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.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Sunday lunch

If all goes well, this is where we'll be having Sunday lunch,
Not the best of photographs, I'm afraid, but it gives a taster...

Tuesday 23 March 2010

The five horse accumulator over the obstacles

{{fr}}Course d'obstacle sur l'Hippodrome de De...Image via Wikipedia
We have the chance to get away on holiday, so I have been at the computer checking dates, flights and prices, and I am in need of a wet towel round my head and the cup that not only cheers but also inebriates. I hope to goodness that I still have some of Didier's rocket fuel tucked away.
And to think travel is supposed to be pleasurable!

I have never been in the sector of society that could be described as the 'jet set', or 'alternative' so my experiences have been pretty run of the mill. I never went on the hippy trail in one of those VW campervans that used to be lined up for sale outside the Australian embassy in London....the female sex tours to the Gambia were not my cup of tea or rocket fuel at any class travel was never an option...mine was 'the age of the train', in second class.

For my mother, it was not only the age of the train - excursion trains ran to all the major seaside towns to take the huddled masses for an awayday - but also the age of the motor coach, going to the sea, or touring beauty spots.
Even then, travel was not without its' hazards.
She remembers being taken to the sea in a Surrey Motors coach...custard and brown livery as she recalls... with the motor in a sort of outhouse at the front of the vehicle.
All was well until it made the obligatory loo stop at a pub which had acquired the passing trade of several coach companies, and thus had a huge car park, in which, as passengers disembarked, queued for the loo, took tea or beer and rejoined their coach, the vehicles would keep moving forward rather than parking in one spot.
It behoved the passenger to memorise the livery and the name of his coach company or he would share the fate of the bewildered woman who was wandering the carpark looking for her chariot of delight.
The Surrey Motors' driver tried to help.
'Which coach are you from, Dear?'
Mother still remembers the despairing wail with which the woman replied
'I know it's green but I don't know if it's a Venture, a Vulcan or a Vulture!'
The poor soul was eventually recaptured by her husband, all cap and beery breath, and hustled away, but it was a lesson to mother that she should keep a weather eye on the transport if she wanted to make a getaway.

As children, we had much more liberty to travel than the modern child seems to have.
From an early age, at the start of the school holidays I would be taken to Euston Station and put in charge of the guard on the Royal Scot - then a proper fire breathing steam engine - for the journey to Glasgow where an aunt would meet me for the next stage of the journey.
I would be placed in a compartment with other children under the guard's control and off we would go, perfectly safe, escorted to the dining car and back, but otherwise trusted to behave ourselves. And we did. The boy who tried to empty his orange squash bottle through the window while not understanding how air flow worked is the only malefactor that I can remember.
The aunts would be assembled at the gate of the platform at St. Enoch's...the guard would shepherd us up to them and there could be no problems of identity as aunts and children waved, smiled and hugged.

Later, there were Rover tickets on the Green Line buses, to explore the countryside for the day with a packet of sandwiches and a few coppers for a cup of tea. We were independent, without fear and without mobile 'phones. We made it home every evening.

So, as a student, travelling French railways for a week in the summer was a doddle. I could buy a Thomas Cook timetable - at that stage of my life I knew what two crossed hammers signified - and plan my trip in the most economical way, then it was off to Picadilly to the offices of French Railways - SNCF - to buy the ticket. It was my first unwitting step to succombing to the wiles of the great seductress.

Now, much later in life, I don't go to offices or travel agents to buy my tickets..I search and buy 'on line'. Out in the sticks, it is a tremendous boon not to have to shift from the house and trek to the town to wait in line at the station where one harassed man - currently in a portacabin while SNCF spend vast amounts on modernising the station - tries to deal with every query under the sun.
I reckon about one in three actually want to buy a ticket...the rest are doing the French equivalent of a five horse accumulator, working out whether a ticket for large families, employees of the railway, with two grannies and travelling mid week beats the price for the current offer of discounts if making your reservation by mobile 'phone.

Why am I worrying about trains when I am going by 'plane?
Because I have to get from la France Profonde to an airport, that's why.
And before I start checking flights, I need to have a comprehensive overview of what trains say they will be available on the day.

Last minute cheap package holidays are no trouble at long as they go from an airport to which a friend can drive you if and when the railways are on strike.
I learned this the hard way, leaving from Charles de Gaulle airport for a week in Turkey. I arrived at Montparnasse only to find that some parts of the Paris railway system were on strike, and ended up hauling suitcases all over the Metro to the Gare du Nord, and then trying to find a train out to the airport. The lifts were out - in sympathy? - so I had to haul the luggage up a steep and narrow stairway to get to the platform.
After that, I picked charter flights from Nantes. A long drive, but no nasty surprises.
However, this is long haul and regular flights. It will have to be Paris.

As I have said before - here - French railways are distinctly luggage unfriendly so it is as well to try to get a through train rather than having to change, with all the heaving and hauling that is involved, but here I have come across a problem.
I know that there used to be a train in the early hours of the morning that gets into Montparnasse at about 6.00 am, thus, in theory, making it possible to catch flights leaving Orly or Charles de Gaulle around 9.00 am.
It does not show up on the SNCF online booking service.

I ring Ziya who has minitel. He says it exists on the timetable on minitel.
Further he rings the SNCF automated travel service. It says it exists as well.
I ring the man in the portacabin. He says it exists too, but if I want to book it I'll have to come to the portacabin....
Why isn't it on the computer booking service?
A deep sigh.
They want to make you pay for the TGV.
I have always said that living in France is good training for moving to a third world country.

Well, that's the trains. Now for the planes.
I am going to Central America and I want as hassle free a journey as possible.
This automatically cuts out any flight going through the U.S.A.
I have done this twice and refuse to do it again.
Not only do they want to know the ins and outs of a bull's arse three days before you travel, but, having acquired all this information, they still make you reclaim your luggage and go through immigration even though you are only in transit!
I have visions of mother faced with a demand for her fingerprints by some surly immigration official....veteran of the Second World War and not very impressed by the speed of American participation in said conflict, I can just see surly official blown backwards bow legged and mother off in an orange jumpsuit to Guantanamo Bay.
Do I hear a siren voice breathing
Go on, book via the States....?

Mother is not coming, so I can resist the temptation.

That leaves flights via Mexico.
That simplifies matters.
Or it would, except that the online fare and flight comparison sites like to give you the flights from the airlines with which they are affiliated so a fair bit of time is wasted knocking out the U.S. element.
Further, some sites give prices with taxes, others without.
Depending on the site, the prices could be quoted in pounds sterling, euros or U.S. dollars. With or without taxes.
Up goes the currency calculator on the screen.
I know that I am supposed to be able to have split screen on this machine, but as computers don't come with handbooks, I don't know how, so I keep dodging between flight websites and the converter until I feel distinctly overwhelmed by it all.

I finally find a flight. It leaves Orly at 6.00 am, and makes a change in Madrid. A short wait in Mexico City, then on to the destination.
Only one problem. No train will get us to Paris that early. We shall have to take the latest train and sit in the airport overnight. Not a good option with a husband who is not well. We shall have to book a hotel.

That is fraught with problems as well. The last time I booked a hotel in Paris through the Paris Tourist Office I wanted to stay for two nights. Hotel number one could only do one, so I booked that, and the second night in a different hotel. All through the Paris Tourist Office site.
Checking my e mails before checking out of hotel one, I was just in time to catch a message from hotel number two cancelling my booking for that day as they were full!
Luckily, the delightful Algerian lady at the desk found me another room for the night in a hotel nearby, but so much for the Paris Tourist Office!

Our Turkish builder rings. Ziya told him we we're going to get an early morning flight so he thinks it best if he takes us.....he can load up on Turkish goodies in Paris at the same time. Typical of him to find an excuse for covering up his kind heart.

Only a few problems now remain.
I will book the flight with my bank card. It is not beyond the bounds of probability that my bank will refuse to honour it, as they did once before for an airfare.
I had made a booking and the day afterwards the agency told me that my bank wouldn't pay. I lost the flight.
I called the bank.
It was for my own security.
Why? Didn't they think I would be safe outside the boundaries of France?
No, it was an unusual amount.
I agree it is more than the usual fifty euros in Leclerc, but why didn't you call me to see if it was genuine?
We don't do that.
This is the bank who managed to let someone take over a thousand euros from my account - more than the airfare - without a quibble.

If the card works, then all I have to worry about is whether the baggage handlers or the air traffic controllers will be on strike. The holiday period, any holiday period,  is usually the cue to down tools, but I am booking for just before the great Easter exodus, so I might just make it.

I have been warned of the hazards awaiting me in Guatemala, the most emphasised of which has been armed men leaping out at my car on the road and demanding money at gunpoint.

I had had no idea that the gendarmerie would be on holiday in Guatemala at the same time.

Putain de merde! Back to the computer....

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Sunday 21 March 2010

Hoses at dawn

Watering the Garden 01Image by Axel Bührmann via Flickr
Some years ago, I was working in the garden down by the river when a kayak containing two young Frenchmen appeared.

I told them, politely, that this stretch of water was private property, to which they responded by telling me that it was not and that we English might think we owned the place, but we had to obey the law like anyone else.

There is only one thing to do with brash young ignoramusses like that...and it is not to show them your deeds.

I sent the dog after them.

They were laughing and jeering as they paddled deliberately among the waterfowl and their chicks, pointing at the dog running along the bank.
When the dog plunged into the water, they were still laughing and jeering, but changed their tune rapidly as he clambered aboard the kayak. Lashing out at him with paddles was a disastrous served only to annoy the only other option was ignominious flight.
How French.

I called the dog off once they had clearly got the message and he came swimming back, job well done, to give me a free shower.
How canine.

From a point of safety, well down the bank, one of the yobs shouted that I would be sorry.
He would denounce me.
How French.

What would be the object of the denunciation? It might surprise you.
It would not be for setting the dog on them, but for pumping water from the river to water my garden.

We were in a period of drought and a hosepipe ban had been imposed. Car washes had been shut down, and we were allowed only to water the veg garden. Whatever the source of water.
Rural France was accordingly illuminated at night by men with torches tripping over their hosepipes in the shrubbery and flicking the torch off  if a car's headlights approached. Seen from altitude, it must have looked like a host of glow worms spread over the Hexagon.

Now, despite the fact that, every day, my neighbour tows a vast cistern down the the river with his tractor and fills it up, it is forbidden to draw water from the river without a permit.
My neighbour does not have a permit, but he used to be a deputy maire, which seems to allow him to do anything he likes short of being caught in bed with Mme. Sarkozy.
I have a pump on the river bank and a net of hoses running all over the garden...all of which uses considerably less than his cistern, and I have no qualms whatsoever about using river water, whether there is a hosepipe ban or not.

When I take the road into town and see jets of water irrigating crops that are totally unsuited to the soil and climate of the area, I am blowed if I'll let my garden dry up when the water is flowing past it on its' way to the sea.
Further, when the river is down, the local sewage station will not be flushed out, so the water will be considerably cleaner and my shrubs on the banks will not be adorned with second hand sanitary towels.

Still, that was some time ago and in the intervening period there has not been much rainfall. People are taking to water conservation, and huge green plastic water butts abound.

In consequence, people are using much less water - water supplied by the water boards, that is...water you pay for.

Since as part of your water bill, you pay towards the treatment of waste water, when the water use falls, so does the amount paid for waste water treatment and the water boards are getting a little anxious.
Their solution?  Charge a fixed rather than variable amount for waste water treatment.

That might sound reasonable, although people who have been trying to economise on water feel that it is a poor reward for their efforts at conservation of a precious resource, but what about the people who have to pay this when they are not on the mains and have no direct benefit from the money sent on treatment plants?

They - we - aren't very happy.

The rows with the water board are still going on round here. There was a meeting at which the water board boss agreed  to seek dialogue with the disgruntled users who were manifesting their displeasure by  being out when the inspectors of septic tanks called, as I have mentioned before - here.

The disgruntled users rapidly discovered that what he meant by dialogue was charging not 85 euros, but 170 euros when his inspectors could not gain access to the property.

It will take a great deal to gruntle them again.

They are hiring lawyers and, just  looking at some of the jurisprudence, the water board might be in for a shock.
Well, it would be if the French legal system worked sensibly, but it doesn't.
Each region has its' own jurisprudence, so you can be right in the Pays de Loire and wrong in Alsace, and this region hasn't yet had a case.

Knowing this area, with the still not defunct kangaroo court,  here and here, you might think that the outcome of the case would depend on how many local bigwigs were on a septic tank.
Not at all....the water board's inspectors will take their word for it that their installations are within the norms, so even that bulwark of liberty will fail.

Did the yob denounce me?
Yes, of course he did.
I had a gendarme at the gate a couple of days later, who asked if he could come and inspect my watering system.
I said he could, if he didn't mind the dog going too.
The dog, beside me, was manifesting his dislike of uniforms.
The gendarme decided just to make me aware of the prohibition.
I thanked him politely and went back to watering the garden.
From the river.
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Thank you, Dash

Dash, at French Sampler has been kind enough to pass me this 'Vraiment Francaise' award, which is a compliment coming from someone whose blog is so enticing, both in words and photographs.
I would like to pass this on to some of the blogs I enjoy which are based in or deal with France, so here goes.

No Damn Blog is my daily fix...based in France, it is a sort of seek within for everything you are not at all sure you wish to know...stories, photographs, new and wonderful words and how French hospitals con you into using them by using handsome doctors as decoys. I love it.

An Old Biddie's Life is another I always look forward to reading. A no nonsense blog of family, business and life in rural France with a wonderful feel for nature.

Lydia's France  is a lovely blog, full of interest whether she is posting about her job, her son or her novel-to-be.

Soyez la Bienvenue Chez Moi is Dedene's account of her life in central France, with French husband and his family, local events, national events...she covers a broad canvas and I'm always glad to see a new post.

There are others, some of which Dash has already covered in her award giving, but a great source of more is Keith Eckstein's 'A Taste of Garlic', although unless he is willing to undergo a sex change, a 'Vraiment Francaise' award is not for him....

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Living the nightmare

Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516)Image by Hunter333 via Flickr
A friend has asked me to look over a document translated from French to English on behalf of a friend of hers and, although I have given up on all this stuff, I agree.

After all, it's Sunday and as I am not allowed to vote for the so and sos who will be throwing my money away on wild projects like building skating rinks at a time of economic armageddon, I am confined to the house, so I might as well.

It downloads....just the English version.

I am old enough to remember Japanese imports arriving together with the helpful translation of how to assemble or to use same, which made you think that either Japanese translators were not up to much, or else that disgruntled ex POWs were doing their best to scuttle the Japanese export drive.
Since father, many of whose friends had gone into the bag at Singapore, never to emerge, would have nothing Japanese in the house, my knowledge was acquired at the houses of friends whose fathers - considerably younger than mine - were to be found wrestling with parts and instructions which seemed to have absolutely no correlation.

I learned several new and interesting words at these moments.
Especially from Rhonwen's father.
He used the same ones when finding us descending the main staircase at speed on a silver tray which was designated for the drawing room.

Well, Rhonwen's father's vocabulary would have been useful to describe my reaction to the translation before me.
By long acquaintance with French documents, I grasped what it was supposed to be about, but there was no way I would have guessed otherwise.

I 'phoned my friend.

Where was the original?

With the translator.

Could I see it?

Umm..she'd see...

Well, that was on Sunday and on Monday she rang back.

Her friend's translator wouldn't let her have the original back until she had been paid for the translation.

So how come the translation was in her hands but not the original?

Well, she needed that for her bank in the U.K. urgently, so the translator let her have that, but not the original.

And has she sent that to her bank?

Yes, but that was when she realised she didn't understand it.

It sounds a bit weird. When I use official translators, they send me the whole shebang together with a bill.

Oh, she didn't use an official translator. She got an English woman who teaches French to do it.

What, someone who teaches French in France? How did she manage to get a job?

Oh no, not in school...she teaches French to other English.

The scales fell from my eyes...yet another case of the blind leading the blind and expecting compensation for use of the white stick.

Further enquiry revealed that my friend's friend had aired her problem at a get together of British immigrants and had been told that Mrs. X would see to it for her.

Mrs. X did indeed see to it. She made a dreadful hash of the translation, assured the friend that the only reason she didn't understand it was because it was a legal document and presented a bill of eye watering proportions.

No, Mrs. X does not work on the black...she is a declared auto entrepreneur, though I would have thought that translation demands a bit more than just stating that you do it for money...translation, that is.

I use official translators when I am forced to do so by French regulations - usually for stupid things like a birth certificate which has to have been obtained no longer than three months before it is required for whatever beaurocratic process demands it.
You're only born once, so why can't the original certificate be used?
Because in France, at every step of the way, someone has to be paid.

However, occasionally I need something more complicated to be officially translated and in my experience they have done a good job at quite reasonable rates - but I don't use agencies where the boss creams off the profits and the translators get a poor deal.

Mrs. X is demanding a hell of a lot more than I think a real translator would ask, and she is hanging on to the original until the friend's friend divvies up.

My friend has rung again.

Her friend has paid up and had her document returned.
She complained that it was impossible to understand it and been told yet again that it was a legal document so she wouldn't be able to understand any language.
You need, it seems, the superior intelligence of Mrs. X for that.

She then said that it wasn't just her. I had said it was incomprehensible too.

That was when the solids hit the fan.

Why had she gone to me? Didn't she know what a trouble maker I was? Didn't she know that I was more French than the French (!) and out to make sure no one British could get any work? Goodness, the trouble I had caused for poor Brits just trying to scratch a living over the years..... And who was I anyway to say whether a translation was any good!

The upshot of all that was that my friend has been upbraided by her friend for getting me to look over the translation and thus putting her...friend of hot water with the local Brits.

And that is why I don't do these sort of favours any more. Election day must have gone to my head.
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Thursday 11 March 2010

No Choice Menu


William BlakeImage via Wikipedia
Over at St. Supplice they are having a get together....continuing - or reinventing - the old Ash Wednesday tradition of eating salt cod. Not, of course, on Ash Wednesday as the black cassocked one kicked up stink about anything that might resemble jollity taking place on such a day. In his view jollity is for Easter and only to be consumed in moderation. And then confessed to. Privately. In the confessionals which he has had refurbished in the churches under his sway.

It's a good job he wasn't around a few years ago when life at St. Supplice was a bit more colourful....Jules used to reckon that it was nothing to do with Vatican II that the congregation did a sort of joint confession rather than frequenting the musty interior of the confessional, it was more that the black cassocked one's predeccessor was having too many lurid dreams after his stint in the box and feared for his soul.

Since those were the days when Denise was strutting her stuff in the vines, the bar boasted three generations of prostitute - a bit like running into Hecate when you nipped in for the racing paper - and the only lending library in the commune was Papy's collection of pornography, Jules might have had a point.

Still, as the black cassocked one is showing his Lenten disapproval by not attending, it promises to be a good evening.
It's going to be organised in the traditional way. The commune is providing the wine, you pay a few euros for the main course and you bring your own starter, pud, cheese, bread and implements. Plus cards or board games for after the meal. You'll be sitting on benches at long tables, so you don't know who you'll get as a neighbour and the only sure thing is that someone will try to teach me belote again and will fail.

The salt cod will be traditional too. Lumps of the stuff that have been sitting under a running tap for twenty four hours before being cooked, accompanied by boiled potatoes, Mme. Machin's legendary sauce and served direct from the cooking trays borrowed from the school canteen.

Nothing fancy, not expensive and a good night out.

Closer at hand, at Ste. Conasse, the British immigrant comunity are running their version in aid of charity. I haven't seen any flyers, it all goes by word of mouth, so I only know about it because the postlady's colleague who does the Ste. Conasse  round asked her if I was going.

I telephoned the woman who runs everything that way to ask about it - by now I really fancy salt cod and it's a damn sight closer than St. Supplice, after all - and was told that it was booked out.

What would I have been having if I had have been having?

A fully catered affair at fifteen euros with the salt cod manifesting itself  as brandade de morue, and wine available at seven euros a bottle. There would be a quiz night to follow, with an entry fee.

What was the charity?

We'll get everyone to suggest something and the committee will decide.

Well, St. Supplice it is then.

I'll be checking the map to make sure I keep to the backroads and the occasional track through the vines for the return as if I know it's on, so will the gendarmerie.

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Sunshine Blog Award from truestarr

I must thank truestarr for this award, which gives me a bit of a puzzle as it is one I would have liked to have handed on to her if she had not already...well, you get the gist.

Her blog, Prospero's Cellphone, deals - mainly - with her life in Corfu from her own unique viewpoint and it makes me very sorry indeed that I never made it to that magical island.

There are conditions.
I have to pass this on to twelve bloggers and let them know I've done so, while providing links to their blogs.

I think that's all, so, having benefited from Ayak's specially designed 'computing for numpties' course, here goes. I would like to have passed it on to Ayak too at Turkish Delight, but truestarr got there first.

The Cogitator at a Corner of France always provides wonderful photographs, an update on life in the Mayenne and food for thought - the mince pie recipe has been tried to destruction in this household since finding it.

Clippy Mat has me laughing fit to bust at times with her tales of life and work in Canada.

Hadrianas Treasures is a blog by a savvy lady who has abandoned banking and scuba diving for life near Hadrian's wall. She's not regretting it either. A wealth of information.

Keith Eckstein's a Taste of Garlic has been a wonderful way to discover blogs about France...nice to have the work done for you!

nodamnblog is an essential part of my day....words, photographs, stories, comment - and she writes good books.

Mary Anne Gruen on starlight blog has  a great american blog...I've learned a lot about american women who never made it to my history books and a great deal more beside.

Grumpy Old Ken is anything but...guess the object makes me realise I'm not so young any more, though....

Kitty at la Cheshire Chat has closed her blog thanks to a it for yourself and see what we miss when the law is so inadequate at controlling these people.

Mark's Views from the bike shed are unmissable. I'm delighted he's back to blogging because he opened so many doors for me when I was in a rut and he always makes me think.
Eventually I'll manage to sort out my ideas rather more elegantly before commenting, but his posts rouse such enthusiasm that the fingers are on the keyboard before the brain has turned the ignition key...he'll cure me in time...just keep reading the blog.

Sarah, at St. Bloggie de Riviere tells France how it is, from insulting swindlers to counterfeit digestives - nice not to be alone in the sea of 'living the dream'ers....

Jimmy Bastard can never post too often. The man can write. The man can tease. The man can wring your heart.

If you like fun, then you can rely on Jon on the Vendee Blog. We seem to inhabit two parallel universes though only a few hundred kilometres apart in France, and I enjoy his accounts of his activities - can't wait for the promised video, either.

I hope you enjoy these blogs as much as I do and, again, thank you to truestarr for giving me the chance to thank them and suggest them to other readers.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Striking justice

An engraving of the Women's March on Versaille...Image via Wikipedia
Some time ago, friends brought their French architect and his wife over for lunch and the conversation turned to how each group, British and French, saw itself and how it thought it was seen by the other group. There were a few surprises for each party, here, but I don't think that attitudes were altered.

One of the points that the architect made was that the French, when roused to indignation, took to  the streets, conjuring up images in my irreverent mind of the Bastille being stormed by angry bus drivers led by a bare breasted woman waving a flag, while the British were seen as agreeing everything behind closed doors....oh for the days of beer and sandwiches at No, 10.

Well, like all stereotypes, it is useful for labelling a phenomenon without having to examine it. There are all sorts of assumptions lurking beneath....that the French are open about their disagreements, while the subtle British hide them under the carpets....that the French system allows and encourages public expression while its' British counterpart stifles discord....and the assumptions are as interesting as the construction of the stereotype.

A little reflection shows that the British do indeed march in the streets, mostly on matters of principle. Animal welfare, war, taxation...these bring people onto the streets  risking stand offs with the police, even though these days the politicians have tried to limit demonstrations too close to their cosy lair in Westminster.
They might be wise.....down the ages, foreign ambassadors have remarked on the propensity for violence of the English and I don't think much has changed.
One more General Election returning the same caste of boobies to power and I think that Chesterton's people might just stir from their beer. If they haven't all already emigrated.

When the French march, it is not usually a mass movement, but something organised by a group of unions with the inevitable students tagging along, the police being present to prevent kids from the immigrant suburbs doing likewise and attacking the expensive shops along the way. These kids, not being fully integrated into a society that rejects them, don't understand the nature of a demonstration or a march in France. It is not about smashing a rotten is demanding a better place for oneself within that society.
1968 is a long way in the past.

The latest demonstration takes place in Paris today. A wonderful gallimaufry of prison officers, probation officers, lawyers and judges protesting at the state of justice in France - as well they might.
The prison officers and probation officers are unhappy about the proposed closure of local prisons in favour of huge institutions which might well be run by private enterprise.
Judges are fed up with having to buy their own copies of the Codes - the basis of law in France - as the budget screws tighten yet further.
Lawyers are fed up with the reductions in legal aid.

Less parochially, some lawyers and judges are against the suppression of the post of the - relatively - independent investigating magistrate in favour of an enhanced role for government lawyers in deciding whether to bring prosecutions.  here.
Defence lawyers want reforms in the practice of police custody, to allow those detained the real assistance of their lawyers which is demanded by the European Convention of Human Rights and denied by most French jurisdictions. here
There are even a few calling for the entire scrapping of the basis of the French legal system and the adoption of the 'Anglo - Saxon' model. No, not Alfred handing down justice while burning the cakes, but the sort of thing we recognise in Common Law countries....where the defence has a fair crack at the prosecution case.
They can kiss goodbye to that even before they get their shoes dirty.

What will be the outcome of this march? To show that you are allowed to demonstrate in the streets of Paris. Nothing more, and that's a pity.
Particularly at this juncture when Sarkozy is intent on making a new establishment in his own image and on eliminating the little independence there is in the French legal system to enable him to do so.

Asking French friends, they are united in their despair at their system of justice, feeling that most of it is a charade.
The well connected stay well protected, so much so that the arrest of a couple of notaires in the south of France for widescale property fraud was regarded as unbelievable.
Whose toes had they trodden on?

Personally, I always thought that property fraud was what  some notaires aspired to, though I probably misjudge them, mistaking incompetence for intent.

In the days when I had holiday cottages, I was looking for a place to convert, and saw a likely prospect in a notaire's window.
I made an appointment to view, and met the notaire's nark at the property. It was super...big gardens back and front and not overlooked by anyone - a miracle in a French hamlet.
Then the nark said that the house at right angles to it was also for sale - was I interested?

No, I wasn't. I  knew that house. A friend and her sister had rented it at one point and while it was a nice house, it only had a courtyard and to get to it you had to use a right of way past the house of a complete nutter whose walls were festooned with 'No Parking' signs and whose car was usually parked in the right of way.

Further, I only wanted one house.

I made an offer on the house I wanted, and sat back to wait.
After two weeks, I telephoned the nark.
No, the sellers weren't interested.
O.K., I'll go up by two thousand.
No point. They won't accept.

After thinking  a while, I telephoned the friend who had lived in the second house.
Yes, she knew the owners. They lived on the other side of the hamlet. A nice couple. She would ring them.
She did, and we all got together in my friend's house over coffee and cake.
Wasn't my offer enough?
What offer?

As we continued, aperitifs replaced the coffee. This was serious.
The notaire's nark had not, at any point, relayed my offer to the sellers. On the contrary, having originally estimated the house himself, he had just told them that they were asking too much and should reduce their price. They were confused and starting to be annoyed. I was annoyed and puzzled. My friend had the answer.
I'll ring the owner of the second house.

She came round to join in the aperitifs. All was revealed.
She had been told by the notaire that he had a buyer for her house, but only if it could be sold with the one at right angles - the one I wanted - in order to be able to create a new exit to the road through the back garden to avoid the nutter next door.

My sellers protested loudly...they were to be shafted to make a favourable sale for her.
Oh no....the notaire had told her that they were on board, glad to be rid of the house.

A moment of quiet broken only by the clink of bottle on glass, and my friend said
Well, what are we to do? He's lied to both of you, and while - turning to her ex landlady -, I really sympathise with you, it's not fair to you - turning to the sellers of house one.
I made it clear that I did not want both houses, nor did I want to grant a right of way for a car over the garden.

The landlady came up with the estimation for the sale of both houses which made it clear that, with the new price proposed to the sellers of house one, they were indeed being royally shafted.
Would she make an adjustment with the sellers of house one to let the project proceed more equitably?

I offered to buy house one at the price I had originally proposed. The sellers accepted. The landlady left to ring the notaire.

His first reaction, caught out in sharp practice, was to attack. He tried to browbeat the sellers.
Their house was for sale with him...they were not allowed to make a deal without his involvement.
He might have got away with it if he had not telephoned five times in increasing states of fury, which prompted the sellers to check the mandate and to see that he had not been granted exclusivity.

Then he turned to me.
I had been introduced to the house by his nark, therefore I must pay him commission.
Well, under normal circumstances, I would have paid commission, but these were not normal circumstances. He had tried to shaft the sellers and he had not transmitted my offer.
He could boil his head.
He would take me to court.

When we all went to sign the compromis with another notaire, he had clearly heard of the ruckus
Maitre Plouc will have your guts. He wants his commission.
He can want. Are you going to do this compromis or not?
He was. Fees were involved.

Maitre Plouc carried on telephoning me, but was careful not to write any letters.
I asked friends what to do and they told me to complain to the departmental office of the Order of Notaires.
I did that.
Some weeks later I had a letter from the secretary of the Order, stating that my complaint was without foundation.
Signed .....Maitre Plouc...secretary.

He didn't take me to court, as it happened, but I was banned from his office.

Which saved me from the fate of an American couple who bought a house and land through him, only to discover that they had paid for two fields which did not belong to them.

Now, is this just another little misunderstanding by a foreigner in France?
Maitre Plouc was, after all, only trying to do a deal on behalf of a client.
Yes, indeed, and neatly shafting another client in the process.
The only control on his activities?
Other notaires, who, like the Barons of Runnymede, would understand.

I can't claim that things differ too much in the U.K. in this respect ...... experience with the Solicitors' Complaints Bureau of the Law Society and their equivalent wielders of the whitewash brush at the Financial Services Authority don't exactly leave you abounding in confidence, but at least the person you're complaining about doesn't sign the letter refusing to hear your complaint!

When you are inside a system, you become accustomed to its' little ways and things pass you by. You grumble about the inadequacies of the provision for the task you are to perform, not the task itself.
As an outsider to the French justice system, I read the blog of Maitre Eolas here with great interest - and not only on Six Nations weekends.
He is an insider, the man with the white hat with his own hobby horses to ride, but close reading of the posts and the comments thereon give an illuminating picture of how the general system works.

Overworked magistrates trying to do their best, other magistrates more intent on currying favour for promotion than anything else, the prosecution trying to micro manage cases while being micro managed in their turn by the Chancellery with its' eye ever on the media. Expulsion cases being initially reviewed for rejection by law interns, proposals to bring more and more cases under the sole jurisdiction of the is not a pretty picture.

Over that lunch with friends I had asked the architect how he thought foreigners categorised  the French justice system.
Brutal and incompetent, he replied.

We were all taken aback. For once, foreigners and natives shared the same vision.
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Friday 5 March 2010

Say cheese

Herve (cheese)Image via Wikipedia
It is the way things disappear, without even as much warning as the Cheshire Cat.

You go into the supermarket intent on buying cheese, only to find that the franchise on the cheese counter has changed and the cheese you wanted and have bought there since the last time the franchise changed is unavailable. You cast a sour eye over the new offerings and resign yourself to looking for your favourite in another supermarket - yet another complication in grouping the trips to town.

As it is, with more and more cheeses now being made from pasteurised milk, I find that some of my old favourites have lost their special flavour anyway. Life is becoming more and more bland.

And before anyone tells me to buy cheese on the market stall - forget it. Their products are remarkable only for the cheek of the stallholder in proposing such prices.

I have never been unduly enchanted by the small town French market  here , though the main Saturday market in the big town is worth the occasional effort  - here - for fish, and for all sorts of bargains in the ethnic section, from chinese veg to brassieres in sizes that would contain three Carla Brunis at once, but getting good cheese seems to be more and more of a struggle.

I grew up on English cheese, in a period when the grocer sold mini truckles of Cheddar for Christmas, to be cut carefully in wedges and the cheesecloth laid back reverently over the remains.
Working in London, I could buy cheese in Berwick street market that had been turfed out by Harrods and Fortnum and Mason as being past their self imposed sell by dates - wonderful stuff, magnificent Stilton and whole raw milk rounds of Brie that I can still taste if I cast my mind back to it - at prices which encouraged the eyes bigger than the belly syndrome, leading to a rash of cheese and wine evenings with friends.

Holidaying in France, cheese had been disappointing, ready cut portions straight from the refrigerator, except a meal at Chartier in Paris, where, in that tourist dive, they served a ripe Munster with caraway seeds which showed me a whole new style of cheese, one which, on moving to France, I followed up.

I was lucky. Refrigeration of dairy products was not as developed as it later became, so there was a chance that your cheese would ripen naturally and not be stopped off by storage at low temperature.
You could take it to excess. Madeleine recalled a trip to the Jura with her father who decided on the return to buy three or four Munster cheeses. They were placed in the boot and the car rattled its' way back hundreds of kilometres in the blazing summer heat. Those were the days when cheese was cheese and the automobile was distinctly low tech, so the cheese began to ripen at alarming speed, infecting the interior of the car for weeks, and the family was force fed Munster which put her off it for years.

A friend who has recently sold his holiday home in France always used to take back raw milk Camembert, which while working, he would put into a bun as a sort of sandwich. He bought several, and stacked them in order, being a methodical guy, unaware however that his secretary had a habit of dusting and tidying shelves with no respect whatsoever for cheese dating.
He made his usual sandwich one day, ate a few mouthfuls, then was called away. On return, his sandwich had opened and he could clearly see maggots crawling through his cheese. Maggots whose colleagues he had no doubt eaten already. Gagging, he grabbed the cognac bottle and took a good swig..and another.
On his return to France he was recounting this tale to Madeleine, and she and her husband creased with laughter.
'What was so funny?'
'Well, in French 'tuer le ver', to kill the worm, is to have the first drink of the morning. Trust the English to take it literally!'

I have never managed to taste the Petit Gris from Lille, reputed to be banned from taxis by local bylaw, but was delighted to find Maroilles, pungent and tasty, and wonderful cooked as a tart.
The family from Belgium would bring down Brussels cheese and Herve when passing the summer with us...the Brussels cheese was held not to be as good a traveller as the Herve, but it can only have lost by a short head as even when wrapped in greaseproof, in plastic and sealed in a tin, the boys would find themselves accused of having taken their shoes off long before they crossed the Loire.

There is a specialist cheese shop in the big town which claims to ripen cheese perfectly, but the prices are appalling and on the one occasion I bought a Langres there I was not impressed. Mark you, at those prices I take a lot of impressing.

I notice too, that people seem to be eating less cheese generally. You go to lunch or supper with French friends and where there used to be a selection of cheeses that had clearly been got at by the family and a couple of fresh bits, there now seems to be a whole new selection, bought for the occasion.
Didier's wife explained
'Well, it's expensive now...goodness only knows why when the farmers are kicking up about low milk prices...and it just doesn't seem so good. Perhaps we're just getting old...'

Perhaps, morelike, we remember when cheese tasted of something.

The Association Fromages de Terroirs is attempting to put its' finger in the dyke, publishing a calendar of scantily clad 'les girls'  here to encourage people to eat traditional French cheese as opposed to the lumps of plastic packed plastic available on the supermarket shelves.

I think it's facing an uphill battle.

So am I, as I start the trek to find a new source of Fournols and Fleur d'Aunis.
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Monday 1 March 2010 Fiona Robyn

Mark, of 'Views from the bike shed', introduced me to this work which a friend of his, Fiona Robyn, is publishing on the web. She did what so many of us dream about...she set about being a published writer and succeeded. If you like the taster below, you can order the book on Amazon.
I am posting it as part of a Blogsplash - a word which I have now mistyped so many times that I just hope I've got it right this time.
I thank Ayak for making this possible and apologise to Fiona for the mess I have made of presenting something so worth reading.

Her protagonist is Ruth, and you can read more  here.

These hands are ninety-three years old. They belong to Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. She was so frail that her grand-daughter had to carry her onto the set to take this photo. It’s a close-up. Her emaciated arms emerge from the top corners of the photo and the background is black, maybe velvet, as if we’re being protected from seeing the strings. One wrist rests on the other, and her fingers hang loose, close together, a pair of folded wings. And you can see her insides.

The bones of her knuckles bulge out of the skin, which sags like plastic that has melted in the sun and is dripping off her, wrinkling and folding. Her veins look as though they’re stuck to the outside of her hands. They’re a colour that’s difficult to describe: blue, but also silver, green; her blood runs through them, close to the surface. The book says she died shortly after they took this picture. Did she even get to see it? Maybe it was the last beautiful thing she left in the world.

I’m trying to decide whether or not I want to carry on living. I’m giving myself three months of this journal to decide. You might think that sounds melodramatic, but I don’t think I’m alone in wondering whether it’s all worth it. I’ve seen the look in people’s eyes. Stiff suits travelling to work, morning after morning, on the cramped and humid tube. Tarted-up girls and gangs of boys reeking of aftershave, reeling on the pavements on a Friday night, trying to mop up the dreariness of their week with one desperate, fake-happy night. I’ve heard the weary grief in my dad’s voice.

So where do I start with all this? What do you want to know about me? I’m Ruth White, thirty-two years old, going on a hundred. I live alone with no boyfriend and no cat in a tiny flat in central London. In fact, I had a non-relationship with a man at work, Dan, for seven years. I’m sitting in my bedroom-cum-living room right now, looking up every so often at the thin rain slanting across a flat grey sky. I work in a city hospital lab as a microbiologist. My dad is an accountant and lives with his sensible second wife Julie, in a sensible second home. Mother finished dying when I was fourteen, three years after her first diagnosis. What else? What else is there?

Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. I looked at her hands for twelve minutes. It was odd describing what I was seeing in words. Usually the picture just sits inside my head and I swish it around like tasting wine. I have huge books all over my flat — books you have to take in both hands to lift. I’ve had the photo habit for years. Mother bought me my first book, black and white landscapes by Ansel Adams. When she got really ill, I used to take it to bed with me and look at it for hours, concentrating on the huge trees, the still water, the never-ending skies. I suppose it helped me think about something other than what was happening. I learned to focus on one photo at a time rather than flicking from scene to scene in search of something to hold me. If I concentrate, then everything stands still. Although I use them to escape the world, I also think they bring me closer to it. I’ve still got that book. When I take it out, I handle the pages as though they might flake into dust.

Mother used to write a journal. When I was small, I sat by her bed in the early mornings on a hard chair and looked at her face as her pen spat out sentences in short bursts. I imagined what she might have been writing about — princesses dressed in star-patterned silk, talking horses, adventures with pirates. More likely she was writing about what she was going to cook for dinner and how irritating Dad’s snoring was.

I’ve always wanted to write my own journal, and this is my chance. Maybe my last chance. The idea is that every night for three months, I’ll take one of these heavy sheets of pure white paper, rough under my fingertips, and fill it up on both sides. If my suicide note is nearly a hundred pages long, then no-one can accuse me of not thinking it through. No-one can say, ‘It makes no sense; she was a polite, cheerful girl, had everything to live for,’ before adding that I did keep myself to myself. It’ll all be here. I’m using a silver fountain pen with purple ink. A bit flamboyant for me, I know. I need these idiosyncratic rituals; they hold things in place. Like the way I make tea, squeezing the tea-bag three times, the exact amount of milk, seven stirs. My writing is small and neat; I’m striping the paper. I’m near the bottom of the page now. Only ninety-one more days to go before I’m allowed to make my decision. That’s it for today. It’s begun.

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Natural disasters

It seems as though more than fifty people have died as a result of the storm which hit France, most on the Atlantic Coast, where flood walls gave way, and there has been considerable flood damage elsewhere.

There is no hierarchy in death:  the dead of France, of Chile, of Haiti take equal rank, mourned by their families and friends.

However, France has the means to repair its' material damage. Chile less so, but  what of Haiti?

It would be a further tragedy if the fate of Haiti's people became lost to view by what has happened closer to home.

While we're arguing with insurers, let us remember that there are people who have nothing to insure. Who have nothing at all.

Don't forget Haiti.

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