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.