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 30 December 2010

Take down that tree house....Pericles doesn't like it.

Pericles' Funeral OrationImage via Wikipedia
You have been spending the winter break planning home improvements for next year and one project that interests you, now the children are old enough, is to build a tree house in that big oak at the edge of the lawn.

You look on the net for pictures and ideas, then, as enthusiasm grows, for technical details and potential suppliers of materials.
You settle on a design and place your orders, still on the net.

In late spring your materials arrive and you get to work...there are unforeseen problems but by mid June the project is completed and you stand back, well deserved glass in hand, feeling  proud of the results.

The children are delighted.

The summer visitors have been inviting themselves, as usual...the dates arranged by e mail...and the more adventurous want to sleep in the tree house. As the main house will be bursting at the seams all summer, you think this is a good idea and e mail back accordingly.

The first intrepid tree house lodgers arrive and all is going swimmingly until the arrival of the gendarmerie.

You have forty eight hours in which to take down the tree house.

Why? What's wrong? It's just a tree house for the kids!

Ah...but you have no planning permission, and anyway it is hazardous - just look at that rope ladder - and insalubrious - where is the loo? -  and you are lodging people in it, Madame d'Enculade saw them through her binoculars yesterday, so it has to come down in the interests of preventing unscrupulous landlords from taking advantage of disadvantaged people.

Further, this is no last minute have been planning to set this up for months.

Yes, of course, I was sourcing stuff on the net.

We know.

And the so called lodgers are friends who wanted to try it out.

We know.

How do you know?

Pericles told us.

Who the hell is Pericles?

Let us leave the scene and ask ourselves the same question.

Just who is Pericles?

Well the one that first comes to mind  is the Athenian politican of the fifth century B.C. who was responsible for enslaving the Greek colonies and lesser states under the yoke of his city in return for  'protection' from the Persians, responsible for the decline of his city by its involvement in the crippling Peloponnesian Wars against Sparta and responsible for the extension of voting rights in the city to the poorer classes.....just as long as they were not women, slaves or people with a foreign parent.
In other words, one of the fathers of democracy as we are taught to know it.

But he's dead, so it can't be this Pericles who is the gendarmerie's nark, their informant.

And it's unlikely to be Pericles, Prince of Tyre, as he seems to be all at sea and thus a most unlikely source.

So there must be another...and indeed there is.
Pericles is the information database to be set up in France by Loppsi 2.

Loppsi 2?

Something to do with flopsy bunny?

No. More like Mr. McGregor.
Legislation to secure the internal security of France.
Whatever that might mean.

What it seems to mean is that, using the suppression of paedophilia on the net as an excuse, the gendarmerie can decide...all on its introduce spyware on someone's computer for up to four months before being forced to involve a judge in the process.
The opinion of the gendarmerie is all that is required.....and given their interest in Facebook (here) I wouldn't give much for the chances of objective analysis when deciding whose computer to infiltrate.

You can picture the behind the never open gate and the net curtains, the gendarmerie gather.

Well, we'd better produce some figures...wouldn't do to look slack when the cuts are going on. Who have we got?

What about the ex senator...Sanshonte? With his interests you'd be bound to make a few discoveries....

Discoveries which we don't want to make. You're new here, you won't remember the job we had keeping that girl's father quiet....but if there's a chance of the Left getting into power in 2012 then might be handy....fine, go ahead but keep the reports in this carbon paper in the typewriter either.

So who else?

I wouldn't mind keeping my eye on my notaire...he's been sitting on my money for a month now....

No, I see what you mean...good idea...that's the notaires then. But no carbon paper either...O.K.?

So what about the foreigners?

Good idea, Lamerde! They could be up to anything! Even logging on to that subversive site French Leave...!
Or worse...Maitre Eolas!
And while you're at it, check them all out on Pericles...see if the buggers are paying their taxes or fiddling their healthcare, or if their kids have been backsquadded at school....

Thus the gendarmerie.....

Meanwhile as always with modern legislative processes, there is a core Bill, to which expedient measures will be tacked at the last minute...and Loppsi 2 is no exception.

Given the government's need to attract the Front National vote, measures aimed at non conformity with the French norm have been felt to be necessary so, attached to Loppsi 2 are measures which entitle a prefect...Paris's man in the evict people from housing which does not meet the hazardous, insabubrious, etc....which, while stated to be in the interests of tenants is actually aimed at squatters, travelling people and those who live in yurts.

I must admit that the latter are usually so self satisfied that I am almost with the government on this, but this is a purely subjective opinion  and must be overcome.

So, when you are planning that tree house remember...Pericles is watching you.

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Friday 24 December 2010

What I'm missing this Christmas

Is what used to be the high spot of the winter fruit bowl....a juicy, perfumed Passe Crassane pear, the tip of the stalk dipped in red wax to avoid evaporation......

And a few bunches of Chasselas grapes cut from the vine when just ripe and left with the stalks in water and the fruit supported on orange boxes until Christmas.
Edith showed me this and it will be the first Christmas for years that I won't be eating fruit from my own vines.

So I'll just have to make do with pineapple and guava....

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Test Post

Just a test as Blogger won't allow me to put up page posts and have tried everything I normally do without avail

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party...

First day of 2008 at the Elysée Palace 2Image by Ammar Abd Rabbo via Flickr
President Sarkozy's party, that is......and we're not talking a knees up in the Elysee Palace while Carla sings to a small guitar....

In the rush to break your leg on the ice in the supermarket car park on the news that Birds Custard powder has been sighted on the Exotic Produce shelf of super U you might be forgiven for not noticing that next year is 2011.
You'll worry about that next week, when the remains of the turkey have been surreptitiously given to the dog and you're again risking life and limb in the Super U car park for the whisky without which no New Year can be said to have properly arrived and the Jagermeister without which no January 1st can be safely negotiated.

What's so special about 2011?

Because it's the year before 2012.  Presidential election year in France.

So next year, 2011, President Sarkozy will be passing among you, pressing the flesh, in his bid to win a second term in the Elysee Palace as the candidate of the right wing UMP.

It isn't only the individual voter he has to is also his own party whose barons now see what a mistake they made in putting a potential reformer of their quaint Spanish practices into power and have spent the last three years stalling any initiative he tried to make, thus bringing themselves and Sarkozy into opinion poll disfavour.
They would love to ditch him...and he knows it, so he's coming out swinging in 2011 to remove any potential challenger from the ring.

Thus flesh pressing.

Not any flesh it must be said.

Sarkozy will not be passing among you at the vin d'honneur for the retirement of the local fire brigade sergeant, for example...too much risk of encountering people like Papy, over ninety - so might not make it to the election anyway - dressed in the traditional male fashion of rural France - battered plaid cap with, depending on the season, one or two layers of cardigan - and smelling strongly of medicinal spirits.

It is felt that a photograph of the President with Papy would attract only a limited section of the potential  electorate....and there is also the risk that Papy might ask the President to do something about replacing the 'cattle crossing' sign down the road from his farm which was removed in mysterious circumstances in 1992.
Sarkozy is known to be testy under such circumstances....and Papy has form as well.

No, the flesh to be pressed will be that of sections of the electorate who normally vote right wing but who have felt aggrieved at the action or inaction of the man they put into power.
This is a risky project.....
Go near a farmer whose spoon has been removed from the gravy and he is likely to throw something that spoils a good suit.....likewise a fisherman whose ability to scrape the very floor of the sea clean of fish has been limited.

So this is where you come in.

If you are a British immigrant, you will be anxious to assist the man who  has offered to rush to the defence of British interests (here) with his aircraft carrier that can't leave port without the propeller falling off or the crew being short of Alka Seltzer.

You will also be aware, because all the books on living in France have told you so, that there is only one thing in France that goes down better than integration and that is ingratiation.

So here is your chance to show your gratitude and get on the local Prefect's New Year card list.
Don't ring him just yet, though...he will have things on his mind.

The Prefects...and police chiefs....of France will probably be on their knees solidly over the festive season
a) praying that the President doesn't decide to press the flesh in their bailiwick
b) practising to get their heads on a level with his if he does.

Why this reluctance to welcome the Head of State?
Because he is somewhat testy....and, like Papy, has form.
Fail to sort out his mother in law's septic tank problem (here) and bang goes the pretty uniform and the grace and favour're still a Prefect, because being a public servant you can't be sacked, but your future lies in a cupboard in Limoges, where you will also find the police chief who let demonstrators within shouting distance of the Presidential convoy and the Prefect who provided only tall people to surround Sarkozy at a photo shoot.

It doesn't take much to upset him.
You may remember the matter of the voodoo dolls.
These Sarkozy lookalikes (not far off for size, either) were covered in quotes from his election campaign and were sold with a set of pins to stick into the said quotes.
The President was upset.
He had sole rights to his image...he said...and these dolls were next thing to an incitement to he sued.
An appeal court finally decided that a ban on the dolls would be going too far, in the interests of freedom of expression.....but did ordain that the manufacturers must provide the dolls with stickers warning that sticking pins into a presidential image was offensive to the presidential dignity.

Goodness only knows what would be his reaction if someone were to manufacture a squeaky rubber Sarkozy as a dog toy.

Those dog owners who lived under the rule of Mrs. Thatcher must remember that best selling line...the squeaky Thatcher.
The sheer joy of watching a dog rip her head off was worth the price.
On good weekends I'd buy two.

I can't see Thatcher worrying about the dog toys...probably the only reaction would have been to buy a couple to sit in for her for at  Cabinet Meetings so that she could go off to handbag  the European Union...but Sarkozy is sensitive and it is this sensitivity and the consequences of rousing it which will be ruining the digestion of highly placed public officials over Christmas.......for the visits start in January.

Two a week.

Apart from  making sure that there is no snow, there are two main imperatives for the visits.
The President must be surrounded by vertically challenged people and the said v.c.p.s must under no circumstances heckle.

The British, as so often,  have the solution and once the visit schedule is announced, you may ring the Prefect and put him out of his misery.

Garden gnomes.

They're small....imperative one.
They don't heckle...imperative two.

They have many varieties so it will be no problem to find one that is felt to be appropriate......

The ones with fishing rods for meetings with whatever the Chasse, Peche, Nature version of the Front National now calls itself.....

The portly ones for the meetings with the Chamber of Commerce.....

The  ones holding rakes and wheelbarrows for meeting with expenses claiming local councillors....

I strongly advise you, however, not to offer the Prefect the version photographed here as the President might feel that some allusion was being made to his wife's private life.

I have seen gnome moulds for sale on Anglo Info, so this will be a way for all those auto entrepreneurs who thought they had got out of paying the taxe professionelle only to fall foul of the tax on the value of their business premises to start saving for next year's thrilling fiscal innovation.

So, forget the board games by the fire over Christmas......nip into Brico Depot for cement and paint instead and get the family on the production line.

Your local Prefect will be eternally grateful.

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Tuesday 14 December 2010

Snowy scenes

Having just acquired an external hard drive I have been busy loading photographs onto it from the computer...I have lost the contents of too many computers in the past to risk it again and am inordinately pleased with myself for getting the thing to work.

Again, as with anything computer related which works, I am always grateful to Ayak, thanks to whose encouragement -  and instructions written so as to be understood rather than to totally mystify - I have now left behind the days of boiling my head and throwing heavy objects when faced with anything more complex than the capitals key.

Encouraged by my success with the photographs from the computer, I started to look through the boxes and envelopes of 'proper' photographs with a view to putting these too on the computer and then off to the hard drive, in case the tropical humidity gets to them one day and they turn into a mass of mouldy cardboard.

What a difference progress has made from the days of the Brownie and the snaps of people who seem to be either headless or legless....the costs of developing films of stuff out of focus...the light at the wrong angle...
Now I can see what I want to keep or discard on the digital camera and make a second choice when it gets to the computer and while I drooled at the possibilities opened up by the camera of one of our Belgian visitors, Anne-Mie - a Nikon D5000 which could zoom in and out and perform more tricks than a circus dog I think I'll stick to my little's about at my level of sophistication.
Press button ...take picture.  I can manage that.

Among the photographs were a few of my very first house in France.....some taken in summer with the swathe of  Monsieur Untel's larkspur running from the gates to the house and a couple taken in the winter against a looming sky...with snow on the ground.

Now, before moving to France I had never visited it in the dead of winter. Belgium, yes, in Ghent, freezing my feet to the ground while eating  frites with mayonnaise from a stand from which the ice had not melted despite the heat from the fryers, but not France.

As my first autumn ended, I was quite pleased with myself.
The house was reasonably draught-free, I had a woodburning stove and an open fireplace both with working chimneys and Jules had put me in the way of a trailer load of old barrel staves as well as the load of wood Monsieur Untel had negociated for me, so I was set.

I asked Papy about the winter.

Oh, nothing for you to worry're from England.

Wondering about the inchoate mass of supposition underlying that remark, but lacking the conversational capacity in Papy's patois to enquire further I carried on sawing up the barrel staves and putting off lighting the fire.

The autumn was golden and mild, ideal for beating the wilderness behind the house into a vegetable garden and it was not until just before Christmas that the evenings were chilly enough to make it desirable to have lit the stove in the afternoon for overall warmth with a burst in the open fire in the evening to make things cosy.
I found the remaining draughts, shut up the back door for the winter and stuffed fire retardant fibre round the edges of the register plates.
Things were going well.

Papy stopped on the crossroads and I remarked on the mildness of the climate for the time of year.

Oh, yes, always like that...haven't had snow for over ten years now...and then it was only for a day...

I remember thinking that all the stuff I had read about the mild climate of the Loire Valley - Atlantic weather pouring into it along the river to preserve it from the dreaded Continental climate - must have been true....which was about when, in early January, I woke in the dark hours of the early morning feeling like a leftover frite on the frozen cobbles of Ghent.

Never in all my puff had I been so cold.

It lasted for days...days when I realised that putting off insulating the roof until spring had been an error close to that of Hitler in not providing winter clothing for his troops invading Russia.

I moved my bed downstairs and blocked off the staircase.

I put pillows and duvets against the shuttered windows and boarded them in with packing cases.

I hung blankets against the doors.

I put more packing cases over the floors, where the chill was striking up through the tommettes.

I stuffed yet more cardboard round the water meter outside.

I moved a week's supply of wood inside to keep it warm and dry.

It felt like living in a dugout in Flanders...but without the whizzbangs.

Nothing moved post van, not even a tractor. Rural France had battened down the hatches.

I had started to worry about the wood supplies when one morning it felt milder and pulling back the blankets from the front door I stepped outside into a white world.
Snow had fallen, a heavy fall and I shot back inside for the camera.

It was while I was taking shots of the house that Papy passed again on the crossroads, his ancient Ami towing his granddaughter behind on skis which she was trying to keep inside one of his tyre tracks to maintain movement.

It was while trying to turn in time to take a photograph of such a sight that I tripped on the edge of the stone covering the water meter and measured my length in the snow, so that I have only memory to depend upon for the moment when winter sports came to St. Supplice.

Some days later, when the snow had melted, I met Papy again on the crossroads.

I thought you said it was always mild here.....!

Oh yes, it just get a cold snap now and again. Good for the crops...kills of all sorts of bugs and such.

Where did you get those skis from?

Up in the chateau, before he...with jerk of chin towards the chateau...took over. The six fesses used to go to the Alps every winter when they were young...I remember them driving to the station with the skis tied alongside the car.

You don't mean to say the six fesses (renowned for being as tight as a duck's arse) actually gave you them?

Well, no, of course not...but I knew they'd have no use for them...they were too poor to go to the Alps anymore..and it only snows here every ten years or so.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Gendarmes are cheap today....

GendarmesImage by caribb via Flickr
The less than edifying spectacle of the Bobigny Seven being sent down doesn't do much for the image of the police in France.

In short, these officers attempted to cover up injuring one of their number in a car chase by claiming that the perpetrator was the driver of the car they were pursuing.
They put their heads together, fabricated evidence and, having beaten up the designated victim, sought to charge him with the crime.

They have just been found guilty by the court at Bobigny and been sent the fury of their colleagues who have been demonstrating outside the court en masse, armed, as they are, to the teeth. is illegal to demonstrate wearing a mask...or burqua, come to that....but fine if armed.
After all, if it wasn't, the police would have broken it up, wouldn't they....?

You might think that higher authority would be pleased to have had some rotten apples removed from the barrel, but this is Sarkozy's France.....the Interior Minister, Monsieur Hortefeux, who boasts a criminal conviction for racist remarks, is shocked at the disproportionality of the sentences.

What lack of proportion does he discern?
The man they attempted to fit up risked a sentence of several years if found guilty.....these chaps received between six months and one year in the jug.

There seems to be an attitude on the part of authority that the police...and gendarmes (here).... are untouchable and unaccountable....a relic of the nineteenth century laws that made any employee of the state immune from prosecution unless his bosses in Paris agreed to it, the reason being that if people were allowed to prosecute the servants of the state the 'natural animosity' felt towards them would mean that they would not be able to take a step without the fear of prosecution.

It has a sort of French logic to it, I suppose.

Still, bad publicity shouldn't be allowed to cover up the sterling work done by the forces of law and order.....

Leaving the occupants of illegal gypsy camps to steal  anything not nailed to the ground for miles around while breathalysing pensioners on their way home from Sunday lunch with the family......

Refusing to come out to an incident of damage to a car and then arresting the complainant for outrage when he came to their heavily guarded fortress and was rash enough to complain to his mother on his mobile 'phone that they weren't interested in his little problems.....
Didn't their mothers ever tell them that listeners never hear any good of themselves, or did they take the maternal warning as an encouragement to up the rate of arrests for outrage?

Still, somebody loves them.

Andre, retired plumber, keen cyclist and president of the committee organising the annual cycle race round the local villages which attracts quite a few sponsored teams.

I was talking to his wife on Skype and she said that he is in despair about the 2011 race.


Because the price of the gendarmes is going up.

Suppressing the cynical thought that it was a bit much if the tariff for buying a gendarme was public knowledge  I sought enlightenment.

Well, for the insurance, there have to be gendarmes to control things....the sponsors' cars and all that...and the busier crossings.....

Interjection from Andre

Like when that godon of a rosbif nearly drove through the peloton!

Reference being made to the never-to-be-forgotten-by-Andre incident when  Mr. Poubelle, supremely self confident English expat, mistook the frantic waving of one of the race marshals for tribute to his status and, giving a royal wave, crossed the junction in one direction about two seconds before the first of the riders arrived on it at right angles.

As the rider said later
I could see myself in his car window...getting bigger and bigger....

And...wife resuming control of the telephone....they've been 2 Euros an hour for years and now they're going up to 12.4!

Only in France would a fee go up to something involving a decimal place...there must be one of those curses of France, a coefficient, in there somewhere.

And it'll be 20 Euros by 2014...Andre's had a circular from his association about it!

Well, that race has been going for years...but it's not a major event in the cycling world and it usually just about manages to break even, so an increase in the gendarme bit of the budget is going to hit the organisers really hard.
With local government already suffering the demise of the taxe professionelle and the influx of civil servants from central government to local government budgets there's not that much public money about for events, know it's serious when the local council won't pay for the vin d' it's no good Andre looking for an increase in the subsidy - he'll be lucky if it isn't reduced.
Local firms are feeling the pinch's not a good outlook.

I have an idea...but no one would take it's just wishful thinking on my part.

If the gendarmerie would nip out on a Sunday and instead of breathalysing pensioners start handing out tickets to the lycra clad perverts who ride their bikes four abreast on the main road so that you can't overtake them and are forced to watch their multi coloured backsides jiggling about for miles, and if the money so raised could go to paying the gendarmes for their presence at the cycle race then Andre and his committee would be happy and the roads of rural France would be free of that crime against aesthetics, the French Sunday cyclist.

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Thursday 2 December 2010

Are you ready for the seventh of December?

Eric Cantona (Manchester United Museum)Image by edwin.11 via Flickr
Tuesday the seventh of December 2010 is when you can make a stand.

You are, no doubt, somewhat less than appreciative of government action which preserves the ability of bailed out banks to pay vast bonuses to the crooks they employ at the expense of the general taxpayer...who is, no doubt, suffering from the said banks' unwillingness to advance one kopek of the money garnered from said taxpayer to assist same in promoting its business affairs despite the general creditworthiness of the taxpayer concerned.

Eric Cantona has a suggestion.

You remember Eric Cantona...surely?

The footballer whose psychoanalyst suggested that he play football in England rather than in France after calling each and every member of the French Football Federation  'an idiot' at  a disciplinary hearing after throwing the ball at the referee on disagreeing with that august person's decision....he got a three month suspension rather than the one month normal on such abnormal occasions..
I reckon the panel was lucky he that he wasn't  carrying his football boots at the time of the hearing given his reactions to disappointment while he played for Nimes.

He then played in the English Football League with much success..the English are used to eccentrics...until, after being sent off for a foul that managed to attract a referee's attention, he encountered some antagonism in the crowd which he countered by a Kung Fu kick...

Subsequent media attention was countered with the quote

'When seagulls follow the trawler  its because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.'
This alone tells you that he was French footballer, not an English one, even though his family's origins are in Sardinia and that he, from an immigrant family, was a forerunner of the famous 'Black, Blanc, Beur, (Black, White, Mahgrebi) team which won the World Cup in 1998.
The team which was supposed to represent the triumph of integration of foreigners into French society.

Just don't look at the Paris suburbs since.

Well,since his glory days Cantona  has appeared in many commercials, has been a small part film actor and has produced a film himself.

Cantona has reacted to the economic crisis too....

He is of the opinion that the lack of  effective control of the banks...because the big banks control governments...has let banks, rather than governments control economic the detriment of the average chap.

Well the IRA could have told him that banks control governments years ago...recent experience just confirms it.

The IRA contested British control of Northern Ireland...and they took  heed of the  tenets of public international  law, which lays down characteristics which enable a state to be recognised as such....control of its borders, taxation, police functions - thus the kneecapping operatives and slush finds - but finding this not to be sufficient, they attacked the British mainland.

I have never been altogether clear which bombings were the work of the IRA and which were the work of British security services....and Wikileaks wasn't around at the time to enlighten me....but one of the few happy memories of the time was the picture of the cabinet ministers emerging from 10 Downing Street after the IRA had landed a mortar bomb in the garden of the Prime Minister's official residence, launched through the roof of a builders' van from a road nearby.
They all looked as though a swift change of underwear would have been in order and I remember thinking that a few more near misses might make them a little less happy to send poor people's children off to fight America's wars.

However, attacking civilians in pubs or government ministers in their bunkers brought no the IRA turned their attention to the City of London...home of the banks and the financial services industry.

Two bombs in the City was all it took to bring the British government to heel.
A more impressive demonstration of the power of the bankers could not have been desired.....

Until the round of bail outs in recent years.

Anyway, Eric Cantona has had enough of banks... their greed, their criminality and their deleterious effects on society.
Not for him demonstrating in the streets, though.
He, being French, knows just what a con that is apart from which he doesn't have a union to design the placards. (here)

He  has a much better idea.

If everyone were to withdraw their money from the banks, he says, the banks would collapse.
This would be, in the words of 1066 and All That, a Good Thing and Utterly Memorable.

He wants everyone to go to their bank on Tuesday the seventh of December and withdraw their ukkers.
The idea being that if everyone does it on the same day the banks can't play pass the parcel and shore each other up while waiting for governments to ride to the rescue once again.

Fiendishly clever, Monsieur Cantona....and you notice it has a very French twist to it.

I suspect that Monsieur Cantona is a customer of Credit Agricole....which generally does not open on Mondays.

So, get that mattress slit's hour has come!

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Saturday 27 November 2010

Humbug...but don't put it on Facebook.

Project 365 -27 270109 Bah, Humbug! (3231534159)Image via Wikipedia
You may have decided that all the commercial hype of Christmas is not for garish lights on your house, making all visitors to the front door resemble something from a zombie film extravagant presents dropped in your friends' gardens from diamond studded obligatory parties where someone will inevitably want to use the swimming pool even if it has been emptied for the Christmas holiday in the Bahamas to get away from all of the above and annoy your friends and family who have been counting on you doing all of the above.

You're going to have a quiet family Christmas at home with home made presents and Kings College nine lessons and carols on the radio and you've already started knitting the dog a festive bone.

Now, if you live in France, whatever you do, do not encourage others to follow your example...and certainly not on Facebook, or you risk a visit from the bold gendarmes inviting you to spend the festive season with them instead of with your family.

French courts have  a tendency to believe that what is posted on Facebook is not a private but a public matter...(here)...which can mean that posting what you would like to have said to the gendarme when he gave you a speeding ticket will be treated exactly as if you had said it to the gendarme concerned and you risk being jugged, while moaning about your boss or your firm on Facebook  can lead to the boss or firm deciding that you have incited rebellion....wonderful, the French vocabulary at times...among the downtrodden workers on their thirty five hour week with two hour lunch breaks and regular 'ponts' - bridges - to link one public holiday with another and you will be dismissed and sent to live under the pont d'Avignon rather than dancing upon it.

Why would it matter that you have encouraged others to follow your example in turning your backs on the hype of Christmas?

Because you are encouraging people to boycott Christmas.

And boycotting stuff can be illegal in France...according to the Chancellerie....the bit of the French government that controls the prosecutors, those independent magistrates whom the European Court of Human Rights declare to have no independence of government whatsoever.

These prosecutors have been encouraged to crack down on any manifestation  of  public incitement to discrimination against a nation....for fear of retaliation by the nation concerned it appears, though this is well submerged in the blurb which attempts to use legislation directed at incitement to racism or sexism to justify repression of boycotts aimed at particular countries.

Recently, a legislator, a senator I believe, was hauled up for invading a supermarket and encouraging a boycott of Israeli products in protest against the spread of Israeli settlements on the West Bank.....this was supposed to be and was treated as equivalent to racism.

How would the prosecutors have handled the boycott of South African products in the era of apartheid?
What about boycotting Chinese products on the grounds of its treatment of Tibet?
Or on the grounds of its use of slave and child labour?

Independent as they claim to be, with one voice they would prosecute any incitement to boycott products on these grounds, although the legislation upon which such a prosecution depends was created to attack the very basis of the policies which attract the wish to boycott the products of these regimes.

But Christmas has no is universal - except for some U.K. local councils who seem to believe that it offends non Christians - so you run no risk if you encourage your friends to follow your example.

Hah! This is France!

Now, the French claim to be a logical nation...if you overlook the strange nature of some of their let us approach this in the spirit of French logic, just as the independent French prosecutors will do.

Any fule kno that Father Christmas lives in the North Pole.

Any fule also kno that Russia has been laying claim to said Pole by hammering national flags into the seabed under said Pole.

Thus, Christmas is Russian.

Your statement of opposition to the hype of Christmas and your encouragement of others to oppose it likewise is thus incitement to boycott Russian products......and thus falls within the remit of the, no advice...given to the public prosecutors.

Whatever you do, when the gendarmes come to arrest you, do not resist arrest.
Even if you can't breathe because the gendarme has his arm across your not bite him.
The independent prosecutors are not interested in your little problems.

And why would France be worried about Russian retaliation for your defiance of Christmas hype?

Look whose hand is on the gas taps of Europe.

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Wednesday 24 November 2010

Calendar time again

French iconImage by pedrosimoes7 via Flickr
About this time of year, if you live in rural France, you lay in stocks of aperitif biscuits and booze and keep a store of twenty euro notes at hand.
It is calendar time, when every organisation from the football club to the fire brigade presents you with their offering, varying from what resembles a group of wild-eyed psycho killers...the football heroic figures dealing in masterful fashion with the Towering Inferno...the fire brigade.
It is tactful to press some of the folding stuff into the hands of their representatives as they take their leave as one devoutly wishes to be spared a visit from the psycho killers and not to be ignored in one's hour of need by the fire brigade.

I was thinking of this when the fishmonger handed me a calendar of stupendous proportions to add to those from the agricultural co-operative, the local supermarket, the garage and the Red Cross, who handle all the ambulance work in Costa Rica...and a great deal more besides..

The first time my husband was taken ill in France, many years ago, the doctor called up an ambulance but as it was lunchtime on a Sunday, it took two hours before it arrived and there was no provision for  a stretcher.
The driver drove and his assistant held on to my husband, by now entering a coma, while they drove for one hour to the local hospital.

I was not allowed to accompany them, and had to follow behind.

At the local hospital, I did manage to see the emergency room doctor and explain the situation.

The hospital did not have the appropriate facilities to treat him.

Another ambulance was summoned.....but there was a delay as the ambulances available did not have oxygen on another hour was lost.

Once again, I could not travel in the ambulance.

Finally he reached a major hospital which could treat him but, in large part down to the delays in waiting for ambulances to arrive, he had suffered major damage and had to spend over a month in hospital.

I was not impressed.

Another moan about public services?
Not at all.
These were the private ambulance services which at that time had a complete monopoly on the  transport of patients, except in the case of road accidents.

They usually double as taxi companies....and each company holds the monopoly on service for its area, so if you think 'Taxis Merdiques' offers a rotten service..... too bad. 'Taxis Merdiques' is what you're stuck with.

Sit in any French hospital waiting room and you will see as many white coated ambulance/taxi drivers as patients, as in many cases the cost of transport to hospital by ambulance/taxi can be claimed back under the health insurance scheme, so one day you are sitting alongside Madame d'Enculade and her taxi driver in the orthopaedic department and the next day she is cutting you out of a parking space at Leclerc...driving herself.

The ambulance theme continued when I returned from shopping to find an e mail from Guy with all the local gossip.

Apparently, the ambulance companies regional confederation had held its annual meeting at which the owners of these companies let rip in no uncertain manner.

They claimed that the fire brigade, in order to cover up for lack of activity in fighting fires and rescuing people generally, were poaching on the preserves of the ambulance companies by taking people to hospital!

Shock horror! What is the world coming to when a monopoly is not respected!

The whole thing is a nonsense.

For a start, most of the fire brigade personnel in rural parts are volunteers, who give up a great deal of their time to train and practice for the task of helping people in danger.
There is no way that these men and women want to take time off from running their businesses in order to poach clients from Taxis Merdiques.

And as far as I can see, there is the usual rate of arson, gas explosions and accidents, so hardly a lack of activity for the fire brigade to need to cover up.

The fire brigade are, not surprisingly, livid.

Their point of view is that if they are called by the SAMU...the medical co ordinating transfer someone to hospital, it is because there is no one else available to do it....Taxis Merdiques being otherwise engaged in running children to and from school under their contract with surrounding communes.
In those circumstances, the fire brigade is carrying out its legal duty to come to the assistance of the population and far from trying to take custom away, the fire brigade, snowed under as it is, would be only too delighted if Taxis Merdiques could get their act together and carry out the business in which they hold a monopoly.

So what is all this about?

I think it may all stem from the increasing problem of health cover in rural areas.
Doctors don't want to live out in the sticks any more and as their numbers decrease those that are left either don't have the time or don't have the inclination to make house calls.

The rural population is elderly...though it seems that young people are starting to return to rural areas as the nature of work changes.....and reluctant to go to the doctor's surgery, having been brought up in the age where the doctor came to them.

A doctor on a house call would automatically call Taxis Merdiques to take his patient to hospital but nowadays the patient - doctorless - is likely to call the SAMU who, if they decide that hospitalisation is called for will not wait around if all Taxis Merdiques' drivers are otherwise engaged but will summon up the fire brigade.
They have targets to meet and ensuring the profitability of Taxis Merdiques is not one of them.

You can see why the ambulance companies are uptight, though.
The ambulances cost money.
The staff need a high standard of training.
Given French employment law, they try to keep staff to a minimum, so urgent calls can conflict with their contract jobs.
And everyone carted away by the fire brigade is a payment missed.

It is the usual way things happen in system super-imposed on another with no thought for the contradictions.

And, as usual in France, no one dares root and branch reform because of the many vested interests involved. Just look at the pensions fiasco if you need proof of that.

All I can suggest is that when the fire brigade come calling with their Christmas calendars the ambulance companies make a very generous donation......they might need a fireman some day.
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Thursday 18 November 2010

Abroad thoughts from home....

The Country Parson (cinema 1915)Image by New York Public Library via Flickr
I may be the other side of the ocean, but as I haven't sold the house yet, I still have concerns in France.

If only one of these gentlemen who have stashed away loot while fighting the Taliban, or who have inherited millions from African officials with sticky fingers would just produce some of it and buy the place I could rest easy.
Mark you, the other day I had a follow up letter from one of them asking anxiously if I did not trust which I cannot yet trust myself to reply.

Things go from bad to worse.

 I apparently now have to have an energy rating to put on any advertisement for the house.
Given that I call it Wuthering Heights you can imagine the rating I'm going to get...despite insulating the entire roof, double glazing all except the few windows with the original glass remaining and draught proofing everything in self defence.

My new agent...a delightful woman...tells me gloomily that the inspectors downgrade everything that is not dry lined and I have to agree with her assessment given that when I sold the small house the bank providing the loan wanted the house dry lined even though the stone walls were a metre thick!

The inspection, like all inspections in the property sector in France, has nothing to do with reality.
It is just another form of tax.
I gather from the same agent that the chaps doing the lead inspections are now getting cancers from the machines they are using...and no, I'm not saying
Serve them right.
It is dreadful that it is happening....and all for what? Detecting the presence of lead under five coats of paint.

Dry lining this house, all four floors of it, would not only be expensive in the extreme, but would completely ruin the dimensions of the rooms....and it is not necessary.
Still, that won't deter the inspector from downgrading the house.

Then there is the tax situation.

In order to prevent hardship on the part of those who have vast property holdings and little ready cash...probably because they've salted it away looks like the wealth tax...Impot de Solidarite sur la going to be abolished next year.

I do hope you are all much moved and grateful to Sarkozy, abolishing at a stroke the necessity for rich old ladies to nip down to the pawn shop with the family jewels in order to pay their taxes.

I do hope you will be equally grateful when you discover that to make up the shortfall Sarkozy intends to push up Capital Gains Tax!

I have to keep an eye on this as at some point the taxman will declare the house as no longer qualifying as my principal residence and thus subject to Capital Gains Tax at the point of sale....and increased Capital Gains Tax at at that!

What I really need is to be bought out by an institution looking for a country annexe to house disturbed teenagers from the Paris suburbs, which would add a certain spice to life in the locality......but even then I expect the 'norms' would require that the walls were dry lined before said teenagers could legally be installed.

And on top of all this, my septic tank has not yet been inspected.
Were I Parson Woodeforde I might say that the subject of sewage disposal rises oft in this blog (here), (here) and (here)...and those are just the posts I remember....but given the circumstances it is not surprising.

The European Union has given France a deadline for cleaning up its water, and sewage disposal is included in this programme.
Thus water boards have been sending out inspectors to see what's what and to force people with inadequate systems to upgrade them.

This has roused both opposition and emotion in rural areas where since the year dot we have been paying a tax on our water bills for the installation of mains drainage from which we do not benefit.

Further, the inspectors turned out to have
a) a hidden agenda in that  enough installations had to be found to be in good order to avoid the water board being obliged to install mains drainage
b) some very strange methods of assessing the installations in review.
Some people had them crawling about with phials of red and blue colourant, others could just give their word that their tank was O.K. and some were told that all was well when they didn't have a septic tank at all.

Assosciations were founded and started taking a strong line with authority...not a common phenomenon in rural France.
They decided that their adherents would be out when the inspectors called.
This resulted in the initial fee of 85 Euros being raised to 170 Euros when the inspectors came back, catching adherents on the hop.

Some more enlightened local authorities decided to bite the bullet and install mains drainage.....all very well until they looked at their budgets after the loss of the income from the Taxe Professionelle and the drain on resources of welcoming civil servants whose pay had been shifted from central to local government.
So some communes find that because the local authority had not scheduled putting in the mains before the end of 2010...when the service was free.....their inhabitants will be paying for the installation...despite paying for mains drainage already in their water bills since the year dot, as mentioned above.

The inhabitants affected are not totally happy with this state of affairs and are asking where the principle of equality comes in....they can ask away all they like, equality in France is limited to one of the words over the door of the Mairie.

But the poor inspectors are still doing their rounds in the unenlightened local authority areas and have come up with real opposition.
My correspondent in the village next to the one in which the incident took place tells me that they descended upon the property of an elderly couple and stated their intention of starting the inspection process.

The pensioners said

No they were not.

Yes they were.

No they were not.

Who's going to stop us?

The last reply was where they went wrong, it seems.

Roused to wrath by the defiance, hard words were exchanged, the way to the septic tank was barred and blows were exchanged.

The water board says that the pensioner slapped the inspector who then retaliated.

The village gossip says that the inspector threw a punch and the pensioner slapped the inspector.

Both sides have complained to the gendarmerie.

No septic tank inspection took place.

So far, pensioners 15,  inspectors love.

Why am I bothered about whether my septic tank has been inspected?

Because my keyholder does not live alongside the house and  if the inspectors turn up without his knowledge my neighbour is very likely to do a deal with them by which his total lack of sewage disposal will be certificated as being in the norms while mine won't be....even though it is.

This is, after all, France, where form is more important than substance and the figures have to be made up somehow.
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Wednesday 17 November 2010

The bold gendarmes..

GendarmesImage by Elsemiguel via Flickr
Crime is everywhere.....

We have just returned from making a series of appointments at the main hospital in San Jose...San Juan de Dios. It is a confusing place on first sight, a city within a city, and while we managed to find the first three sections we had to visit, the fourth was a total puzzle.

We found the chapel.....we found a Spanish Colonial building with a central garden full of doctors smoking frantically under the palms....we found a room of derelict beds...but when we had passed the same security guard for the third time we knew it was time to seek help.
We stuck our noses in through the next open door we found and explained the problem.

After a few moments a gentleman who spoke impeccable English emerged and took us to the appropriate department, dealt with the appointment system and led us back to civilisation.

On the way we passed a back gate giving out onto a park which would have been a convenient exit for the shopping we had planned to do but our guide shook his head.

Much too dangerous. Too many young men sleeping rough in that park...drugs....robberies...
I'll take you back to the main entrance.

Which he did.
They worry about crime in San Jose.

On returning home, there was an e mail from a friend in France giving the news.

One of the local bars had just been burgled and five thousand Euro's worth of tobacco had been stolen...mark you, given the plunge in the value of the Euro following Ireland's latest bit of brinkmanship that is probably seven and a half thousand Euro's worth by now.

I know that bar.
When I first moved to the commune it was run a an elderly gentleman whom I thought of as Pinkerton as he never seemed to sleep.
If you wanted cigarettes at five in the morning...he was open.
If the urge for a beer took you at one in the morning....he was open.
He made a fortune and sold out to a dismal character who thought of the bar as a plaything...
If he slept in, the bar was closed until he woke up....
If he went away for the weekend, the bar was closed....
Not altogether surprisingly, custom drifted away to the other bar, the one on the square, which had also managed to take over the tobacco monopoly from Pinkerton... a fact he had mysteriously not disclosed to Monsieur Dismal.

One Sunday the dismal one had had enough. He filled a bucket with stones and headed for the bar on the square to do execution on its windows (here) and shortly after vanished from the scene.

The bar was unsold for quite a while and then there was a flurry of activity.
The bar on the square changed hands and the other one opened again....with the tobacco monopoly. I do not even pretend to know how this was arrived at, but this was the case.

The new proprietor was a thin man hiding behind a moustache which was a cross between Viva Zapata and Asterix the Gaul who did not open the doors until late morning and kept them...or some of until dawn.

His daytime crowd were the local hillbillies....specialists in fast cars and slow women.
A friend once dropped in there for cigarettes one afternoon and came out faster than he went in.

It's like in the westerns, he said.

You go in and as soon as the door opens all conversation falls silent and every head swivels towards you.
It makes you think of 'Deliverance'.
Only worse....they all look alike.

Well, they would. The local hillbillies don't mix or mate with anyone whose grandmother their grandfather had not known in the Biblical sense.

In the evening, the lights would go on in the annexe next to the bar and cars and motorbikes bearing exotic numberplates.....from the next department, that is....would start to arrive.
The music would start and the nightmare begin for the neighbours.
Motors revving, horns blaring and the unbearable 'thump thump' of the bass going on until just before dawn.
These were the night owls.

Everyone complained to the maire....who took no notice.
Then they complained to the gendarmerie....who occasionally came by during hillbilly hour and noted nothing out of the ordinary.

The baker, the producer of razor edged slabs of concrete made from readymix, went round to complain.
He was rewarded by two hours of a car horn concerto.

Then things became quieter.
The annexe was still open, but things started to change. The cars were more expensive. The motorbikes were Harley Davidsons. The clientele were now mainly from the regional capital, over an hour away by car.
What could be tempting these sophisticates from their local bars and nightclubs to drive to a one horse dorp after dark?

The postlady had her suspicions which were confirmed when some young men from the village who frequented the annexe after dark were found in possession of drugs in the local town.

Normally, the police and gendarmerie go mad once they have seized drugs....the press is full of their derring do in seizing a fingernail sized packet of marijauna estimated at some astronomical street value from someone unlucky enough to have been caught in a breath test.

They go mad before they have seized them too.
I was around when two rival gendarmerie outfits staked out a field of marijuana in the commune in which I then lived, which was on the border between two departments and, co incidentally, between two regions.
As anyone living in rural France knows, there is a total blackout on communication between can't even find out if there is a vide grenier in the village down the road but just over the demarcation line without 'phoning someone who lives on the other side, and communication between public authorities is the same.
So one department's gendarmerie were staking out one set of access roads, and the other the other...and never the twain did meet.
They were waiting for the moment when the crop would be harvested.
Once the first cut was made, both forces rushed in, men in flak jackets with megaphones and dogs, while the chap responsible escaped in the melee.
It then turned out that he was growing it under licence.

In the case of these young men, however, it was decided not to prosecute.
One factor in this decision could have been that one of them was the son of a local notable.....but it was interesting that no enquiries were made of the owner of the visits from the nothing.

It was rather similar to the lack of action when the supermarket booze shelves were being emptied regularly on the weekends.....the gendarmerie seemed to be very loathe to pursue the matter.

The booze thefts finally stopped when the supermarket franchise holder and a couple of friends locked themselves into the premises for the weekend.
They found that someone else had had the same idea.
The owner of the key cutting kiosk in the gallery of shops in the same building.
Once collared, something else became clear.
The gendarmerie were not interested because they were getting a cut of the haul.

Now, the postlady could not say that the gendarmerie were getting a cut of whatever was going on at the bar, after all, they were not responsible for the decision not to prosecute, but she reckoned, from the lack of interest in the earlier disturbances, that they were certainly getting a cut of something.

And if that shocks you, you know very little about the gendarmerie in the quiet, out of the way areas of France.

Still, having had a break in at the bar, they are appealing for witnesses.
They'd be lucky!

I can remember when I had not long been in France that a gang drove a bulldozer into the square of the next village and straight into the Post Office, where they pulled the safe into its bucket and drove off.
How many witnesses do you think there were from that square of fully inhabited houses?

Any more than when the owner of the local petrol station was held up at gunpoint for his takings.....or the owner of the hardware store some months later....which explains why the village now has no Post Office, no petrol station and no hardware store.

Nothing goes unobserved in rural France.....Maurice Genevoix's claim that whatever you are doing is being observed from under the visor of a cap is accurate in my experience....but not much is said openly either.
Particularly not to the gendarmerie.
You never know who might be related to the person or persons you saw.
Or you know all too well.

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Sunday 7 November 2010

All things being equal...

Paris RestaurantImage by squarejer via Flickr
I had been in Paris, running between the French Foreign Ministry, the British Consulate and the Costa Rican Consulate prior to going on to London to run between the Costa Rican Consulate and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office...which for my purposes was in Milton Keynes....before returning to Paris to run to the Costa Rican Consulate again, in order to get all the appropriate papers stamped, signed and recorded in order to apply for residence in Costa Rica.
As it turned out I was lucky to have made the acquaintance of both the Costa Rican consuls at this point as I would later be in dire need of their assistance.

Now in London I was fed, wined and lodged by a good friend, but in Paris I was on my own.

I hadn't thought it would be difficult. I had booked two nights in hotels via the Paris Tourist Board website, each for one night as the first had no vacancies for my second night and found the first hotel delightful...I had a four poster bed in a room which overlooked the garden of another hotel...there was free internet...and a nice Italian restaurant on the corner....which was as far as I felt like moving after a day of  queuing, paying and queuing, not to speak of getting past the Costa Rican Consulate's security system.

They should patent it.

On arrival, you mount the steps to find that there is an intercom system mounted on the wall to your controls the gates which bar your access to the building. Except that unless you are built like a basketball player you can't reach the thing.
Because of the gates.

This was a puzzler. I do not have a mobile 'phone, so could not telephone to ask the inmates for assistance and the hours at which the public were admitted were drawing to a close.

What to do? Throw rocks at the window?
No chance...since 1968 the Paris municipal authorities have replaced cobble stones with takes more energy than a student possesses to chip up a chink of that and hurl it at the police.

The street was deserted...people say Paris is a collection of villages and this bit of it resembled one of those villages where all the shutters are closed and the only sign of life is the gleam of eyeballs in the shadows behind.
I was in luck, though. An elderly lady approached...she was also going to the Consulate. She had an umbrella with which she deftly poked the appropriate button, shouted when the disembodied voice answered and the gates opened.
We were in.
I made sure I had an extensible ruler in my bag for the return trip.

Having since seen Costa Rica in the rainy system, all is now clear.
Every Costa Rican worth his or her salt carries an umbrella - for when, not if, it rains.

The system installed at the Paris Consulate is thus designed with Costa Ricans in mind...who carry umbrellas and will have no problem.
It must be a first test towards residency.

I was ready to move hotels the next day when I thought I'd check the Internet.
There was a most unwelcome message.
The hotel to which I was about to remove myself had cancelled my booking.
The booking I had made a week earlier.
Through the Paris Tourist Board.

I imagine that I gave tongue as the receptionist came over to see what was going on and was most sympathetic. She would ring round and see what she could find.
In less than five minutes she came back. She had found a hotel...her nephew worked there....the porter would take me round and it was only one street away.
It turned out to be the hotel of whose garden I had had a view the previous day, was cheaper than the one I had booked originally and was very comfortable...even if there was no four poster.

Let no one say Parisians are not kind and helpful, especially if they happen to be Algerian.

I got through the rest of my business in Paris, took the Eurostar to London - and the sooner they replace that shoddy, overcrowded specimen with a decent German train the better - and dealt with the paperwork at that end.
I returned to Paris on the shoddy overcrowded specimen, enlivening the journey by an encounter with a young woman on boarding the train.

There is a sort of flow system in the carriage and she was coming against it, which is all very well if you only have bodies to deal with, but I had luggage... my overnight bag and a large bag well stuffed with knickers  and stuff from Primark.

I had seen Costa Rican knickers on previous visits...they varied between items so scanty that you could not make a decent pocket handkerchief from ten of them to things wonderfully labelled as 'bloomers senora' into which you could fit ten ladies. So, to tide me over until I could investigate further....Primark.

The young woman was making progress, but I could see that there would be a problem when she got to me...behind me I had a queue of other passengers and my overnight bag...the seats each side of the aisle alongside me were occupied...the knickers were in front.
There really is not much room on the Eurostar.

But there was an option...between us, one of the aisle seats was unoccupied so I suggested she nip in there...being more manoeuvrable as it were...frigate to my oil that I could pass and unblock the gangway.
With a toss of the head she kept on coming....what on earth she was thinking of was beyond me. What could there be to object to in ducking out of the aisle for a moment?

Well, a pretty young thing with a vanity case will get away with this with the weaker sex - men - but not with a crabby old bat with a bag of knickers and half a coachload of passengers backed up behind her.
She received a firm but not violent rugby hand-off amidships with the knickers which put her into the vacant space and I went on my way while her angry voice squawked

Do you mind!

Which gave me the one and probably the only chance I will ever have to utter the immortal line from 'Gone with the Wind'

Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

And neither did I.

There was no worry about being arrested by the guard, either...they're never to be seen when hooligans are around.

I reached Paris without further incident and I had promised myself one last lunch in the City of Light before heading for home on the afternoon train.

Normally I would have gone to Chartier, which, touristy hell that it is, I love.
The food is solid, traditional French, the wine is drinkable, the cheese for some reason is always out of this world and the waiters don't have attitude.

But I had had a recommendation for a place off the Champs Elysee...not frightfully expensive...from a foody friend, so I thought I would give it a try.
A last fling, as it were.

I found it, was shown to a table and a waiter appeared with a menu within a few minutes.
I was thirsty after the journey and asked for some water, tap water, while I made up my mind what to order.
It did look an interesting menu, after all.

The waiter reappeared...with a bottle of mineral water which he was about to open when I stopped him.

No, Monsieur, I asked for tap water.

Yes, but Madame will not enjoy tap water with her meal.

Madame was not intending to stick to water with her meal.

The tap water is not recommended for the palate.

The wine will cure that.

Madame, as a foreigner, does not understand the subtleties of French cuisine.

Madame, as a foreigner, knows very well she will be charged for mineral water while tap water is free.

Madame, as a foreigner, does not have the same sense of values as the French.

Madame, as a foreigner, entirely shares the French system of values when it comes to money and she is not paying for what she does not want and did not order.

Madame, as a foreigner, does not understand the classless nature of France....where a client doesn't think themself too grand to accept the recommendations of the waiter.

Madame foreigner or not, understands all too well the nature of France and is not going to be talked into buying water she does not want even if by so doing she contributes towards the income of the doubtless underpaid waiter.

Madame, coming from a class ridden society, does not understand the spirit of equality in France....a French client understands that they and the waiter are on the same footing, combining to produce an agreeable dining experience.

Madame does not see any problem in achieving an agreeable dining experience once she gets the water she asked for and is able to order her meal.

Madame does not understand that in France everyone is equal....from the Revolution of 1789!

Madame has news for you. When the National Assembly of 1789 debated the franchise it was decided, among other measures, that servants should not be eligible to vote. And that included waiters.

While he was digesting that one I picked up my knickers and left the establishment.
Clearly, no agreeable dining experience would be in the offing.
Which was a shame as the menu looked interesting.

The queues by now at Chartier would be too great to give me time for lunch if I were not to miss my train so I grabbed something that called itself ciabatta at Montparnasse railway station on the way home which made me bless the skills of my dentist and gave me indigestion.

If only I had understood, after all these years in France, how to obtain an agreeable dining experience.......

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Thursday 4 November 2010

I'm outta here....

(If You're Not in It for Love) I'm Outta Here!Image via Wikipedia
With apologies for the misuse of the lyrics..

If I'm not in it for life.....

If I'm not in it for love......

If I'm not in it for all I've got.....

I'm outta here.

And over the last few years, with my friends dying off, my husband exploited as a guinea pig in the hospital where he had been treated for years, the scandal of water pollution and the unpleasantness of some in the expat community then I am clearly no longer into France for life, nor for love and I'm giving it nothing more.

I'm not alone in this....I was lucky enough to have known the rural France where people helped each other from sheer necessity....where Republican values still counted...where the winter evenings were spent among neighbours instead of being isolated in front of the television...not idyllic, not ' A Year in Provence', but a real life in a real community.

As the years passed and life became easier, so did the sense of solidarity weaken....'chacun tire la couverture a soi'...everyone pulls the blanket over themselves and to hell with the more and more people can afford the blankets.
Everyone who earns two sous more than did his parents thinks he is rich..and assimilates his interests to those of the real rich, who give their payments to the political parties in brown envelopes.
Jealousy, that bane of French life, is given free rein as there is less and less need of co operation.

Didier complains that no one in his hamlet wants to continue the little 'fetes'..the ball trap, the pique nique, the feu d'artifice du 14 juillet...they go off to things organised and paid for by the local authorities. All automony, all sense of comradeship, is lost.
He feels the difference and so do I.

And the physical climate is not what it was either.
When I was first in France I could place a pretty sure bet on being able to have Christmas lunch outside....and now we have temperatures below freezing in November. The summers would be warm...not so hot as to drive me indoors behind the shutters or, alternatively, so wet as to make me buy an umbrella.

So I'm outta here..and into there...or outta there and into here.....

Costa Rica....

Where we have had a holiday home for a few years..have begun to make friends...where the climate suits us...the original banana republic upon which France seems to be modelling itself...

The best way I can think of to show you Costa Rica is in the following video from the best known Costa Rican group, Malpais

I shall be nattering about life in Costa Rica (here), but will be carrying on on this blog too for a while as I can no more leave France behind without a backward glance than I could the U.K.which I left so many years ago.

And I still haven't sold the house!

So ..ce n'est qu'un au revoir mes freres...

The old crone will be here for a while yet, casting the bones....


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Tuesday 2 November 2010

Don't laugh at me, Argentina...but, on the other hand, why not?

The sinking of the Belgrano - Falklands WarImage by via Flickr
The rumbling sound you may be hearing  is not an earthquake about to engulf the lowlands of Scotland, but my father revolving in his grave.

The two Dear Leaders of France and the U.K., Sarkozy and Cameron, have signed a military co operation pact, creating a joint task force which is supposed to make economies of scale and improvements in efficiency while at the same time preserving the sovereign interests of each nation.

President Sarkozy, as always, went straight to the point.
"If you, my British friends, have to face a major crisis, could you imagine France simply sitting there, its arms crossed, saying that it's none of our business?"

Damn right I can.

To be fair to Sarkozy, I think he personally would be willing to push France into action...he is, as his party belatedly found out, not your typical French politician.
But can you imagine the reactions of a more typically 'French' French President?



And, to think the unthinkable....Le Pen?

Since the latter hasn't forgiven the English for burning Joan of Arc, he probably hasn't forgiven the U.K. for Mers el Kebir either, so he wouldn't be authorising the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to sail for the Falklands any time soon. Not that he could anyway...the thing spends more time undergoing repairs in dry dock than it does in the water.

Father...who went through the entire Second World War.... had an unchanging view of the French military....

'Buggers let us down in 1914...buggers let us down in 1940...'

A view not ameliorated by learning that the rockets doing so much damage to the Falklands expeditionary forces had been sold to Argentina by the French.

Now, all this may be conflicts long ago and far away and brave men on the ground are usually betrayed by the  politicians far from the firing line, but I think father has something about which to rumble.

Both countries' military hardwear is obsolete, broken or not fit for are the supply systems which support them.

One look at the U.K. Ministry of Defence's purchasing system would give a respectable Victorian counting house clerk a case of the screaming habdabs...and it ought to give us one too.
Their French equivalents keep their methods quiet...and have every reason to do so given the incestuous link between political party funding and big business in France.

So, given the chronic shortage of money...since banks and even butter come before guns....and the refusal to shake up both Defence Ministries...the two bright sparks have conjured up this wizard scheme to pretend to their countries that they are capable of defending national interests by joining forces.

So two broken reeds are suddenly going to form one strong tree?
I don't think so.
Another case of smoke and mirrors to deceive the electorate.

It would better behove Cameron and Sarkozy to declare the exact nature of the national interests to protect which they send their young people into danger.

France still sends troops to shore up the dictatorships of their ex African colonies.....whose value to France is not immediately obvious, but whose value to French politicians is......valuable.

The U.K. sends its troops wherever the U.S. directs....the value to the U.K. of such action is negligible, even counter productive but the value of such policies to U.K. politicians seems to be fat contracts with Carlisle on  retirement and access to the speaking tour circuit.

Were they to consult their people...the ones who have democratic rights for a few minutes in a polling booth every so often....they might find a distinctively different idea of national interests.

A first class education system....
A health service which works.....
Cutting the fat from public systems....all the tiers of management, the consultants, the Quangos....
A police service which serves people not politicians.....
Action, not 'initiatives' on the curse of drug use....
Proper care with dignity for elderly people.....

Supporting African dictators and U.S. politicians would not rank highly, I feel.

November 11th will soon be upon us again, when we remember what are called the 'sacrifices' made by the armed forces in all the declared and undeclared conflicts since 1918.

Perhaps we should be remembering rather that these men and women were 'sacrificed' by the politicians of the time and we should honour their memory, not only by wearing poppies, contributing to charities and attending services but by demanding honesty of current politicians.

After all, we're still waiting for the fulfillment of Lloyd George's  wish that the U.K. should be a country fit for heroes to live in.....only ninety two years on.
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Saturday 23 October 2010

Here be dragons....

Here Be Dragons!Image by spratmackrel via Flickr
A blogger whose posts I follow with pleasure has suffered a mishap recently, having fallen foul of the Mummy Bloggers..or some of them..or one of them...hard to know what's what with the Mummy Bloggers.

I had heard of them, in passing, but not being a dedicated follower of fashion they had passed me by in my rural backwater.

Until the blogger I follow had trouble with them, or her, or whatever part of the gallimaufry had inadvertently been roused....

So I took a look.

Goodness, what an abyss opened under my feet!

Pictures of children at birthday parties with a ratio of more than two parents to one child which would indicate all divorced, separated or sex changed partners wanted pictures of the event...

Sad pictures of children eating a birthday tea surrounded by a sea of adults with cameras...

It reminded me of the father who had booked our main house for his holiday with his family.

He spent most of the time with his video recorder filming his sweet little girl playing with the ducks and their ducklings, collecting eggs with Mr.Fly, helping to round up the chickens in the evening...with never a thought that it would have been much more fun for his little girl if he had joined in rather than recording the French rural idyll for the delectation of friends and family on his return
Reviews of cereals you would not feed to a self respecting dog, given the contents....

Posts about how to communicate with PR people....whose clients apparently seek the cachet of being approved by the Mummy Bloggers.
Given the view of their offspring offered by their posts - to be fair this is not a representative sample, just me jumping from blog to blog - I would not base my launch of beasty flavoured soya animal shapes on the sample offered, but I suppose that's not the idea.
The idea is to get the Mummy Bloggers to talk about the product.
Which they do. 

Snarly, bitchy exchanges totally opaque to the outsider...almost French in their intensity...and the regular appearance of that worst bitchiness of all...
Of course, she needs help....
That phrase, to me, sums up what I found so off putting in the blogs I looked at...the sugary, false expression of concern while the knife goes in the back.

These blogs seem so self regarding, when their purpose, their leitmotif, purports to be sharing what it is to be a  parent, which demands so much self abnegation and which can give such joy.

Where is the joy in these blogs?
Missing. Gone AWOL.
There have to be other blogs, where people just talk about their lives and their kids, the ups and the downs, but following the trail I did, I didn't find any.

Given the bait of goodies,or invites, we might all be tempted to do product reviews and push our stats up...but when I learn that the summit of ambition is to have an award ceremony during a weekend at heart misgives me.

Is it really worth all the back biting to have a weekend at Butlins?

(I apologise for the italics...I pressed something which refuses to be unpressed, so please do not read added importance to the text thus italicised.)

Having surfed the surface of the genre, I think I can divide the participants into two groups.....

One...the Sir Jaspers, sure of their ground as middle class mummys...mummies?...and keen to enforce the line of those above and below the salt where it comes to the distribution of pushchairs, cereal samples and invitations to product launches.

The other...the 'she was poor but she was honest' group, who would very much like, like Israel Hands, to get their mitts on the  pickles and the wines monopolised by group one...and somewhat vocal when they don't succeed.

Going  back to the comments on the blog of the unfortunate offender, I was struck by the number of contributions by Mummy Bloggers who, while clearly having an I.D. for Mummy Blogging, preferred anonymity when making comments on the blog concerned.

What does this indicate about the world of Mummy Blogging?

That it can be nasty, brutish and short....unless you are a Sir Jasper.

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