28th May 2017

Before this week, known globally just for its football. Now everything's changed. This week was meant to be all about the G7 Summit and Cannes' 70th birthday. I've always hated excess. A red carpet full of overpaid 'stars' with little talent other than to look good and to have been noticed in the right place at the right time by the right people. But not this week. It's all about what happened in a northern English town. Following earlier atrocities in the democratic West - the ones in Paris and Toulouse come to mind - everyone has come together. Manchester group Oasis played Never Look Back in Anger. I love MCR.  All well and good, but is this the right way to deal with terrorism? By being pacifist and linking arms doesn't stop it happening again - somewhere else, someone else's backyard. Not sure I agree with Oasis. Yes, we must look back in anger. Atrocity is not something to ignore and bury one's head in a peaceful, communal sandpit. It must be confronted by the very people in whose name it was committed. They are the only ones who must oust it from their midst. Remember: we all get angry at life's myriad injustices. Learn and deal with it in a non-confrontational way. But NEVER must we take it out on other innocent civilians. NEVER cause suffering to others.
That's what we must learn from Manchester.

21st May 2017

I write a regular blog called Obviously Olga on the online magazine englishinformerinfrance.com, which catalogues my weekly trials - especially now in limbo between France and the UK. Last week they kindly published an extra article on this topic, written a few weeks ago, reproduced below for those who haven't yet seen it. Hope you enjoy it.
From Brexit to Brentrance: an important year

 As I look out of the window, the Mediterranean sun is shining down and the trees are awash with white and pink blossom. The air is still, early season butterflies flit from leaf to leaf and the bees are busy, busy gefährlich. Chains of processionary caterpillars weave along the path on the perilous journey from their pinetree home. Are these tiny creatures warning me of dangers on the road ahead? Why would anyone want to move from the South of France to Birmingham? That’s what everyone asks us. Ah, if only they knew. What a year it’s proving to be. The number 7 is considered a lucky number in some religions. For us, 2017 is, PG, the year that we each hit 70 and it’s the year where in July, the 7th month, we hope to mark both our Golden wedding and our return to Birmingham. So, where did it all start? For those who read the earlier version of Pensioners in Paradis, we moved to France in 2005 following a disastrous fire at the indoor market in Birmingham where Him indoors had his DIY market stall. The full story of our French adventures is detailed in the new, published edition of Pensioners in Paradis, released by crookedcatbooks.com later this year. (Full details will be posted on my weekly blog olgaswan.blogspot.com.) Certainly we’ve enjoyed the last twelve years. But slowly, slowly cracks in our French idyll have started to appear, coinciding with Brexit. Much has been reported in the UK press, but little on the actual implications for British expats living in France. The biggest issue for us is future health care provision. The French health system is the best in the world, but our access to it as pensioners is via reciprocal arrangements between the UK and France. Already many are warning that, post-Brexit, we may lose this and be required to take up mandatory, private health insurance. However, after a calamitous year when Him indoors required a prostatectomy due to cancer, he is unlikely to qualify. Additionally we would probably lose the annual index-linking of our state pensions. Following his operation, we briefly considered convalescence in the lovely seaside resort of St. Annes in Lancs. However, a large fracking company’s proposals were approved by government, and drilling for gas (with the potential for carcinogenic radon gas leaks) is due to start imminently. So, that put paid to that idea. Additionally as I write this there’s the possibility of a certain Mme Le Pen of the Far-Right Front Nationale becoming the new French President. Already she’s won through to the second stage, but there lies the rub. Whoever wins, should any rational person consider living in a country where a large part of the population will vote for a fascist? So, in the end, it had to be Birmingham – the place where we both grew up and where we belong. As I’ve written about in Lamplight (authl.it/4q0), it’s where we, my parents and grandparents were married.  It’s something that is meant to be, but how to achieve it? Nothing comes easy as we struggle to unravel our lives in France, reversing the process of twelve years ago.  Someone old said to me recently:  if you’re going to do it, it has to be while you’re still fit and relatively healthy. If you wait too long, it’ll be too late. Following Brexit, there were basically only two choices for British expats: take up French citizenship or go back home. Him indoors knew his French would never be good enough to pass the hour-long interview test, so the die was cast. Others we know contemplating returning have discovered to their dismay that they’ve fallen off the housing ladder and will have to face renting in the UK. Certainly our new home in Birmingham will be nowhere near as nice as our French property with its acre of land and four bedrooms, but a decision had to be made. A realistic selling price was advertised via several local French immobiliers. Result? Zero interest. The French are canny. They don’t want to pay the exorbitant agent fees of 8% of the selling price, nor the ridiculous notaire costs of c.16,000 euros! I knew this so put our house on the LebonCoin internet site (like Ebay), advertising zero agent fees and splitting our property into separate house and land plots. Result? Voila. Both now sold. One in the eye for our unfriendly neighbour (see my blog for the full story – a man whom none of our other neighbours like either) when he realises a new house will shortly be constructed right next to his fence, but by then we’ll be long gone.Where will we live in Birmingham? Will we have to rent?  Fortunately we’ve found somewhere for a modest price not too far out, en route to the Lickeys – and with a lucky number 7 on the door. Of course, nothing ever runs smooth. Did I mention our two difficult rescue dogs?  Couldn’t possibly leave them behind as they’re old and a bit crazy – like us! Are they bilingual, I hear you say? There’s a joke in French – oui, ils sont bilangue; ils n’ecoutent ni en anglais ni en francais. (Yes, they’re bilingual; they listen neither in English nor in French.) But what can you do? We love them and they’re now part of the family.With a shake of my head, I turn away from the beautiful scene outside the window and contemplate all the packing boxes everywhere.  Yes, the sunshine, tranquillity and good food are nice here. But, for complete peace of mind, don’t ignore the inner self.  At the end of the day, it’s mixing with like-minded people in a community where you feel at home (and not forever foreign) that’s the most important. And for us, as we approach the final quarter of our lives, this seems like the right time to return to our roots. Brentrance – here we come!http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B013IBD4PU 

14th May 2017

Here's the new golden boy in France. Certainly better-looking and younger than all his predecessors. Result: Brussels much relieved, London anxious. Even Tony Blair has tried to get in on the act by writing to the new boy with Blairite 'words of wisdom', urging him to forget French bureaucracy - famous for keeping the status quo but hopeless for ever changing or modernising anything! Be bold, says Blair. Yes, well, look where that led him. So what has young Emmanuel got that has superseded everyone else? Well, he was known for juggling a high-stress job with tennis and cycling as well as being a prize-winning pianist with a Masters in philosophy. He's associated with French philosopher Ricoeur and Jacques Atali, who first arranged for Macron to join Hollande's cabinet. Atali was so impressed with him that he declared his young protege 'the stuff of presidents'. Well done Jacques - prescient indeed. Meantime, back in our rural gite, we visited the local historic Mining village. All went well until someone handed out miners' helmets and hair nets before ushering us all into a tiny, unlit, ancient miners' lift descending into the bowels of the earth. Did I go in? What do you think? I ran like hell, discarding helmet and net toute suite. Like the new golden boy in France, I never was one for underground movements.

7th May 2017

Let the French duel begin. Em, Em (Emmanuel Macron, Mr. Indecisive: only man to have the same initials for his party, En Marche, as his name!) v Mme Guillotine (if your face doesn't fit, off with your head)......
Meantime, back at the ranch.

Yes, finally we've moved out of our Gaillac house and into this cozy gite in the heart of the Albi countryside. A big relief. A constant nightmare trying to clean the ancient Gaillac house to an acceptable standard. All those exposed cables and pipes, stone floors with uncleanable, grungy tile grout, old light switches and tiled skirting boards with cut side upwards to collect all the dirt imaginable! We'll be staying en gite for up to 2m whilst awaiting the completion of our brand new UK house. Why here? So that Him indoors can be kept in the style and comfort to which he's been accustomed and also retain access to the excellent Albi medical treatment for as long as possible. He says he'll just have to put up with the sunshine, peace and swimming pool here...sigh....well away from Frankenstein neighbours. For me, always with a sharp eye on finances, it's very cheap.
.......Latest election polls predict a low turnout, certain to favour the NF candidate. The tumbrils are at the ready. The very existence of the EU is in the balance. In this duel, let's hope Le Pen is not mightier than the sword!

30th April 2017

What a week. First, personal  Last Saturday we held our Vide Maison. We'd decided that, because we had bought a very small, modern house in the UK, the large, classic French furniture here needed to be sold. I'd advertised it nationally, via the ubiquitous LebonCoin site, and locally via the familiar card on a board in our local Intermarche. First I had to deal with the downright rude responders on LebonCoin. For those who understand what this says, please don't repeat it to your mother-in-law: 'va te faire f......, sale cons.'  Clearly, she wasn't happy with my prices (3 - 100 euros for each piece). Oh well, can't win them all. The day dawned and TG loads of people arrived, carting away absolutely everything! Thursday the UK removals van arrived, taking with them the mainly bedroom furniture that we'd arranged. And, surprise, surprise, two of our previously-hostile neighbours turned up to give me a kiss on both cheeks. Pleased to see the back of us, you think??
Secondly, the French elections:

Just look at all those dark blue NF areas, including this Departement (81)! Yes, as expected, the dreaded Mme Le Pen is through to the second round on 7 May. To be clear, an outright fascist has just achieved an alarmingly large share of the votes in this modern democracy. Just goes to show what so many francaises really think.Am I gonna sit around as so many decent Berliners did back in the '30s? What d'you think - I'm outta here and fast.

23rd April 2017

Fear abounds. Not just the recent terrorist shootings in Paris either. None of the French I've spoken to know in which direction France is heading. They want to be proud of their heritage but fear what will happen should Marine Le Pen become President. The educated, business-types seem to prefer M. Fillon, but his chances were scuppered when the press printed accusatory libel re personal misdealings. Thinks...rather like what happened to Hillary Clinton...could global hackers be changing the face of French politics too? The young, of course, admire M. Macron but does he have the essential experience and world knowledge to cope with what lies ahead?  Thinks...look what happened to Philippe Petain in WW2...too weak and untested to deal with a rampant Hitler. Then there's a burgeoning M. Melanchon. If he and Le Pen get through to round 2 in a few weeks it'll be Far Right v Far Left. Quel choix! So rather like the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, the first round today is just for thorougbreds and largely just a 4 horse race. Who will win? The answer could destroy the EU in its tracks and change the face of French politics forever.  Ah well, there's always the UK elections coming soon....now there's a Grand National event. Maybe the favourite will fall at Becher's Brook and a total outsider come through on the rails? Madame Guillotine, are you ready?

16th April 2017

Are you old enough to remember Cool for Cats on UK TV from '56 - '67, presented by Canadian Kent Walton? Watching the Rolling Stones as teenagers, or even Cat Stevens, we laughed hysterically at the notion that such cool bands would still be performing at the crazy age of 74. But everything's changed today. We all have to stay young. As a writer, the internet's changed everything. Back in the '50s, once you had a publishing contract, you sat back and left all that advertising stuff to your publisher. But today? Rather belatedly I've realised that writing books and getting a publisher is not enough. You need an advertising budget, so I asked Him indoors (he of the old DIY market stall).  He said budget for marketing at 1% of my turnover. Turnover? All this came into sharp focus this weekend as my publisher crookedcatbooks.com has a major Easter sale running. What to do? As many of my characters are US-driven, I picked at random some US book promo sites and scratched together an advertising budget. Any success so far?  Yes!  Lamplight authl.it/4q0 and Vichyssoise authl.it/52l have leapt up the US charts particularly, with 3rd Degree Murder authl.it/4ia to be promoted tomorrow.  Am I still a Cool Cat as I was in the '50s?  Well I'm certainly trying, as Him indoors would say!