Wednesday, July 30, 2008
In our area there is a farming lobby group called CF47 who have large poster boards dotted around the country. From time to time, posters go up with seemingly random quotes on them usually to try and reinforce in some subliminal way just how much we need the farmers. The last one was 'N'ayez pas peur' (don't be afraid). Of what or whom, they didn't let on.
The current one though has caused something of a stir. It says 'Nous cultivons votre sante' , a little play on words because 'cultiver' means to improve as well as to grow. So this translates as 'we are improving your health'.
I've mentioned in previous posts how unhealthy French produce really is. After the US France is the biggest user of pesticides in agriculture and recent EU surveys of pesticide and herbicide residues on both fresh and processed produce puts France firmly at the top of the list. The average French field is sprayed approximately 12 times a year with herbicides and pesticides. More than once I've bought food in the market on which you can actually feel the residue and if you lick it, it tastes bitter. Yet still people flock to France for it's wonderful fresh produce!
Our particular departement is also the biggest grower of GM crops and conservative estimates suggest that over 80% of crops in ours and neighbouring departments are contaminated due to cross pollination.
The organic market is very small in France. Less than 8% of produce in France is organic but it is growing and there is a rise in the activity of 'ecocitoyens' or eco-warriors as we'd probably call them.
Which brings me back to the posters. Mysteriously, overnight, big fluorescent yellow stickers have appeared on them saying 'Quoi? Avec OGM et pesticides?' (What, with GM and pesticides?) Hooray, is someone finally taking notice? No-one has so far claimed responsibility and the local press are all a-buzz with theories.
Whoever it is, at least it is bringing attention, if only on a local level, on the whole chemical issue. While President Bling Bling has banned some chemicals, there are still far too many in use. My neighbour can't grow anything within 5 feet of her fence as the ground it too contaminated from the chemicals used on the adjacent fields and when he's spraying on a windy day, I feel like we need gas masks to venture out.
So much for fresh country air!
Monday, July 28, 2008
V, the lady, did reveal that she was formerly married to a Russian dissident and they were expelled from Russia with 4 days notice and a 1 year old child. I can't imagine how awful that must be - although I guess there are some parallels to moving to rural France! She also told me that they went to Germany, which along with the US, was the only place that would give unconditional santuary to Russian expatriates. (Expatriate comes from the French 'expatrier' and means to be banished from one's homeland - today's bit of useful/less information). They were placed in a refugee camp in Dachau, where they had to sleep on the same bunks as the former inmates. V is a Russian Jew so you can imagine how traumatic this must have been.
Today I went to see the lovely Greer and had my eyebrows waxed and tinted. I'm a natural blonde (yes, really, I am) and normally have very blonde eyebrows. I'm now sporting a pair of rather dark brown ones which, though they look good on Ashley Olsen and Gwyneth Paltrow, make me look rather more like this!! Greer waxed (ha, ha) lyrical about how they framed my face but also commented several times that the colour would fade, which rather led me to believe it hadn't turned out exactly as planned. Who is this strange eyebrowed one looking back at me? Every time I pass a mirror I jump!
Monday, July 21, 2008
Anyway, I came across this posting on a forum I belong to and the author, Dave, has kindly allowed me to reproduce it here. It should be compulsory reading for anyone who dreams of giving up the ratrace and having some gites in France.
Meh, I just cant be bothered with it any more.
I want to go to see something on a saturday or go away for the weekend - can't, its changeover day.
I want to have a holiday - can't, need to be here for changeovers
I want to spend a few hours floating in the pool and sleeping in the garden - can't, unless I share with half a dozen strangers.
The ladyfriend wants to come round for the weekend - fine, but "I have changeover day remember". "ok, Ill help you". "great, you clean the stale piss off the toilet rim and Ill deal with the jizz-stained mattress protector. Classy.
I want to invite loads of people round, turn the stereo up to 11 and have a good party - can;t, the guests dont like disturbances.
My nephew wants to come round and run his remote controlled car in the big field - can;t, the guests kids are playing football there.
I want to have my dinner in peace - Can;t, the guests can;t figure out how to use the dish washer, and can;t read the instructions.
My dog wants to sleep on the doorstep - can;t, everyone wants her to fetch, roll over etc etc.
The kitten wants to explore the world - can;t, the little girls in the end gite want to cuddle it to death.
There is a good film on the telly, I want to crank up the surround sound - can't, the bass travels through the whole building.
I want to cut the grass - can't, there are 3 cars, a badminton net, loads of sun loungers, chairs and toys in the way.
I want to wash my car in peace without hearing "ha ha, you can do mine next" - can't, because that's the funniest, most original joke in the world isn't it.
I want to go out and slap that spoilt kid that has tantrums when he doesn't get his own way - cant, I don't think the parents would like that.
I want to be able to go shopping without wondering if there is enough fairly liquid or bog roll in each gite. - cant, this stuff doesn't restock itself and the guests certainly wont buy it.
I'm a grumpy old man, and I'm not even old! This might not have been a good career choice.
To this I would add my own...
It's 32 degrees in the shade and you have to mow the lawn of your gite before the new guests arrive. Even in a thin cotton sundress you feel like an explorer lost in the middle of the desert, so you do what anyone would do, you take your dress off and mow in your knickers. No problem, there's another hour before the guests arrive. Wrong, they arrive an hour early to find you prancing round the garden in your undies. Red faces all round, not that you'd notice as you've been beetroot coloured for the past hour anyway!
When I worked for a local estate agent my heart used to sink when the smiling English couple would come in and say 'we want somewhere to make some gites'. What I was dying to say was
'Well, gosh, how original! I don't suppose anyone else in the area has thought of that. How about this property. Mr and Mrs Owner created some lovely gites but guess what, so did their neighbour, and their neighbour's neighbour, and their neighbour's neighbour's neighbour. They discovered they couldn't live on the income from the 6 weeks of lettings they were struggling to achieve each year and now they are selling the property for less than they paid for it and returning, broke, to the UK. Let's talk market saturation here...'
But what I said was 'I'm sure we'll have just the thing for you'.
I went to a concert tonight with Chantal, my neighbour. It was Kevano, billed as 'celtic country'. I'm still too traumatised to talk about it so it will have to wait for another day.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
So what does it mean? Could it possibly be that the headlines that shout forth from the Wail and the Torygraph - same paper with longer words! - are not true, at least not everywhere in Blighty. Could it be that groups of teenagers get together for other reasons than to indulge in a quick round of granny bashing or happy slapping? I was, to be honest, disappointed not to have been kicked around a bit by a disadvantaged junior member of the Daily Wail's and Owa Dayve's broken society. At least then I could sit here in my expatdom like so many others, most of whom have nothing better to do than Blightybash in the 'Your View' section of the Torygraph website and talk about how the country's gone to the dogs.
But I wasn't. Damn! What now? I'll have to talk about all the happy, smiling people I met. How so? The UK is way down the Happy Scale according to uSwitch while the French, Europe's biggest depressives, are apparently at no. 2. Clearly no one has told them!
The British media is really something. You could never accuse it of putting the truth before a good headline.
ONE FIFTH OF CHILDREN BORN TO NON-BRITISH WOMEN shouted the Torygraph. Sadly, it couldn't even agree with itself as two paragraphs down... TWO THIRDS OF CHILDREN ARE BORN TO MOTHERS WHO WERE THEMSELVES BORN OUTSIDE THE UK. Well I wasn't born in the UK so my children and my brother's fall into this category. What's your point?
HOUSING RECESSION WORST SINCE 1970s it bellowed on another day while the Business Section on the same day proclaimed HOUSING SLUMP WORST SINCE 1930s. That's some slump if it could fall so dramatically between the news and the business pages!!
I indulged in a little (or should I say a lot unless the CH is reading) retail therapy and worshipped at the Shrine of Tesco where I filled me boots with BOGOFS (a concept virtually unknown in France) even if I didn't really need them, paid homage to the retail god that is Bentalls, where I was to be seen wandering round like a mental patient on a day pass mumbling 'nice things..... lovely things' while the sales ladies eyed me suspiciously, and became alarmingly ecstatic in that altar to Mammon that is TK Maxx. I ate real sausages and bacon that wasn't wafer thin, drank tall skinny lattes till I couldn't drink any more and got DS some uber cool Red or Dead specs. No sign of the credit crunch in Kingston upon Thames.
I met up with old friends who asked 'when are you coming back, we miss you' and 'what are you doooooing out there in the arse-end of the universe - well France at least?'. They don't get it at all, my old friends. How did culcha'd city girl become French peasant girl in the space of a few short years?
It was the Hampton Court Flower show and we reminisced about the many evenings we spent at the Gala Opening night and how the sun always seemed to shine except for the last one when I'd just announced we were leaving the UK, when strangely it was freezing and rained.
We shed a tear on parting though why I don't know as we'll all be together over the summer but god, I miss them. That's the worst part about moving abroad. You leave your comfort zone, your friends who've known you for years and shared you joy and pain and start all over again. I've got some fabulous friends here in France who have been unfailing in their support during the CH's absences, they've minded the children, chopped up wood, mended leaks and changed taps and they are special people.... but we have no history yet.
CH and I went to our old stamping grounds like the Harrow near Shepperton Studios where I worked for several years (studios not pub!). It's a real film industry pub with photos of movie stars drinking there and posing with the various landlords. It's always got a fantastic mix of interesting people from brawny stunt guys to fey directors. This time we sat between Trevor Baylis, he of the wind up radio fame who still lives downriver on Eel Pie Island, and on the other side, the special effects director on the latest Batman film. Talk is all over 'pictures' (they're never referred to as films) and who's doing what and who's seen who lately. Who's doing well, who's retired and who's struggling to find work. Upcoming films, prima donna actresses and actors who think they are the new Peter O'Toole. It's so vibrant.
The CH even managed to take some time off work, no thanks to a certain leading actor who went out on a bender on Saturday night and didn't turn up for work again until Thursday. Schedules had to be changed and at one point the CH nearly had to hire a lorry and drive it to the studios in Ireland with a complete set in the back. I'd have given the little shite (not the CH you understand!) a belt round the ear myself but these modern line producers just don't know how to rein in these jumped up little egotists!
Eventually it was time to go home and with a pit in my stomach I got back on the plane for Toulouse. I love Blighty, I really do.
Back in France, the golden wheat fields have been cut, the sunflowers are starting to appear and life goes on.....
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
For once we managed to get to the airport before check in opened rather than our usual, several minutes before it closes, or on one notable occasion, after it closed.
We went to the desk where the two Easydrones sat behind patiently, waiting for the moment when check in would open. Two orderly queues formed, this being a UK flight and all. Just minutes before the 7.55 kick off, a supervisor appeared to tell No 2 Easydrone to take a tea break. She packed up and disappeared off, wishing everyone a pleasant flight and leaving just one Easydrone to deal with two queues.
"How's this going to work then' demanded a 'Retired to France' type?
"I'll take one person from each queue" explained Easydrone. Seemed simple enough to me.
Within seconds the 'retired to France' group, all beige slacks and half moon glasses, were in uproar, all claiming to have been at check in days, weeks and years before the people in the other queue, thus justifying their right to be checked in first. I groaned inwardly as one particularly feisty 'Anne Robinson' type, jabbed her finger at people in the other queue and demanded to know when they arrived and how long they had been waiting.
It went a bit like this:
Feisty Anne Robinson Type (FART): Well, what time did you arrive then?
Man with Bike (MWB): Two hours ago
FART: What time exactly?
FART: I thought so! Where were you sitting? We were here at quarter to.
MWB: At the back
FART: I didn't see you, where exactly?
MWB: Over there (sighing)
FART: I think I was here before you, in fact I'm sure I was
After a few minutes both MWB and FART where at the head of their respective queues. FART was toed up to the line ready to sprint for the desk if MWB dared to try and get their first. MWB couldn't have cared less.
The desk became free...
MWB: You first
FART: No, you.
For Heaven's Sake, I groaned to the children.
MBW shrugged his shoulders and walked up to the desk while FART visibly bristled that this young upstart should have had the gall to go first, even though she had asked him to.
The good thing with speaking French and having bilingual children is that you can break into French and be really rude about people and they are none the wiser. I hazarded a guess that FART probably said nothing more than 'Bonjour' and 'une baguette' and launched into a fairly good character assasination which was much enjoyed by the children.
Eventually we checked in and made for the departure gate. Gate 31 said our boarding cards. Hmmm, Gate 31 is a domestic gate so that couldn't be right. Eventually, after finding a milling throng of dazed and confused Fleasyjet passengers wandering around gate 31, I discovered that it was, in fact, gate 35. Easy mistake to make! So we all trudged round through passport control, manned as usual by gendarmes who had all got A* in their 'scowling suspiciously at nasty foreigner' test at Gendarme School, we collapsed in the cafe for a drink. As ever, my grand creme was repulsive and undrinkable but I soldiered on to ensure at least the minimum caffeine fix.
Departure was scheduled for 21.55 and by 21.45 the stand was suspciously devoid of anything vaguely representing an aircraft and sure enough, a message was now flashing along the bottom of the screen saying the flight was delayed by 1 hour 20 minutes. This being France, the cafe shut its doors at 22.00 and not so much as a drink of water would be available during our wait.
1 hour and 20 minutes later, no prized for guessing where we were. Still sitting in the departure lounge while the Easydrones perfected the art of the Gallic shrug with the head tipped on one side and a slight eye roll.
This is a gesture I've become very familiar with during the past almost 4 years. It's the standard answer to just about anything from 'when does the boulanger arrive' to 'my dog has been kidnapped by green shiny aliens'. It truly is an all purpose (and very French) gesture that we should all take time to learn. It works in just about any situation and a few you wouldn't even have thought of.
Eventually the flight was called and we realised that Easydrone @ check-in had had the last laugh. He'd given all the early arrivals a B on their boarding cards so they got to board last! FART nearly burst a major blood vessel when she realised and Mr FART, who sported a hearing aid, no doubt as a result of years of listening to FART's moaning, groaning and droning, looked apoplectic.
We boarded the plane, tired and thirsty, to be met by Francesca, positively the most bored air stewardess of all time, who couldn't even raise the faintest of smiles for her poor, delayed passengers and just continued to stare into the middle distance and chew her gum, a pose she maintained for the whole of boarding and most of the safety demonstration.
Now, as a former stewardess myself, I have a certain superstition about discussing plane crashes while flying in one but that didn't stop DD from spending most of the flight regaling me with questions such as 'do planes ever crash into each other in the air?' and 'if the engines stopped now would we crash?'. To me it's a bit like actors not referring to MacBeth by name as it brings bad luck and it left me with a bad feeling through the whole flight.
Eventually we start our descent into Gatwick. We're getting quite low but I haven't heard the landing gear go down. Even all these decades later I still do a mental check of all the things that should be happening as we come into land. Suddenly, about 500 feet off the ground, the nose tilts up sharply and the engines scream as we start climbing really steeply.
Bloody nora! It's the mid-air collision that DD had mentioned! I waited, heart in mouth, for the crunch and rush of air as the nose cone of a 747 smashed through our little Airbus (obviously as I'm typing this you know it didn't happen!). The crew made an announcement that this was normal procedure (my ar*e) and there was no cause for concern.
We went into a holding pattern while I ran through all the possible scenarios in my head. Landing gear stuck.....hydraulic failure..... another aircraft on runway... I never had any fear of flying when I did it as a job because you always knew what was happening. I hate being a passenger and not being in the know.
It brought to mind an incident during my flying days when I flew for a well known Middle Eastern airline. It was during the period when the government was trying to put locals in jobs previously held by the foreigners regardless of their ability to do said job.
We had a number of pilots who had trained at dodgy US flying schools and who, quite frankly, I wouldn't put in charge of a push bike. One particular one (who shall remain nameless for fear of a fatwa) but who was related to the ruling family and therefore 'untouchable' was made chief training pilot as it was considered better to keep him on the ground as much as possible rather than let him loose in the air with the lives of hundreds of passengers.
I knew of air crew who suddenly developed debilitating illnesses when his name was read out on the crew list in the pre-flight briefing.
It was my bad luck to find myself on his crew on a flight to Sudan but fortunately he was only co-pilot which drastically improved my chances of survival.
I was working in First Class so it was my job to tell the captain that the cabin was secured for landing. I went into the flight deck just in time to hear the following conversation.
Captain: Mohammed, do you have a Sudanese driving licence by any chance?
Mohammed: No, why do you ask?
Captain: Because you are lining up to land on the f***ing MOTORWAY!!
So, back to present day, and we held.... and held.... and held. I chatted gaily to the children until I realised that I was the only one on the entire aircraft who was talking. Clearly the crew's calming reassurances hadn't had the desired effect.
Eventually we started to descend.... I waited for the wheels to come down. Down and locked! Hooray, we were all going to live to see another day.
We finally landed 2 hours late where, god bless the CH, he was waiting, as instructed with Cadbury's chocolate and a latte!
I gulped down my latte, shared the chocolate with the offspring and realised that my back was fair covered in suspicious looking bites. Is Easyjet really Fleasyjet? What do you think?
Note: thanks to all who have commented during the last few days. I've had 4 days of duelling with dial up so I've lost the will to live. All comments will be answered shortly. Keep 'em coming!
Sunday, July 6, 2008
The trouble with having a swimming pool is that all sorts of people just pop in to use it.
Meet M. L'herrisson who was enjoying a, no doubt, unscheduled dip in the pool yesterday.You can't quite see from the photo but he's in about 4cms of water and was quite terrified. He desperately wanted to curl up but when he tried he put his nose in the water and his little head shot up again.Today I found the cutest little vole doing the doggy paddle around in circles in the deep end. He was in extremis and taking in water so I didn't think it fair to rush back to the house to get my camera. He was safely extracted from the pool and returned to dry land.
M. L'herrisson, much recovered from his attempt at learning to swim, has taken up residence in the garden of our cottage and has been spotted several times today.
I think it's fair to say it's been a bad weekend for him. First he gets trodden on, then he falls in the pool. Let's just hope that things don't go in threes in Hedgehogworld. What next?
The lovely Debs from Lehners in France have given me a splendid 'Just plain fun to read' award which I must pass on two three other fabulous bloggers. So, from me to you Jaywalker for keeping me amused with your Belgian Waffles, blogthatmama, who's blog I enjoy immensely and Hadriana, who I think is still on her hols, so hopefully it will be a nice suprise for her return.
Friend from Guyane has now left thank God. (Hey, who said that? It must be my evil twin) I do find French children hard work not least because they expect to be fed three courses at lunchtime. What person in their right mind cooks at lunchtime. I barely even eat and my children rarely expect more than a bowl of cereal. Hopefully a different cereal to the one they had at breakfast.
How did it get like this? I lived, breathed and occasionally ate Annabel Karmel when they were littlies but now, living in the real world, I seem to hardly managed 5 a week, never mind 5 a day, unless of course, we are talking flavours of crips.
Mind you, I was always a failure at the Alpha Mummy routine, lingering generally somewhere around Omega. I always forgot Harvest Festival and DS and DD were shoved through the door with a can of beans in an old carrier bag (not even a Waitrose one), while the real mummies reversed their 4x4s up to the school gate and unloaded beautifully wrapped fruit baskets and home-made (by the daily help at least) bread. I even forgot to go to Speech Day on the day that DS won two prizes.
Even here in France where the concept of the Alpha Mummy doesn't exist (tant mieux pour moi as they say) I send DD to school when it is a day off, forget to pick up DS when he finishes early and never have a sports kit ready or available.
I guess some people have it and other just muddle along in their own little way to the sound of lots of tutting and shaking of heads from the ones that ALWAYS get it right.
On a more positive note, tomorrow I'm going for an age defying facial. I've defied the beauty therapist to make me look 21. If she fails, when, you don't want to be there.
Next time you see me I'll be unrecognisable for the exhausted old hag that I am today!
Friday, July 4, 2008
We are going to the UK to stay with the CH and see old mates next week and, just for once, I'd like to be ready to leave on time with everything packed rather that our usual hour late career down the autoroute to Toulouse with my undies hanging out of the boot of the car and our entire wardrobes packed into three suitcases just in case I forget anything.
So I clicked on to Easyjet to check the flight times and 'putain' I'd booked the flights the wrong way round, flying from Gatwick to Toulouse on Tuesday and Toulouse to Gatwick the following week.
Calm, calm, restez zen...... it's only high season, I mean, how much can it cost to change it?
500 bloody quid is how much!
I phoned the CH, who was uncharacteristically unsympathetic, especially as he would have to foot the bill. I was very, very nearly divorced on the spot.
I tried to change it online but kept getting an error message saying I had to call the Customer Experience Centre and to 'click on this link'. It would have been easier to get the Skype number of the Dalai Lama than to find the number that the Easyjet website was telling me I had to phone.
"97% of your questions can be answered on our website" it claimed. Well not this one Pal, you told me I have to ring you. Eventually I found a number after scrolling down for several light years. I rang it. It only costs the GDP of a small African nation per nanosecond but hey, what does it matter.
After an interminably long menu which asked me to say 'website', 'yes', 'no', 'booking' ,'if this thing doesn't hurry up I'll need to take out a second mortgage' it eventually told me that if I need to change a flight I need to call a different number.
The 'different number' costs the approximate GDP of the United States and starts with the dreaded 09, which means you can't call it from outside the UK.
I eventually found the number for France, dialled, got put on hold at 1.34 euros a second, told I was in a queue (you are number 1..........hundred and forty three) then cut off, no doubt because the telephone system had reached it's allotted 35 hours it can work per week.
By this stage my stress levels were so high that I noticed nuclear fission happening around me. I found another number you can call from abroad and got through without spending more than the cost of a reasonably priced chateau in the Loire valley.
Next step, passing security. For some reason I had mistyped my mobile number so I couldn't answer that particular question. "Never mind", said the Easyjet drone, "tell me what your flight numbers are".
So I clicked on the confirmation to see...... well you would, wouldn't you? After all, I haven't memorised it, or written it down anywhere or had it conveniently tatooed to the inside of my wrist as I have the confirmation that they sent me staring at me from my computer screen.
"Oh," says the Easydrone. "You've clicked on your confirmation. That means I'm locked out of the system for half an hour, you'll have to call back".
"WHAAAAT!" I screamed." Why didn't you tell me that if I clicked on it you'll get locked out of your system."
"Well I don't know what you're doing on your computer, do I?" responds the Easydrone.
"But it's your bloody website, you should know. How am I supposed to know that if I click on it you'll get locked out? I didn't design the bloody thing. I don't work for Easyjet, you do. You should know. It should say somewhere on your website 'please do not click on this link while you are talking to our Customer Experience Centre or you won't be able to do anything for the next half hour'. I can't be expected to guess can I?"
"I'll log your call as complaint shall I?" asks Easydrone, all the while continuing to address me by my first name rather than Your Majesty or Your Noble Greatness whose day I have just ruined which would have been more appropriate.
"Yes, you do that. What time do you close?"
"In 20 minutes"
"So you'll wait for my call so I can change this flight as your stupid, stupid website seems unable to do it?" I suggested."
"No, I leave in 20 minutes you'll have to call back tomorrow"
"I'm not calling back tomorrow, I've already had to list my offspring on e-Bay to raise the money to pay for this telephone call. And in any case, you'll probably have doubled the ticket prices by then".
"That's a risk you take"
He wants to talk to me about risk? He was at serious risk of never being able to father children, or eat anything except puréed food for the rest of his life.
It's enough to make a girl turn to drink!