year for us. In February we'd been thinking of moving to the US but then met the worst blizzards ever in New England. In June our dog Tina was poisoned by something or someone(!), but was then treated by the kindest and best French vet ever. He even took blood from his own dog to give Tina a transfusion. But then we ourselves were ill. However, the whole year was put in perspective when I read about lonely, bereaved 91 years-old Roger-Marc from the Gironde. He put a wooden sign up in his front garden and along came 86 years-old Yolande from nearby Arveyres, who has now moved in with him, complete with her chickens and dog Bianca.  'It's not a passionate love affair,' says Roger-Marc.  Quite right, Monsieur, it's companionship that we all need the most.  But, Him indoors still says the end is nigh. Pessimistic? No, says he, not 'nigh' but NYE - Tuesday night is New Year's Eve!
Don't forget your own resolutions. Let's see what year 14 brings.  A very happy and healthy New Year to you all.

22nd December 2013

The best-laid plans oft go astray.....
I had been reading the best little book in the world: Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.  In it he tells anyone who ever asks what's the point of it all, to focus on 2 things: responsibility and attitude for your own life. Ask not what life can offer you, but what you can give to life. So, in this vein (and because 'tis the season) I made some traditional mince pies and decided to give them to 4 neighbours - you remember, those who wanted to shoot the dogs, who complained about a garden bonfire and had never welcomed us. So, first I ventured next door armed with a paper plate of 6 pies covered by cling-film.  Up the drive and up the step, pressed the door bell...but just when the door opened I foolishly stepped back, fell down the step and 5 pies slipped onto the floor!  Him indoors' response later? Do as I did at the medical clinic. What? You remember, when I came out bent over, you asked 'are you in pain? And I said Look at the sign over there. It says Toulouse-Lautrec Clinic, walk this way!
Season's greetings to one and all.

15th December 2013

A French lawmaker has spent the last 8 months walking around France listening to the views of ordinary people. Everywhere he went he found people 'without hope', he told listeners on Europe 1 Radio. People reported that France has no more industry, farming is in crisis and city suburbs are terrible. He said he “needed to get a feeling” for the country, and wrote on his personal blog that he was impressed by peoples’ willingness to speak frankly with him. France is changing, he said, and the government has failed to explain what this change means. Worse, he found latent racism everywhere, even in the smallest villages, especially a return of 'anti-Semitic' rhetoric. Have people learned nothing from the past? Let's hope his report to M. Hollande in February will do something, but I'm not confident. My comment to M. Hollande: follow the UK's lead and get the French economy moving again. For British expats, their French house values have dropped alarmingly, whilst English ones have risen - pulling those who wish to return out of the UK property market. So, where to go from here?

8th December 2013

Toulouse, busy with shoppers.  Le Metro its usual Disney ride, one minute up and over the city streets, the next whizzing to Capitole in the heart of the city.  Metro announcer eclectic with French and Occitan announcements. Everywhere people, everywhere noise, everywhere life. Just what we needed. The wooden chalets had gift ideas and  traditional handicraft like wooden toys, pottery, jewellery, candles, clothing, leather goods and food. Lots of it. Everywhere people sitting on stone bollards eating aligot, a local dish made from mashed potato and cheese. Had to steer Him indoors away from the smell of mulled wine and hot chestnuts - reminded us of a time long ago in Birmingham, where a little man used to sell them with  baked potatoes from his black cart, just off New Street. Ah, those were the days.  
Now I don't have to avoid invitations on Mondays, said Him Indoors, clutching a new pack of socks from C & A's.  Why? He used to have 7 pairs of socks, each with a day of the week, but had lost Monday's.  Now, we're available again any day. Gott sei dank!

1st December 2013

December already. Below zero. And not just the weather. Tensions between British expats in the EU and the mother country are chillier by the minute. Lately there's been conflict over the freezing of the so-called 'winter fuel payment'. The crux of the matter: this payment is part of the old-age pension and, as such, cannot be deleted on a whim.  War veterans like 90+ year old Harry Shindler in Italy are courageously mounting their own personal crusade. You see: it's not the amount; it's the principle that what you've paid for you should get. But now it looks like there is even more artillery being mounted by the anti-EU brigade in the UK. NHS costs are ever-rising against the insidious slide of services. Fundamental really. Bevan's original, wonderful concept of free health care for all simply can't cope with the current overburdened population size.So, how to claw back costs? It's proposed to pay EU states less for expat health care, meaning we must in future return to the UK for non-urgent 'elective' care.  So, who's going to pay our travel and accommodation costs for this?  For pessimists like me, things couldn't get worse could they? Oh no, there's that awful Marine Le Pen from Le Front National on the cusp of winning great gains in France in the Spring.   Him indoors: time to hit the bottle.

24th November 2013

We'd been searching for a chimney sweep for weeks.  The annuaire phone book for Gaillac lists 3 but none responded to my calls. Was going to say story of my life, but it's just simply la France. No commercial spirit.  It wasn't that it was urgent.  Simply that, in France, if you don't have an annual certificate showing your chimney's been swept, no insurance company will pay out.....but then, they don't anyway. Don't get me started on that.  Anyway, as it happens, we were at our local Brico Depot when white van man pulls up next to us and emblazoned on the side:  'Ramonage'.  Quick, run over and ask him to call.   And he did!  Wasn't what I remembered though. As a child in England, we kids all had to run out to the back to shout out when we could see the brushes appear out of the chimney.  (Probably a clever way to get rid of us). Now it's all machinery.  But he was very grimy, so we shook elbows. Some things never change. Hopefully he'll bring us some luck.  Wonder why the Gaillac sweeps never came? Him indoors says: they were detained by the 'flu!

17 November 2013

.......so, I'm back with much to report on things French. A few weeks ago our local doctor strongly recommended that I undertake a coloscopy (don't ask!) and gastroscopy. The following week(!) I was duly admitted to the Claude-Bernard Clinic in the nearby town of Albi.   I was welcomed and shown into a single room, complete with wardrobe, TV, phone and en-suite bathroom!  Nurses brandished a laptop with all my details. Patients are responsible for bringing the prescribed medicine, purchased at the local pharmacie (no clanking trolleys laden with drugs), costs borne by your carte vitale, plus antiseptic shower soap. Next the dreaded bit: drinking 2L of what tasted like the entire contents of Droitwich Brine Baths - with the inevitable after-effects....oh well. At least I wasn't presented with a torpedo tablet: I'm s'posed to put it where?? The general anaesthetic was much improved from my youth. I felt a warm rush from the catheter in my arm, then fell instantly asleep. And guess what?  No sickness, no after-effects.  After a while to recuperate, I was wheeled back up to my deluxe suite.  Best of all, within one hour I was presented with a glossy folder, complete with colour photos of my insides and a report covering reasons for operation, the procedures effected and the eventual conclusions + prescription for ongoing medication. TG: no cancer, but surprisingly I have 'beance cardiale' - the valve between the oesophagus/stomach doesn't work - probably congenital. It's only taken me 65 years to find out! The French health system? Merveilleuse.                         

4th August 2013

.....o.k. so what did the doctor say?  What they always say:  check your weight.  But, why are the numbers on the bathroom scales so small?  The taller and more myopic you are, the less likely you can see those all-important numbers.  And, I'm not going to increase my weight by putting my glasses on am I?  So, happy ignorance prevails.  Oh well.
Next thing was to get my hearing checked, so I marched along to rue Joseph Rigal in Gaillac. It's a gallic Harley Street - all the medics are housed there.  The ENT technician bizarrely started sneezing the minute I walked in and never stopped.  So, I'm sitting in one of those sound-proof booths with posh ear-phones on.  'Repetez-vous, maison achoo,' she said.  'Maison achoo', I repeated.  'Non, non - achoo!'  This was ridiculous. How would she know whether I had heard or simply not understood the French? Next, she gave me a button to press when I heard a sound, but how to indicate whether the noise was very slight, which it was, or loud? Eventually the score. I have some hearing loss in each ear. But, I certainly heard very well indeed when she said a hearing aid would cost a minimum of 1000 euros each ear.  I'll carry on as I am, thank you....I hear what you say.

28th July 2013

Current summer temperature in Gaillac may read over 30C, but British pensioners here are still out in the cold. I'm talking winter fuel payments.  Despite being encouraged to 'move freely within the EU', the UK government, to save money, made the crass decision that some EU countries, like France, had winter temperatures too high, whilst others, like Italy, did not.  This means that British expats in France will soon not be eligible to receive the benefit, even though winter temperatures last year reached -20C in places.  Is it too difficult to understand that, although it's warmer in summer, the winters are way way lower than the UK.? Fundamentally, this just goes to prove my point.  When you pay into a welfare scheme for the whole of your working life, shouldn't the eventual pay-out act like an insurance scheme - guaranteeing to pay out wherever you are and whatever the circumstances? What actually happens is that your contributions don't go into your future pot, but pay welfare claimants at that time.  Huh. Governments should not be able to move the goalposts whenever they see fit. Makes my blood boil - it'll need to if we're to keep warm this winter.

21st July 2013

Canicule. The weather forecast says 35C for Gaillac, but on our balcony yesterday it was 40C and rising. We no longer have a pool to jump in, there's a limit to how many cold showers you can take, so how to keep your cool?    Answers on a postcard, please.
The family kept telling us to get an annual medical check-up. I know, I know: France has one of the best health services in the world, so why don't we?  Long story. I come from a family who never went to the doctor's:  'if you go to hospital, you never come out'.  But, in Feb I had one of those free blood-pressure checks at a US pharmacie which read 198.  Shock, horror.  So, an appointment had to be made - and last Thursday was the day.  Well, even though my reading was now down to 168, it's still too high so I'm now on tablets - if I remember to take them.  Trouble is, they make me sleepy. And, don't even mention my weight.  Tut, tut, tut said the doctor.  Me and Tina, the Springer, have the same problem. And Him indoors?  No more doctor jokes, please.
And the answer to the heat:  we sleep downstairs in the sous-sol. A stone house may be difficult to heat in winter, but in summer downstairs - merveilleuse.

14th July 2013

Bastille Day or Fete Nationale, as the French call it. Well, they would wouldn't they?  People will always dream up ways of obfuscating the atrocities of life to make themselves feel better about their history.  But, it's only by seeing the mistakes of the past that we can know who we are today and try to do better. There's one historical French place I'd always wanted to see - Carcassonne, just a couple of hours S.E. of us. It's the site of the author Kate Mosse's trilogy. So, we drove our family there. We all agreed: the old 3C cite of  Carsac is exceptional. Although, being us, life is always difficult. One dog was still in the clinic, and we took the other one (yes, Bruno!) with us. So, as a party of 5 + one mad dog we traipsed in the heat around the most amazing mediaeval site you can imagine. And, the place was full of Americans. Of course. However much the US boasts, they can never match the history encompassed by Europe. As Him indoors says 'history is a thing of the past'. And Bruno?  We may, enfin, have found the solution - change his diet to hypo-allergenic food (no additives). Well, reader, it worked. He rode in the caleche and didn't even bark at the horses. So, although there may be fireworks tonight, for the moment all is calm en-famille. Ah...

7th July 2013

A week of the unexpected.  First, who'd have thought that a French girl, Marion Bartoli, would win at Wimbledon, against all those grunting, hard-hitting Americans and East Europeans? Second, at home in Gaillac I too am exhausted from nearly 3 weeks of entertaining and trips to the vet.  I'm happy to report that our Springer spaniel, Tina, is improving daily. No more blood, she is eating well and wagging her tail. The surprising thing is that the vet has finally diagnosed a rotten tooth - so, not the neighbours then!  He thinks it caused septicaemia which pervaded her whole body. She nearly died, but her prognosis now looks good. Third:  we took our friends to the local Chateau du Mauriac, famed for its 13C architecture and fittings. But, it wasn't this that took us back. The current owner is an artist with his work displayed on every wall. I was shocked. I know...I've led a sheltered life...but the paintings weren't of 'tasteful' nude women, but of men in various stages...!   There was even one positioned above the ancient marital bed. So, as the guide studiously avoided these whilst telling of the castle's history, all the onlookers were looking goggle-eyed at the walls. Him indoors said: Not quite shuttlecock then. Game, Set and Match. Quite.

30th June 2013

All is chaos and confusion here. What's new, you say? Well, the family is visiting, but it's not that. The day before they arrived, we picked up our two dogs from the kennels where they'd been staying for a week. All seemed fine, but the following day Tina, the gentle Springer, starting bleeding from the mouth - lots and lots of blood. We rushed her to the vet, who said she had been poisoned. Was it the neighbours, we thought?  They have been pretty condemning of us and our dogs lately. But the vet said he thought it was a bite from a viper. A venomous snake, you say, said Him indoors.  Then, it could still be the neighbour!  Anyway, Tina has needed to stay overnight at the vet's clinic and this morning we helped the vet give her a plasma transfusion, as well as antibiotics and vitamin K1 tablets - especially good for poisoning cases.
So, I'm very worried for the dog but also need to go out with the family. We are in constant touch with the vet via cell phone, so we'll see what happens.  In the meantime I must subtly teach the vet that the English word for how the dog responds is 'reaction', not 'erection' - hardly a normal word for a female dog!  More news next time......

23rd June 2013

Everything was set. The long-awaited Birmingham guests were arriving. Nothing could go wrong...Sunday rose with glorious sunshine. Friends arrived, all smiles.  First trip: the capital of the Tarn region, Albi - Cite Episcopale, listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Toulouse-Lautrec Museum was good, we gazed at the Cathedrale Sainte-Cecile, the largest brick cathedral in the world, and we were lucky to see a bride and groom. But then the wind blew and the mini-train was cancelled. Literally, a blow. Tuesday we did Toulouse, the pink city because of the sun's rays tinting the red bricks. But, all was not well.  The boat was cancelled due to floods. Black clouds loomed, thunder and lightening snaked down, so we ran to the metro. Disaster. Someone had pulled the emergency cord and all the trains had stuck!  How to get back to the car? Absolutely no taxis anywhere, so we asked and asked, eventually finding Bus No. 14 in the rain and gloom. Yesterday our friends wanted to treat us to dinner. Surely nothing could go wrong there. But....they have a special diet, one can't eat gluten, and fish was preferred. Not wanting yet another salad, we found a nice place. We ordered:  must be ordinary white fish, absolutely no crustaceans. A strange rubbery concoction arrived. Him indoors being intrepid cut off a sliver, then promptly spat it out - calamari, squid. Urgh!  And, I had to argue to get a big reduction in the bill. Today can only be an improvement, but with my luck....

16th June 2013

There's a local Riviera blog which says that quitting the EU could spell expat disaster. Well, yes!  Disaster for us certainly. Why? An EU withdrawal for British expats in France would be vindictive and severe. So, life for us would be a hassle - more than normal! Years ago Britons needed a Titre de sejour and queued for hours (or even days - so what's new) at the Prefecture alongside a rowdy mob of Asian and African immigrants all seeking the necessary papers to live legally here. British driving licences were not recognised so Britons had to switch to a French licence within 12 months or take the French driving test - yes, in French. Professional qualifications were not mutually recognised (in many cases they still aren't) so much was off limits and a working permit was near impossible to obtain.  And, the French Secu wouldn't cover either British visitors to France nor British retirees like us for mutual healthcare benefits - unless you could prove solvency and had your own private health insurance. Right. Have you ever looked at insurance rates for the over 65s? I told Him indoors all this and reminded him that he wasn't getting any younger. 'It's not  younger I wanna get, but older!' says he. Some things never change.

9th June 2013

For Him Indoors, it's LOL time again. We're meeting some friends at a charming little bistro in Verfeil, Tarn et Garonne. Its name?  La Seye et Vous, on the river Seye.  Normally, the French aren't known for their humour - you only have to look at po-faced M. Hollande.  At school we were told to 'Asseyez-vous'...hence La Seye et Vous.  Right up Him Indoors' street. But, this corruption of English into franglais is outraging some defenders of the language of Moliere, even though we're all doing it. At English railway stations 'the buffet is open', whilst in France 'Le snack bar est ouvert'.  How clever we think we are when we say things like 'it's de rigueur', only to hear the French themselves say 'c'est le must!'  Oh, the irony.   And nowadays there are endless opportunities in the fields(!) of sport and technology:  'le goal average' and 'scorer' (instead of 'marquer un but') and 'email' (instead of le courriel).  But you just can't substitute the irreplaceable 'bon appetit' for 'good eating' which we've heard recently, or even 'saumon pave' for 'salmon pavement'! However, we're all at it. When some English friends arrive next week we plan to take them along the River Garonne in Toulouse for 'le booze-cruising'.  Just try to scotch that, says Him Indoors.

2nd June 2013

What shakes me up more than anything else?  People coming to stay. Don't get me wrong - it's lovely having people round, but the 2 weeks before?  Panic.  I think of those awful TV programmes like Come Dine with me, where guests go round the house whilst you're busy in the kitchen, surreptitiously looking for dust on bedroom shelves, under beds etc. There's nowhere to hide, but where to start?  I sometimes think the 'worst' kind of houses are old French stone houses like ours.  Nothing quite seems to fit. Doors don't quite shut. Electricity isn't always reliable, the plumbing gurgling at night.  But, at least we've now had guest bathroom fittings installed - even though the ceiling height means those over 5' 10 will need to shower sitting down! Outside too, there are so many little wooden log cupboards, dog niches and the like - all full of spider webs and gecko-retreats. So, if guests expect the English norms of shiny brass door fittings, deep-pile carpet and patio doors that glide to perfection, they're in for a bit of a shock. There're other differences too which I've yet to fathom.  Why are French houses so often sited at angles to the road?  Sometimes they're facing sideways, like ours, and I've seen others with their backs to the front, if you see what I mean.  Bizarre. So, am I excited at people arriving?  Yes!  But are they prepared for the obvious culture shock - that's the question.

26th May 2013

Seems I'm a little bit famous. Well, this week anyway. Not only did I appear in the local Gaillac mag but now in the much more glossy 'French Property News', the biggest and best UK guide. It started with a call from Vicky Leigh, the Asst. Editor.  She wanted to do a piece comparing expat bloggers in different parts of France, trawled the web, and found me!
When you think of blogging, you picture someone young, not someone my age. Certainly, the original French founder of the concept, Louis Pouzin, would be amazed. He's rightly receiving the Queen's award for Engineering in June, but who is he?  He's unknown because in the '70s M. Puzin saw that the French government wanted to develop a computer network and suggested his own innovative design - but, typically, they turned him down, calling it 'absurd'! They preferred the now defunct Minitel system. Scroll forward - and the Americans won hands down.  But, at last he's getting the recognition he deserves.
And me?  You can read more on page 42 of the June edition of French Property News - yes, a whole page. Back in the '80s the computer age opened up a whole new world for me, something unimaginable.  Merci beaucoup M. Pouzin.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against the sea of troubles and by opposing, end them? Well, that's what Hamlet thought. But after 8  years of living in France, what do I think? 
Last week I was contacted and interviewed for the local Gaillac magazine. They were doing a survey of recent new arrivals. Unfortunately, for me, the French are the most unfriendly people towards strangers I've ever met. Surprisingly, however, the reporter from the Maire's office agreed with me! 'That is the French way'.  The best comparison I can make is with the Americans, whom I've found to be the most friendly in the world.  They go out of their way to welcome new arrivals in every way imaginable. Of course I also told the Gaillac reporter of my love for the French sunshine, food and quality of life. But, in a recent survey, amongst other EU nations France was also named as the most arrogant. Clearly, then, M. Hollande needs to do something about the attitudes of French people in general if he is to improve tourism. But what of me? Because of my family health background I need as much sunshine as possible, but because of my East European background, I need to relate to friendly people to improve my innate pessimism. Oy vay!

12th May 2013

It's now exactly 8 years since we picked up our dog Bruno from the SPA rescue centre in Montauban.   Learning from past experience, we decided to pick the one who was jumping all over the place, full of energy, i.e. healthy.  Him indoors always said he wanted one like the one he had as a child, full of personality. But look where it's got us -  a catalogue of disasters. In our old village of Varen, Bruno did his utmost to upset everyone, particularly a neighbouring farmer whose sheep grazed right next to our fence. In the nearby tourist spot of Cordes, we tied Bruno to a metal bollard whilst in a shop, only to see him flying past the window, a metal bollard bump bumping past him right down the cobbled street.  Then we moved to Gaillac, with a much bigger garden. But, no matter how high the fence, Bruno can climb up and over with all four paws. We decided that he must stay below in the sous-sol when we go out. Surely nothing can happen down there? Hmm.....he's now managed to knock a tin of paint over a bag and open the valve underneath our hot water boiler, fusing the electricity and filling the basement with paint and water.  A bad case of distemper.......

5th May 2013

I'm worried about UKIP. It's a political party that's insidiously creeping up the voting lines. A lot of people voted for them in this week's local elections in England. For me, they're like the BNP in sheep's clothing - racism under another name.  Friends say 'why worry? We live in France now'.  But, already - buoyed by their success - the UKIP leader has asked David Cameron to hold that promised In:Out referendum on the EU 'before the next general election in 2015'.  And I seriously think the result would be 'Out'.
In France, one year after his election, Francois Hollande continues to plummet in the ratings.  The doughboy has received a pin-prick and is slowly deflating as we speak.  Despite his success in Mali and the recent Airbus deals, no-one likes him. Yesterday's French press reported that rich people and expats(!) are leaving France in droves. High rates of tax, rising unemployment, diving economic results....  For English expats in France, it's all very disheartening. Even if we wanted (or were pushed in the future!) to go back to England, many of us have fallen off the 'housing ladder price lists' so would struggle. But, Him indoors isn't worried.  Margaret Thatcher might have said 'You kip if you want to, but we're not for turning...'  

28th April 2013

Tragedies in Boston or around the world show that men get frustrated. How often do you hear people say '...you just don't understand me'?  It's not easy to eradicate underlying deprivation and troubles in life, but you can do something to ease the frustration of it all.
50+ years ago I couldn't understand why I was terrible at some school subjects but good at languages. Eventually I figured it out. Girls were expected to have background knowledge in subjects like domestic science (and I had none!), whereas in French and German I started on a level playing field with everyone else. Now, I couldn't possibly live here without being able to communicate in shops, with workmen, on the telephone etc.  Language is an amazing tool. It opens up worlds that would be closed to you otherwise.  On the Toulouse metro I marvel at the automatic announcements in both French and the mediaeval Occitan:  'La prochaine station est La Roseriae, .......Roziado'.  The French (not noted for their language skills) are at last cottoning on:  '...It's a weak point of the education system that pupils learn grammar but don't practise talking and interacting enough...' says Claudia Senik, Professor at the Sorbonne.
So, one answer to the world's problems = language = communication. Stop the violence - not by buying yet more guns, but by learning to communicate. It's the only way.

21st April 2013

If you feel reasonably well, is it better to have regular health check-ups or (as my family used to say) keep away from doctors and hospitals? American doctors want their patients to live (so that they can keep taking their money) whereas English hospitals want you actually to die to free up the beds!
Here in France, people complain that doctors often don't even look at their patients, preferring to stare at their computer screens. To make matters worse, the tests patients are being sent for are extremely costly to France's health service.  In French daily Le Parisien I read that blood and urine tests cost a staggering €2.5 billion in 2011, MRIs cost €917 million and screening for colon cancer cost €97 million in France. Dr. Jean Dubousset, a Paris-based surgeon, even advocates that there's too much screening going on which 'can lead to unnecessary anxiety among patients'. 'Fitting a pacemaker for someone suffering from Alzheimer's disease is both a moral and financial aberration,' said another.  Why?  Even if the patient isn't aware of it, he still needs it!
Him indoors says, wherever you live, it's all about cost, not the patient.  When the doctor says 'this is going to  hurt', it's not the needle it's his invoice!

14th April 2013

So, we mourn the death of Baroness Margaret Thatcher. Even as we speak, thousands are chanting '...the witch is dead' or worse.  But, what did she do that was so terrible? I'm old enough to remember the state the UK, the world and the cold war were in back in the '70s. What would have happened if someone meek had been PM back then?  Could anyone but the 'Iron Lady' have 'done business' with the Soviet leader? Good leaders need to be strong. Would the UK now have been so relatively prosperous - which undoubtedly filters down to everyone - or would we still be stuck in the mire?  Of course, the  world has changed beyond measure since Margaret Thatcher was at the helm. Our worlds are no longer enclosed within isolated places, bound by historical and largely-now-redundant mindsets.  We personally were able to move to a free and peaceful new Europe. TG European countries are no longer fighting each other for the self-glory of whomever happens to be their leader at the time. Interaction via new technology on the global stage is now the golden key. But, so is democracy.  Remember, Margaret Thatcher was elected by the whole country and never defeated at the ballot box. It's chutzpah for militant people to assume they can subvert the democratic rule of law. Lack of respect for the dead is an ignorance borne from the past. If you don't like what's happening in your country, wait for the next election - wherever you reside.

7th April 2013

The French still look miserable.  It's not just the weather either. The dreaded annual 'declaration des revenues' is at hand. If you're brave enough to declare by internet, the date looming is the 19th.  It's not just the man in the street either. Just look at the government - running scared already. The French Minister whose brief was 'to prevent tax evasion' has been found out himself. Yes, M. Cahuzac had his own fraudulent Swiss bank account.  And even President Hollande, for all his tongue-lashing at his colleague, is no knight in shining armour.  Despite his advocating marriage for all, why do you think he's never married his live-in girlfriend Valerie Trierweiler?  Could it be because, as she is from a family of bankers, if she married him they would be liable for a great deal of ISF wealth tax at 75%? Hollande is even being sued by a M. Kemlin for allowing his 'mistress' to enjoy tax-funded accommodation, food, staff and chauffeurs at the Elysee Palace - illegal because she is not married to him. Even rich celebrities like Depardieu, Maradona and Madonna have been frightened away from living in France. Some would say good!
Him indoors has always said the world's bent. Everyone's out for themselves, politicians especially, and anything's possible as long as you don't get found out.

31st March 2013

Hooray. European summer time. More light for a SAD person like me, doomed from my East European ancestors and northern childhood to be forever depressed. I've never understood why people don't all move to sunnier, warmer places when their situation allows it. And, why isn't property more expensive than in the colder, darker ones. So, I was surprised to read a new report from the Paris School of Economics that France, famous for its joie de vivre, is suffering from existential gloom. It seems the French are "taught" to be miserable by elements of their own culture, so they are far less happy than their wealth and lifestyle suggest they should be. The French enjoy a high standard of living,  have a generous welfare state, plus universal and free access to healthcare, hospitals, public schools and universities. It has a 35-hour working week and many foreigners (including 150,000 British expats already here) aspire to make it their home. Yet the French are gloomy. A recent WIN-Gallup poll found that their expectations for the coming year ranked lower than those in Iraq or Afghanistan. And, the WHO notes that the suicide rate in France is much higher than in any of the "old European countries", with the exception of Finland. But, in many poor countries people are happy with what they have.  So, what's the answer? What a paradox. The very reason I came to France has now been rubbished. Oy vay!

24th March 2013

...and so the EU crises continue.  At least they're financial troubles and not, as in the previous century, one country killing ordinary people in another. But, not only can the British expats in Cyprus not access their life-long savings because the cash-machines and banks are shut, the retirement houses they bought are apparently not theirs despite the fact they paid in full for them because they never received their house deeds from the badly-mismanaged system, and now they hear from the British government no less that their British pensions - normally transferred directly to their Cyprus bank account - are being held back to avoid being sucked into the morass!  Sod's law all round.
Talking about the sod, to take my mind off all this worry, we decided to do some gardening. I've discovered a miracle cure for that dratted grass that keeps growing through the shingle on our drive. No point buying those dreadful weed killers. You know the ones, where the white foamy stuff keeps getting bunged up behind that tiny eye hole! No, after you've boiled those potatoes for your dinner, pour the hot water over it - no, not your dinner, the driveway!  Yes, it actually works. Something to do with the combination of hot water and starchy residues.  And, it won't poison your pets either.
So, sitting on our increasingly lumpy mattress(!), Him indoors says we shouldn't look for lawn....

18th March 2013

Extra, extra, read all about it.....an EU country is legally allowed to dip its hard-up hands into ordinary savers' bank accounts. Throw up your hands in horror. Armageddon is nigh.
The situation is Cyprus is surely sending warning signals right across the continent.  The troika of EU wise-men has decided that they are not going to support trashing the actual banks and finance houses that caused the country's default, but to hurt the common man who had nothing whatsoever to do with it in the first place!  How can it be legal to take money from ordinary savers?  It's daylight robbery.
But, all this is nothing compared to what it may signal for the future.  O.K. it's only little Cyprus at the moment, but what happens if the other, bigger, EU countries get sucked into this morass?  Who is the common saver?  Is he a member of a criminal gang, hoarding away his ill-gotten gains?  No, it's someone like you and me:  pensioners, many of them British expats, who have brought their savings over to the EU - money they've saved all their lives to provide something for their retirement.  And, what happens when nervous people like me decide enough's enough and send their money back to the relative safety(!) of a British bank?  I'll tell you.  It's called 'a run on the banks' - and could even cause the eventual fall of the euro.
You see:  Him indoors was right.  Take your money out now and put it under the mattress.  Should be safely out of reach of the stealing hands of the EU troika, shouldn't it??

17th March 2013

....when Irish eyes are smiling.....
Why are some national holidays known and celebrated around the world more than others? Is it about respect and national feeling? This last week saw images of Carla Bruni singing her own lyrics about a 'pingouin' -  a characterisation of the current French President. You can't blame her for feeling sore. When Sarkozy first took office, he led Chirac, the previous incumbent, graciously down the red carpet to his waiting car - unlike when Hollande took over and he didn't even bother, preferring to leave the departing Sarkozys to leave toute seule.  All the businessmen I talk to want the statesmanship and respect of Sarkozy back for 'the good of France'.
And me?  My dream is for every country to have a new national day, not based on past atrocities (like Mme Guillotine, or past killings, burnings etc.) but promoting things in their country they are particularly proud of today.  On national days democratic leaders could be invited to sample (and to try to emulate in their own countries) what each place has to offer. An ideal opportunity for greater understanding and respect for each other's cultures.  Him indoors?  Wish I was still working, then I could take the day off!
.....sure they steal your heart away.....

10th March 2013

Mothers' Day in Britain.  41 years since my own mother, Thora, passed away. I remember it like  yesterday.  It was February 1972, and Thora had been struggling with both the new decimal coin system and the new cash machines.  Thora's philosophy? With something new, continue in the old way and don't tell anyone you don't actually understand it.
I wonder what Thora would make of my life here in France? Elements of her 1971 philosophy now. First, there's the new Android tablet. Still can't get it to 'talk' to our Orange livebox.  Worked in the US - so it's not the machine itself that's the problem.  But my invaluable, nay essential laptop works perfectly with Orange. I know what'd happen if I changed the livebox, the laptop wouldn't work!  Then, there's the constantly changing euro:pound exchange rate. Used to be 1GBP:1.50 euros, but now 1GBP:1.14. Disaster. All our pension income comes from Britain, so if the pound collapsed we'd get more money. But, if that were to happen, there'd be the danger my occupational pension company would also collapse. What does Him indoors say?  He says he'd put a sign above his old shop: 'This is a not-for-profit organisation'. Trouble is it wasn't meant to be!!  Thora always loved his sense of humour.  Happy Mother's Day to everyone's mother, wherever they are.

3rd March 2013

A new credit-card style driving licence has been issued across Europe, but delayed in France until September.  Foolishly I already thought I had an 'international' driving licence but now realise I've got what they call a 'photocard UK driving licence'. Mine has been very useful in France as it's credit-card size, has my photo on (somewhat airbrushed compared to what I look like today!) - which has served me well as ID in several places - and fits in my purse.  However, it was originally issued by the DVLA in the UK embossed with our old UK address, but the DVLA won't update it to a French address. So, when visiting the UK and the police stop us and say it's mandatory to have an updated address on all licences, we have to tell them there's nothing we can do whilst they drag us to the nearest police station!  And, I now notice there's an expiry date: 2015. What to do in 2 years' time? Living in France, I can't apply for a new UK one. Current French licences are valid for life, but the new French licence in September is only valid for 15 years - and we both dread having to take a French driving test or even take a sight test! So, calculating swiftly, I think I'd better swap my current photo-card licence for a French one before September whilst it's still valid for a lifetime. All this is driving me mad........

24th February 2013

We're back!  What a roller-coaster.  We've been to Maine, the most northerly of the New England states.  Talk about masochistic - other than skiers, no-one holidays in Maine in the winter. And now we know why.  Blizzards, snow 8 feet thick and lakes so frozen you can (and we did) drive on them. You may have read about blizzard Nemo while we were over there - certainly a backward Omen.  20F there, 20C in Gaillac. But it wasn't just the temperature difference we noticed. The whole culture is different.  Although there are many American things we love, the US devotion to country and constitution is not just nationalistic, but obsessional. The constitution is sacrosanct, including the right to take up arms. No wonder Obama is having such trouble changing the gun law when every household is armed to the teeth. Him indoors noticed a bumper sticker: we reserve the right to arm bears......
Immense relief to be back in Europe. Ancient culture everywhere. A political climate I can actually discuss with others, wonderful gourmet restaurants with serving sizes small enough to taste the food quality instead of being engulfed by it, and a modest, non-aggressive stance on life.  America:  you have a lot of catching up to do to reach the sensibleness of Europe - with age comes wisdom.

3rd February 2013

One of my favourite French stores is LeClerc.  It's huge, pandering to my multifarious, eclectic mind!  Normally the French go out of their way to be as uncompetitive as possible.   But leClerc - why, it's almost American.  Take the car park. Last summer they went to huge expense in fitting special photo-voltaic panels across the huge roof expanse. This is an amazing boon to shoppers in summer: no longer do we have to hit a wall of heat on opening the car door. It's even cool enough to take the dogs. And, during that ridiculously busy Xmas period, they even had yellow-jacketed attendants pointing the way to available spaces.  But, as usual, what's infuriating are the French themselves.  When unloading a trolley-load at the checkout, don't even think of standing at the top end of the trolley.  I learned that to my cost.  The queuing person behind you will start to fill up the belt with his stuff - leaving you with just 6 inches of room to load items one by one!  And, if you're waiting behind a family with small children, it can take ages. First they sit their toddlers the other side of the belt, whilst they chat to the check out girl and slowly complete a cheque, fiddle with id etc.  (French banks charge a monthly fee for cards, so the French often use the cheaper facility of cheques).
It's no good. Must take a leaf out of the late Michael Winner's book:  keep calm dear.
N.B. Need to take a break - so back in 3 weeks. A bientot.

27th January 2013

Message to all British expats in France:  be very afraid.  The thing that we all feared has come to pass. a threatened in:out referendum on Europe.
O.K. Let's think what would happen if the man in the street votes to pull Britain out of the EU - and he might. Here's a quick list: All rights accorded to us under EU law would stop. The 4 freedoms of movement of people, goods, services and capital would stop. No longer would we be EU citizens – passports would have to be changed. We'd all  need Carte-de-Séjours and these demand a minimum level of income. No British citizen would have the automatic right to live in France. Those with little capital could be asked to leave. All the 500,000 British Pensioners here would be most severely affected. Medical subsidy support would cease - no carte vitale. We would no longer have the vote for local commune councils, nor the right to be a local councillor. Cross border trade would be affected. Goods from abroad would revert to pre-1973 practice.  The purchase of goods on the internet (such a boon) could be taxed and subject to import duties. The current relaxation of inheritance laws for EU Citizens (although confused) would not operate for the British citizen.
And remember: at one time the French imposed taxes on the import of money. I foresee a mass re-migration back to Blighty - over a million if you include those in Spain. And, that's if we all manage to sell our houses. But, many won't have enough to get back onto the English property market. 
For me and Him indoors, maybe something radical needs to be done.....

20th January 2013

Him indoors had a birthday on Thursday so we planned to have lunch in our favourite Albi restaurant, Buffalo Grill. I know, I know - not very French - but once a steak man, always a steak man is what he says.  But, woke up to snow. Lots of it.  We can't go, I told him.  Oh yes we can, says Him the Builder.  But, first, he opened his present - one of those new tablet Androids. However, the Android is still not talking to Google.  At 11.30 our temperamental front door meant we had to go out the tricky downstairs route, through the workshop and into the garage.  The 4 x 4 expertly reversed, we pressed the gate gadget but, as expected, too much snow.  At last, armed with trusty spade, voila, they opened. We skidded left along our narrow road. Naturally, a large truck was heading our way. No-one was going to budge for fear of getting stuck. Did we ever get to the restaurant?  Surprisingly, yes, albi-it, very late.  The main roads had been well gritted and the A68 motorway to Albi was superb.  The food was, as usual, very much to our taste. But, having eaten in a Buffalo Grill in America, it's clear why the French are so slim. The French portion sizes are much smaller. And I managed to drive home, in the snow!  Well, he had to have a drink on his birthday, didn't he.  And his birthday present, the dratted Tablet?  Unlike the meal, very hard to swallow!

13th January 2013

I'm feeling unsettled. And the British news doesn't help.  Half the British public believe that the UK should withdraw from the EU if Cameron can't negotiate things in his favour.  But Merkel and Hollande would never agree to opening up this Pandora's box:  every EU member would then want to tinker in their favour also.  Cameron received quite a shock this week when his greatest ally, the US, told him not to be so silly and to stick to the status quo in the EU.  So, Cameron's stuck between a rock and a hard place:  should he pander to the man in the street (i.e. the voter) and have a national referendum (probably the biggest gamble of his life and which would cause we expats to shiver in our beds), or heed wise old owls like Lord Heseltine and even Obama by pledging to stay in the EU. Either way Labour are odds-on to win the next general election.
Yet more news arrives to make us expat pensioners in France clutch at our purse-strings. A wonderful, bigger flat-rate pension is being unrolled tomorrow by Cameron. At last, the full amount for all pensioners including expats. Hurrah? Well, not for us. Those already in receipt of a British pension won't benefit and must stick with their original, smaller, payment - the lowest in the EU! Him indoors says all this is a mere EUphamism.
Hurry up sun - this is supposed to be the south of France. In every sense I'm feeling chilled.

6th January 2013

Growing up in the postwar years, it was instinctive for English people to help one another. Even today I love to watch the BBC's 'DIY SOS' programme, where neighbours club together to help someone in a crisis.  But I have yet to see neighbourly spirit in the French, especially in Gaillac! So I was surprised to read about the people of Saint-Martin-des-Fontaines in the Vendee, who have actually rallied round to build a brand new wooden house for a local 47 years' old unemployed man in trouble.  This poor man was living in a dilapidated old mobile home, down on his luck, having given up all hope. Well, not any more. Local tradespeople and neighbours have worked hard to give him a decent roof over his head. The Association des Bassins Versants de la Grande Fontaine started the scheme when it contributed an amazing 20,000 euros worth of building materials, which prompted local volunteers to give of their free time in labour. Now, not only has this man a new, decent home, but also a new farming job - offered to him thanks to local publicity. This has buoyed me in this new year: there's some hope for the world after all. Him indoors says p'raps there's a chance for a DIY job himself. 'Are you handy?' say prospective employers. 'Yes,' says he, 'I only live down the road.'