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.
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!
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.
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.