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........