All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Thursday 31 December 2009

Here comes Hogmanay on the half shell

Belon oystersImage via Wikipedia
This is the time of year when French hospital emergency departments are on standby. Not for traffic accidents, but for the incidence of 'oyster knife through the palm of the hand, having drink taken'.

I think myself that the problem is not so much opening the things, but trying to impress the assembled company by doing it at speed, having left the whole operation until the guests arrive rather than, as I favour, wrestling with the brutes shortly before. This gives me time to pick out all the flakes of shell, put the six tea towels that I have used into the wash, and change my clothes. It is a messy operation. I used to have an electric gadget which sawed away at the shells, but it became overheated. I know how it felt.

When we used to go to New Year parties got up by friends using the village hall, I used to watch, amazed, as Frederic or Georges would manage what amounted to a production line, managing closed oyster, oyster knife, oyster duly opened and a glass of Muscadet at the same time. I would have needed as many arms as an Indian goddess, but they managed with the regulation two.

The days of those events are over. The drink driving laws, for a start...and for a finish. Didier is convinced that the gendarmerie, previously relaxed about the coincidence of alcohol and steering wheels, became vicious once the bars were closed down in the gendarmerie barracks, thus their eagerness to breathalyse anything that moves.

Life is difficult enough at the back end of the year. I was warned when I first moved to France not to go into the local town on Friday afternoons in November and December, as the gendarmerie would be trying to pick up on the points and penalties they had been too idle to collect in the rest of the year, and it seemed to be true. Every layby had its' gendarme and pocketbook.

The gendarmerie station in St. Ragondin excelled itself and entered local legend by asking the maire for a special visit by the dustmen to pick up the debris from their New Year party. The dustcart arrived, enormous quantities of bottles were loaded up, and then some bright little gendarme gave the dustmen a ticket because one of the dustcart's tyres was bald. They've been taking their own bottles to the dump ever since.

Two years ago, we ventured out to visit friends on the other side of the nearest town just before New Year, and, coming back in the early hours, were surprised to find all the street lights out. Slowing to a crawl, we became aware that there were lines of paddy waggons in the off street parking, and promptly turned tail to take the ten kilometre deviation through the lanes and villages to get home.

The neighbour had not been so lucky. He had driven through the town and at the roundabout had had the shock of a man wearing a balaclava and armed with a sub machine gun jumping out in front of his car. Convinced he was in the presence of some terrorist, he stopped, only to find that this was a gendarmerie exercise against drink driving.
What amazes me is that the idiot responsible for that good idea assumed that one would stop the car when faced with an unidentified assailant, rather than driving straight over him. Still, I'm forgetting, this is France.

With all this in place, you would have to be mad to go out to a restaurant to celebrate New Year's Eve if you intended to drink more than one glass of wine, as the gendarmerie - surprisingly - know where the restaurants are and where to lurk to breathalyse their customers.
Going to visit friends to celebrate now involves a great deal of mapwork down the lanes and the tracks across the vineyards...just like going to the distillery used to, but this time at night, with more than one glass of wine having been accepted and a torch which is bound to fail at the wrong moment.
It is all too stressful.

We've had our days or muscadet and oysters. We know that 2010 will arrive even if we are in bed at the time. The arrival of a first footer with coal and whisky is highly unlikely. There is no Andy Stewart and the White Heather Club - thankfully - so we're having friends over for a Balti at lunchtime and a quiet drink before bedtime, all to ourselves.

I reckon that the only thing in France that will be lit up tonight will be the Eiffel tower.

A very happy New Year to you.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday 30 December 2009

Mother has a question...I have the answer.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 05:  Ex-members of ...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

When I visited my mother, earlier this year, it was around the period of Armistice Day, so we duly watched the British Legion event at the Albert Hall, the Remembrance Sunday ceremony in Whitehall and the ceremony in Westminster Abbey centred around the tomb of the Unknown Warrior. We also wore our poppies when out shopping. As did most people of all ages that we saw around us.

At all these ceremonies and in all the commentaries upon them, we kept hearing the word 'sacrifice'...these men and women who 'sacrificed' their lives to protect or defend their country. Mother will have none of it, and I think she is right. They did not sacrifice themselves, they were killed. We don't hear of civilians 'sacrificing' themselves....but they were killed too.

For mother, who volunteered for the Auxiliary Territorial Service -the ATS - the second world war war had two aspects...the difficult conditions and the liberty that, as a woman, she had never enjoyed before 1939.

She remembers, shortly before volunteering, she was walking the Surrey downs when a lone German 'plane began to strafe a bus that was ahead of her on the road. She dropped into a hollow and kept her head down, watching the shadow of the plane as it passed on.
There were the fears of invasion, when even the women in the army were taught how to use a rifle, concrete tank traps on all the roads to the south coast and the signposts taken away.
The slogan 'Take one with you.'
The rumours of German paratroopers disguised as nuns and the ribald jokes associated with their identification.
David Niven opening his Christmas present from a female Hollywood star in the Greenjackets' mess and finding it was a hand knitted willy warmer.
Travelling to York on a train with no lights, kept upright only by the crush of men and their kitbags...a jamjar of tea coloured purple by the golden syrup used to sweeten it passed in through a window.
Working in London in a glassed in building while doodlebugs dropped all around the area...coming out of the British Restaurant and seeing a doodlebug flying up the road ahead of her, shooting just over the railway lines, while Italian prisoners of war hooted and jeered at the British dropping to the ground.
A terrible night of bombing while she was at King's Cross railway terminus...the stampede of people when the gates to the platform opened, and the feeling of bodies under foot as she was swept onto the train by the crowd.
Seeing the endless lorries heading down to the south coast before D Day, troops giving the 'V' sign as they passed.
Going with friends to the bombed out houses of their families to try to rescue what they could from the mess..only allowed near at all because they were in uniform.
The misery of friends whose fiances had been killed.

But she was also revelling in the freedom of being released from the narrow world of before the conflict. She met people from social groups she would never otherwise have encountered, made friends, travelled the country, learned skills and gained a confidence which has never left her. She and her friends could even go into a pub without being regarded as prostitutes.
She says she found that she wasn't just a woman, she was a person, and that she was valued for what she could do rather than just for where she stood in society.

Nowadays, she wonders whether the 'sacrifice', the killing, was worthwhile. The society she knew has changed radically, the opportunities the post war generation demanded and obtained have evaporated and poverty and ignorance again haunt society.
She asks herself if, after all these years, life would have been very different if the Germans had won, or Britain had surrendered after Dunkirk.

There is the serious answer...but there is also the lighter side.

Every New Year's Eve, the German nation gathers round its' television screens for a particular programme and, if German hegemony had been established in the U.K., the British nation would no doubt be gathered watch

'Dinner for One'.

By order.

Check it out on Youtube and see why Britain had to win the war.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday 28 December 2009

A Baudelairian capharnaum.

Charles Baudelaire, by Gustave CourbetImage via Wikipedia

I was reading an article castigating the Sarkozy government - well, it's him really, isn't it, the rest are just there for show, like Napoleon's brothers - for nominating another of Carla Bruni's mates for a job at the Culture Ministry.

Not content with nudging the insalubrious Mitterand into office, she is now credited with asking for a job for another somewhat dubious elderly wastrel of an interior decorator called Francois Baudot, who could do with about 5,000 Euros a month and so is being nominated for the grand sounding post of

Inspecteur General de l'Administration des Affaires Culturelles.

His name was put up to the appointments committee and turned down unanimously, it appears, on the strength of a book he wrote about the dissipated days of his youth - not in the Mitterand league, let it be said, but then, what could be outside the pages of Genet?

However, the committee can whistle. The job is in the gift of the President, and like any sensible man faced with the prospect of sharing a cage with a shark, he will do as his wife tells him.
Now, M. Baudot has diplomas, etc...but absolutely no relevent experience to assist him in carrying out the functions of his proposed post. Further, although at lower levels of the greasy pole, M. Mitterand has been culling his functionaries in order to comply with the Presidential policy of not replacing one in two beaurocrats as they come up to retirement, it appears that at the level of IGAC - to give the post its' French initials - two IGACs have been turned into four IGACs.

Still, as an interior designer, perhaps he can advise Mitterand on how to decorate his office and private dining room...perhaps design a new bell for summoning the servants...
Oh, but I was forgetting...M. Baudot has one great qualification. He is godfather to Bruni's son. So that's it, then.

What was interesting to me is why there is so much fuss. He isn't an untouchable, like Mitterand, just dubious and there are plenty more like him around - though why the French have to write books about things that most people would take good care to keep under their hats is something that I have never understood.
All Presidents appoint their friends, the friends of their friends, and particularly the friends of their grandes horizontales. So just why the fuss?

I think it is because the old order is changing, and the old order doesn't like it.
In the past, the enarques - graduates of the Ecole Nationale de l'Administration - ran the show. Privileged enough to gain entrance to the ENA via the specialist crammers, they ran France's intertwined network of state and business, moving from one sphere to another and leaving their mess for the taxpayer to pick up.

Sarkozy is not an enarque.
His friends are from the world of finance and business.
His sons were not even asked to try for the ENA.
He presents a different, unpredictable model.
His candidates are being put into jobs once reserved for enarques.

Now, there is nothing so vicious as a Frenchman thwarted of what he regards as his privileges and I think that there is a trial of strength going on between the new and old order...thus the uncharacteristic daring of the French press in mentioning these little governmental hiccups, geed on by the old warhorses of the right who aren't getting the jobs for their boys.

It was while I was reading the comments in Le Point that I came across a phrase which struck me. The writer, dealing with the Ministry of Culture, was of the view that with Mitterand and Baudot in place, the whole thing could be characterised as a Baudelairian capharnaum. It isn't often that I find a phrase in French striking, but this was a delight.

Baudelaire...the poet for whom aesthetics owed no responsibility to morals or ethics...and a capharnaum....somewhat of a junk pile, a mess, where everything is in wild disorder.
The Ministry of Culture...a mess run by the morally irresponsible.

Then something else occured to me. The Ministry of Culture is supposed to have an eye to the state of French national identity - the great subject of debate at the moment.

Could the the debate about French national identity also be described as a Baudelairian capharnaum?


Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Saturday 26 December 2009

Kippered in France

KippersImage by Walt Jabsco via Flickr

Roaming the supermarket, I don't pay close attention to the 'sell by' date on the packaged goods. The 'packed on' date is more important with eggs, though I'm lucky enough not to have to buy the anaemic offerings masquerading as such as the hens still provide, despite long passing their own 'sell by' date - the date at which the battery farm sold them for one euro apiece, poor bald creatures that they were. It took them days to come out of the shelter I provided for them...days longer even to try walking over the grass...but I knew they would be O.K. when they started catching insects. Beady eyed descendants of the dinosaurs, I am very fond of them.

However, returning to the supermarket shelves. I have never been obsessive about 'sell by' dates, as some of the yogurt in my 'fridge would bear witness, but this was another lesson France had in store for me. I had been eying the turkeys in a local outlet one year, which were marked as having a last day of sale of 29th December. Keen to get a bargain, I was at the door before opening time, slalomed round the pensioners' trolleys as the bell rang and arrived at the poultry counter. No turkeys. Well, not whole ones. Not with that ' sell by' date. Just lots and lots of turkey portions, all dated 4th January. The same thing...with slightly different dates.... the next year...and the next. Conspiracy theorist I may be, but by the pricking of my thumbs, I think someone is chopping up the unsold poultry into portions and extending the date of sale. The coincidence of date and transmogrification is too much.

Cheese - the sort sold packaged on the shelves - also has 'sell by' dates and here they are a boon. I like the little logs of goat cheese and, thanks to inadequate stock control, the local supermarket frequently has loads of them in its 'last day' section on the chilled shelves. Their idea of last day is my idea of 'well, it's just starting to get ripe', so I load the trolley and transfer the lot to the salad section of the fridge, where they can fester until ready. Given the increasing difficulty of getting ripe cheese on the cheese counter itself, these little logs are super. Especially when half price.

I was subject to censure once when raking through the 'last day' bin...I had found a load of Isigny butter and had collared the lot for the freezer when a disapproving woman spoke up.

'That butter is for everyone.'
'Did you want some?'
'No. I don't buy outdated food.'
'Then just call me Mme. Everyone.'

She mooched off to complain at the checkout that the foreigner was monopolising the 'last day' bin. Getting no joy there, she came back to complain to this time I was at the fish counter...that we foreigners only came to profit from France.

I had a vision of D day landing craft swinging their doors open on the beaches of Normandy, unloading the British hordes to scavenge in the 'last day' bins of French supermarkets across the Hexagon in order to deprive honest French women of their half price butter and cheese...never mind the booze, get the butter! As a vision, it was lacking something. Reality, probably.

It must have been one of my better days, as I did not detail for her just how difficult it would be to profit in any way shape or form whatever from France.....and it must be a better day today too as I don't propose to detail it here either...but I did suggest that she got a grip.

'Who was I to tell anyone French how they should behave in their own country?'

The better day feeling evaporated with the speed of a pint of beer in the hand of a thirsty fast bowler in the days before degenerate energy drinks sapped their will to nail the batsman to the stumps.

I suggested that since I was paying taxes to support families breeding like flies which neatly avoided French firms having to pay reasonable wages to the ordinary worker, since I was paying to support a health and social security system with enough gaping holes of waste to support several third world countries and since I wasn't allowed to vote for the self satisfied cretins who ran the whole shebang, I rather thought that I could say what I liked. And to whom I chose. And when.

This being France, this is not strictly accurate...functionaries of all sorts are protected by law from receiving the full and frank opinions of the governed, but since she wasn't wearing a kepi or a tricolour sash, I thought I was on pretty safe ground.

She turned away muttering and flushed with the healthy release of pent up fury I indicated to the lady on the fish counter which kippers I would like.

She lifted them up for approval.
A fine coating of mould embellished the fleshy side of each.
Wordlessly she put them back.
Wordlessly, I passed on.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday 23 December 2009

The curious incident of the notaire.....

Façade d'un notaireImage by Gnaphron via Flickr

Buying property in France, you are obliged to use the services of a notaire. It's for your own good, you are told...he is a sort of watchdog...nothing gets by him.

Now, in England, I have never used a solicitor when purchasing property....long experience of the breed in other modes of legal practice convinced me that there was no way I would trust any of them with my money, my malt or my maidservant given their propensity to idleness, incompetence and inefficiency - all in slow motion, save for the demands for payment which drop on the doormat with alarming regularity.

Thus, when buying property I would do my own searches and ask my own questions, fill out the Land Registry forms and that was, fast and accurate.

Then I moved to France, that country of liberty, equality and fraternity, where the fraternity of notaires, profiting from the lack of equality which gives them the monopoly in property transactions, take liberties with their clients' rights.

Before anyone jumps on me to tell me that their notaire is wonderful, has saved them heartache and money, let me now say that either you have come across a phenomenon of nature or you don't have much French.
There have to be good notaires....I did know one once, in fact, the man who undertook my first purchase in France. He was a phenomenon of nature and I didn't have much French, let alone any understanding of French property law.

Totally plastered at the post lunch rendez-vous, he fixed the estate agent with a well oiled eye and asked how he, the estate agent, could possibly imagine that he, the notaire, could proceed with a legal transaction when the person laying down money, me, didn't understand the proceedings.

The estate agent replied that he would translate. The notaire said that that wouldn't do. He, the estate agent, had an interest in the transaction, to wit, his commission. An interlude of argey bargey then took place, in which it was clear that the estate agent would lose, since the notaire had the obstinacy of all persons in the legal profession multiplied by the effects of having drink - in quantity - taken at lunch.

The seller made the mistake of intervening to suggest calling his nephew, who taught English at the lycee. Both men turned on him to ask how that helped as the nephew might have English, but also had an interest...the family connection with the seller. He retired to his corner, in need of the towel and bucket, while the two main combatants got on with the tussle.

The estate agent said that we were all assembled and surely we could get on with things. Suppose we put a clause in the act that he had done the translation and took responsibility?

No. He didn't have the right to take responsibility.

Did we have to have an official translator?
No. Just someone competent.

But I am competent. Ask the client. She understands my English.
Doesn't matter whether she does or not. You have an interest and are barred.

This was going to last a long time...the notaire was coming out of the euphoric post lunch stage and going into grumpy mode. He turned to me and explained in clear and accurate English the nature of the problem.

I risked an intervention.

As his English was so good, could he not explain to me as we went along?
Yes - in English - he could.

Would that do?
Yes - in English - it would, if I was agreeable.

We had a wonderful afternoon. He read the acte de vente in French, as he is obliged to do, gave me a copy to read and told me what it was about in English, together with various commentaries on the family history and circumstances of the seller, who, happily ignorant of the calumny, nodded and smiled as his name was pronounced. The estage agent, fascinated, had to have several of these details explained to him in depth - in English - and the sale process was finally completed as the dusk of a winter evening set in.

Unfortunately, this notaire was on the verge of retirement and his practice was taken over by the big firm in the nearby market town, so I lost this phenomenon of nature. It was to be some years before I had any further contact with the breed and it has been downhill all the way.

As I say, they have a monopoly of property transactions and despite what anyone tells you, they are not there to protect your interests. They are there to ensure that the state has you marked down for the future as the owner of a taxable asset - thus the obligation to use their services.

Not, mark you, that all the English know this. Or they do know this and have made improvements to the system. There is a growing market of English selling among themselves and avoiding the notaire altogether which at some point will come to the attention of the authorities. Mr. Sykes will sell to Mr. Dombey in pounds sterling and will move out. Mr. Dombey will move in. The tax authorities send the bills for the taxe d'habitation and fonciere to Mr. Sykes, who tells Mr.Dombey, who pays them. What happens when Mr. Dombey sells in his turn to Mr. Smartalek will be interesting, as at some point Mr. Smartalek will get his tax bill from Mr. Sykes via Mr. Dombey and will decide not to pay it. Mr. Sykes won't have a bank account in France any more so the taxman can't seize it or freeze it, so what happens then?

Take Mr. Sykes to court for non payment and enforce the judgement in the U.K.? What if Mr. Sykes has emigrated beyond the jurisdiction, or has just gone to ground? Send the bailiffs round to Mr. Smartalek to seize his television? Or make a forced sale of his house?
Doubtless it will all end in tears, but Mr. Sykes is happy.

No, I wouldn't touch such a business with a bargepole and neither would you, but there are people who do....and are doing. Not far from me.

Now, a notaire is supposed to protect you from all this sort of thing and you will be told that all notaires are insured, so that if they are negligent, you, the client, will be reimbursed. In your dreams. Just try finding a lawyer to represent you against a notaire.

There is a case going on at the moment brought by a couple of old ladies who sold their house at well under its actual value on the advice of an estate agency. They have sued the estate agency, who won, roughly on the grounds that they told the ladies that the house would sell at that price!

Now, when you buy a house in France, part of the acte de vente deals with sales at an undervalue - thus dealing with the under the table in cash proceedings - and part of the fee you will be charged is to contribute to the operation of the notaires' database, which enables them to contest unreasonable enquiries as to value on the part of the taxman, so you would think that the notaire might just notice a drastic undervalue, wouldn't you?
No, of course not. He is a notaire.

The old ladies then started suing the buyers, on the grounds that they haven't been paid. You might think that a notaire might just notice the absence of folding stuff, mightn't you.
No....he didn't. He is a notaire.

In the meantime, the old ladies are paying the taxe d'habitation on the property now occupied by the buyers as the appropriate tax authorities noted that the ownership was in dispute and went for the bird in the hand.

The old ladies have just lost in the regional court of appeal.

You will note two things from this cautionary tale.

The notaire, the watchdog, let the whole shemozzle go through without a bleat, let alone a growl.

Nobody is suing the notaire.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Saturday 19 December 2009

It's ganging agley again.

14 rImage via Wikipedia

I had the Christmas and New Year well organised.

We are going to a 'solstice party' on the entitled by the hosts to annoy absolutely everyone invited and to ensure a vociferous evening. I wouldn't want to be a latter day Druid at that particular assembly - his little golden sickle wouldn't be much defence against some of the dinosaurs slated to be present. We shall all take something to eat and somewhat more to drink and it will be wheelbarrows at midnight, kindly provided by non drinking friends.

Then that was to have been that. End of public festivities, shut the doors and utter peace until January 2nd 2010. We had plans, and they precluded the presence of others. Any others.

The hype of Christmas dismays me...even before Armistice Day, the junk and lights are in the shops, the jingles are playing overhead and people are being persuaded that they need to show their love for someone by buying them useless tat. Or, worse, that feeling obliged to send something to someone, they feel that useless tat would fit the bill. I have long since abandoned sending Christmas presents...I send something that a friend or family member might like when I happen to see it, whatever the season might be.

Family get togethers depend on which bits of the family are getting together, too, so that also is something best left to a more clement season than that of mid winter, rather than risking all out war round the fireside and mother monopolising the television for The Queen's Speech. Let alone the problems of who doesn't eat what, who ate too much of something they shouldn't have and the loud collective fizz of Alka-seltzer at the breakfast table.

This year's Christmas plan was ...books.

There are years when not much really seems to appeal from the reviews, and others, like this one, when I keep saying
'I must read that!'
Blogging has extended my horizons too, encouraging me to start on areas either totally new, or re-opening avenues long closed off by the passage of time and accrual of mental junk.

So, we have both been making lists and thought we would order just in time for the holiday - as otherwise we would just read the lot as they came in and be left to our old favourites by the time Christmas came round.

Well, we're well served for our egoism and optimism. So far, nothing has arrived. I know we have another week but I am getting nervous all the same.

Amazon tracking is great....except that their French centre has gone on strike - thank you the CGT, who think that Christmas pressure is too much for their members to stand. More likely they felt left out, what with the baggage staff at Orly airport feeling the strain and the drivers of the RER network in Paris deciding that working in winter was really beyond the pale.

Other books are coming from the States...notably one by George Soros that a U.K. firm said couldn't be sent to France - something I must follow up. I know Soros was done for insider trading in France some time ago, while his French counterparts got off scot free, but what has that to do with importing a book? Probably a very simple reason and nothing to do with conspiracy theories, but it intrigues me all the same. And why can it come from the States and not the U.K.?

They'll probably all arrive in time, but I am a I'm thinking about which old favourites I will be putting out on the bookcase by the armchairs...empty so far in anticipation of the Christmas goodies to give us a happy holiday.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Shat on from a great height

Paris:: église Saint-MédardImage by fredpanassac via Flickr

Not far away from where I first lived is a little town that I scarcely visit these days. It is run down, has social problems and is on the way out, yet it should be one of jewels of tourist France and a cultural hub for its area.

Imagine if you were planning to visit France and someone proposed a town with part of its medieval walls and massive gatehouses intact....a wonderful church with a magisterial carved frontage....a medieval town centre with timber framed houses and little winding alleyways leading down to the river below, the whole thing dominated by a chateau perched on its rocky base. You would probably jump at the chance to visit it.

Well, when you did, you would be deeply disappointed. Yes, the town has all these attractions, but does nothing with fact, it seems perversely to want to negate their impact.

You arrive, and seek the tourist office. Twenty years ago, it was run by volunteers, in the centre of the old town and you would walk down the shopping area to get to it from the main car park on the old market place. You were already in the heart of things.

Then it was moved to the market place 'to be more accessible'. It was accessible where it was, in a half timbered building at an angle to the old church, so what was meant was 'accessible from the parking area'. Then council money came in and they got rid of the volunteers. Nice young things from goodness knows where took over the counters in the summer months, doing their 'stage' - training - no doubt for some diploma in tourism, and events started to be held. Night markets...story tellers and conjurers accompanying walks round the town. A fortune was spent on chateau images in metal implanted on the pavements.

What you could no longer do was consult leaflets either about the town and its attractions or about what was happening or available in the general area. To 'avoid waste', these were all kept in drawers of the filing cabinet to be produced if asked for...which begs the question

'How do you know to ask about something if you don't know it exists?'

Recently in an epic power struggle between factions of local government, the tourist office is to be moved to the outskirts of the town, where local government conveniently has spare office space due to the failure of yet another of its wild schemes. How the tourist is to find it is a puzzle. Where the tourist is to park having found it is yet another...there is only on-street parking, all taken up already by local government workers.

The main market used to spread from the market place, with the nineteenth century market building, down the main shopping street to the clothes market near the old tourist office, so, at least once a week, people would be drawn past the shops in that street and business was flourishing. Then, there was concern on the part of the council about the circulation of traffic. The market area was drawn back to the main marketplace, and commerce lower down in the town atrophied. Already, the town faced competition from two supermarkets installed in communes on its outskirts, so you would think, if only out of a sense of responsibility to its ratepayers, it would do something to keep commerce going in the centre.

Not at all. The town had set up two industrial estates, and its tax income from the enterprises installed there let it ignore the dying heart of the town. As commerce died out, rates went up. The only first class restaurant closed its doors. That was fifteen years ago and the hulk of the building is still there, its roof green with algae and the windows falling apart, the wreck of a sixteenth century wonder. No one will take it on. The shopping street became a desert of empty plate glass windows. A tattooist installed himself.....the only active commerce for some hundred metres and indicator of another phenomenon. The population change.

The centre used to house families, but mostly in rented property. The 'big' families of the town, heirs of notaires for the most part, owned the houses and saw that it was much more profitable to turn these properties into studio flats, as there were council grants for the conversion. The council led the way, turning a magnificent medieval hostelry into poky flats, ruining the interior and where the council led, others were quick to follow. The old centre became a ghost town of the unemployed and single, empty of commerces because they did their shopping at the supermarkets on the edge of town and decidedly unpleasant to frequent at night as the population changed yet again - younger people from the Paris area, bringing their habits of all sorts with them. Trash built up, dog turds littered the streets, and the council was unconcerned despite the calls of the original inhabitants of the area to have something done. The rates went up again.

A notaire - from the North of France - decided that the old centre could be turned round if a few people started to renovate the old buildings that were available for sale, and formed a group of like minded people with a bit of money to try to start on the area around the church. They faced nothing but obstacles as, not only was there the normal planning permission to be obtained for change to exteriors but because the area was one close to historical monuments, further permissions had to be obtained from the departmental architect of 'Batiments de France' - something like English Heritage.

These gentlemen, once appointed, are difficult to shift and run their departmental policies as they please. The one in place at the time of the notaire's initiative had an obsession with covering all walls in 'crepi' - rendering - in a colour described as 'ton pierre' - stone colour- but which would be more accurately be described as shit yellow. Now, this town was noted for not only its half timbered dwellings, but also for the buildings in local stone, built like the town walls, more than a metre thick, and it was this feature that the architect wanted to cover in - shit.
He had managed to have this done this to the medieval ramparts of a town down the road, with the result that the bastion overlooking the river now looks as though a giant had had an bowel movement while touring the area....and this is the sort of person entrusted with France's architectural heritage.

The notaire persisted and has a wonderful house, but most of his friends gave up, defeated by the beaurocracy and sheer resistance that they encountered. The town council sat on its' hands. It had the revenues from the industrial estate, after all. The town centre continued its' decline.

Two years ago, there was a suspicious death in one of these studio apartments and finally the police intervened in what had become an area of drug trading and sleaze. The council was forced to take action and sent in a councillor to hear complaints. He was blown backwards bow legged by the volume of said and the council set up an action group meant to improve conditions.

What has it produced? A plan to ban parking in the little square by the church. More litter bins...which have had to be protected by knee high concrete surrounds to prevent larrikins overturning them. As one long term resident was reported as saying

'If I'd put up a thing like that, I'd have been fined and made to take it down.'

How true that is. His story is echoed all round the old centre. People who want to make it come to life again, who want to restore it, who want to make it an area where tourists would like to come and spend their money are being prevented by a lack of initiative at all levels. Worse, obstructionism.

Why might that be? Go to the notaire, now retired and having to put security devices on the doors and windows of his lovely house.

'Simple. The big families still profit from these studio rentals. They don't want anything to change and they still control the place, whichever party they say they're from. The other thing they don't want is outsiders making a penny from anything in the town. The town is for them and their kind. It's not for us.'

So, take heart, immigrants to France. It is not only that France is for the French, and not for us, but that each town is for its 'owners', and not even for other French.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sunday 13 December 2009

Into The Unknown....

I would like to ask a favour...and it may end up costing you money, so for those for whom the sight of an open purse is likely to cause trauma, stop reading now.

A blog I follow with deep interest is

'France and The Unknown'

I apologise for not giving its' URL or whatever it is called as my machine still will not copy and paste. Bring back Gutenberg, and all the printers of British newspapers known to the taxman only as 'Mickey Mouse' and 'Donald Duck' in the days before Rupert Murdoch.

Frances, who writes the blog, has come to France and has discovered not only a new land but a new life. From eating animals, she has become vegetarian...and would be vegan, I think if the hens would only stop laying. She has rescued horses and gives them a good life on her property and has now started to rescue chickens and rabbits from local markets, destined for the table, to give them a life instead.

To do the latter takes money, more money than she currently has available and she could do with some help.

Now, whether or not you are vegetarian, whether or not you get uptight about modern farming practices, please take a look at her blog and you will discover that she is doing her bit to change things in a direction she thinks is beneficial.....
She is doing what most of us don't...not only deciding something is worth doing, but going out to do it, and the favour I would like to ask is this.

Would you please read her blog, and if, as I know some of you do, you have blogs with hordes of followers, could you please make mention of

'France and The Unknown'

and ask them to read it too.

Some might feel able to make a donation. That would be wonderful if people could afford it, but encouragement would help can feel very alone when you start something like this.
It's always easier to do nothing, to moan and to complain that something is wrong. I should know, I do enough of it, but when you come across someone as open as Frances is about how she has come to make changes in her life and lifestyle, then I think they deserve encouragement whatever the cause they espouse.
You might think what she is trying to do is might think it is downright silly...but she is doing something she believes in and it's not hurting anyone.
I think that's a good cause in itself.

Friday 11 December 2009

Black Friday

HighPeakRoofers28NovAImage via Wikipedia

Every so often, the British immigrant community gets its' collective knickers in a twist over British immigrants

'working black.' Now that the new category of 'auto entrepreneur' has come into being, making it easy to register, there seems to be no need for anyone to continue on the 'cash in hand and no questions asked' regime, but continue they do. I could understand it when, if you were mad enough to declare your business, you would find yourself with whopping social security bills before you had even started to earn, but now, with this system, if you don't earn, you don't pay, to put it somewhat simplistically, which seems much fairer.

My first insurance agent explained the French notion of working black when I asked him to recommend a roofer. In his view, if the artisan did not do some portion of his work 'black' he would never make ends meet, particularly if he was employing someone. So, the roofer would give me a quote for a part of the job, do all the job and collect the rest in a discreet envelope. This could only work if both parties understood the system and if the roofer did a good job, because if not, the client would naturally hold back the under the counter payment. Equally, since the local artisans did not know the British immigrants, a recommendation from someone like the insurance agent was necessary to operate the system.

Without the go between, the artisan would do nothing on the black and would charge an absolutely astronomical price for the would any other local artisan approached by the potential client, because the artisans had a habit of fixing their rate to foreigners in a sort of informal committee. The advantage to the artisan of this way of working was that shoddy work would be paid for without problems, it being unlikely that the client would know how or to whom to complain.

Fifteen years down the line I am still on one artisan's blacklist because he installed a rooflight so badly that it leaked...I still recall Christmas dinner under an umbrella...and he had the sauce to charge me for his repeated attempts to put it right. My view is that I paid to have a rooflight installed, and, having paid his initial bill was not going to pay further. His view is that he was spending time on repairing his initial botch job and he wanted his time paid. Totally different cultural attitudes.

The rooflight was eventually repaired by another guy who had once employed the first artisan who had repaid him by pinching his client list when he departed to set up his own business....but you have to be on the local grapevine to get to grips with these little antagonisms.

While I mentally substitute 'buying a new car' for 'making ends meet' I can understand and work with the French system of working on the black....with the new system of detailed estimates and bills, however, which artisans are obliged to furnish these days, I just wonder if a job which doesn't appear to be covered by the materials used will be honoured by the artisan's insurance. Given the nature of insurance companies anywhere...but particularly in whom the notion of 'honour' is unknown and unknowable, I have my doubts and can only hope that I never have to find out.

Further, there is always the bugbear of responsibility for accidents at theory, if the roofer plunges to his doom because his boss uses crippleboards rather than proper scaffolding when repairing my roof, then I can breathe easy, secure in the knowledge that I will not be paying the hospital bills, the compensation for loss of earnings and anything else a clever lawyer can think up. But then neither will his employer...he'll just go bust.

What seems to occur to no one when this bugbear is raised is that if the French operated their system in a sane fashion, then an unregistered roofer who fell to his doom would be treated on the NHS without having to be part of some insurance scheme and a further top up insurance scheme and the whole affair of compensation would be argued out between two lawyers as a civil matter, rather than being treated as fraud - a criminal offence - as it is in France. The French system cannot seem to cope with the idea that individuals can make their own arrangements...everything has to be regulated in order to be taxed, and, at every stage, some third party has to be paid.

If I thought that French business taxation and social security practices were fair, then I wouldn't touch working black with a bargepole, but I don't think they are fair to the ordinary small guy working on his own or employing one or two others, and, as long as I get the 'black' discount for the job then I'll go along with it.

All this would apply to any British artisan who set up under the old, cumbersome and expensive regime...suffering under the same yoke as the French guy, I really don't mind if he makes some money on the side. The vital element in having work done in France is that, if it goes wrong, you have someone's name on a bill to whom responsibility can be handed over.....the boiler that has been installed is certificated for when it blows up and the insurance company say it is all my fault for using it in the winter months. Over to the plumber. I still won't have any heating for the rest of the winter, or, probably, a house at all, but I won't be paying the lawyers either.

As I expect I have said does repeat oneself with age, it is reassuring to find that one is still of the same mind if not the sane mind...I am obliged to use someone in the system because although he is almost guaranteed to make a hash of the job, if I have to call on the insurers to put it right, at least I have a name and a bill to which to attach the problem.

The British black worker is a different kettle of fish. Over the years, I have seen so many set up round here, with little or no knowledge of the trade they profess apart from a bit of DIY on their own houses, but making hay from British clients who don't speak French and take fright at an estimate from a French artisan to whom they do not have an introduction and who thus will not give the 'black' service. Or who is just out to make a killing from the 'Rosbifs'.

For the 'little' jobs, they could be ideal....setting up the satellite dish, for example.
When I wanted mine regulating, I had the local French guy to give me an estimate. First, of course, he had to refuse to work with my satellite dish, bought from a DIY was no good. I would have to buy another one from him at some astronomical price. I am now used to this nonsense and, without waiting for the rest of the spiel, about how I would need another stand...bought from him...and different cable...and probably a different television set, I sent him packing. There is a certain view round here that bills should reflect the size of your house. I do not share this opinion. If I had had a British guy around, I'd have got him to do a job like this as most British men seem to understand how to regulate a satellite dish....must be a question of sport....

As it was, the Turkish builder did the job while he was on site smashing the interior of the house. After overcoming the small problem that it was initially tuned into a Turkish language service, the dish was safely fixed to the wall of the outside two seater loo and has worked without problem ever since. However, this is the sort of little job that these freelance guys can handle, and it is the sort of job I wouldn't mind giving them when the French want to charge me the 'foreigner' rate.

I suppose I'd classify the jobs I would pay these guys for as being the sort of 'neighbour' jobs...things a good neighbour would do for someone needing a hand...and no one would be making a fortune from them.

Unfortunately, the British freelancers round here are as greedy as their French counterparts, which I do resent since they are not paying the massive French overheads, so they don't get my custom for anything. If I can't do it, it doesn't get done.

Thinking it over, I have always been relaxed about employing black labour. Given that governments waste most of the money they claw from our pockets, a bit less for them to waste won't make a great deal of difference. Given the tax breaks for the rich, a bit of back pocket money for the less well off doesn't seem such a crime, either.

I never took the risk of not declaring my income from holiday rentals, but the tax regime was pretty favourable there in any a 'rentier' you count among the people the system is there to protect, not the people it is there to rob....although I know of a fair few British who made a packet from their holiday cottages without declaring a penny. All the taxman had to do was read a few British holiday cottage rental magazines and he would have made a killing...but then, the French taxman doesn't have any English, does he? Or any initiative.

Would I shop these people to the authorities? Probably not, even though their smugness can be irritating. But then I don't get my knickers in a twist about working black.

What I would like to know is why those who do have twisted knickers don't do something about the problem and shop those who don't declare their businesses. I suspect it comes down to the old question of group pressure and group vision that I have spoken of before and the widespread view that if you own up to employing them, you'll end up in court with them.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Thursday 10 December 2009

And the answer is a septic tank

A septic tank before installationImage via Wikipedia

When puzzled, ask the postlady.

I have been turning over in mind why Bernard should give me the tip to lock up my poultry....he isn't a friend, after all and is hardly public spirited. Even when his tractor exhaust set fire to his hay barn he didn't alert the fire brigade until he was sure that the fire had taken hold, by which time his neighbour, the duckstealer, was getting distinctly worried about his stash of illicit animal feed in the barn on the border of the properties.

The oracle, inspired by a coffee rather than bay leaves, has spoken. Bernard is worried about his sewage.

I have mentioned the current sewage wars in earlier posts, but up to now I haven't seen the inspectors from the water board as there are only two of them and they have to cover about forty communes. I'd had the sneaking hope that they, like everyone else, had been unable to find us up in this little hamlet, but no...they're just taking a long time to get round. They have been spotted in St. Ragondin, whence rumour has it that one man with no sewage treatment system whatsoever has been told...and certificated...that his sewage disposal system is within the norms...well, I suppose it is if the norms are those which prevailed in the middle ages....while two others have been told that they don't have a system at all in spite of being able to provide bills from the night cart man to show that they have.

Bernard has complicated arrangements for his ducks and goats, involving tanks and goodness only knows what, and spreads the results on his fields on hot days in summer, conveniently forgetting his obligation to plough it in within twenty four hours. What Bernard does not have is any sort of arrangement for his domestic sewage. Bernard is now apparently calculating whether or not he can bribe the inspectors to ignore him completely, or, having recently acquired a powerful digger with yet another loan from the ever ready Credit Agricole, whether he should install a septic tank. With another loan from the ever ready Credit Agricole.

Both options cost money. The first option is probably the one he will try first, depending on his relationship with the families of the inspectors - local men both - as the matter, once certificated, will never raise its' head again. He is unlikely to sell the farm where his house is situated, so no one will ever know that the system is non existent.

However, with ever more stringent European Union rules on water quality, how can he guarantee that the water board won't be back in a few years' time...perhaps with different inspectors? Might it not be best to bite the bullet and dig the hole?

If the latter, then he has a major problem. Thanks to the weird way French landholdings get divided up, while Bernard has a lot of land, he doesn't have much around the house itself, and the septic be in the norms...requires distance he does not possess. He has already consulted the duckstealer about putting it on his land, but the duckstealer is having none of it. He doesn't want something on his land which gives Bernard the right to come and inspect and repair it and he doesn't want the clear water from it either. The duckstealer is notoriously coy about having anyone whatsoever on his land and he's not making an exception for Bernard.

Bernard, thwarted, has now bethought him of me. I own a triangle of land between Bernard's house and the lane, which would be very convenient for the installation of a septic tank. According to the postlady, who has been sounded out by Bernard, he is thinking that I don't do anything with it...true...and that I won't mind him installing his septic tank there...false.

If Bernard wants to install his septic tank there, he can buy the land. And he needn't think he's getting it at a rock bottom price either. He can apply for another loan from Credit Agricole.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Christmas is coming and the duckstealer is taking orders...

Domestic DuckImage by crookrw via Flickr

Christmas is coming, season of goodwill to all mankind.

The postlady arrives at the door and refuses a coffee. Things must be serious.

'You need to keep an eye out' she says. 'The guy up the road'...jerk of head to indicate the duckstealer, 'is taking orders for poultry.'

Now, I know that the duckstealer has geese, guineafowl, and chickens, but he doesn't have ducks, having been unable to steal any of mine recently.

'Is he taking orders for ducks?'

'And for geese.'

Which is to say that he is taking orders for more geese than he has. Which is to say that I need to get mine up off the islands at night and enclose the ducks as well. And while I'm about it, I'd just better keep an eye on my chickens and the three guineafowl which escaped from his place last year and for which I paid him, to keep him from having an excuse to come round to count up what I had available in the poultry line.

Thank goodness for the postlady.

'Bernard told me to tell you,' she adds, thus confirming my suspicion that all is not well between the duckstealer and his neighbour Bernard.

Bernard, who produces ducks commercially to a contract, will be locking up his sheds as well, then, as the optimistic duckstealer cannot bring himself to believe that anyone who has so many ducks - for 'so many', read more than five, his arithmetical ability being a bit like that of the great apes - would miss a few and is always surprised when outraged owners appear to reclaim their poultry, if he has not been quick enough on the slaughter and pluck operation.

I cannot say that I am particularly keen on Bernard, who has a habit of spreading his duck slurry on his land when I have guests to lunch, but he is preferable to the duckstealer - not, thinking about it, that that hoists him very high in popularity table. He rates a long way behind Gengis Khan, for example. Whatever his manifest failings, Gengis Khan did not live within olfactory range of my terrace and had nothing to do with ducks. As far as I know, anyway.

What puzzles me is why Bernard asked the postlady to warn me.

I get on with his wife, that poor downtrodden woman who thought she was lucky in marrying a guy who would inherit a farm. No one told her she would be doing all the work on it without pay, nomatter what is shown in the books. Bernard doesn't like her coming down for a, she is wasting time that could be spent milking goats and two, she is probably picking up wild ideas of independence, so she only comes down when he is out for the day..which is often...and when his mother goes to the old age pensioners club to play belote and she gets through the mountain of ironing his mother leaves her to keep her occupied while not under direct surveillance. We exchange news otherwise through the postlady, providing Bernard's mother has not contrived to keep her busy and out of the way at letter delivery time.

Her post, such as it is, comes here, to keep it away from the family Gestapo. They would have a collective fit if they knew that she had a little account at the Post Office where she salts away whatever she can skim from the shopping money. Everyone at the Post Office knows,of course, but they don't like Bernard and his mother much either. There's not enough in it to make it necessary for her to file a tax return, that's for sure, so no risk of Bernard finding out that way.
The postlady has been at her for ages to divorce the guy and go onto social security, but she is too frightened to make the leap, having been in the hands of social security when she lost her mother when she was a teenager, so carries on slaving away for the ogres.

So why is Bernard being helpful?
I can't rate above the duckstealer in his table of favourites. I'm foreign, I complain about his duck slurry and I encourage his wife. The duckstealer is French, doesn't complain and won't let his wife complain either, and thinks Bernard is a great guy who knows how to keep women in their place. Furthermore, Bernard does nothing for nothing.
This will worry me until I find out.

Still, first things first. The poultry. I now have to set up the wire netting to make an alleyway between the river and the pens, clean out and restraw same, find all the food and water bowls and clean them out, and then, in the afternoon, coax the birds to come to this bank with food and then drive them up. Sounds so simple, doesn't it? Someone should tell the birds that. I will be shunting them up the hill when one -and I know which one it will be, the old Chinese goose with a notch on her bill - will decide that she doesn't like mountaineering and will turn round. Her group will follow. The others will stop and start honking in alarm. This will rattle the ducks, who are rather more fleet of foot than the geese and will start diving back past me, as fluid as river water. The dog will intervene...from the wrong side. I will rave. The geese will stop honking and watch the spectacle. The ducks will be back on the island. A window will open and someone will ask what all the noise is about. I will reply, succintly. The window will be slammed. The window slammer will descend to the garden and intervene....from the wrong side.

I will start again tomorrow.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday 7 December 2009

Awards time...

Previously (Very) Lost in France - now Home is where the Marmite is...has been kind enough to give me an she finds time to blog while moving, settling kids into schools and getting her book organised I just do not know. It takes me all my time these days to open the post and faint at the tax bill revealed therein. So,while I am bringing on the smelling salts, let me pass on the award to blogs I enjoy.

Or I would be, if this blasted machine would let me copy and paste. As a bad workman should, I blame the tools. They can't answer back.

The blogs will appear in due course, properly labelled and linked and goodness knows what, but for now, just look them up......yes, you can do it. I might not be able to, but you can.

Prospero's in Corfu from the viewpoint of someone who has lived in an awful lot of other places......lovely photographs, too.

Hadriana's on the Wall, and sometimes up against it, but this is a girl with guts. More lovely photographs.

French Fancy.....a great communicator...and lovely photographs of her bichons.

My apologies to these three super bloggers...I will get the links sorted, promise.

Oh, I forgot. I have to give out three random things about myself.

1. I can't use a computer.

2. I like Flanders and Swann and sing their stuff when no one is in earshot.

3. Mind goes blank when asked for random things about myself.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sunday 6 December 2009

Mean, Green, Humbug! Machine

Christmas lightsImage via Wikipedia

I have to go down to the next village one of these evenings, after dark.

I have to see for myself, since the postlady only passes during the daylight hours and she has not yet sifted her informants for accuracy on what is passing once the lights go on in St. Ragondin, which is on her colleague's round.

It is coming up to Christmas, and the villages round here go to town on decorations...not just the usual Santa Claus abseiling from the chimneys, but lights. Lots of lights. It has become a sort of tourist attraction. The local coach firms have run trips for the last two years while the number of cars running round the place in the run up to Christmas must exceed road usage for the rest of the year. You even see 'foreign' number plates....from neighbouring departments.

Although the comites des fetes of the villages encourage the activity, the whole thing is down to individual initiative, and very individual it can be, too.

From my point of view, it is a wonderful aid to navigation for visitors over the holiday period. Their GPS systems tend to black out when they get to the nearest town...France's equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle...and now, when I get the anxious call from the mobile 'phone, rather than trying to describe roads without signs or signs which cannot be read even in broad daylight because you pass them before they are visible, I can home in visitors by the Christmas lights.

'Right, when you come to the T junction, you turn left at the illuminated windmill with turning sails. Continue until you see the cork shooting from the champagne bottle and turn left again just in front of it. Continue again, keeping Santa's sleigh and the running reindeer on your left until you pass a house with psychedelic icicles on your right and we are the next house on the left....the dark, sinister one with towers and a security light which will blind you as you pull up.'

As long as no one changes their decor this year, I will keep my one hundred per cent record of losing no one.

As you gather, I do not illuminate my house. The president of our comite des fetes came to see me last year, accompanied by Madame Chose...a bit like making sure the warder is present when you interview the criminal lunatic.

Why didn't I illuminate my house? It was the 'big house' of this end of the would set an example...

I explained that to light up this place would involve using half the capacity of the Chinon nuclear power station, require having someone properly insured to crawl on roofs over one metre from the ground to install and disinstall everything, quite apart from buying all the gear in the first place. On grounds of expense, it was unthinkable, and, moreover, it wasn't Green.
She peered at me.

'You're not Green, you're just mean.'

Very true......if only I knew what 'Humbug!' was in French.......still, I'm not noblesse and I don't oblige. No fairy lights.

She had better success with the duckstealer. His windows were festooned with lights, which promptly became invisible when he shut the shutters...I often toyed with the idea of making an evening call just to see what the interior of his kitchen looked like.....but renounced it. There are limits.

Roger the roofer always has a spectacular display, valid by night and day. His roof and walls are festooned with Santa Clauses, like the SAS storming the Iranian embassy. You wonder why there is no smoke coming from the windows. At night, he illuminates the attackers with spotlights from his garden. I hope they have thick curtains in there.

Now, as to what is reputed to be happening in St. Ragondin....

One of the men most keen on these Christmas displays is Christophe, an electrician, who gives up a lot of his time to help people with their illuminations, and invents his own displays too...I think Santa and the running reindeer is one of his.

A couple of years ago he bought a house in the main square of St. Ragondin - in case this gives any false ideas of grandeur, forget them. For main square read only square, and small, at that. He wanted to put a velux window in the roof to convert the attic to an extra bedroom, and planning permission was refused. He explained that he did not see the problem.

A St. Ragondin must be one of the most banal villages in France from an architectural point of view.

B Other houses had velux windows in their roofs facing onto the square while he wanted to put his on the back of the roof, facing out over the fields.

The reply was firm. No more velux windows in old houses.

Christophe, muttering, put up with it.

Until this year, that is.

The man from the planning department who had refused him permission for his velux bought a house on the same square and promptly installed a velux on the side of the roof facing the square. To say that Christophe was annoyed would be to err on the side of understatement, but this is France, and that's how it goes. He turned his attention to Christmas.

He has, rumour has it, installed a giant illuminated Santa Claus on the front of his roof, facing his enemy from the planning department. Not only is it huge and illuminated, but it moves.

What it moves, in fact, is a bent arm with one finger raised...the French equivalent of the 'V' sign.
I must nip down to St. Ragondin some evening....

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Saturday 5 December 2009

Life in France, as it is seen.

A barricade in the Paris Commune, March 18, 1871.Image via Wikipedia

The regional elections are coming up and the ruling party of the right, the UMP, has issued a little propaganda film, showing how France is changing and how the regional structures must change as well, with clips of multiracial groups of children, an eco house and families flying kites.

Well, as it turns out, the film is flying a kite as well, since most of the clips were bought in from an American firm and were shot in various parts of the U.S.A. Thanks to the non subscription bit of Canal Plus television for the revelation.

However, it brings me back to my old chestnut, the difference between the image projected and the reality of living in France, and I feel that my point can only be reinforced when the UMP, who are, after all, running the show, find it easier to use American clips in their election campaign than to show France as it is.

Any PC inclined readers might like to cover their eyes for the next paragraph, but, be reassured, there is a purpose in including it in this post. For those still with me, endeavour to look past the word and look at the underlying argument.

I do not have my copy of Love in a Cold Climate with me....bring it back, you know who you are...but I believe it was Uncle Matthew - after all, who else could it have been - who claimed that

'Wogs begin at Calais'....

Take away for the moment the derogative nature of the remark and look a little deeper. British culture is not that of the continent of Europe. It has developed differently and produces a different mindset.

In my youth, brought up in a left leaning household which was regarded as normal then and would probably now be the object of government surveillance, 'wog' governments were viewed as corrupt, inefficent and oppressive of their peoples, while the tragedy of the end of colonialism was that the colonial powers, in their haste to drop their financial burdens to pay off their war debts to the Americans, left the ordinary people of their colonies prey to these vultures.

Well, living in France, I feel that it is run by a 'wog' government, as defined above. It is not what you expect, fed on the diet of 'common European values' and other EU nonsense, nor what the magazines and television programmes show you. In fact, they show you little if any of the political and fiscal structure of France, content with allowing their advertisors to offer financial advice on your pension arrangements and sell you houses. Thus the soft definition articles and presentation.
Thus the shock when you discover what you have come to.

I am prepared to believe that some British immigrants adapt quite happily.....drowsy from wine at lunchtime, the peace of retirement after a working life, total ignorance of the language...they pay what is demanded of them and congratulate themselves on their escape from full of 'wogs' in the view of many of them.

Others, mainly those who wish to work and enter the French system, find out the hard way that enterprise in France is sternly discouraged unless you are of a certain class and French to boot, and with the depression, the fall in the value of sterling against the euro and the lack of work, some of these people are finding that they cannot make ends meet and are returning to the U.K. to start again.

I find it distasteful that the retirees with their secure pensions regard these people who have tried to set up their own business with failures. I would like to see some of these smug nonentities try do something on their own initiative and see how they get on.

If any of them wish to take up the challenge, might I suggest that a 'pay as you gossip' internet site might do well as it would be cheaper than providing the wine and nibbles for the usual suspects and would also widen the field.

So what do I find so shocking about France?
The strength of nationalism. It suffices to put anything in French v anyone else terms and no reasoned argument can prevail. France is always right. Everything French is best. Clearly it is not, but the education system, in which there is not only just one answer, but also just one question, does nothing to produce minds open to reason. Amazing, that the heirs of the 'siecle des lumieres' have been reduced to the status of mynah birds.

In its' turn, this nationalism arouses antagonism among immigrants, a refusal to become 'French', which only serves to wind up nationalism to a higher pitch. People who came to France for a better life for their families, willing to do the jobs the French refused as being of too low status, asked for nothing more than to be able to integrate, while keeping their own cultural references. Treating them as 'wogs' has resulted in a second and third generation turning their backs on a society which doesn't wish to employ them in higher grade jobs and turning their backs on its culture. While the French football team were cheating the Irish out of a World Cup place, young men from immigrant families were rejoicing in the victory of the Algerian football team over Egypt - their loyalties lying far from the place in which they live.

What else disturbs me?
The institutionalised cronyism and all too familiar in the U.K. once its' politicians became acquainted with the practices of the European Union. On the basic, local level, you, as a foreigner - which can mean in some places coming from the next department or even the next village, never mind the other side of the Channel - might have problems getting planning permission to put in a window. A friend of the maire can rely on his agricultural land suddenly becoming open to construction, spoiling the views from a whole slew of houses.
You want a 'cattle crossing' sign? You can't just go to the local works department and put your case. You have to write to the President of the Conseil General, the departmental council, to get what you have to ask a politician for something which should be a straight administrative job.

The multiplicity of elected posts held by politicians....maire, local councillor, national deputy...where the work is done by subordinates, but which keeps their local power - and perks - intact.

What, to me, is the most discouraging is that this is accepted as a way of life...thus the refrain
'Nous sommes pour rien'...we count for nothing
among ordinary people.
The older ones grew up in an era where, if you were not seen at mass on Sunday, you would not be employed. Their children know that if you, as a local councillor, do not dance attendance on the local deputy, your village will not be getting any handouts.

To call the French legal system a 'justice' system is to take the word 'justice' in vain....I suggest the blog of Maitre Eolas to those who read French. All is form and nothing is substance, giving inappropriate power to the prosecution in criminal cases and inappropriate liberty of action to the police before a suspected person has a chance to consult a lawyer. Coming from a common law background, it is unthinkably incompetent if the aim is to arrive at a result approximating to the realities of the case. I am not at all convinced that that is the aim of the system.

I suppose what disturbs me most about France is that French people know their place.
In the U.K., that notion was overcome first, in the aftermath of the Second World War, when the serving soldiers recognised the mess that those in high places had created in peace and war and voted them out.
With the expansion of higher education in the sixties, 'place' was what you created yourself, not a construct created for you.

These processes have not taken place in France. Postwar, the eagerness to keep the Communists at bay reinstalled to power the same hidebound nonentities who had led France into disaster, now more keen than ever to regain control.
Education in France has never been a way for the intelligent young of the lower classes to escape their station....if successful, they aim to become beaurocrats, not entrepreneurs, reinforcing the weight of the State in society, not reducing it.

These things may not disturb you, but they disturb me. Our ancestors fought, starved and died to obtain liberty and justice in British society and we kick up when we see liberty and justice eroded.
The French, heirs to 1789, 1830, 1848 and the Commune, respond with the Gallic shrug.

It is dispiriting.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday 27 November 2009

The river is rising

Finally, the river shows signs of rising. It has taken what seems like weeks of rain to get it to move, but it is finally doing so, sweeping away the muck and rubbish that have accumulated against the banks during the year, and pouring over the weir where the waterfowl amuse themselves by dabbling their feet in the water. It is making music again, having been quiet so long.

It is time that I started to move again too, sweeping away accumulations of irritations and setbacks and starting to enjoy life again. I have been upset by people letting me down, by people who could help who won't lift a finger to do so, by people who think that lying through their teeth is acceptable, by people who think that they have the right to rip me off and are outraged when I don't share their opinion. It has not been a good year and I'll be glad to see the back of it, but there is no point waiting for the New Year to make resolutions.......I'll take the hint from the river and sweep all this away.

I promise not to make music, voice would disgrace a parliament of rooks.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

I wanted a wwoofer

I was green with envy. Why do I always miss out?
Answer, because I don't generally know that there is anything happening that I will be missing until after it has happened and I have duly missed it.

Friends in the next department are in the hospitality business, the sort of place where people start booking for the next year at the end of their current holiday, and they have a huge organic garden. They used to have pigs, sheep and poultry of all sorts too, but it all got a bit too much , so it's back to the fruit and veg and a few chickens.
There have been a few health problems too, which did not make keeping things going very easy, but they, intelligent and resourceful people, have found the solution. They have wwoofers.

When they first told me about this system, I thought they were talking about dogs...well, I would....and visions of St. Bernards in stout green jackets hauling little carts to and fro filled my mind, an appealing vision, but totally inaccurate. What they actually had was human help...the wwoofers turned out to be Willing Workers on Organic Farms and they have been a godsend, not only in terms of physical help but also in injecting variety into their lives. Different people, different cultures, different all leavens life in the country.

The latest wwoofer was a young French guy but they have had all sorts, Chinese Australians, Americans, artists, postgraduate students, youngsters touring Europe and all with lots to offer.

I immediately started to think of all those jobs a wwoofer or two could help with at my place and the imagination was running overtime......I could get the spring cleared out properly and repoint its' stone housing, repair the bridge to the island, move the soft fruit beds, get the watering lines sorted out properly....all the things I want to do and never seem to have time for.

Then reality set in. My friends are open, hospitable people, glad to see a new face and ready to accommodate its owner.
We, on the other hand, have become recluses, embedded in our daily routine and circle, somewhat like trolls busy turning back into rocks, and I doubt we could cope with strangers in our midst any more. It has been a sobering realisation.

In our time we have been the family Borstal...the misbehaving youth sent down for hard labour by their parents... the family holiday centre in the sunshine, a staging post for friends, and we have enjoyed all of it, but whether we could now cope with someone new I do not know. I think not. In theory I would love to be able to talk to someone of a different generation with a different culture, but the effort to prise myself from the rock would be have to explain things that are taken as given by our own circle, to have, in the end, to question or - horror - change my way of life.

Other friends scoff.
'It's only a question of feeding and watering them and giving them a comfortable bed.'

I don't think so. I see what our friends do, and it's not just a question of creature comforts, though there are plenty of those. Our friends give their time and their interest too, they include their wwoofers in their family life so that they are truly in a home while they stay there.

I am ashamed to say that I don't think I could do it and any less would not be fair to potential wwoofers, so, unless anyone can offer St. Bernards in stout green coats, I'm back to being on my Jack Jones in the garden. Still, if I'm missing out, it is entirely my own inflexible fault.

Sunday 22 November 2009

When did you last see your father, and was he French?

A French soldier serving in Afghanistan has just had the pleasure of being told that he is, in fact, French. Having always thought he was, it should have come as no surprise to him, but I imagine he greeted the news with relief all the same, since he had been obliged to defend his right to French nationality in court not once but twice.

All depended on whether his father, a Senegalese, had in fact aquired French nationality when Senegal achieved independence and some bright prosecutor, instructed by the Chancellory, had decided that the father had not demonstrated that he had French nationality and thus that the son had not aquired French nationality by descent from his father. While all this was going on, the soldier was refused leave to bring his fiancee and their children to live with him in France, as he was not regarded as being French, despite no legal judgement having been made against him. Luckily, the court of appeal of Rouen dismissed the affair once and for all, stating that had there been any question to raise, it should have been raised in the thirty years following the nationalisation in question and not dragged up now, over forty years later.

What could possess any prosecutor to bring such a case as this to court? I am fascinated by the indelicacy of attacking a man who is demonstrating his patriotism by his very action, fighting in what he regards as his country's army. Is there some sort of low level ethnic cleansing of the French army going on here?

I think it is rather more likely to be a decision born of the hysteria of the current debate on French nationality and a lick spittle subordinate trying to curry favour with the politicians who, through the Ministry of Justice, control his career prospects. Politicians like Eric Besson and Brice Hortefeux, who are busy trying to push the question of the nature of the French identity in the direction of a debate about immigration, conveniently close to the regional elections and mid term in a Sarkozy presidency which is rapidly losing its' allure.

It is a debate turning sour, but not without its' funny side. Martine Aubry, currently heading the Socialist Party, has condemned the Sarkozy camp for mixing immigration with the question of national identity, but has declared herself to be not only French but also Basque and proud to be both. First most people knew of her dual identity....she is known as the daughter of Jaques Delors, Eurofuhrer extraordinaire, and as a Parisian, so this sudden rise to prominence of her mother's side of the family seems just a little contrived. Might she not have pointed out the contrast betwen the treatment accorded a French soldier and that accorded a young footballer whose application for citizenship was, as he himself sunnily proclaims, assisted by the fact that he was wanted for the French national team despite having been born at sea of an Angolan mother and having no French affiliation whatsoever.

Perhaps I should change course at this point before I stand accused of mingling the question of national identity with that of national football. However, unable as always to read a compass, I shall maintain my speed and bearing and carry on regardless. Just how far does the French football team reflect the nature and aspirations of the French people? Surprisingly well, in my view.

When there is any physical work to be done, the French rely on the underclass to do it, preferably a foreign underclass, so the players qualify on this ground alone. They are reputed to be unable to make any independent decisions on the field of play - like whether to move from the left to the right leg - without the direction of the manager, so there again they reflect the state of affairs of the world of work in France where incompetent ill adapted managers attempt to control even the respiration rate of their staff.

The players, despite their lacklustre performance on the field, perform well with the mouth, thus displaying their inalienable French character, and, if any further proof were required, as we all now know, on the evidence of our own eyes if not those of the referee, they cheat. This has been confirmed by the great headbutter himself, Zidane, whose idea of support to Thierry Henri - the cheat in question - has been to proclaim that deliberately handling the ball goes on all the time, and it was just a shame that Henri had been caught doing it on film.

Since no one else has used the French national football team as an example of just how successful integration can prove to be, I will advance it as my contribution to the debate.

Just don't send them to fight in Afghanistan.