27th December 2015

Non, rien de rien.....
Saturday was the 100th anniversary of the birth of a remarkable Parisienne. Sometimes in life we can be born with deformities, illness and poverty as she was.  She grew up in Paris's 20th arrondissement amongst the prostitutes of the Place de Pigalle, suffered crippling arthritic pain from a twisted body but miraculously discovered a life-changing talent. As 2015 turns into 2016 that is a lesson from which we can all learn. Resolve to discover your talent during this coming year. It may not be life-changing like hers but it will give you a reason for living, evoke the very essence of your inner being, and maybe it will make your name memorable long after you've gone. If no-one remembers you in the future, what's life for? So, just like Edith Piaf (and the character David Klein in Vichyssoise, to be published during 2016), you can truly say:
.....je ne regrette rien!

A happy, healthy and memorable 2016 to all my readers, wherever you live and whatever your individual talents. Make the most of them.

20 December 2015

Santa can appear in many guises and from unexpected quarters....
When we moved here, the water meter was buried underneath an immense, concrete lid.  No matter how hard we tried, even with a crow bar, we were never able to lift it.  Sometimes we would be out and shortly afterwards receive the ubiquitous card asking us to read the meter.  So, I wrote to Veolia, the local water company, explaining it was impossible for us to read the meter and could they please replace the concrete lid with something lighter.  Nothing moves fast in France.  And look what happens to the escargot.  But then, surprise, a man arrived without warning and checked out the situation.  He recommended that they, Veolia, should move the heavy lid and meter and move it all to the other, street, side of our gate so that in future they could read the meter when we were out.  Knowing me, the inevitable question:  who's going to pay and how much?  Answer:  me, and 1K euros.  I said 'no way'. Stalemate until a few weeks ago I received a surprising email from them. They would do the job in a few weeks and that they would pay.  I re-read it.  Yes, it would be free!  Yipee.
So, job now done and only cost to me? Two cups of coffee for the workmen.
....Merci Santa Veolia and season's greetings to one and all.

13 December 2015

Watching the news can send you mad! Merkel wins Time magazine's Woman of the Year. Understandable that after the racist madness in Germany 70 years ago she's desperate to show Germany's compassionate side by admitting those of a different faith, albeit a bit late. Conversely, another woman, Le Pen, pulled off a 'historic' win last weekend for FN, topping the vote in the first round of regional French polls. One thing's for sure: she won't be showing any compassion to those of other faiths/nationalities. If she wins today, what would she do? She'd stop charity subscriptions to migrants, family planning and human rights groups and would burn the EU flag.  'We will absolutely respect the law until we are in government and can change it!' she said. Enough said. And while all this was happening, we see a 'historic win' at the Paris Climate Change conference. But for those who feel climate change may just be the result of a normal planetary shift, I'd urge them to deal with the after effects of such change:  the sea is encroaching everywhere. Build sea defences, move people inland etc. The week's news: a microcosm of the ebb and flow of global life today.

6 December 2015

On this day 68 years ago I was born into a very different world. I was malnourished and had numerous physical ailments not recognised back then. There would be another seven months before the NHS would be born, so few people called the doctor. Too expensive. Many babies were weak due to food rationing during their mother's pregnancy, and in my case there would be another 65 years before a congenital beance cardiale would be diagnosed by a far superior French health system. But, is the world in a better state environmentally and politically than it was in post-war '47? I'm not sure. Yesterday saw N. England awash with terrible flooding. And politically, here in France everyone goes to the polls today in the first round of council elections for the new, fewer but bigger regions. Early surveys show a poll surge for the Front National, boosted by the recent Paris troubles. They're ahead in 7 out of 12 regions, with the Republican right ahead of the parti-socialiste left.Yes, there is global terror that must be confronted and eliminated by a consortium of agreed democracies, but not by individual nations voting in extremist, racial party leaders! So, 68 years since my birth, all I can say is: will the world never learn?

29 November 2015

Ever since JFK uttered those immortal words Ich bin ein Berliner at the Brandenberg Gate, there's been an urgent need to emulate them. And lately people have tried, first with Je suis Charley then recently with Je suis Paris. This week French TV showed Hollande standing side by side with Putin, each apparently empathising with each other over their losses in Paris and in the Russian air disaster. However, are they really on the same page when it comes to the problems in Syria? With one side aiming to eliminate the terrorists, the other seems only bent on shoring up Bashir Al-Assad. Rule no. 1: you can only strike an accord if your goals are exactly the same! I have to say I'm disappointed with Obama. Ever since he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he's scared of doing anything that might jeopardise it, so instead of emulating JFK, he refuses to do anything globally other than just utter beautifully orated words. At least the French during Friday's commemoration ceremony showed their true colours by parading on every balustrade their blue, white and red underwear. Him indoors:  Bra-vo!  

blog extra

Writer Claire Stibbe recently hosted me on her blog. Here's what it said, including an exclusive extract from 3rd Degree Murder, describing character Jenny at work in the '60s:
Today I’m delighted to welcome Olga Swan to our Literary Kicks series.Olga Swan is the nom de plume of Gillian Green. She chose the name as a way of perpetuating her unusual E. European maiden name. After Gillian lost all her upper family, including her two brothers, one by one from cancer, she used an anagram of her late brother’s name, A. Olswang, and voilà, Olga Swan was born. After working for 30 years at a leading English university, she retired to France with her husband, where she concentrated on her writing. Her tastes are eclectic, writing in many genres including crime, historical fiction, sci-fi, humour and factional, non-fiction, plus under her own name she also writes for children (see links below.)
‘3rd Degree Murder’ which was released by Crooked Cat Publishing on 23 October 2015, draws on the wealth of knowledge Olga gained during her work at an English university. The title is a play on words: a third (science) degree conflating with an unintentional murder. As such, readers who either are graduates themselves or with student family members can enjoy an intrigue set in a university environment to which they can easily relate.
Hands up those who remember the ‘60s and ‘70s in England!
All of Olga’s books (and she has written ten mss in all) tend to have an underlying thread to the main story. In 3rd Degree Murder, a Jewish secretary and Maliha, a Bangladeshi PhD student, get together in hatred of their professor, showing how cultural barriers are no bar to friendship. But Maliha has her own problems, battling a family who refuse to conform to Western lores. The queue of people hating Prof. Axel Sloan builds throughout the story including lecturers denied promotion, other support staff, his wife, even the office cleaner. So, who in the end killed Axel Sloan? Here’s an extract describing Jenny, Olga’s favourite character.
 Jenny Mazowski stood in front of the mirror, turning this way and that. Looking good. Her black and white striped shift skimmed her slim frame just right. She’d backcombed her thin brown hair within an inch of its life, and piled on the eye-liner and pale lipstick. She stared at her reflection. If only she had olive skin and her father’s thick black hair, but instead she’d inherited her mother’s pale, thin skin and mousey hair. Why was life so unfair?
Dashing out the door, she ran for the bus, almost colliding with the postman, his cap dripping from yet another icy downpour. ‘They say it does the gardens good, but I couldn’t care less.’
But Jenny hadn’t time. Not this morning, as she dashed up the hill just as the corporation bus screeched to a halt. Jumping up she sank gratefully into a faded, velour window seat and rubbed her damp sleeve over the rivulets of condensation that pooled blackly onto the sills beneath.
At last. She could catch her breath and day-dream whilst the grey suburbs flashed by. Her first real job after that difficult eight months’ intensive secretarial course at Chance College. Don’t get me wrong. She loved learning all those pays, jays and chays in the Pitman’s class. And the typewriting was wonderful. Pages and pages of three-letter combinations, typing to the taped music of American on Parade, and woe betide you if you fell behind the beat. In her mind she kept spreading her fingers on the middle row of the keyboard, searching for those tiny raised bits on the F and J home keys whilst she hummed to the tune, stretching her bony fingers up, down and sideways. No, it wasn’t that. It was the other girls. Always causing her a problem as they moved away from her in class, constantly ganging up against her. There was never any real reason, but Jenny knew. Deep down she’d always known. She was different. She shook her head to rid herself of the memory. Someone clanged the bell, bringing her back to the present. Thank God school was all over now.
Just past the looming, menacing prison walls she jumped off and, collar up against the swirls of rain, turned the corner and walked down towards the Foundry. She hadn’t had time for breakfast and stared longingly at the huge posters for the new, flat Dairy Milk bars at 2d. But no time. She dare not be late on her first day, as she quickened her steps past the rows and rows of red-brick terraces, all identical except for the level of greyness in the net curtains at every window.
At the bottom of the road, she ran across the road, narrowly avoiding the milk cart, parked precariously whilst the whistling milkman made his usual doorstep deliveries. Round the corner, she rushed under the old, red railway bridge, its brickwork looking faded and grained with the centuries of time. Avoiding the inevitable drippings from the archway, she hurried on, glancing quickly at her new wristwatch her Mom had bought her for her new life at work.
Five to nine. Rushing under the Foundry archway, surrounded by hordes of maniac bicycles ridden by identical men in caps with cloth bags slung onto their backs, she was just in time. At the Sales office she clocked-in at the entrance to the huge, noisy, cavernous room and made her way down the rows of typing desks to her allotted place. In front of her was a large, clunky typewriter, top-heavy with its over-long, enormous carriage. Very different from the brand new Imperial 70s at college.
At the end of the desk were four rows of wire filing trays, filled with commercial documents. Gingerly she tried to open the stiff drawers of her old wooden desk. None of them seemed to open properly, whichever way she tried.
‘Ere,’ said one girl in the next aisle. ‘You can’t open ‘em from the end; you have to pull from the middle. Yes, that’s right.’
Clumsy as usual.
In the narrow middle drawer was an assortment of hard, round typewriter rubbers and various pens. She creaked open the side drawers, running her clammy hands over the thin, foolscap bank sheets in various shades. Nervously she glanced around, wondering where to start, until a friendly girl tapped her on the shoulder.
Fast forward to the present and, hot off the presses, a two-book deal has now also been signed by Olga with Crooked Cat Publishing, but in a very different genre. Lamplight and Vichyssoise are both set in WWII, the former taking character David Klein to Breslau, Germany, the second taking him to Vichy France, giving readers a unique insight into Maréchal Pétain and his Vichy government. Both are due to be released in 2016.
…a final word from Olga. Many thanks Claire for a chance to be on your famed blog.
Here are some links to Olga’s (and Gillian’s) books:
Or check out Olga’s amazon page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B013IBD4PU
Also, check out Gillian’s amazon page for her children’s literature. A great Xmas gift for them:http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B013IDLQ4O

blog ex

For all my American readers, please pause from eating all that Thanksgiving turkey and sweet potato a moment. And for all my other readers, who'd like to be eating turkey and sweet potato too if they had the chance.. I've something to tell you. I'm not used to this advertising lark, but a little bird told me tomorrow's Black Friday, so just thought I'd let those of you who haven't yet bought my novel about university life know there's an amazing sale on tomorrow. So,  roll up, roll up.  Isn't that what they say? Tomorrow's the day to grab a real bargain. Yes, '3rd Degree Murder' is available for the amazing price of just 99p/99c!  How much, I hear you say?  Come on:there must be someone in your life who needs to know just what goes on behind the scenes in university college life. You must surely want to know who killed Professor Axel Sloan, don't you? Let's see. Likely suspects:  Maliha, the Bangladeshi PhD student, whose family will kill her if she doesn't get her PhD, his wife(!) - enough said, the lecturers he's overlooked for promotion, Jenny his long-suffering Jewish secretary, sick and tired of all those anti-semitic comments, or even the office cleaner....the list is endless.  So who did it in the end?    

You'll have to hurry.  One day only. Here's the link. Just click and buy at just 99p/99c.


And, if you don't have a kindle, just go to amazon and click on the free kindle download button. Simple. Even a technophobe like me can do it! 

22 November 2015

Last Wednesday the British House of Lords voted 214-116 against Baroness Miller's amendment to grant the vote to all British citizens living in the EU. Stupid! Why? It reduces the eligible number of voters in the forthcoming EU referendum, the very people who would naturally vote to stay In! Crucially that vote will determine all our futures, both expats and those living in the UK. 
British expats: no longer EU citizens free to work, set up businesses, study, retire in EU countries nor benefit from subsidised health services across the EU. The Euro Health Insurance card 'EHIC' would cease to be available, so emergency health cover from Britain would cease. Private health cover would be mandatory but not available to those with pre-existing conditions!  
UK citizens: risk Britain's current buoyant economy plus future investment possibilities, widespread job losses, smaller ranking in the world, lose 28 EU friends, jeopardise the current 70 years of no war in Europe. Imagine a sudden terrorist attack with no friends. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!
So, members of the House of Lords: do you realise the implications of what you did last Wednesday?

15 November 2015

France is in shock. On French TV a woman lays flowers at the café 'La Belle Equipe' in the rue de Charonne in Paris....
Several weeks ago I was discussing aspects of past wars, based on my two forthcoming WWII novels, with a French friend in Toulouse. He said the world was already experiencing WWIII but no-one seemed to realise it. He says that war has now morphed into a new form, fuelled by our digital age and money-laundering. The frightening thing is: this isn't just one evil person any more, some kind of new Hitler, but a large, dispersed, group comprising trained passport-holders from every country. Is my friend right? France is a modern, western democracy, long holding true to its ancient lores of liberté, egalité and fraternité. As with others in the West, it's always welcomed diverse cultures and faiths as long as each person respects each other and does not seek to impose any kind of forced proselytisation on others. Live and let live in peace.
I thought that's what everyone wanted. Until last Friday, 13th November. What do I think?

At early morn' I had a dream
that man would cease his futile scheme
Fighting battles, suicide missions
Murder, hatred, blazing seditions
What man needs is re-appraise
in eyes of beings not so fazed
Yes, don't fight tribe v tribe
as if nothing else but diatribe
But see with eyes afresh from birth
that we're all one tribe - that of Earth! 

8 November 2015

It's a time of remembrance. Wednesday will be the day we remember all those who lost their lives in the terrible massacre that is war. My father always said if no-one remembers you, what's the point of living?  Three days ago in the UK everyone recalled 'remember, remember the 5th of November'. For me, though, the 5th will be remembered for another reason:  I received fantastic news from Crooked Cat, the publishers of my book '3rd Degree Murder': 'We are thrilled to announce a two-book deal with author Olga Swan for two World War II novels, Underneath the Lamplight (the lead up to 1938) and Vichyssoise (1938 onwards). Uncomfortable, revealing and dark, the continuing story of David Klein will keep you hooked. Welcome again Olga!' It was amazing timing because my reasons for writing both these new novels were to remind everyone about how past wars happened. The first book 'Lamplight' takes character David Klein from boyhood in 1912 to 1938 Breslau, Germany; the second 'Vichyssoise' is, I believe, unique as the same character traces the inner workings of the Vichy Government. It's not just war and the fallen we must remember: it's how it happened so that man never makes the same mistake again. Watch this space for when these two new books are released in 2016. Thank you everyone for your support with my writing. Much appreciated.

1 November 2015

These days we all have to be so multi-tasked. When we first came to France 10 years ago I just wanted to concentrate on creative writing. Naively I thought I'd self-publish and wait for my books to sell.  Wrong. The best writing in the world won't sell if no-one knows about it! So, when I finally achieved a book contract with Crooked Cat Publishing, I thought 'great' - now someone will do all the publicising for me, something I hadn't a clue how to do. Fast forward and I've learned that nothing is that simple. Nowadays all authors must be involved on social media.  So it was with trepidation that I approached my recent Facebook Book launch day. Because part of 3rd Degree Murder was set in my favourite decade, the '60s, I thought it would be fun to follow my character Jenny through the university story by conflating my past life with hers via old photos and fab music videos like Chuck Berry singing C'est la vie say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.  But, my biggest fear: would anyone actually come to the event? Would my home wifi break down on the day?  Conclusion:  the wifi worked, many people came to the event and entered my university challenge quiz, and I actually managed to do what I never thought I could:  deal with downloads on social media!  Success.  Yes, Chuck, it goes to show, you never can tell!

25 October 2015

The other day I did something very stupid.....yes, even at my age, so here's the sorry saga. All my life there's been an irritating itch deep within both ears. A week ago I was watching TV when I absently used the end of my glasses' arm to scratch inside my right ear. The old, worn plastic sleeve suddenly cracked under the pressure and a piece of plastic was embedded in my ear!  Frantically I tried to pull it out but it was impossible as just a sharp, slippery tip was poking out. The doctor's surgery was closed, on answer phone, and the woman on the emergency 15 number who eventually answered from Timbuktu or somewhere asked me where my nearest hospital was! Then, aided by our very useful local phone directory, I tried a domiciliary nurse. He arrived but only succeeded in pushing the object deeper into my ear drum. Sleepless night, then next day the doctor attempted to syringe it out. No good. Following day I managed to get an appointment with the hearing clinic in rue Rigal here in Gaillac.  I'm pleased to report that, after waiting 2 hours in his waiting room, he pulled out the offending object simply with a form of pliers. Success. But what's this I read? France is soon to get rid of all phone directories!  My lifeline in times of crisis. Who to complain to?  I know I'll look in my phone directory.

18th October 2015

Here's the latest graduand waiting for the book launch of the moment, '3rd Degree Murder', this Friday.  Only 5 days to go!  And it's now available for pre-order from Amazon anywhere in the world - see link on the right. As promised, here's a world exclusive extract describing the dastardly Prof. Axel Sloan, to whet your appetite. Just go to my Facebook Events Page on Friday, anytime 10 - 6 p.m. Here's the link: https://www.facebook.com/events/909706395761162/


Axel Sloan whistled to himself as he studied his reflection in the Gents’ cloakroom.
Not bad, not bad, he thought.
He’d come a long way since his poor beginnings, growing up in the squalor and poverty of the East End. Against all the odds he’d won a coveted place at the local grammar school, much to his father’s socialist disdain for what he considered elitism. Axel remembered the long trolley-bus ride for the eleven-plus exam, the rubber tyres hissing on the wet roads, the overhead wires somehow just avoiding electrocuting the bedraggled passengers within.
Even now, after all these years, he remembered his first long trousers, borrowed from his dad, tightened to an inch of his life by that S-clipped black and red elastic belt. His hair had been Brylcreemed down to a glossy finish, despite various unruly stray hairs springing up at the crown.
Around his neck had been one of his dad’s regimental ties. “Got to look smart, son,” his dad had said, not realising how old-fashioned it looked on a young lad out to impress the world.
“Your mother may be the one who wants you to go to a posh school, but while I have anything to do with it, you’ll at least look the part. I’ll not have a son of mine bringing disrespect to the family.”
He’d passed and was offered a place at a brand new Grammar School for Boys. This was a school where boys were meant to use their arithmetic skills to build a career in a safe office job like accountancy, or strive to be a doctor or lawyer. This was what his mother dreamed of for her son; so much better than working in the markets, with all the attendant risk and uncertainty that came with it. She wanted something far better for her son.
“How did you get on?” his mother asked him when he’d returned from the exam.
“Oh, okay,” he replied nonchalantly.
They waited all summer to hear the results. He smiled, remembering the day they’d finally arrived. His mother had been looking out the window for the postman to turn up with the envelope. “He’s late, he’s late,” said his mother anxiously. “Look, he’s gone to John’s house over the road.” Sure enough, Axel could see his friend jumping up and down in the window, waving his envelope in the air. Then the postman came to their house and his mother opened the envelope whilst Axel looked unconcerned.
So, it was true. He’d passed for the prestigious Grammar School and found out later that John had only passed for the Comprehensive. Despite his father’s foreboding, Axel became the star of the family. He smirked to himself. He’d passed despite putting in his English essay about how to swindle money out of passersby to start your own business! Well, he shouldn’t have put the word ‘swindle’ but that was what it was, really. Nowadays he liked to call it creative entrepreneurship.
But going to grammar school had been the making of him, not so much in his exam success – which he sailed through surprisingly easily – but in how to carve out a career for himself irrespective of how many others he trampled over by so doing. He knew instinctively how to succeed.
Sometimes he’d wander, whistling, around the open-air markets, listening to the stall holders make their spiel about how cheap their goods were and what a bargain the unsuspecting customer would have. As he grew older he realised it didn’t really matter what type of goods you were trading, the same philosophy held true. Buy cheap by telling the seller what rubbish it was, then sell with a huge mark-up, telling the customer it was the bargain of the century. Simple really. All you needed was a brain and some street-wise common sense.

In later years he used the same philosophy when buying his first house. He wandered around the property, pointing out the cracks in the ceiling, the damp patches in the hallway, the ‘huge’ amount of work that was required to replace loose tiles in the roof and to fix the leaking downpipes, then offered thirty per cent below the asking price in order to do the repairs. It always worked, allowing him to sell the same house for an enormous profit several years later.........

11 October 2015

Getting excited...
Less than two weeks to go to the book launch party of the decade.  Yes, 3rd Degree Murder will be released onto an unsuspecting world on the 23rd.  There'll be valuable prizes, University Challenge quizzes, music videos (especially from my favourite decade: the '60s), and surprise photos. But, what's the book all about and what's it got to do with a university?  Well, it's a play on words.  There's clearly an unintentional murder, but the hazards of gaining a PhD (3rd, science) degree are also prominent. Those familiar with my writing will know there are always underlying themes. There's an intriguing culture clash between Maliha, a Muslim student and a Jewish secretary. How do they get on, especially working for the same hated professor? Mirroring recent, real, media reports, Maliha suffers a horrifying rape at university. How will she cope? And the Jewish secretary suffers constant anti-semitic comments from her professor.  So, in the end, who actually killed Professor Axel Sloan? Only one way to find out.  If you haven't already, go to my FB page and 'join' or ask to be my 'friend' and I'll send you a party invite: https://www.facebook.com/events/909706395761162/
....next week don't miss the first world exclusive of an extract from 3rd Degree Murder, available for pre-order from Amazon very soon and definitely on the 23rd.

4th October 2015

As a writer it's always exciting when awaiting a publisher's imminent verdict on a new manuscript. My two latest ones, called Lamplight and Vichyssoise, are books 1 and 2 of my David Klein series set in wartime Germany and France - the latter covering transportation of a victim to the notorious Drancy camp. Both are a lifetime's work. So it was with annoyance that I read of the recent shenannigans in Nice, where the Alpes-Maritimes prefecture unfurled a giant Nazi banner over the front of the building, in the middle of the historic Vieille Ville area and the Cours Saleya antiques market. Yes, this happened last week!  Had the neo-Nazis made a terrible come-back?  No, it turned out to be for a film. Realising the commotion that it caused, the prefecture then put out an explanatory press release at the end of the afternoon. The film, like my book, is also set during the dark times of Jewish deportations to Drancy. But what kind of idiocy is it to put a Nazi flag on a prefecture building, causing many, particularly the elderly who remember, to cry out?  Him indoors said it didn't help that the maire's name is Adolphe!!  You couldn't make it up.

27 September 2015

As a teenager growing up on the mean streets of 1960's Birmingham, young people were getting their own identity, the Mods on their slick Vespa scooters and the Rockers on their high-powered motorbikes. Inevitably things change, but some things unfortunately continue:  young men who congregate on street corners and struggle to contain their boredom.  So, I was interested to read Hollande's latest venture here in France. This month sees a voluntary scheme to help jobless under-25s gain a new direction and discipline. Yes, they're being offered a chance to participate in an army-like scheme, but with a difference. They'll be paid 313 euros per month, get a free uniform, meals and accommodation but will be taught skills e.g. basic education, social/life skills in community living and technical qualifications recognised by employers. Essentially they won't be given arms training (good!) but will be taught how to live and work in society without causing mayhem.  What an excellent idea.  I should imagine French youngsters will be queuing up at the first centres opening in Moselle, Essonne and Charente-Maritime. That's what the UK and other countries need to do right now but I don't suppose they will. Plus ca change, plus la meme chose.     

20 September 2015

Living in France, but within reach of English TV transmissions, it's interesting to compare their different news media.  For me, France24 - a French news channel broadcast in English - is far superior to the UK TV media. I don't want to watch biased reporting: something some news mogul thinks will provide 'prettier' pictures or pander more to the emotive, as the late Sir Robin Day used to say.  It's especially true in the current refugee crisis.  I want to hear the truth, and not only that:  how each country is going to deal with the thousands - which may become millions if Lebanon, Iraq and other ME countries get drawn in - coming into Europe every week and how to filter out potential terrorists. It's crucial in tiny countries like England which, unlike Germany, simply doesn't have the space/housing/infrastructure to take the numbers that the 'emotive' news pictures say they must.  Let's hope the EU gets its act together very soon to come up with a more workable solution, as I suggested below. People aren't commodities to be advertised globally one minute, then forgotten the next when something more 'emotive' happens in the world. Thank you France24 news for giving a much more balanced view.

13 September 2015

For over 100 years France has prided itself on the principle it calls laïcité, in which the State doesn't recognise any official religion. And, in the wake of President Hollande's call to take in 24,000 refugees, PM Valls said 'you don't select by religion..'  So, why then did several French mayors say they will only take in those who are Christian?  Les Républicains' mayor Yves Nicolin in Roanne said it is only by checking refugees are Christian that he can “be absolutely sure they are not disguised terrorists”. Of course there have been reports that there may be thousands of 'terrorists' who have been smuggled into Europe under cover as 'migrants'. Clearly that is what is behind the mayors' frightened decisions. Some say it is easy to check people are Christian by asking a few questions about Christianity. Nonsense! Non-Christian does not equal violent. Christianity does not equal non-violence - check out the Crusades! For the record, I am the most pacifist of people. I don't kill flies and I savour life above all else.  Oh, and I could probably answer more questions about Christianity than the average person. The answer then? Admit all refugees and ask them to sign an agreement that they swear to uphold the law and conform to the natural lores, culture and general dress codes of the new country. Full stop.

6th September 2015

A week in the life of Olga...
Wednesday. Afternoon tea (unusual in France) at Sylvie's beautiful old farmhouse in rural Rabastens. You know what rural means - GPS doesn't read 'past the third cow on the left'. So, usual scenic route, then stumbled upon it by default. Lovely afternoon though. Interesting tea cups with strainer that fits inside cup. Met some nice people.
Thursday: Kine appointment with local physio. Usual shenanigans: my trying to translate medical symptoms whilst Him indoors groans.
Friday. Invited for lunch in Loupiac by a highly educated French couple. Lovely food and a lively discussion about the French during WW2. Monsieur said he believed the French were now ready, at last, to read and write about Vichy.  All good news re the forthcoming publication of my historical novel Vichyssoise.
Saturday, Bruno with head on my knee, doleful Diana eyes:  time to go for a long walk.
......all makes work for the retired woman to do.

30 August 2015

So much trouble in the world, yet programmes like X-factor return. The usual screaming voices singing songs without melody.  Where was the exquisite Sinatra phrasing, the Fitzgerald soul, the charisma?  I listened in vain. In the '50s my mother would drag me to distant cinemas showing Al Jolson in the Jolson Story. Electricity crackled when he sang.  A few evenings ago we went to the Abbeye in Gaillac. Our friend, professional singer Martin St. Martin, gave a 'Sous les Etoiles du Tarn' concert organised by Entente Cordiale in support of cancer research. The setting was lovely, high above the tinkling waters of the Tarn. A full moon gave a rosy glow to the ancient pink brick buildings, but it was the music that enthralled.  Martin even dedicated one song to me, the one that turns my knees to jelly:  '...wise men say, only fools rush in, but I can't help falling in love with you....'  Now there's a melody. Even Him indoors liked it, and he's difficult to please. And then Piaf's La Vie en Rose. Wonderful. A message for Mr. Cowell:  stop pandering to youth's foolish notion of stardom. Find the next Jolson/Sinatra/Presley/Piaf. Now that's what a lot of us want to hear.

23 August 2015

Fears about Brexit are growing.  Whilst the media are, quite rightly, currently concentrating on the plight of the many thousands fleeing their impoverished countries for the EU, the looming issue of Brexit is still on the back-burner. Whilst Britain contemplates leaving the EU, ironically the reason so many are desperately trying to reach Europe's golden shores is its 70 continuous years of peace and thereby jobs. The Guardian did a survey and discovered that thousands of expats across the EU are applying for dual nationality due to fears about the potential effects of a Brexit. Some have cleverly unearthed Irish family connections to smooth their path, whilst others are contemplating the unthinkable - moving back to Britain whilst uncomfortably off the housing ladder. The latter include pensioners with health problems who, if not covered by the reciprocal health agreement in the EU, would find it impossible to get the mandatory, private cover needed by non-EU citizens. If all those refugees can see the benefits of living in Europe, why can't Britain?  What's particularly worrying is Britain's narrow, inward-looking stance - the old 'I'm all right Jack' mentality.  But, what if things went wrong in the future?  That's the time you need as many friends as possible. There's a very chilly draught blowing across from the Channel.

blog extra 21 August 2015

Some readers would like to hear my comments re the current immigration fiasco. Seeing Ms. May and M. Hollande fiddling while Calais burns is the last straw really. As with all important issues, you can only see the whole of Mount Sinai if you view it from a distance, so here goes.  What exactly is the problem and why has it flared up now? The world has long had its inequalities. However, modern technology has exacerbated them by showing all the 'have nots' exactly what life would be like in a richer country. If I lived in war-torn Syria, for example, I too would want to move to 'richer', now peaceful Europe. However, just picture the atlas if everyone actually did that.......Europe would be so crammed with people, life would be impossible, and the whole of Africa would be empty of people!  So, my solution?  NATO/EU/and all other global welfare institutions should convene an urgent conference, pool resources and immediately start modernising the impoverished Third World by sending in task-forces.  It's important they don't hand money over to corrupt leaders (who would use it to fund more artillery) but via equipment, food, housing materials, clean water and modern facilities - not just for isolated villages but enough for the whole country.  That to me would be the first step. I'm sure people would far rather stay in their home countries once improvements and peace were introduced. Comments welcome!

16 August 2015

Wednesday was still hot, but Him indoors needed some stitches removed from a head wound.  So, we ran to the car and jabbed at the air-conditioner. Ah, wondrous relief. Safely parked, we sweated up the narrow rue Joseph Rigal, past the hearing specialist, the radiologist's, mammographist - no, not today TG - until at last our Medecin Traitant.  Fortunately only one person in the waiting room. Yes, c'est la France.  Quickly the doctor got out her staple remover - well, that's what it looked like - and removed each stitch. Gritted teeth from Him indoors. There's an infection, she said.  When was the last time you had a tetanus injection?  And what about you too Madame?  We looked at each other.  Jamais, I said, ashamed.  Pointing up the street, she shoved an ordnance into our hands and demanded we fetch the medicine from the pharmacie up the road and come back in 10 minutes. Remembering Tony Hancock from our Birmingham days, Him indoors said I'm not walking round with an empty arm for anyone.  Pausing at the bar, I told him in disgust: You'd better have a quick whisky, remembering too late that the doctor wasn't taking anything out of our arms, but putting something in (unlike Him indoors at the bank!)  Nothing much changes around here.

9 August 2015

When we came to France ten years ago, I asked the vendor lots of questions. But, the important one I missed was 'does it have fast broadband?'  TG it did. Zoom back nearly 30 years ago when my professor first brought in a brand new, sooper-dooper Apple Mac, and introduced the phrase desktop publishing onto my job description (even though I didn't have a clue what it meant.) Sleepless nights trying to work out how to use the infernal machine, staring myopically at the tiny screen. What an embarrassment when the professor you worked for knew more about how to work it than you did!  Fast forward to yesterday, here in the wilds of SW France, far away from any English tech support.  Because I had to, I overcame my apprehension and managed to:  i) create new Amazon and FB Olga Swan and Gillian Green author pages and ii) cope with the fact that my publisher informed us of the unavoidable change of FB rules that required authors to re-create their own FB new event launch pages.  How did I get on?  Take a look at:
So, at last I understand what 'desktop publishing' means! My old, working, self would have been amazed.

2 August 2015

Were you, or a family member, a university student? Very different today to when I worked at a leading English red-brick university. Current degree subjects go from the sublime to the ridiculous and (unlike in France) student fees and maintenance are so high only the super-rich can afford them. But, other things stay the same. Ever wondered what happens behind the scenes?  The lecturers who hate the HOD's guts, the research students who could murder their supervisor, anxious support staff, or even the professors who, in the corridors of power, harbour dire and murderous feelings towards their V-C?  Soon you'll be able to find out.  Even Him indoors is interested. He's been asking everyone if they've got a 'Desmond' (2.2) or, like him, a 'Mother Therese' (None)!  Yes, Third Degree Murder, is imminent:  a cerebral tale of university intrigue, a conflation of foreign PhD students, admission procedures, English support staff, arrogant professors and a Vice-Chancellor holding a deadly secret.  But, you'll need to wait until October 23rd.  The University clock's ticking.

26 July 2015

Thursday was our 48th anniversary. In those early, heady days we would leave our Birmingham flat at 10 p.m. and head out to the smoky Elbow Room where we'd dance to Wilson Pickett 'In the Midnight Hour'. But that was '67, a lifetime ago, and this was France. Despite this being the land of le bien manger, lately we haven't had much success.  First there was the drunken waiter at Brousse. Then there was the vegetarian restaurant La faim des haricots in Toulouse. Unfortunately they've moved their premises to the opposite building and said we must now eat downstairs, where it was damp and impossible to balance our food on frequent trips up and down the stairs. Albi fared no better. Our favourite Le Tournesol was inexplicably shut the day we arrived, and at Le Vigan brasserie - well - we walked out. Enough said.  So where?  We ended up in the place that we feel the most comfortable, not a French place at all really, the Buffalo Grill in Le Sequestre. It never lets us down. The most wonderful oven-baked jacket potatoes and desserts anywhere.  Sittin' on the dock of a bay? No, but it suited us.  Cheers.

19 July 2015

Interesting week. Who'd have thought that a small, insignificant socialist called Hollande could - just maybe - have saved the whole of Europe from disaster by helping Greece.  75 years ago another small, insignificant socialist called Arthur Greenwood persuaded the British war cabinet to make the right decision:  not to appease Nazi Germany.  It was 1940 and the newly-elected Winston Churchill was chairing an urgent meeting.  At the table was Lord Halifax, a man supported by the King - who thought that he rather than Churchill should be PM - who said that the best plan for Britain, one that would save many lives, was to negotiate with Hitler.  However, up stepped insignificant socialist Greenwood who said No, never. Europe would be finished.  TG he swung the vote the right way.  In their way both Greenwood and now Hollande could well have saved Europe from absolute catastrophe:  not by fighting on the beaches but by saying the right word to the right person at the right time.  Something worth remembering.

12 July 2015

Needed a break yesterday from all this Greek brinkmanship and watching a large woman at Wimbledon showing her underwear (no, it wasn't me!), so with drink in hand was reliving twelve days ago.  It was Barry and Lynda's last day with us and we wondered where to go.  I'd heard of a steam train ride at a little place called St. Lieux les Lavaur, off exit 7 of the A68. Trouble was that I read it only ran on Sundays, and it was a Wednesday.  But when I looked at the date, I realised that it was now July and the train runs every afternoon in high summer.  If you want a really nice day you could lunch at Le Colvert 3star restaurant before going to the tiny station house round the corner.  The mini-train ride was wonderful on a warm day, with a cooling breeze blowing through the open carriages. The terminus is at the lovely Jardins des Martels, with its georgeous gardens and animal farm. I particularly liked the turtle pond. Afterwards the train driver showed Barry and Him indoors the steam engine. But then we all ran out of puff....just like Greece really. Is it the end of the line?

5 July 2015

It's always the ordinary man who suffers.  Today almost ten million Greeks are urged to vote for 'catastrophe' or 'even more catastrophe'.  At the same time, thousands of Africans are either massing at Calais's Sangatte camp or risking their lives in leaky boats across the Mediterranean into the foot of Italy.  And what does the world do?  Sits and watches.  In Britain the Education Minister sends in 'super Heads' to take control in failing schools. In EU countries on the point of collapse, like Greece currently, the EU should send in a 'super Economist' to turn things around. In repressive and poor African countries where thousands are fleeing, instead of allowing continents like Europe to be overloaded with immigrants, the UN should send in 'super teams' whose mission is to help failing countries by providing economic and democratic solutions in situ. Is anyone brave enough to do these things?  Him indoors says the world should be determined, calmly efficient and dignified, whatever the outcome, like the Frenchman who lost at Wimbledon yesterday and not make 'a Tsonganddance about it!'

1 July 2015

Sorry for delay - been busy with visting friends Barry and Lynda below.  After a wonderful party for Barry's 70th, yesterday we decided to have lunch at La Corniche restaurant in Brousse, near the village fleuri, Saint-Antonin in Tarn et Garonne.

Sounds normal, but on the dessert menu were several items with Grand Marnier liqueur and the local delicacy, Armagnac brandy!  That was fine with us, particularly Him indoors, but we and the neighbouring French party at the next table became increasingly aware that the French owner and waiter was drunk - in fact, very drunk. We were served the coffee ordered by the French party, with all the coffee spilled in the saucer!  Soon the noise of splintering plates could be heard from the kitchen.  When the l'addition was asked for, we were presented with a practically indecipherable bill for 198 euros!!  I queried this and was asked to step inside to the dark interior, so I foolishly did where I was actually touched up by the inebriated man!!!  Eventually he agreed that the bill was too much and lowered it to 120 euros for the 4 of us - probably a little too low for haute cuisine but he was totally incapable of discussing it, throwing his glasses on the floor.  We left. Him indoors says if he'd wanted a Basil Fawlty sketch, he'd have switched on the video.

21 June 2015

C'est un fosse que sera franchi lorsqu'on aura l'audace de le tenter. (Just a ditch to be crossed when someone has the nerve to try it.)   Bonaparte 1803
Thursday saw the banner headline in Le Monde, aimed at the UK: 'Just as in 1815, Brexit is your Waterloo.' I agree. It's been a week of commemorations. Not just Waterloo (200 years) but also 800 years since the signing of the Magna Carta. Both are significant water(!)sheds historically, as is this week's anniversary of de Gaulle's 1940 speech in London. Should the UK have held commemorations of Waterloo at all?  Until all nations eliminate glorying in past battles against current allies, encouraging nationalism, no progress towards world peace will ever be achieved. Have we learned nothing at all from history?  Of course, I understand only too well that sometimes evil dictators like Hitler have to be stopped at any cost. (If we hadn't stopped him, I wouldn't be writing this piece now!) But, past land-grab battles - especially against current allies - are best left to history and the different mindsets back then. What should be commemorated are anniversaries like last month's 106th birthday of Sir Nicholas Winton, who organised the rescue of 669 Czech children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. His knighthood was one of the very few I actually agree with and which was richly deserved. Happy birthday Sir Nicholas!

14th June 2015

Living in France is often a struggle.  Some simple tips:
Mosquito bites:  if no net but lots of wild mint growing in the garden, rub exposed skin before getting into bed. Also, lie as close to a whirring fan as possible. Mosquitoes can't fly in a wind.
Dogs: Add a capful of cider vinegar to the water and a little grated garlic to their food every day. Pests will run a mile. If your dog is a chasseur and can't live without meat, try a product called Dogodor from Intermarche freezer. Cheaper and better than tins. Mix some into dry meal.
New French law re donor organs:The French will remove your organs on death unless you tell them otherwise!  And, from 2018 they won't even ask your family first. To register 'No', go to dondorganes.fr. Click on Etre donneur ou non apres sa mort. Then Comment exprimer son refus.
Renewal of EHIC health card: Tinyurl.com/renew-EHIC. Scan form, complete then email to nhsbsa.ehicenquiries@nhsbsa.nhs.uk.
IT: If email recipient has an accent in name, type address all in capitals. If you don't know their email address, go to their Facebook page, click on Messages and a tiny window will appear on the right. Your typed message will then be private just to them.
Him indoors:  No, donor organ law is not just in Ayrshire (inertia)...

7th June 2015

So, that well-known Swiss anagram Sepp Blatter has finally done the honourable thing and resigned. Trouble is he hasn't yet stepped down from Fifa - he's actually been allowed to continue until next March! Have you noticed too that he never mentions exactly how much he earns in the post?  Imagine the noughts on his bank account. In my humble opinion he is an arrogant, conceited, womanising, incompetent little man who is quite happy to deal in as many corrupt practices as possible as long as it improves his own standing and personal wealth.  Instead of Fifa, he should have headed Mafia.com.  Rather like my own (fictitious) character Professor Darnand in 'Third Degree Murder', perhaps someone should plot his deserved downfall, but who?  The husband of Blatter's married girlfriend, paraded for all to see in the newspapers of the world?  A sports minister of a failed World Cup bid country, whose job may now be in jeopardy?  All the ordinary football fans of the world, who buy season tickets they can ill afford for their favourite teams, who've had their faith in the sport quashed?  This is a story that will run and run.

31 May 2015

On Thursday we went to a Franco-Britannique quiz held at the beautiful Chateau de LasTours in nearby Lisle sur Tarn.  As a writer I always like to bring different cultures together (see  http://ailsaabraham.com/2015/05/26/incoming-swan to read a recent interview about my writing), so what could be better than a light-hearted evening where the French and English pit their wits on each other's geography, history, culture and, of course, gastronomy!  And, whilst we were wracking our brains, we enjoyed the wonderful wines - grown in the Chateau's own vineyards alongside, and live singing from Martin St. Martin, who includes Sinatra, Elvis, Ray Charles etc. in his repertoire. My favourite charity has always been cancer research, and I'm delighted to report that the club Entente Cordiale, who organised the quiz, raised over 400 euros on the night. The following day, Friday, was la Fete des Voisins.  How better to get to know one another than to enjoy each other's company and raise funds for charity at the same time. Long may it continue.

24 May 2015

You know what the best thing is about being over 40?  All that embarrassing stuff in your life happened before the internet and iphone cameras!  Imagine having to re-live all those stupid things you did when you were young, and know that the whole world can see and laugh about it too.  But, when I watch global news on France24 tv, I often think about the poor people who live in the 'third world'.  There they are living the kind of traditional lives their forefathers always lived:  unpaved roads, flimsy shacks, no sanitation etc.  Yet, some young people there are shown with iphones. How can they not compare their lives with those of us in the west and feel intensely aggrieved?  In the past they would have just soldiered on. Ignorance is bliss.  But now?  What can they do?  You can't just skip over centuries of lost opportunities of technological advances.  It can't be done.  Decades ago I remember that old English tv advert: Clunk-click every trip.  Today I make mistake after mistake by clicking too quickly and then can't retrieve what I've sent. To the people of the third-world:  enjoy your lives. Think twice before you click.      

17 May 2015

As a child I was always an avid reader. I still remember surprising the teacher by reading and spelling the word 'pneumonia' at the age of 6. However, for all things practical I was, and still am, rubbish! Now I'm retired and have a book publisher, thought I'd get a Kindle. For someone with my eclectic reading tastes, I'm contemplating buying the historical genre in paperback form, to assist with future research, and the rest on Kindle. This would certainly free up the diminishing space on my bookshelves.  However, as per usual with my rubbish practical skills, I've encountered difficulties. It seems that with a French address you can't buy a Kindle from a UK store, and Amazon tell me the only English downloads available on a French kindle are via the limited selection from their .fr or .cn (China) stores!  (Apparently I'd have no difficulty if I lived in Gibraltar...why?)  Clearly, the imminent arrival of the younger, techno, generation to the Olga household should help to kindle a flame and throw a light on how to circumvent the system. Why are practical things so difficult? All I ever wanted to do was read.

10th May 2015

A week of victories.  First, personal: Sunday I signed a book contract. 'Third Degree Murder' by Olga Swan will be out later this year (crookedcatpublishing.com). Second: Thursday, I believe the best man for the job was elected in Britain. Third, Friday was the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. Forget the 'luxury' of domestic policies for a moment. Every democracy needs an educated, balanced leader who is a safe pair of hands. National security and negotiating skills with other nations are vital.  To do that you need someone who is supremely capable, has stature, and in whom you can trust to represent your nation correctly. Watching the VE day celebrations last night I realised just how important our tactful liaisons with other nations are. Nothing is as important as avoiding war with other nations, but with honour (unlike Petain in 1940 in France). Churchill knew that. Cameron knows that.  So, Mr. Cameron, before discussing domestic policies, make sure we are free from war.  Do not cut yourself off from the rest of Europe. Remember:  it's been 70 years without war in Europe.  Peace in our time.  Don't ruin it by retreating back into the trenches of isolationism or you'll have 'third degree murder' on your hands!

3 May 2015

A new birth. No, not mine - too late for that - but for Britain. They say the new Princess will be a boost for David Cameron. What is it about William and Kate that everything they do and say is so very perfect?  They even manage to produce babies in the 'correct' order, at the right time and they all look so handsome.  Unlike them, officialdom is sometimes shown to make a complete ass of itself. With the British general election coming up on Thursday, I'm pleased to see that James Jackson, a retired, British civil servant from Carcassonne has paid a £500 deposit to stand against London mayor, Boris Johnson. Mr. Jackson knows, of course, that he can't win. The point he'll show brilliantly is that whilst, like him, expats are banned from voting after 15 years of living outside the UK, he is allowed to stand as a parliamentary candidate! How stupid is that?  So, good luck on Thursday James.  But for the rest of us in the EU:  if Thursday's vote gives us a referendum, let's hope there's a subsequent massive IN vote.  Now that would be a wonderful EU re-birth.

26 April 2015

I've always been fascinated by history...  History reveals who we were:  we must learn from it if we are ever to improve.  On Monday a Frenchman called Robert Maloubier died aged 92.  Most have never heard of him, and yet he was awarded France's highest honour, the Legion d'Honneur.  He was one of the last surviving French agents from Winston Churchill's Special Operations Executive (SOE) during WWII. For the allies, he was a hero, carrying out special missions targetting German soldiers in occupied France. But in real life, things aren't always like James Bond movies. On one occasion, after being shot several times, he managed to escape a German guard by knocking him to the ground and throwing a motorbike at him!  Like Maloubier, rapid, intelligent and lateral thinking is sometimes required if we are to live our lives unscathed.  Unlike leaders of the past, e.g. Vichy leader Philippe Petain, those who are elected to the top position must be selected for their mental agility above all else, because you never know what's round the corner. Note from the world's biggest worrier: learn from history and be prepared...

19 April 2015

Man never learns.  Three weeks away from a General Election and what are the British concerned about?  Domestic policies. Full stop.  It's the 21st century and, despite all that warring history to learn from, still each country only thinks about themselves. The English in particular have an incredibly insular mindset. I'm disappointed in Cameron. He's made 2 big errors: one he escaped from by the skin of his teeth - the referendum to separate from Scotland - and the second agreeing to a referendum on the EU. Globally, who're still killing each other? Undemocratic, uncivilised, insular people. National security and immigration can only be seriously addressed if all nations act together. France knows that, Merkel knows that. The only way to alleviate tensions and negotiate seriously with uncivilised warring factions is from a position of collective strength. A Brexit will only make Britain weaker. Since the EU was formed: no wars in Europe. It eliminated extreme forms of lethal nationalism. Where's a Gorbachev now to break down walls when you need him?

12 April 2015

A feud was reported between a retired English man and his neighbour in France.  No, not Him indoors this time, but a Mr. King who lived in Calvados. The horrifying story appeared in La Voix - le Bocage newspaper. The poor man had been reported missing but the gendarmes had done nothing because they thought he was visiting his daughter in Australia. This was despite his passport and heart medicines being found. At last, after efforts by the English expat community of Caen, his body was found in the neighbour's well, who is now in custody on suspicion of killing him!  A very sobering thought as we finished planting a line of fast-growing laurel hedge plants between us and our neighbour, although one plant opposite the infamous 12' no-entry sign, has mysteriously been uprooted in the night!  Can't move house because of poor exchange rates and two dogs, but maybe the germ of an idea is sprouting in my now very lateral thinking. Let's hope that all goes well that ends well. Meantime must keep a careful eye on Him indoors and see if all augurs well near the deep pit at the bottom of our garden....

5th April 2015

It's Easter. Which shops are open tomorrow and which ones shut? French websites never tell you. No commercial spirit.The Lidl and Aldi car parks around here are empty most days anyway!  Now that does tell me something. When it comes to food, the French always know best. I was watching Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (US) on TV. The Americans, like the English, have their priorities all wrong. They go for food bargains, quickness and quick-chill options served in large portions. That's also why Lidl and Aldi do so well in the UK.  Here, although the French in the poorest banlieues obviously look for food they can afford, they go to the popular Food Coops or the street markets. With French living costs constantly rising (a retired couple here apparently need 2,437 euros/mth), France is hoping to open a food co-op like Paris's Louve in Toulouse soon. Ramsay, although a millionaire, with all his bluster knows a thing or two about food: go for fresh, simple and quality food. Your own body will thank you in years to come. When the chips are down, get your priorities right.

29th March 2015

Today we've moved 1h forward to summer. Good. But today the French vote in the 2nd round of the local elections. Not so good if the 'wrong' party does well. You know whom I mean: the woman in sheep's clothing, who glosses over what the real FN represents. She is now calling for a referendum for France to leave the EU.  When those tragic events occurred in Paris, I was worried the French would rally to her cause to fight against  living in their country who were 'different' from themselves. And, a lot did: enough to give the FN candidates in 1000 canons across France. But, TG, she didn't come first last Sunday. It seems the man they all love to hate, UMP Conservative leader Sarkozy still has enough supporters to make a difference. Love him or hate him, I believe he is the man France needs. Centrist Conservative parties are always best placed to boost the economy, Socialist parties to borrow and Far Right parties to bring the country to its knees.
100 years ago the army report on a young officer called Petain said: 'if this man rises higher, it will be disaster for France' (Chambers). Prophetic indeed!  For the future of France and the EU, as the French go to the polls today, they must learn from history and not vote for the disaster called Le Pen.

22nd March 2015

Finally I have my new French driving licence. Yes, with enough perseverance, the infamous bureaucracy here can be overcome. But what's this on the name line?  I had forgotten that, since last year, the law states that married women will receive official documents in their birth surname. Apparently laws have existed here since the French Revolution stating that 'no citizen can use a first name or surname other than that written on their birth certificate'. Then, why is there a tick box on French tax returns for women to use their birth names? Surely the opposite should apply, but what do I know?  No point telling the authorities that I particularly wanted the new card, with my recent photo embedded, to be used as a useful id card - when the name 'Olswang' doesn't match the name on any of my other documents.  Indeed, it's the first time I've seen my forename and birth surname together for nearly 50 years!  Quite a shock.  I asked Him indoors what he thought. He says he doesn't know why babies take their father's name anyway, when his identity can often be dubious. I agree. Let's mount a campaign for babies to take their mother's name. At least she can't be denied.

15th March 2015

How d'ya solve a problem like the EU...
Are we heading for a US-style 'civil war' between individual States? Sometimes conflict can start with trivial issues. Take the euro coin design. Each has a common side, the flip side designed by each State. This week France succeeding in preventing a Belgium €2 coin being produced to commemorate the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo - claiming it could cause "hostile reactions". Also a big re-enactment involving 5000 performers is planned in Waterloo in June, marking 200 years since the Duke of Wellington defeated Bonaparte. But France itself commemorated the Normandy landings against Nazi Germany!  It's the deeper issues that are the problem here. Each EU State has history: most of fighting the other States! Those wanting to commemorate such battles have not really committed their hearts and minds to the Union concept. The only way to avoid a General Lee v General Sherman conflict here, or even meet our waterloo is to stop commemorating past battles with fellow EU States and learn to live together today.
....otherwise the EU's just a will o'the wisp, a clown.

8th March 2015

The Imagin' cinema here in Gaillac is a multiplex that often advertises 'VO' films - in their original version. I'd been reading 'Alan Turing: The Enigma' by Andrew Hodges with fascination. Taken on by British Intelligence in 1938 as a shy, young Cambridge don, Turing combined brilliant logic with a flair for engineering. Two years later his machines broke the Enigma-enciphered messages of Nazi Germany. The cinema was its typical French self: no attempt to sell chocolates/popcorn/icecream. No-one in the auditorium smoked/ate/drank/made a noise. Great. Benedict Cumberbatch was ideal as lead, displaying all the angst/social ineptness necessary for the role. Even one of the characters in my own novel 'Campus Revenge' mentions Turing. To be gay in the '30s was illegal. Yet it's clearly how you are born. We are all different and must learn to get on with one another, not attack/imprison those who are different. Not only Turing but Darwin himself knew that. That's why  I wanted to see 'The Imitation Game'. It did not disappoint.

1 March 2015

Wise men say......
Last week we went to an amazing show at La Salle des Spectacles in Gaillac. It was sponsored by L'entente cordiale in aid of cancer support and the room was packed. After a meal and wine - well it is La France - we settled down for the entertainment. The show was entitled The Time Machine and two time-travellers sporadically twiddled a machine's dials and the curtains opened to a different time zone. I knew something special was about to happen when 'David Bowie' appeared singing Ground Control to Major Tom. But when the '50s appeared in the shape of an English Elvis singing, my spine tingled. I don't know who he was but his voice was spectacular - far better than you hear on TV talent shows. I can still hear his voice now. Have always liked the time-travel genre, so was sorry to hear of Leonard Nimoy's death on Friday. His family came from E. Europe too (Ukraine) and it was he who introduced that special wide-fingered salute in Star Trek in his parents' honour - it's the letter Shin, meaning God.  So, whether it's Elvis or Mr. Spock, remember LLAP because
                                     ............some things are meant to be.

22 February 2015

Noticed that 'Cinquante Nuances de Grey' was showing at our local Gaillac cinema. Jean-Francois Mary of the French classification board describes it as a romance. No queues and surprisingly only a 12 certificate (18 in the UK.)  Clearly the French get all the sadomasochism they need by watching the Strauss-Kahn trial nightly on free TV, or by reading the sexual antics of the President. But the E. L. James book has sold over 4.5m, so it got me thinking. Maybe I needed to incorporate something like that in my novels. But there again writers are s'posed to write about that which they know....Anyway, have just finished my latest, called 'Campus Revenge'. Certainly it draws on my experience of university life, but...horrors!...it does contain an element of sexual intrigue and revenge. A V-C, just before he retires, receives two formal complaints, one from an overseas PhD student, the other from a member of staff, both against the same professor. Worse, one of the plaintiffs alleges sexual misconduct.  Would E. L. James be impressed? Time will tell.

15 February 2015

The title above says it all really. Lost in France. Essentially I'm a sociable, spiritual person but it's difficult to connect with the French. English people tend to come over here for all the material things and France doesn't let them down. Gaillac's central Place de la Liberation is very attractive with its cobbled square surrounded by shops, market stalls, restaurants, banks, mairie, doctors, specialists etc. But, after 3 years here have I really connected with anyone?  So, Wednesday morning I was at the Cafe Bar Sports to meet a group, all members of Cancer Support France (CSF). Over coffee I agreed to join with them. Here was a way to socialise, yet support an important charity in memory of the 7 members of my family lost to cancer, and recognising Him Indoors' current struggle. I'm looking forward to Saturday when Entente Cordiale, which raises money for CSF, hosts a soiree of apero, repas and spectacle in Gaillac, and also the planned June garden party.  If we do nothing, every second person will get cancer in their lifetime. Dr. Wagner in Nice and my late family will be pleased I've put my name to the cause. Everyone should. No-one deserves to be lost.

8 February 2015

You'd think after 30 years in admin., clerical stuff should be easy. When my pink card UK driving licence was issued in England in 05 I thought o.k. Sorted. But, saw just in time that it was due to expire 21 Feb. 15, so now needed a dreaded French one.  Each Commune seems to demand different paperwork before they'll agree to exchange it. So, set off for the Prefecture in Albi with everything I could think of, all copied in colour (just in case). As usual, took the scenic route. Didn't need the Prefecture but the Prefecture Annexe - 5 mins away. Then, did I need the window labelled 'Etrangers' or the 'Permit de Conduire'?  Present situation: a steward's enquiry over whether my head is straight enough on my 4 photos! Second problem:The UK Pensions Office required Him indoors to complete a life certificate to prove he's still living so they can continue to pay him. But, where's mine? Eventually I managed to get them to send it me online.  But, if I hadn't known about it (and my envelope still hasn't arrived), presumably my pension would've stopped next month!! For something so important, no logic in putting complete trust in the postal services. But, what do I know.....

1 February 2015

My father once said they'll never cure cancer.  Since then, with six of my family succumbing to the dreaded disease, there've been many so-called 'breakthroughs' in the press.  But still the big C marches on relentless.  Or so it seems.  A certain Dr. Nicole Wagner of the Ircan Cancer Institute in Nice now thinks otherwise.  For years she's been working on a rogue gene called WT1 which stealthily and murderously forces the body's vessels to suppress the immune system.  Now her vaccine, by suppressing this gene, can cure all cancers, even those without a tumour like leukaemia, by helping the body fight WT1 from within.  Vaccine trials in Japan, which build on her initial findings, have already been hugely successful even on those with advanced cancer.  Amazing.  So, why the lack of global coverage?  This is something that should be shouted from the rooftops everywhere.  Is it because it's good news and the media are only interested in reporting the salacious, criminal or gory?  Well, I for one salute Dr. Wagner and her French team. Merveilleuse.

25 January 2015

Picture the scene. The stage is set on the Kit Kat Klub in Berlin.  Mario Draghi has a walk-on part singing Money makes the world go around, the world go around...  A small, blonde German woman pushes on a wheelbarrow overflowing with euros whilst singing So what?  In the backstage chorus is the darkly handsome Greek Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras, waiting expectantly for today's limelight. In the audience, cheering loudly, is Hollande thinking Now this will at last increase my appeal. To his Far Right, Le Pen: You ain't seen nothing yet.  Surely this 1931 stage couldn't actually be happening in today's EU, could it?  I mean, back then in Germany anti-semitism was rife and Jewish people were actively leaving the country.  Back then, innocent people were getting shot and the country's printing presses were hard at work printing lots of money. Back then, ordinary people were cheering and saying Now things are going to get better. Certainly on Thursday, as Draghi arrived at the ECB headquarters in Frankfurt he received a rousing reception.  And so it begins.  And Him indoors?  It's all one big Cabaret.