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...