28 December 2014

Thursday will be a shiny new year. What will it bring?  For France I despair for the desperate people at Sangatte in Calais. All they want is a better life for themselves and their families, but no country can provide permanent benefits which then get sent back to family members in other countries. The wonderful Banque Alimentaires food bank system in Albi has the perfect solution. They allocate 'personalised accompaniment' to all those in need and offer cookery classes because it's cheaper to make a puree than buy one, but the help is short-term only. They say accidents of life can happen to anyone, but the assistant prepares a personal file, explains what is on offer and crucially the end goal - and there must be a goal. No-one must use the benefit system as a lifetime choice. So, my wish for the UK in 2015 is to follow France's lead. Him indoors? Like the kangaroo meat he saw in LeClerc, people should jump at the chance.  A healthy and secure 2015 to everyone.

21 December 2014

An absolute must-have for expats is a laptop. Writing books, blogs, Skype, buying airtickets, books, news, Facebook, researching....you name it, it's invaluable. So, being a worrier, I decided to get a new one with qwerty keyboard in the UK recently. In readiness I took an extra case in the hold so I could keep the new laptop in its protective packing and not have to charge it up to please officious customs officials. Of course nothing comes easy. I'd forgotten that, whilst there were no size restrictions on hold luggage, Flybe does charge for weight. And guess what? The new machine pushed up the weight to 1kg over the free weight!  So, I had to pay an extra 45 euros. But I now have this brand-new, super-dooper machine with its posh red cover. And, I've even learned how to use the 'cloud' system via drive.google.com for transferring all my old files. I've certainly come a long way from my first fixed PC with box on the floor and mouse, or even my first Imperial 70 typewriter. Just think how much I've saved on Typex and carbon paper!

14 December 2014

Last Monday Him indoors started his external radiation treatment in Albi. He was given special dietary instructions beforehand: avoid raw and cooked fruits and veg, fried food, sauces, mayo, bread, cereals, normal milk. So, nothing much he could eat! We set off, with me driving - never a good idea. At the clinic, as I waited for the 20-min treatment to finish, I chatted in the waiting room. It's surprising what you learn. One woman told me I needed 'un bon de transport'. Apparently the amazing French health service provides free, medically-approved (conventione), taxis for people with long-duration conditions, needing to travel regular, long-distances for treatment. Next to the woman was such a medically-trained taxi-driver. Yes, he could collect and bring him home to our door every day for the required 7 weeks. And, the whole system's worked well so far, until I saw the name painted on the side of the taxi: funnytaxi81.com! What sort of an idiot would call a medical vehicle 'funny'?  Perhaps they don't understand English. 

7 December 2014

What a contrast!  Was in Birmingham last week and never have I seen such a difference in lifestyle between the English and French. Masses and masses of Xmas shoppers, especially in the Bull Ring.  No matter where you wanted to go, the heaving throng simply lifted you off your feet and carried you along.  At major escalators, barriers had been erected chicane style (like at DisneyWorld attractions) simply to negotiate a downwards escalator!  A German market occupied the whole of New Street and food smells followed you everywhere. Reminded me of the old Goose Fair of my youth. My main thought: why aren't all these young people working? It was a weekday after all. Probably all on benefits, spending it on frivolous fripperies rather than the staples of life. But what do I know?  What I do know is that it concentrated my mind.  What is it that would make me happiest:  to go back to this (maddening) English culture I know so well, to friends who welcome and hug me, or to stay in calm, quiet France - that now, strangely, seems totally lacking in personality or soul?  On verra.

28 November 2014

Next week is December already. Lots of expats will be booking their cheap flights back home for the Xmas season, but what will they find?  The cheapo airlines are certainly a boon for those of us non-celebs for whom a strict budget is a necessity, but at what cost to our sanity? For tall people in economy it's a claustrophobic nightmare, added to by allowing reclining seats and drop-down flaps - not a pretty or comfortable experience, especially for tall ladies like me of certain larger chest sizes! Here's a message to all eco-airlines: Give us back more leg room and allow those of us who hate flying, or have a lifelong travel sickness/middle ear balance problem, space to relax and sleep without stress. Is that too much to ask?  If this means inevitable higher costs, then do away with old-fashioned 'luxury' ideas like free ice-creams or hot towels, take away all hot meals and microwaves on board, take away duty-free trolleys etc.  Those horrible trolleys that are constantly blocking the aisles and knocking the shoulders of those in aisle seats are surely a health and safety risk. They also hamper passengers' movement possibilities adding to blood-clot and other health risks on board.  Has no-one done a risk assessment? Makes my blood boil.

23 November 2014

A frustrating week. It all started when my Dell laptop conked out. Suddenly the screen went black and the white light on the front went red. What to do? I know, I'll email son Jon. He always knows what to do. But my Samsung mobile kept saying 'Message failed'. Neither emails nor texts worked. So, I'm in communication limbo - a real crisis when you live on Mars, i.e. rural France.  Then, for a long time I've been miss-hearing what people say:  Have you seen my keys? Yes, in the fridge.  What? Why would I put my keys in the fridge? Cheese, cheese! And, recently the family kept shouting 'Turn the TV down!'.  No good. Can't put it off any longer. I'll have to get a hearing aid. But first, find a phone no. for Dell in France. They don't sell in shops, so you have to call them. Really frustrating:  automated phone messages are bad enough in English, but in French? Eventually, at last, I got a person. He kept saying send him an email. No, no, you don't understand. Was it my hearing, my difficulties in French listening, or the fact that I am a technophobe in any language?  Yes, all 3. So, Thursday I picked up my new hearing aid, and yesterday, a new Dell laptop battery arrived in the post. TG, laptop's working again. Voila!

16 November 2014

In a few weeks Him indoors will start a daily course of treatment for 7 weeks at the Claude-Bernard Clinic in Albi. In the wake of the latest NHS scandal at Colchester Hospital, where patients were found strapped to beds and given sedatives without permission, it'll give us chance, once again, to compare the French health system with the English.  And it is only the system. In my experience doctors in both countries are equally as good, but the English ones are hampered by an NHS system that has broken down due to sheer weight of numbers.  A recent survey showed that French patients are seen in A & E within 2 hours, half the 'target time' of the NHS.  Most are seen in less than one hour, those with traumatic conditions like poisoning being seen immediately. Yes, in France the patient is king: everything is patient-orientated. At a Limoges Hospital, staff listened and introduced different colour coding for staff uniforms. And what does Him indoors think? He says he'd better not swallow a 5-euro note at the clinic because then they'd have to keep him in for observation to see if there was any change...

9 November 2014

Today is 9.11. - the English 9.11 not the US version. But both signify remembrance for the fallen, for the UK it being the nearest Sunday to the 11th min of the 11th hour of the 11th month.  UK media commemorations and red poppies abound, but here in France?  The 'bleuet' bluebell actually precedes the poppy tradition, remembering the blue cloth produced by wounded soldiers from WW1 in Les Invalides in Paris. Poppies remember the dead; les bleuets remember the wounded. But where are les bleuets around here? Forgotten, it seems. The EU should serve to remind everyone that for 70 years there's been no war in Europe, and that's the reason it should stay and increase. No tinpot country killing people from another tinpot country for stupid land-grab reasons. If I had my way I'd stop all films showing the 'vicarious thrills' of one man killing another. To take another's life force away, or glory in it, is not a thrill but an abomination. So, at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, that's what I will be thinking: commemorate life!

2 November 2014

Gaillac is normally a quiet, peaceful place. Not last week in the Place de la Liberation. Remi Fraisse from the Save the Testet Wetland project was killed during clashes between police and protesters over a controversial dam project at Sivens. A hundred 'anarchists' wearing hoods threw incendiary devices at the security forces at around 2 a.m. The police, in retaliation, used tear gas, stun grenades and flash balls. But when I asked some locals why they didn't like the dam project, they told me it would mean all their taxes would rise. Sounds more likely to me. But everyone is convinced young Remi was killed by the police.  We saw walls everywhere daubed with graffiti proclaiming 'Police - Assassins', which needs no translating. Albi was the same, and when on Tuesday we took the family for a veggie lunch at the LeClerc cafe in Gaillac, police were everywhere. Hundreds of them. After us?  No. They'd simply come for lunch, occupying every table. Most intimidating. Let's hope no crime was committed that lunchtime, as every single police officer in town was in that cafe, eating!

26 October 2014

An amazing week. No, not in politics, but for me.  The children are here and for the first time for years just the four of us are all together en famille.  Tues and Wed we drove to Barcelona, with 2 dogs!  No border crossing (Schengen agreement), just a sign 'Bienvenida a Espana'.  A few things I learned:  don't attempt to drive in central Barcelona!  Like Paris and NY, you take your life in your hands.  Everyone drives scooters. They're parked on every pavement and roadside. No mode of transport would accept our dogs, not taxis, not buses, but the metro will only with a muzzle (on the dog not us). Two of us took the open-top tourist bus, but you need a second mortgage to pay - 24 euros for a 2h journey, which includes the '92 Olympics park. Noticed that more ordinary people spoke English than in France, and we found a good veg. restaurant off the La Rambla walkway. Back in Gaillac my daughter treated me to a restyle haircut: short club cut, with longer sides and a slanted fringe (carre en diagonale)! In Spain Him indoors thought Manual Labour was the waiter....

19 October 2014

There are fads with the way the general public thinks, largely driven by the media, but it can be dangerous.  Lately the English seem to be much taken with the blokish Nigel Farage. Everyone thinks how wonderful to have a politician who understands the common man.  Don't be fooled. Following a UK withdrawal from the EU, Steve Peers, Prof. in Law at the University of Essex, says:
a. The borders rules alone would apply, therefore more intrusive questions about the purpose of each UK citizen's visit, checks on the intention to return and level of income, potential for visa requirements on UK citizens.  b. You'd be part of the EU's entry-exit system, keeping a record of all movements of third-country nationals into/out of EU territory. You'd be subject to integration rules, e.g. need to speak the language of host country before getting visa status. c. Receipt and upgrading of British pensions would not be possible. d. Strict family reunion rules with waiting periods and integration language requirements. e. Intending migrants, as with current EU British residents, would be subject to quotas and preference rules on labour migration.  And much more. So,, for UK expats in France, be very careful whom you vote for in 2015......

12 October 2014

A few days ago a couple arrived at our front gate. 'Is your house for sale?'  Eh?  Well, not exactly, but...where did you hear that?  'A neighbour told us.'  Oh.  'Could we come round this afternoon and have a look.' S'pose so.  Frantic rush round to make the place presentable. Head in a spin.  1500h a car arrives and out climbs the couple together with the neighbours with the chickens at the back of our garden!  (For those with a long memory, the ones where Bruno jumped over the fence and attacked their chickens).  I should pause here. Did you ever see that film Castaway with Tom Hanks? Life casts him away from home in a lovely sunny place with all the coconuts he can eat. He adapts for a while, enjoying the sunshine, but eventually starts to build a liferaft. Why would you want to leave such a sunny place, family might say, before they return to their lives back home? Back to reality. Him indoors currently needs treatment that is only available in France, and exchange rates mean the price offered will only buy an apartment in the UK, and what to do with the 2 dogs. Nothing comes easy.

5 October 2014

Is France 'hopeless, downbeat and finished?' Andy Street (sounds like a convenient place to live) has been comparing France to England. He's the MD of the department store John Lewis, but does that make him expert?  Certainly the French economy is rubbish compared to the UK's current 3% growth, and France's unemployment is four points higher and the gap is widening. But:
In France university tuition fees only cost 188 euros a year v England's 11,461 euros p.a.!
In France unemployment benefits are 40% of your previous earnings v England's 92.19 euros p.w.!
In France childcare is 10% of family income v England's 26.6%.
In France, on average, people are thinner, they eat 3 proper meals a day and the health care is way better. Why are the French thinner?  No fast food, no snacking between meals and smaller plates! France has almost 4 times the number of Michelin starred restaurants as the UK (despite the lower obesity rates). And football? France has only waited 16 years since it last won the World Cup, whereas England?  Nearly 50 years.
So, have I answered the question?  Jury's out.

28 September 2014

When I first started writing this blog, I didn't know anyone else who wrote one. I merely felt the need to record some of my feelings about living in France as an English expat.  Now, 6 years later, it reads like an encyclopaedia of things that went wrong and what we did about them, albeit with Him indoors' unique comments!  I sometimes forget that other people are reading them and am quite shocked when I receive feedback - often from different parts of the world.  On Thursday I heard from an English lady called Amy who said they were house-sitting in France, didn't speak a word of French but had read my blog and found the bit they needed, and could I help them find a chimney sweep? Was only too happy to oblige.  Where we used to live in Tarn et Garonne lives a lady called Val who really helped us when we first arrived. She has a successful blog called tag-on-line.blogspot.fr . She acts as a marvellous link for all who live in the area, giving news of social events and much else, giving any proceeds to charity.  So, for whatever reason you write a blog, it's a great FREE resource. Of course, Him indoors says that's no way to run a business - but he would, wouldn't he?

21 September 2014

What a week of political turmoil! Thursday night the Queen went to bed not knowing whether she'd have a PM when she woke up. Was she singing:'They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace; Cameron down with Scottish malice?' But Friday morning, sense prevailed. Whew. And in France, with the President's ratings so low they're off the scale, he's tried to raise his own standard by punching above his weight abroad - allying with the US in bombing ISIL.  He must have thought 'that'll do it. Now I'm a global superstar, the French are sure to love me again.'  But no. Along comes Sarko to spoil his plans yet again by arriving - some would say in the nick of time - to spoil Hollande's plans by throwing his hat in the political ring again.  You can hear the cheers from French business everywhere and, it must be said, to beleaguered home-owners throughout the land.  Sarko may have his annoying bling, but at least he has charisma and that indefinable je ne sais quoi which might just lift French confidence and the economy again.  Let's hope so. One week's a long time in politics.

14 September 2014

Wasn't it Bros who sang When will I, will I be famous? Thought my time had finally come when I received an email from the Producer of BBC's Escape to the Continent programme:  '.. I have read your blog, which seems to be a brilliant source of information for those who wish to move to France and I was hoping to talk to you to see if you would be able to chat to our house-hunter on camera about life living in France.' However, rejection was just around the corner in the form of 'scheduling constraints'. Story of my life! So, I watched a few programmes and was struck by the mistakes being made - not in the glossy production but in the whole tenor, so here's what I told her:  '..not sure you are correctly focused on who your intended audience is....comes across as a holiday destination or somewhere to buy that second home in the sun. If it's intended purely for people planning a permanent move to another country - which I believe it is - then: 1. Include important websites on health care, English-speaking notaires in the area, tax info. etc.; 2. In France it is essential to have completed the sale of your English property BEFORE making an offer on the French one. So, ascertain this has happened BEFORE making the programme; 3. Include the living costs per month. Too much emphasis on capital, not enough on required income. Is intended gite income realistic? France is saturated with gite properties. 4. New property must have broadband - essential to transfer funds, communicate etc. Don't close that British bank account - opening a new one in the UK is impossible without a UK address! 5. Absorb the continental view: summer heat requires you to keep the place dark and cool - not with 'lots of light'. 6. Integrate and learn to speak the language, but still look for some English friends nearby (to keep you sane).S'pose I should record my own song 'Never will I, will I be famous, but still I can pack a literary punch!'  

7 September 2014

World news is full of Obama's visit to Stonehenge, a structure transcending man's struggles since time immemorial. Nearer to home, several weeks ago French news was full of a battle between two neighbours in the village of Brugairolles in the Aude. Newsworthy because the combatants were not French, but English!  The 10-year dispute revolved around privacy and access, one house's front door and window overlooking the driveway of the other. When you buy a house in France, the notaire is expected to explain all such things, which left me wondering.  When we bought our first French house back in 2005, the notaire didn't speak a word of English. I, foolishly, thought my French was sufficient. It wasn't until we bought our current home, with a bi-lingual notaire, that I realised.  At every stage, she helpfully explained in English the various nuances and potential problems - absolutely invaluable. Did the two Brugairolles use a bi-lingual Notaire?  Suspect not. And there hangs the tale.  Understanding leads to discussion. Discussion leads to peace. If only world leaders would discuss things that bind them together, rather than their differences. Let's hope that NATO has moved the world a little further from disaster. Unfortunately stonehenge literally means precipice.......

31 August 2014

Three years ago I was much taken by a book called The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard Morais. It wasn't that it was particularly literary, but that the sub-plot involved problems when new immigrants to France integrated with the locals.  Clearly Steven Spielberg liked it too, culminating in a new film, called Les Recettes du Bonheur in France, released here next week.  Especially interesting is that some scenes were filmed locally in Saint Antonin Noble Val in Tarn et Garonne, near here.  Film producers always head for this mediaeval village, it being also the setting for the haunting WW2 film Charlotte Grey. But this new film is also attractive to the French food industry, especially those 'fait maison' chefs looking to attract more clientele to what real French cuisine is all about. It stars Helen Mirren as an autocratic French Michelin-starred restaurant owner confronted with, of all things, an Indian restaurant right opposite, run by Indian immigrants. Quel catastrophe! It's an ideal opportunity for different cultures, beliefs and taste-buds to come crashing together.  The French, who in my experience don't take easily to foreigners, are probably saying right now: come back German U-boats; all is forgiven...

24 August 2014

Tomorrow sees the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Paris. Fast-forward to today's world. What might people in the '40s have made of Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr and Google? No-one could possibly have imagined how all this technology has changed the world for individual citizens. I remember, post-war, reading futuristic comics of flying cars and supermen, but nobody foretold of how in the future ordinary people would be empowered to learn and liaise via amazing instant technology, within the reach of everyone from Alaska to Africa to China. Hillary Clinton says the internet has become the world's town square, classroom, marketplace and coffeehouse. You'd think that wars would no longer be with us, now that individuals can talk things through so easily. Back in 1916 a Frenchman called Francois Georges-Picot tried to bring order to a chaotic world by re-drawing the Ottoman empire. But now? Yet another faction has emerged, vowing to restore and extend all these lands under its supreme domination. They have all the modern benefits of i-technology to liaise and consult freely with the people, but do they? No. Ancient barbarism reigns, yet again. Where is Superman when you need him?

17 August 2014

It was over 50 years ago when I first fell in love with France. It was a school exchange and I was a shy, gawky14. Jacqueline Brient was a surprising 21 and very chic. She shared a bohemian flat, with its ornate tiny balcony overlooking the Left Bank. Across the street was a noisy, eclectic marketplace so redolent of Paris.  Strong French cigarette smoke trails into my memory, together with that first meal. Haricot verts sizzled alone on the plate. I looked down and waited - surely there must be more? But no, so I ate and was amazed. The most delicious thing I'd ever eaten, mixed with what I now realise were baked garlic and onion. And then the train journey to the countryside around Blois where her parents lived. Walking through waist-high fields, golden with yellow daises, wild blue sage, cow-parsley and marguerites.  Ah, such memories. But now? After nearly 10 years of living in France, have I fallen out of love?  Certainly, the old loves still remain:  le bien manger, le soleil, la qualite de la lumiere, coupled with the amazingly efficient health service. But, c'est bien evident: I have fallen out of love with les francaises. Just too cold and reserved, making me feel unloved, miserable and dejected. For the future?  On verra.

10 August 2014

Biggest flaw with what the US provides for its citizens? I'd always considered the US to be the best for customer care, but I was surprised. US health provision, despite tinkering around the edges by the new Obamacare, is still appalling. In France there are many things that fall short, but its health care provision is rightly the best in the world. I'm disappointed in Obama. As leader of the richest nation, he had every opportunity to bring French-style health care to US residents, but clearly he's failed. Here's what I found in one aspect. When immigrant seniors become US residents, it's impossible to find 100% health coverage. The system assumes that all seniors are automatically entitled to Medicare from life-time working in the US. So, both the immigrant senior plus the family-sponsor soon become bankrupt - one single treatment like radiation therapy can cost as much as $50,000! And if immigrant seniors have pre-existing health conditions, forget it. I know the US is founded on commercialisation but you can't run a health service with profit-seeking insurance companies - that runs completely counter to the patient's best interests. Come on Obama:  send Ms. Burwell, new US Health Secretary, to France and see how a health service should be run! And Him indoors: I've come to barack Obama not to praise him...

3 August 2014

The bells of Notre Dame were pealing on Friday. Not only did they commemorate 100 years since the start of WW1 in Paris but also the assassination of anti-war socialist Jean Jaures in a Paris cafe just before the war. What would he think of the world today? So many people losing their lives. But, things are murky. Historically, countries went to war to get rid of a tyrant, innocent civilians and soldiers being the inevitable casualties. Everyone accepted that, with no modern blow by blow analysis by incessant media intrusions. Just imagine if the world had told Churchill to stop fighting the madman Hitler because of innocent German casualties. But now? How on earth are we to get rid of insane terrorist organisations, whose sole purpose is to proselytise the whole world to their way of thinking, if everyone complains (however understandably) when there are casualties displayed in the media every waking moment? Neville Chamberlain would tell you. You can't negotiate with terrorism in any form. They'll just grow stronger and stronger, eventually taking over the whole world. The only way is to eliminate them completely. Netanyahu knows this from centuries and centuries of his people being attacked. Jaures had the best intentions, but the best way to deal with a festering boil is to lance it quickly and let the poison out.

27 July 2014

As with most with E. European heritage, I like to complain about things all the time. And if life seems to be going right, don't say anything: you might be tempting fate. Years ago I used to argue with a Professor. He said never trust people, only machines. But I just don't get on with machines. Never have. Cars work every time for trivial journeys, but just when you need it for that urgent trip to the airport/hospital, that's when it decides to break down.  I worry that this laptop will do the same just at a critical moment, so I've thought of getting another one. Being an old touch-typist, I need a qwerty keyboard + English system. Dell used to do both, but will no longer change the system in France. Amazon uk won't send laptops to France, so I thought I'd buy one when in the UK on a forthcoming trip. But for security reasons flights to/from the UK now require electronics to be powered-up at check-in.  Can I do that with a brand-new, boxed-up laptop, or does it need a complicated set-up first? Him indoors says he'll just ask for a screwdriver. What? They don't sell alcohol at check-in. No, not to drink, just to open the box.

20 July 2014

Terrible global air tragedy this week. Then there's that push for so-called passive euthanasia. In France remember Dr. Bonnemaison's decision to poison 7 terminally-ill patients? What on earth's wrong with the world?  Too much emphasis on death - not enough on life!  Here's my 'cure' for the world: The UN to assist every country to become a democracy; every voter to elect intelligent, economically-astute women leaders. France could have Christine Lagarde, Germany already has the excellent Angela Merkel, Burma has Aung San Suu Kyi, etc.  Why?  All wars and terrorist organisations are run by testosterone-driven men, hungry for yet more land and power who seem programmed to kill to achieve their aims. Women would deal with problems in a very different, calmer way! Above all, get rid of all weapons - their only purpose is to kill!  My individual recipe to live longer:  Against dementia: add turmeric to all meals (known to bind to plaque in the brain). Against degenerative disease: eat tinned sardines (B12). Against cancer: 1 glass of red wine from S.W.France (something in the terroir); broccali, 75mg aspirin p.d. (G.P.s take this); lemons + baking soda; bright-coloured veg, no red meat. Always buy food 'without a label' - natural/unprocessed. Remember Him indoors:  Doctor, it's not younger I want to be, but older.

13 July 2014

French National Day tomorrow, but  you wouldn't know it around here. The Gaillacoise all look so miserable, you'd think they were English!  Don't know whether it's because France lost the World Cup, Mauresmo's protegee lost Wimbledon or simply because the weather's changed unseasonably into Autumn. Whatever. Of course the French think the 14th is all about Federalism, but the rest of the world calls it Bastille Day, a time when the mob ran riot cutting off the heads of their own royalty.  And yet look how they admire English royalty now, in June practically fawning over the Queen. My feeling is the French are fed up with 'common' Presidents like Hollande and have a desperate need to look up to someone they can respect, over and above scheming politicians. Perhaps now is the time to bring back from exile handsome and debonair Louis de Bourbon, Duke of Anjou with his young family, including a ready-made next Dauphin de France . Now that would cause a stir and revive l'esprit de coeur over here. Mind you I wouldn't be in Louis' shoes, thinking of what happened in the past. He'll certainly need a strong head on his shoulders.....

6 July 2014

Whether you call it Tzedakah, Sadaqah or Charity, giving freely to others is a wonderful thing. However, there are always some who exploit it for their own aims. Some multi-national charity CEOs pay themselves over $1m p.a., the average being $126,000.  Also there is one global charity which is actually deemed racist - the very opposite of what charity means - and that is The Red Cross. And, after 9/11, it was revealed that a large proportion of donations to them went not to survivors or family members of those killed but to other Red Cross operations!  So, be very careful who you give your money to.
It was as a breath of fresh air to see that a French project called 'Magasins pour Rien' had opened in Mulhouse, quickly followed by another in the Charente. Not a cent passes anyone's hand. People can come in and take away 3 items for nothing. Goods are given to the stores for free, the assistants are all volunteers and the premises are given rent-free by the local Maire.  Personally I'd like to see supermarkets donating all their just-past-date foods, instead of the masses taken to landfills. Mulhouse organiser Roger Winterhalter says the only profit is in bringing people and communities together and reducing waste.  Well done la France!

29 June 2014

Just messing about on the river....
Him indoors and friend Barry decided to take a little canoe trip whilst Lynda and I waited on the bench. But, things didn't quite work out as planned. I knew I should've gone beforehand and translated for the boys, but 4 hours later and Lynda and I were still waiting! We foolishly thought they would just paddle along, then return the same way...wrong.  Eventually, wet, exhausted and bedraggled the boys appeared. It was apparently a seasoned group expedition and they were complete novices. Instructions were provided (in French) but were fixed to the back of the canoe, where neither could reach en route. They had to negotiate numerous weirs, lost an oar, had to ship water when it got waterlogged and had to manoeuvre along more than 5 miles of river before being picked up and brought back to us by van! Him indoors managed to fall in the water. How did you come to fall in the water? I didn't come to fall in the water, just to canoe.  Boat may have been multi-coloured, but they were certainly marooned.......

blog extra

For all those who know Bruno, and especially those who have criticised us for not training/controlling him properly:
I've always thought that, apart from us, the only person who has experienced long-term the behaviour of our Breton spaniel is our local kennel expert, Celine from Complexe Canine de la Gravie in Le Garric - the kennel where we leave him for extended periods whilst we are away.  Well, we have just picked him up after a 12-day stay with Celine and her comments were very interesting.  I told her about all the problems we had had with our Gaillac neighbours and that we were considering installing an electric wire around the fence. She said Non categorically. She told us that, in her view, Bruno is well-trained for the normal, everyday tasks like sitting on command and gentle with people, but that he has probably experienced a great shock as a puppy from his previous owner - undoubtedly a hunter - and that an electric fence would cause him even more distress. The shock as a puppy has left him mentally-disturbed:  he cannot cope with bangs, e.g. thunder (he bent the bars of the kennel there during a storm, but was calm thereafter), he is permanently anxious, and experiences what looks like mild epilepsy (an inherited gene common in Breton spaniels) which manifests itself by mad racing around the garden, followed by sudden stops into normal, calm behaviour again.  Exactement!! Tres bien, Celine.

22 June 2014

Two friends from Birmingham are visiting and it feels so good. Although I like all the 'material' things here - the sun, quality of light, bien manger - it's the internal things I miss most like chatting to old friends I grew up with. There's nothing like kindred spirits who knew you, your family and shared things from 50 years ago.  Yesterday we took La Croisiere boat ride along the Canal du Midi in Toulouse. An interesting journey, where 3 canals merge before flowing into the river Garonne. As we negotiated the lock gates, it reminded me of the old canal in Birmingham, running past the University to Gas Street Basin. For lunch, of course, we ate at my favourite place, La Faim des Haricots, before wandering around Place Capitole, listening to all the music in celebration of World Music Day. Wonderful day. Hot, not a cloud in the sky, happy people everywhere - not like back home where gloom abounds following England's failure in the World Cup. Will just have to turn our attention to the French team I suppose. Allez les bleus! As Him indoors says: nothing To-Lose.

15 June 2014

'Tis the season. Too hot, too many flies and England lost again. But we had a good time with our son, taking in the usual sights of Albi, Toulouse and St. Antonin.  I even managed to cook something different every night, even though he's vegetarian. Not much choice in restaurants: the French never understand. So, congrats again to Les Faim des Haricots in rue Puits Verts in Toulouse (just off Place Capitole).  Wonderful range, from the hot spinach quiches which I love, to the curry-style rice that the 'boys' liked. This time Jon took the Stansted to Rodez route. The ticket price of just 45 pounds return was just too cheap to resist, even though Ryannair takes every opportunity to charge extra for everything. I'm always good at taking the 'scenic route' when trying to find places first time, and this was no exception. Rodez was easy enough to find, but the airport? It was only at the 3rd attempt, hitting Rodez from the opposite(!) direction, that at last we hit the Ave de Decazeville and the tiny airport. For some reason it's well-signposted from this direction.. Probably cost us more in petrol than aviation fuel....oh well, old habits die hard.

8 June 2014

Son Jon is visiting this week and together we watched Britain's Got Talent last night. As usual, the one we all liked - a Sinatra-type group - didn't win. I've always liked the music of that era. There seems to be a great feeling of nostalgia at the moment, coupled with the Queen's visit to France this week. A true Francophile, HM speaks French well (albeit with an English accent). Had to smile when I learned that the usual Citroen C5 used to transport State guests to France had to be changed at the last minute for a higher-roofed Renault Vel Satis because the Citroen was too low for the Queen's hat!  Also heard that there were family ructions amongst the royals:  HM had asked for her favourite foie gras to be served, even though son Charles had previously banned it because of animal cruelty.  So even the highest families in the land have arguments! But certainly this 5th State visit had a big, big impact. Let's hope that this sense of friendship between nations, together with the coming World Cup, will give a loud message to the world:  forget old hostilities and work together with peace and harmony.....even Putin has shaken the hand of the new Ukrainian president so there's hope for us all yet.

1 June 2014

Sometimes in life you say or do something that's completely out of character. So it was last week when, in a fit of anger, I shouted to our neighbour - in my best French - that 70 years ago it was a good job Churchill was a better friend to De Gaulle than they were to us. And yet, on reflection, I'm not sorry. I'd been thinking of this Friday, the 6th, which marks the darkest day in French history.  It was a time to forget old rivalries and come to the aid of a 'neighbour' who was suffering and alone.  So it's fitting that Friday will see many Heads of State, royalty and dignitaries coming together at Sword Beach, Ouistreham to remember how it was back then. Don't forget there were many, like Chamberlain, who believed that appeasement was the answer to Germany's very different mindset.  But sometimes you have to stand your ground when you know you're right. There are times when you must fight (against a tyrant like Hitler who had to be stopped) and other times when, in answer to life's annoying, trivial irritations, you should turn a blind eye and offer the hand of friendship.  So, as Vera Lynn sings We'll meet Again, I and my family know that, but for Churchill, we wouldn't even be living today. Thank you, Mr. Churchill, for making the right decision 70 years ago. We must all do the same when standing on the other side of the fence.

25 May 2014

For some strange reason not all countries vote in the EU elections at the same time - the UK voted on the 22nd, but la France goes to the polls today. Although apathy abounds, it's important.
This week I've been reading Robert Harris's latest 'An Officer and a Spy' - an intrigruing conflation of fiction and fact about the 19C Dreyfus case. Can't help but think that, two centuries later, the French mindset hasn't changed much. Back then crowds gathered in the place de Fontenoy in Paris, baying for the blood of someone, anyone, who must be the cause of all their problems. I can just hear the racist spin doctors of the day: 'He must be guilty, therefore let's find the evidence for it'. It was with this in mind that I read M. Jean-Marie le Pen's comments this week about 'M. Ebola' - at a stroke racially condemning and advocating the eradication of whole nations he didn't much like the look of. I hope that intending Front Nationale voters today bear all this in mind.  Putting all the blame for your own troubles onto someone else perceived as 'different' is childish and never the answer.  Forget 'vive la difference' and embrace 'nous sommes tout pareille'.  Unlike our neighbours here, hold out the hand of friendship.  Now if only our local candidate would say that.....

18 May 2014

From the sublime to the ridiculous.....
For 3 years I've done everything possible to make friends with our neighbours. Last Xmas I took home-made patisserie to each of them but alas nothing in return. Of course it all revolves around our naughty dog Bruno. I know, I know but he's a lovable chasseur who wants just 2 things in life: to be with us and to run.That was the reason we bought this house with its large, fenced garden, but Bruno knows no barriers; it's all one big adventure for him. Knowing this we give him plenty of walks, but he got out again while I was bringing in the washing, nosed open the cellar door, raced down the bottom of the garden and leapt the fence in one go. In a flash the neighbour (not the one with the chickens) was there with a giant baton and went to beat poor Bruno repeatedly. For God's sake: this isn't a wild fox; it's a neighbour's pet dog who loves everybody. I can honestly say that if a known neighbour's dog was in our garden, I would take him round to them again. But here? No. I shouted for Bruno to run, run.....he did, climbed the fence with all 4 paws and leapt over to safety again. Phew!  But now, look what the crazy neighbour has done....these signs have sprouted all around our garden, facing us. Does he think Bruno can read? Incroyable.

11 May 2014

Francois Mitterand once said 'nationalism equals war'. I wonder if he mentioned that to HM the Queen when, 20 years ago this week, he shook her hand at Calais-Frethun station as she said 'I declare this Tunnel open'.  The Channel Tunnel was an excellent way to stop being an insular nation and to forge links with other nations.
For me the tunnel was the only way I was ever going to come to France - my chronic travel sickness means sea journeys are impossible.  But a Norfolk farmer with a similar affliction has now developed special sunglasses. He noticed that when he covered up one eye on a journey, he didn't feel ill. His sunglasses have one eyepiece that is opaque: it lets in light but not movement. And, they can be worn the other way round. They work by stopping the conflicting signals that confuse the brain, cutting vision from 3D to 2D. So, now there's a solution in sight.  Maybe at the forthcoming EU elections voters, like the Norfolk farmer and M. Mitterand, will cease to have tunnel vision....

4th May 2014

You remember when Him indoors went for an eye test recently - and he said he couldn't read the words on the card (because he can't read French!)?  Well, then he had the problem of where to obtain actual glasses. (Should have gone to Mr. Bannister, to help cope with the stares!)  In France you're supposed to only buy directly through an optician, but at last the EU has come up trumps. It's ordered the French government to open up the market, but the law is still awaited. British expats here have long bypassed the system by sending their French prescription to a British company on-line. However, French ophthalmologists fought back by withholding vital info from the prescription like the distance between your pupils - a bit difficult to do yourself in front of the mirror! Well now there's a breakthrough. The new Loi Hamon (named after the old Consumer Minister) has decreed that all French ophthalmologists must provide this pupil info on all prescriptions.  Success. No good for Him indoors though as his doctor hadn't read the new rules.  So, he ordered his new varifocals from British Spex4Less but needed me to take a photo of just his pupils and send it electronically. I know, don't make a spectacle of yourself!

27th April 2014

It's now 9 years since we bought our first house in France.  Back then everything was in our favour. We'd just retired, and 1 British pound bought 1.50 Euros. But 9 years is a long time and, inexorably, things have changed. Since the Euro crisis 90,000 Britons have abandoned Spain, and thousands have also left France, most moving back to the UK. But, the property market is dead. Immobiliers report a 20% drop in property values throughout France, so what to do?  And, of course, why? Let's face it. It's a delusion to think you'll ever be fully-integrated in France. The French are very insular. They accept but never really welcome you into their hearts. And, as you get older, do you want to die here/end up in a French old people's home with rapidly-declining French ability? The answer for many is to put their French homes up for auction via the new Notaire system online. (Him indoors says he'd put the whole Government under the Hammer!). Anyway, sales are achieved in 2 months the seller accepting the best offer above the initial 75% of the full market value. For more info, go to www.immobilier.notaires.fr and click on the Immo-Interactif section. Bon chance!

20th April 2014

Back in the days of yore, money was always a preoccupation. So in these days of economic uncertainty we continued one English bank account. But now Barclaycard, in its wisdom, has decided to close accounts to those who do not have a UK address.  Is it mad?  If someone wanted to put money in my account, I certainly wouldn't put obstacles in the way!  But yes, it's true.  After objections, the MD of Barclaycard now says it will support overseas addresses on a temporary basis, but not if no activity has occurred in the last 6 months.  This will cause massive inconvenience to English expats who use their account for investment purposes only.  Some English banks who have international branches say we should move our money there, but don't tell you that if you do, you lose the major English government guarantee should the bank collapse.
So, with this in mind this week I filled in our online French tax form.  Him indoors, peering over my shoulder, noticed the section on dependants. He said I should put 50,000 illegal immigrants and numerous dole claimants. You can't put that. Why not?  Who have I missed out?

13 April 2014

I'll never understand the French.
They like to protest, but paradoxically they don't like change!  Take Manuel Valls, the new PM. With his film-star looks, you'd think he could do no wrong. But in his first policy speech when (in my view) he unveiled entirely sensible regional mergers, 77% were against it. Compared to Italy's 8000 communes, France currently has 37000!  The French apparently want to cut red tape but 'not in my back yard'.  Illogical French? This weekend 60 'go slow' protests are happening across the country against plans to reduce the speed limit to 80kph. I'd have thought a speed-up would have made the point better.
And, the new NF Mayor in Henin has thrown out the town's League of Human Rights (LDH), accusing them of 'interfering in municipal life'!   The LDH was founded in 1898, at the height of the notorious Dreyfus Affair that divided political and religious society in France between 1894 and 1906. Its declared objective is to observe and defend the rights of man in all spheres of public life.  So, here's this member of the NF - which is trying to cover up its extreme views - doing exactly that as his first action as Mayor.  Him Indoors says You couldn't make it up.

6th April 2014

They say never let the grass grow under your feet. Well, the Avignonois didn't in the end. They're all now dancing tous en rond, but us? No dancing in our garden. The grass isn't just under our feet, but up to our knees.  Any higher and the neighbours'd be round, and you know what they're like. Never mind that the delay was caused by illness. So, down to the shed at the bottom of the garden and turn the ignition on the old MTD...blue smoke. Head under the bonnet revealed a cracked fuel pipe and God knows what else. Verdict from local mower shop:  kaput/9 years old/it's had it!  But, but a new one would cost well over a thousand. What to do?  Buy a new one, but get yours truly to negotiate a way to pay it. Different economic arrangements are needed when you're retired. No longer is credit over many years an option any more and no-one wants to deplete steadily dwindling savings. The best deal I could arrange was four cheques - not to be cashed all together!  He agreed.  So now we have a brand new Jonsered tondeuse/tracteur, absolutely necessary for our acre garden. Like the Grand National  yesterday, all I have to do now is put Him indoors out to grass.

30th March 2014

Someone once said to me 'you can't see the wood for the trees'.  It's always good to get opinions from others, so I looked inwards. Well today even the clock is pointing ahead. And, a few days ago we decided to get an eye test. The opthalmologist showed Him indoors a card and said Can you read this?, to which the answer was No. What, not at all? said the doctor. No, I can't read French!  But, for me the diagnosis was Glaucoma - yet more pressure building, and not just physically.
The results in Gaillac from the municipal elections went as feared.  The National Front gained considerably, getting 20% of the votes in the first round. And, as predicted, they won outright in Henin and in the large town of Avignon - clearly the famous bridge is well and truly broken. Whilst the French think they're voting for local issues, they're letting the devil in.  Exactly what happened in 1930s Germany.  So, in today's second round of voting, I'm getting increasingly worried. As I look blurrily to the future, can I at last see the wood for the trees? The clock's ticking...

23rd March 2014

Bonaparte once said 'History is a set of lies that people have agreed upon'.  French residents need to reflect on this as they go to the polls in today's local elections.  We're all swayed by the media. Lately the French press have been eager to bring down Sarkozy's ambitions whilst Hollande is still struggling to improve the flagging economy.  And, whilst we're all looking elsewhere, Marine Le Pen's FN party dangerously awaits its chance to steal a march on everyone. That's what it does - hiding behind a veneer of surface respectability. In the impoverished town of Henin-Beaumont in Normandy, Le Pen sees political gold in the abandoned coal mines that once pumped jobs into the area. Whilst disdaining the EU, paradoxically she's pinning all her hopes on using towns like Henin to build a grassroots base to draw ahead in the EU May elections ready for the ultimate prize of the presidency in 2017.  Let's hope the French aren't swayed by National Front hype. As Him indoors says, Hollande needs to buy some colle du bois to stick his cabinet together. But, above all, keep with conservative prices, liberal values and labour-saving devices - stick with what you know!

16th March 2014

My earliest memory growing up in post-war Britain was of having a surname that mustn't be shouted out aloud. Back in those days I longed for a name that was 'normal'. And, it came to pass:  at 19 I married and took on the (normal) name of my new husband.  Now, decades later and in another country I find that my original 'strange' maiden name has again come to the fore.  Every day I open the mailbox and there it is on most envelopes 'Madame OLSWANG' (from the original Lithuanian Holshvank).  I almost feel like saying to the postman 'Shhh!'  Old habits die hard.  But now I see that there is new legislation about to be passed in France that all women will have the name on their birth certificate as their default name. Indeed, birth certificates will act as official, whole-life, documents recording the default name plus any future (lesser) 'noms d'usage' if the person so wishes, e.g. after marriages/divorces etc.  I now understand my parents' original reluctance to broadcast our name: they were first-generation immigrants not wanting to call attention to themselves.  But me, now living in another land? I'm at last proud to see my name: it's who I am. Just look at my blog/author nom de plume : anagram true of 'A Olswang'!

9th March 2014

Warm sunshine outside, but on the news talk about war - comme d'habitude!  Doesn't matter where in the world, there's always a megalomaniac leader somewhere who wants to wage war with another. But here's the rub: he doesn't fight himself, just uses his country's people as cannon-fodder to achieve his own spurious aims.  In Britain, Deputy leader Clegg is to have a live debate this month with UKIP's Farage over whether to vote In or Out of the EU.  If being in the EU means an end to war in a continent which historically has been involved in countless wars and which instigated two world wars, then I'm In. I know the EU is flawed at the moment. Such an enormous ideal is bound to involve difficulties. Just ask Texans when they originally were coerced into signing the US Declaration. Yet now? They know a united US (complete with flaws!) is better than another Civil War! So, the more countries that join the EU - even if presently against it - means pushing those terrible wars further and further to the extremes of the globe. I even wrote a controversial book about France in WW2 called 'Vichyssoise' - a cold, murky saga about why one ordinary man (Petain) allowed himself to be drawn into Hitler's mindset - in a vain attempt to show why man goes to war.  So, come on Britain. I want many more countries to sign up too. The only way forward for peace.  

2nd March 2014

The French have a phrase: 'ca ne s'arrete jamais' - if it's not one thing, it's another.  Him indoors had just come home from hospital and needed warmth and calm. Son Jon was here too, so I needed all to go well.  Well, sod's law crept in.  The electrics shorted. No lights, no heating, and it was Sunday.  What to do?  I knew Marchoud, a local user-friendly plumber/electrician, but could I disturb him on a Sunday?  I remembered that he was Muslim and only didn't work Fridays, so maybe...  I went and fetched him.  Torch at the ready, he surveyed our Tableau fuseboard. Wasn't impressed. But, by dint of one by one elimination (or illumination!), he found the faulty fuse and voila the lights returned. But the heating?  Non.  Our boiler was at least 50 years old, and the now broken pump was obsolete. A new boiler would cost at least 5K euros - oh no. But, I hadn't reckoned with Marchoud's genius. Trying first Toulouse, then Castres, then Lavaur he eventually found a pump that was close to the size, then cleverly adapted it using greased hair and a blow torch. So, enfin, we have heat again. Merci Marchoud. And Him indoors, humour still intact: I've got everything going for me - my sight's going, my teeth, my hair...

23rd February 2014

You've heard of Da Vinci and that enigmatic smile?  Well now there's the Da Vinci robot.  It's the latest super technology in the world of men's medicine, able to remove prostates via key-hole surgery. Him indoors: 'What have I let myself in for?' These new techniques are world-famous, teaching doctors from all over the world. But would Him indoors have the courage to undergo the treatment?  The important thing is for all men to follow these steps:  1. take a simple blood test; 2. If the PSA reading is high (more than 4), wait a month then re-do it. 3. If the PSA has risen further, schedule a biopsy. 4. If the biopsy shows cancer cells, schedule an MRI and a bone scan to confirm that no cancer cells have leaked. 5. If the patient is under 70, in reasonable health, and the above 4 points apply, book key-hole surgery by robot in the most experienced centre you can find, i.e. the Tarn! Well, we already knew the French health system was the best in the world, so Him indoors - with his own enigmatic smile - underwent the whole procedure and is now back home again, improving daily. On leaving the hospital, a new patient asked 'what's the cure rate?'  Him indoors:  it's that Da Vinci man over there with the black hat and coat!!

16th February 2014

I was watching 'The Voice' on BBC last night.  It occurred to me, as a writer, that it's no longer enough to be able to 'perform' as well as those in the past - now you need to be different or extraordinary to have a chance of being noticed in today's world of myriad attractions. So, I've been reformatting some of my writing.  For youngsters I've written 3 of a series of 7 novels. The original (i.e. an attempt to be 'extraordinary') concept here is that each covers  a personality deficit of the girl which matches the voted-on motto of one of the 7 modern wonders of the world, the finale of each novel proving that each person can overcome their weaknesses in a highly-critical world.
For adults I've been reformatting Vichyssoise which I hope would appeal ultimately to the French. It covers an in-depth study of the mindset of the Vichy government. Admittedly it's a risk, and I may well be heckled, but hopefully falls into the 'extraordinary'. Previews can be read on the re-formatted buttons on the right - currently available on Lulu.com and soon via globalreach and Amazon worldwide.
Would Sir Tom Jones, Kylie Minogue or Will.i.am 'turn around' for it?  On verra......

9th February 2014

So, a person living alone in France needs at least  €1,490 euros a month to live in France, according to a new survey.  Try telling that to the many impoverished British expats living here - especially those living on just the British state pension - c.450 pounds a month!  I understand that the French state pension pays as much as 70% of final salary. Are you listening Mr. Cameron?  
Apparently, in Paris they say you need a net income of  €1,620 euros a month, while those living in more rural areas said they could live on €1,430, the poll of 4,000 people for the Directorate of Research, Studies, Evaluation and Statistics (DREES) revealed. Did they ask them if they could live on around  €700 a month, like their British pensioner counterparts I wonder?
According to France’s National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (Insee), the median monthly wage in France in 2011 after taxes was €1,630. In the same year, 8.7m people lived below the poverty line of €977 per month.  58% of those polled thought living standards were worse for pensioners. Are you listening Mr. Cameron?  The French poverty line is  €977 per month. TG we don't still have our old British bank manager, Mr. Ronseal - always treating us with dis-tain!

2nd February 2014

When will it ever stop raining?  Can't get into the garden, so daydreaming again. I suppose my love for France started over 50 years ago when I went on a school exchange trip to Paris. Ah Paris! Because I'd grown up poor, main meals just being one course, I remember being astonished in Paris being presented with a plate of just haricots verts. Didn't realise back then that this was just the first course. The beans tasted like nothing I'd ever tasted before. Can still savour the flavour - probably tossed in onion and garlic in olive oil. Today, although le bien manger is still the same, Paris is very different. Don't even think of driving in the city as you'll learn a language that isn't exactly French! So, to improve tempers, Paris has introduced new ways to pay for parking - yes, those dreaded phone apps. Soon there'll be no more parking machines; just pay using the Vinci-paybyphone app.  But, but, how will passing wardens know that you've paid, I ask?  Surely they won't walk all along a street, using their phones to check each car's database?? And, without the machines, how will you know whether you can park there or not? Visit Paris by train and metro, I say.  Much better. And apps?  Sends us in-Seine...

26th January 2014

So, Miss Trierweiler has been dumped, no longer 'first lady of France' - but was she ever? Where's the responsibility necessary in a head of state when Hollande can't even sign a marriage contract?  I'd love to have been a fly on the wall at his recent talks with the Pope. I almost feel sorry for the poor Valérie, who now is officially homeless, losing all presidential trappings of limousines, private planes and staff - even her Paris flat was owned by Hollande. The wonderful French language has it right, the official communique affirming that the 'chef de l'etat et sa compagne mettent fin a leur vie conjugale'. I suppose the split was inevitable after the revelation in the mag Closer, photos showing the 2-year liaison of the president with the comedienne Julie Gayet, Hollande dashingly arriving as a helmet-clad motorcyclist to a secret flat owned by a gangster! Daily I've been expecting a resignation, visualising a Profumo-like scenario. Valérie as Christine Keeler, Julie as Mandy Rice-Davis. Maybe 'Profumo' willl soon be replaced by a more-charismatic 'Napoleon' (i.e. Sarkozy). Certainly 'Mandy' will need plenty of humour as she waits for her turn to be told 'Not tonight Josephine'! Him indoors: 'can't see any 'arm in it'..

19th January 2014

Abraham Lincoln once said "Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing."  So, it was with dismay that a fierce storm at the start of January brought down our ancient willow tree. Trees are such spiritual things, the forks of their branches reflecting the way our lives are going. Though hundreds of years old, it's no more. In this vein I felt compelled to repair and improve.  Our floor tiles were never screeded, making maintaining them difficult.  So, off to Brico to find some floor polish. Soon discovered the French don't seem to call it floor polish, but 'revetement' (re-clothe).  Armed with a 5L drum of huile de lin I've now 're-clothed' the salon and kitchen floors. Next, the front drive. Despite my home-made remedy of hot potato water, it still needed improvement so tomorrow 14 tonnes of white chippings arrive together with a Geotextil layer underneath. Not all things have gone right, though. The dogs have stained the bed mattress, so in a fit of zeal I used lessive de soude. Effective, yes, but on my finger rather than the mattress. A big burn that refuses to heal three weeks later. The branch of my life entitled 2014 has not started well.  

12th February 2014

Albi on Friday was lovely.  The sky was blue, the weather a warm 18 degrees.  It's nice to walk around the cobbled pedestrian areas, glancing at the locals rushing to and from work.  We always park in the Jean-Jaures car park off the Lices Jean Moulin.  Seems to be a law that all French towns name their streets and parking areas after the same historic men. At least I'm learning a bit about French history. Think Jean Jaures was a politician around the time of the infamous Dreyfus affair, and Moulin of course was the heroic leader of the French resistance.  Next we had lunch at the Saint James Bistro overlooking the fountain.  Our entree salad was wonderful:  a melange of hot pear slices, topped with chevre cheese and toasted walnuts tossed amongst green mache leaves. As we ate, a young girl wheeled in her grandfather, soon joined by the rest of the family. I love the French family spirit. Family is everything. But outside, sitting at the terrace tables were some young girls smoking. I felt like shouting No, No, don't you understand? Dying isn't just for the old; it can affect you too! France is a curious mix: wonderfully efficient health care, fantastic cooking skills, up-to-date chip and pin technology, but some old taboos like smoking still linger on.  Come on France: get rid of the tobacco!  

5th January 2014

I see that Nicolas Anelka's left out of the West Brom (football) game, I said to Him indoors yesterday.  Don't know about left out, said he: should have been 'right out'!
As many will know, the French striker is now infamous for making that quenelle (meat ball) goal celebration recently - a reverse Nazi salute. He seems to have convinced his manager and the world at large that the appalling gesture was simply to honour his friend, the French comic ironically called Dieudonné. God-given? What a misnomer. The so-called comedian is well-known for his racist, particularly anti-Semitic, 'jokes'.  Let's be clear here for a moment. We all have responsibility for what we do and say. Democracy gives the right to free speech, but - and here's the rub - free speech means we can criticise or run-down what people do and say (their actions) but NOT who they intrinsically are, how they are born.  Racism is about who people inherently are, so must be condemned. That's my suggestion for a global resolution this year.
Talking about resolutions, I asked Him indoors 'what's yours?'  A whisky, please!