Wednesday, October 7, 2009

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

And now the end is near........

Well this is it folks, my last hurrah as Mme VLiF. The 24th August is fast approaching and it's time to draw my French blog to a close.

After almost 5 years here it's been a great adventure which I don't regret for a moment but it's time to move on. So, here are a few thoughts and ponderings about our time in France

What do I love?

Our valley

The views from the village

The weather in summer - not this summer. Too bloody hot!

My friends I've made here who I'll miss like mad but who hopefully are already planning their next trip to Wiltshire

Croissants from the lady in the village market on Sundays - but then they probably account for my expanding waistline

The fields when the wheat turns gold

The vast swathes of rape in Spring - apart from the coughing and sneezing it brings!

Sitting on our balcony watching the Milky Way and the shooting stars


What do I hate?

The nastiness that exists on some France forums
The weather for the rest of the year,

French customer services. Actually, that's something of an oxymoron, French and Customer Services!

French TV -- I really tried my best with it but it's pretty awful

The word 'integration'

People who say 'it's like the UK in the 50s' - what with malnutrition, polio, inequality of the sexes, backstreet abortions and hidden domestic violence? It's like France in the 2000s!

The word 'expats', we're not expats, we're immigrants. In fact, most of us are economic migrants really having moved to France so we could buy a bigger house. We are the Poles of France, except most don't actually have to work!


What drives me mad?
That you can't find things in the shops that have been available in the modern world for years - and I don't mean Marmite and Baked Beans, I mean, like ordinary things.

Paying for something in a shop and despite them having a drawer full of change they always want the odd centimes, even if there's 97 of them!
The lack of joined up thinking that seems so prevalent here
So not that much really!


What makes me smile?

The gallic shrug as the answer to everything.

The fact that Barko Sarko seems to be the world's biggest Francophobe, and he made Prez

Monsieur L's dancing

My lovely neighbour for whom I really hope life takes a turn for the better

What has been most suprising?

That despite everything you read it really is the same merde just different shaped bread. Maybe for the retired it's different but for me it just isn't. I'm quite convinced, as I have been for some time, that the authors of these 'Living the Dream' books are all taking mind-altering substances.

How few bilingual British people are actually employed in France.

How many people are prepared to live in absolute penury and accept things they absolutely wouldn't accept in their home countries just to live in a bigger house in France. I mean, it's great but .......


What has been most disappointing?

The education system. Dull, rigid, outdated. It's intended to produce drones who will work uncomplainingly for the ruling elite. So much for Egalité. One of the main reasons we are leaving is because our children, are so unhappy in the school system here. They can't wait to go back to 'proper' school in the UK. Let's hope it's not a disappointment.
Being ripped off by supposed friends. It can happen anywhere but it happened here.

The realisation that French couture doesn't really exist outside Paris. I can happily spend a whole day shopping and find absolutely nothing that I like. Shoes are the worst, hence my attachment to my Crocs

Hairdressers - I've lived in fear of coming out with aubergine or orange hair, or even both

The lack of opportunity for our bilingual British children. The French still seem to prefer to employ a French person with limited English than an English person with fluent French.


Best of times?

Christmas with some of our closest friends at the Chateau de L'hoste, Marchés Gourmands, time spent with friends, barbeque chez OnlyMe and Karlos Fandango, trying and largely failing to win the Quiz night (but we won this week, Allez les filles!!), the childrens' music concerts at Beauville Arts, listening proudly under the shade of the lime trees in Jon and Claire's garden, the High Security Music camp shows and singing my heart out with OnlyMe and of course, the Last Hurrah - our leaving party last weekend, of which I haven't had time to blog, sadly.


Worst of times?

Chopping wood in the winter, in fact anything to do with the winter!

Seeing good friends go through bad times and not being able to do anything to help.

Losing my beloved Mad Baz and Teabag and (whisper) accidentally running over DD's cat on the way to school one day. There.... I've said it. My name is Mme VLif and I've killed a family pet.

Telling the CH that I don't want to live here anymore because he loves it but he must love me more as he's agreed to move back. Aaaah!


Life in France vs Life in the UK?

UK for me I'm afraid. I try really hard to be a good 'expat' but I find after 4-5 years I realise just what a great place, despite everything, the UK really is and what opportunities exist for my children. France is, undoubtedly a great place to retire to but I'm not sure it's the place for families. All the reasearch I've done shows that most children brought up in France return to the UK. DD and DS are keen and very happy to return to the UK. There's lots I could add that has contributed to our decision to leave France but much of it is personal and not for sharing. All I would say is before passing judgement on someone's decision you need to walk in their shoes. I'm sure those of you desperate to leave the UK or whereever you live will think I'm bonkers but don't forget I was you 5 years ago. Sometimes it takes time away to make you realise what you had and also what you want.

Well, that's all folks, as they say. Thank you so much to everyone who has read and enjoyed my blog, to those who have commented and especially to all those clever people who's blogs I enjoy. I shall remain forever indebted to my Mum and Dad for encouraging me to start 'What French Dream'. It will serve as a permanent reminder of our French Adventure, assuming the Interweb doesn't get sucked into a black hole! Au revoir........



Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Easter Chicks..... (not for those who are sensitive about religion)

Once again our two cockerels have stepped up to the plate and performed their cockerelly duty so we have three new chicks. One black and two yellow ones that look like Easter chicks.

We decided to give them names that are synonymous with Easter so I give you......


Jesus



Mary and Joseph!




Saturday, August 15, 2009

In which my equilibrium was unbalanced by the sight of so many men in Speedos.....




Eeeuwwww! The French and their speedos!

Today we went to a fabulous waterpark up in Dordogneshire. It was a last jolly for les enfants before we head back to the UK in just over a week
.

Now, in France they have these funny hygiene laws in swimming pools. Here you can use the toilet and not wash your hands, then go and handle the fresh fruit and veg, you can go to a Marché Gourmand where they will use the same utensils and chopping boards (wooden of course) to handle raw and cooked food, but you can't wear surf shorts in swimming pools. You have to wear speedos.

Now, it's apparently for hygiene reasons, though every time I've asked the pools to clarify this, they can only spout the pre-printed script, but then that's very French.

Now, wearing speedos is fine if you look like this...



Trouble is, most of them look more like this......


Now, in actual fact, as this was a waterpark rather than a swimming pool, the speedo rule wasn't actually being enforced but hey, like Romeo and Juliet, you can't separate a French man from his speedos so they were there in abundance.

Now, it's not easy to eat a baguette when confronted with bulging men's genitals stuffed into lycra and after the first hour I felt that my equilibrium had been well and truly upset. Now, with some men, the promise of what lies beneath might be quite nice but with the majority, what lies beneath is definitely not for my eyes - or anyone else's.


To be honest, I think men's genitals were one of God's little jokes. When left with three small pieces of whatever it is that man is made from, he thought to himself 'now what can I do with these that would be really silly? I know......'

But of course he hadn't banked on a Scotsman emigrating to Australia and thinking, now what can I make out of this little bit of nylon, or on French men embracing the end result with such fervour.

You could tell the French men in speedos. They were the ones who strode around, puffing out their chests saying 'I'm French and proud of my baguette' while the British men, forced into such revealing swimwear, crept around looking and feeling slightly foolish, generally with hands cupped protectively, or maybe just to shield their manhood from prying eyes.


The trouble is, regardless of how unattractive the man, when confronted with 'Man in Speedos' ones eyes seem naturally drawn downwards only to arrive 'youknowhwere', at which point you are suddenly overcome with nausea and horror because to be honest, you don't really want to be reminded that these men.... well... you know what I mean don't you ladies?


Recently, a Muslim lady was banned from wearing a burkhini in a public swimming pool under the same hygiene rules. Personally, I'd like to see all the fat men in speedos forced to wear one in public so I can enjoy my packed lunch in peace.


What do you think?


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A lovely blog award



How ungrateful am I? Hadriana over at Hadriana's Treasures gave me this award last month and I clean forgot about it.

So I would now, in the final weeks of my blog, like to do as she did and pass it on to some of those who have commented on my blog. These will be my final awards so enjoy them!

So, here goes......


Take the award and pass it on......


Sunday, August 2, 2009

What is it with men.....?

We're now in the final throes of our French adventure and with only three weeks left here we have a mountain of things to do for the lovely tenants who are taking over our house.

Rooms to repaint, airing cupboards to make, kitchen worktops to replace and...... oh God, I can't even bear to think about it..... the cellar to sort out. That in itself will take several days, as we have to sift through our impressive collection of 'hors-service' printers, children's schoolwork dating back to the days when we could legally send them down mines, empty boxes, christmas decorations, halloween decorations, duvets, dead mice and other assorted miscellania - or rubbish some less enlightened folk might say.

Every day I'm up at 7.30am, packing boxes, sorting out stuff for charity or dechetterie, or persuading DD that she really doesn't need to take all of her 180 books, of which she claims to be reading 'every single one'!

On top of that we have holiday guests until the day before we leave so pools still need to be cleaned, laundry to be done, guests to be looked after, hells teeth.. .I'm wearing myself out just typing it!

Around 9.30am I kick the CH out of bed (note that I've already been up an at it for 2 hours) whereup he makes a pot of coffee then spends the rest of the day doing the flaming garden!

Now, you have to bear in mind that we've had no significant rainfall since April and the garden already looks like the aftermath of some mad dictator's 'scorched earth' policy or even the Somme without the trenches. There's barely a thing alive. The grass is a fetching shade of yellow, the trees have a certain autumnal hue about them and the garden is ankle deep in dead leaves, dropped walnuts and windfall plums.

What little colour there was has either been dug up by Prudence the golden non-retriever, in her constant search for a cool place to lie, or eaten by the chickens, who are testing my patience to the maximum at the moment. On the promise of rain last night I put all my window pots of geraniums on the lawn to soak up the (as it turned out) non-existent precipitation. By this morning I had an attractive array of stalks. I can also boast dahlia stalks, petunia stalks and verbena stalks if you're interested.

So I ask you, what's the point? It will all grow back in the end.

I know the CH doesn't want to leave France, but he seems to be in total denial and I foresee a mad, crazy panic in three weeks time.......


Monday, July 13, 2009

Another Fête Accompli

Saturday night was the long-awaited Village Fête to celebrate Bastille Day, you know, the day that the Parisian hordes stormed the Bastille and freed the remaining 7 prisoners described as 'four forgers', 'two lunatics' and a 'deviant aristocrat', which sounds pretty much like the makeup of just about any French village!

On a point of historical accuracy it should be mentioned that the prisoners were not the reason for the storming. The 'vainqueurs of the Bastille' were actually after all the gunpowder there, having previously stormed the Hotel des Invalides and stolen 30,000 muskets but neglected to notice that they had neither shot nor gunpowder. A nice fashion accessory no doubt but not much use for armed rebellion.

The resulting 'Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen' is now dutifully celebrated on or around the 14th July when the French get together and storm the beer tents followed by a night of dancing the night away in ladies-only couples. French men, it seems, generally stay rooted to their seats unless there is an accordion present - and thanks be to God/Allah/Yahweh there wasn't one.

It has a good reputation as village Fêtes go, largely because the food is generally edible, which is more than can be said for some of the other ones where the mass production of properly cooked, warm food, is still a distant dream. Apparently 22 Maires would be present (what do you call a group of Maires, I wonder? Any suggestions? A legislation of Maires? A bluster of Maires? ), a record for a local village Fête. I have to be honest and say that this whole French 'Maire' thing completely passes me by so I couldn't get that excited about the prospect of them all.

The CH, for his sins, was commandeered for kitchen duty - note they didn't commandeer me. Must have been forewarned - and, despite his pleas to the contrary they insisted on serving rice. Rice for 500 people. 35 kilos of rice that all needed to be cooked on the night.

The menu was good. Melon and Parma Ham for starters, followed by pate and salad, then Patagonian Beef and Pork cooked traditionally by a local guy who hails from South - we are a truly international community here. It was cooked on these giant tripod things encircled by wood fire - very Bear Grylls. This was accompanied by ratatouille nicoise and 'the rice'. The cheese course followed and then a surfeit of very sweet, very sticky chocolate and coffee eclairs. Ice creams next year please!

First up for the entertainment was the local dance school, which seemed to only consist of two people, who strutted their latin stuff in a variety of glittery gowns - her that is. I must admit I find something slightly distasteful about 12/13 year olds dressed as adults and doing provocative dance moves but that could just be my conservative Tunbridge Wells upbringing.

The band was a Franco/British one with a keyboard player who seemed to be constantly one song behind the rest of the band but that was fine because there was one lady who danced the entire evening to whatever song that he was playing. I've never seen anyone so consistently miss the beat.

It's a funny thing, dancing. I could have spent hours (in fact I probably did) watching the different styles but my favourites were definitely 'out of time girl', a couple who spent hours trotting backwards and forwards with the odd dosey-do, and a drunk who's style was a bit 'epileptic on hot coals' but fortunately for the rest of us, he only kept it up for about 5 minutes before the call of the bar became too strong. People here are big into line dancing and now a bit of samba and they are instantly recognisable because the generally dance in all-girl couples. French men often seem to need the added encouragement of the accordion to get theselves moving.

The obligatory 'feu d'artifice' were duly set off. 1200 rockets the publicity proudly proclaimed. Personally, I'm sure I only counted 1148 but it was a great show anyway only slightly marred by the behaviour of some of the local 'yoof' who seemed intent on provoking the majority British crowd. Fortunately most had partaken of too much of the free vino collapso to notice.

Actually that probably was the only downside. The wine. Or at least I think it was wine but it could just as easily have been the juice from several hundred jars of pickled beetroot. It could with great ease have stripped the enamel off your teeth and the lining from your stomach. The other option was to buy bottles at 10 euros a pop - a bit steep in the land of decent wine for 3 euros a bottle, even with a markup. Next year everyone will be bringing their own.

So, le quatorze juillet was duly fêted for another year albeit on the onze juillet, but then, who's counting.







Friday, July 10, 2009

In which I Vided my Grenier....

Well, with the impending return to the UK, a local vide grenier (literally translated it means empty your attic) seemed like an ideal opportunity to get rid of some of our piles of unwanted stuff.

So, the CH and I have dutifully rooted through the barns and the cellar (and, God forbid the last two boxes which we hadn't opened since we moved here the best part of 5 years ago!) and, apart from one dead mouse, turned up a motley but rather glorious selection of 'objets' to sell.

I'll be honest and admit that among the objets were a fair amount of tat but you live in hope don't you.

The CH and I arrived and set out our wares. The resulting display was very pleasing and included a Georgian tea strainer, a set of Royal Doulton china, an antique Copeland coffee set, a few Clarice Cliff plates and an old shower head.

Now, those of you who've been reading for a while will know that where we live in La France Profonde, where the biggest choice you'll have to make is whether to marry your cousin or take up linedancing,is not exactly the most cultured area. So, guess which one sold?

Did you guess right? Well, did you?

It was, of course, the old shower head! I asked a Euro for it and the old boy knocked me down to 50 cents! Honestly, how can you haggle over a Euro?

The strange thing about the French is they want you to pay way over the odds for their stuff but try and prise so much as 20 cents out of their hot little hand and, well to be honest, undoing a Gordian knot might be simpler.

I had a pile of hardly worn boy's Quiksilver t-shirts for a Euro...

C'est trop cher, Madame (too expensive)

A set of crystal wineglasses, unused, still with their labels. 5 Euros.

C'est trop cher, Madame

A Clarice Cliff plate for 4 euros.

C'est trop cher, Madame

A lovely 1920 tub chair for 50 euros which we bought in Blackrock Market in Dublin for over £100.

Je vous faire une offre, Madame, 10 euros (I'll make you an offer, Madame, 10 euros)

But the best was DS's old Gamecube and games on which, much to his chagrin, I got knocked down by the son to Mr Showerhead to 10 euros. As I wandered around looking for that undiscovered Monet, I found it on his own stall for 25 Euros!

The CH's collection of 1920s Bakelite cream makers caused a huge stir and if I'd got a Euro for each time I said 'c'est pour faire la crème, Monsieur/Madame' I'd have made a damn site more than I did for our treasures!

As I sat in the sun watching people, and it should be said, bemoaning that fact that the CH was despatched home specifically to get a parasol and a TV and returned with neither, and seeing what they had bought from other people's stalls I realised that our stuff was just too nice. The top sellers seemed to be rattan lampshades of the type that was popular in the 1980s, nasty bits of carved horn circa 1970 and other ethnic-alia and half sets of cheap crockery, in other words, all the stuff we took to the tip last week!

So, the day ended with us 50 euros richer, still with piles of unsold stuff which will now make it's way on to E-Bay and a back that you could fry an egg on - and on which I am off to smother a liberal coating of ointment.



Monday, July 6, 2009

Travels with my passport..... or without at this rate!

On July 17th, the CH's passport will expire. The rate things are going, I may well follow it!

The CH, having confidently assured me that his passport is valid until 2010, has just discovered that he has discalculia. It runs out in a matter of weeks in good old 2009. Now, bearing in mind that the next phone call could be a job - although the last few thousand haven't been - requiring his presence on some foreign soil, it would be a disaster to have an invalid passport so steps must be taken to renew it forthwith. How difficult could that be?

A quick check of the British Consulate website in Paris revealed that the cost of a passport from Paris would cost a total of 175 euros. The same passport renewed in the UK on his next trip was £114. or roughly 132 euros, a whole 45 euros less. All he had to do was make an appointment via the Passport Adviceline in the UK and have a new passport the same day. Only trouble was, there was no telephone number. The only telephone number was for the company who handles passport enquiries in France (while having no actual link to the Consulate's passport office) was 69p a minute plus the cost of an overseas phonecall. Usury!

So, on to the Directgov site which gleefully exclaimed...

If you are a non-UK resident

If you do not live in the UK, you can apply in person to renew your passport while visiting the UK. To do this you need to call the IPS Passport Adviceline on +44 (0)300 222 0000 to make an appointment at a Regional Passport Office. You must also provide an address in the UK to which IPS can post the new passport.


Perfect. I dialled the number

A sultry French voice advised me that 'le numéro que vous démandez n'est pas attribué'

Not so perfect. According to the French exchange, this number doesn't exist.

A bit more digging and I found an e-mail address. I composed my e-mail

Dear Sir/Madam

I would like to make an appointment for my husband to renew his passport at a Regional passport centre on his next trip to the UK. However, the Passport Adviceline number cannot be called from overseas. Please could you provide me with the correct overseas direct dial number

Kind regards
Mme VLiF


Several hours later they replied....

Dear Madame,

Thank you for your enquiry

If you need to renew or apply for a British passport whilst overseas, or you have any queries relating to this, you will need to contact your nearest British Embassy. If you check the website of the Foreign Commonwealth Office you will be able to locate the nearest consular post. Their web address is:
www.fco.gov.uk.

Thank you.
Customer service e-mail team



To which I replied....

Please refer back to my original e-mail as you do not appear to have understood my query.I am quite aware of the Consular passport services. The British Consulate in Paris does not take phonecalls about passports. It is dealt with by an outsourced company and would cost me GDP of a small African nation to call it.

The British Consulate Paris website says my husband can renew his passport while in the UK if he makes an appointment through the Passport Advice Line. The telephone number 044 (0)300 222 0000 is given. This number is NOT available if you phone it from France therefore I am looking for a direct dial number through which I can reach the Passport Adviceline.

Regards
Mme VLiF

Clear enough isn't it?

So several hours later I received another reply.....

Dear Sir/Madame,

Thank you for your enquiry

As the Adviceline number is only for people applying for passports within the UK they do not have a phone number for international use.

If you need to call from outside the UK you could try dialling the UK dialling code in front of the number, if that does not work you could also try calling using a mobile instead of a landlines.

Thank you.
Customer service e-mail team


No phone number for international use? What about the one on the Directgov website? And putting the UK dialling code in front of the number? Well dress me in flippers and call me a herring... I'd NEVER have thought of that!

So I replied.....

Well perhaps you would like to tell the British Consulate in Paris this!


The following is cut and pasted from their website:

Applying for a passport in the UK

The Identity and Passport Service (IPS) deals with all passport applications for UK residents living in Britain.

However, if you are resident overseas, but are visiting the UK, you can also renew your passport during your trip.

To renew your passport while you are in the UK, you need to make an appointment to do this in person with the Identity and Passport Services (IPS).

And this is from the DirectGov website:

If you do not live in the UK, you can apply in person to renew your passport while visiting the UK. To do this you need to call the IPS Passport Adviceline on +44 (0)300 222 0000 to make an appointment at a Regional Passport Office. You must also provide an address in the UK to which IPS can post the new passport.Clearly one or other of you is wrong and does not know their job. I therefore repeat my request, please provide me with a number that can be dialled from overseas.as this one does not work.


I await their next response.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fame or Infamy?

This week has been a week of revelations. First I discovered I was Miss Wales 1997 (don't ask) and then I discovered that I actually starred on the pages of someone else's blog.

Ladies and Gentleman, I give you the Vendee Blogger, who's blog I hope you will enjoy.

.
Now originally I must admit that I was a bit offended at being identified as the flag carrier for the BATs (British and Twisted) but after a few days reflection I think I'm actually rather pleased and shall wear it forthwith as a Badge of Honour.

For surely, being a BAT is preferable to belonging to that other group that I shall call the BACs (British and Clueless) and to whom I shall introduce you later.
I should though, first point out that these categories refer to people that post on certain internet forums (which shall remain nameless) and bear no resemblance to anyone I actually know.

But first I shall examine my BAT credentials

Yes, I do live in France and yes I am moving back to the UK so that would indicate I prefer the UK to France. But really that only tells half the story.

Yes, I am probably a bit of a snob - I didn't live in Tunbridge Wells for nothing you know! To be honest, I think living in France is in danger of becoming a bit of a cliche but I do still enjoy it and have lots of lovely friends here.

And yes, my house is for sale. Perhaps the Vendee Blogger thinks it is overpriced and only appealing to other Brits but the number of French viewers says he's wrong. But more on that later.

Do I have time to spend on the internet researching things, no not really, but as I don't want to appear a complete twat by posting 'facts' that are fiction, I take the time rather than talking out of my derrière in true BAC fashion.

Do I care whether or not McDos takes over France? No, not really. I wasn't even aware of the article mentioned in the Vendee Blog. Oh dear, I see those BAT credentials slipping.

Is my mission to 'tear off the rose-coloured spectacles of any deluded souls who prefer living in France to the UK and are imprudent enough to say so? '

Yes, guilty as charged. I am, indeed, a realist who chucked away those rose-coloured spectacles on page 23 of A Year in Provence. If BATs have a genuine interest in the country they have made their home (beyond the price of the vin rouge - now cheaper in Tescos alas) and who have made an effort to speak French, read the newspapers and, god forbid, watch the TV, then yes, I'm a BAT and I'm proud.

So, what is a BAC?

The BAC is the antithesis of the BAT, one of the larger category of British 'expat' in France as deduced from their posts on France Forums.

They insist on being called 'expats' rather than immigrants because of course immigrants are generally one of the reasons they left the UK ("immigrants get all the housing", "immigrants taking our jobs", "bloody immigrants abusing our healthcare system", etc) and of course, in order to be an immigrant you have to be either Eastern European or Arab.

Naturally, being BACs they don't realise that they are moving to a country with a much higher immigrant population than the UK or that they will now become immigrants themselves. They also miss the point that they have not, by and large, contributed anything by way of taxes to the French Government but are happy to take plenty out of the healthcare service leading the French to exclaim 'bloody immigrants, abusing our healthcare system'. Sound familiar?

BACs generally moved to France to buy a bigger house for less money. That was their sole motive, so they could say to their friends back in the UK "oh I've got such a big house here, how is life in your two up, two down?" One or two might possibly have been to France before but most of them based their decision to move here on 'A Place in the Sun' or one of the surfeit of 'Living the Dream' books that clog up UK bookstores. Anyone actually looked into what happened to the authors of these books? Well, an alarming number of them, having extolled us all to move to France, left after a few years because they didn't like it.

A BAC refuses to believe that there is anything wrong in France, invariably take the Daily Mail as the next best thing to the word of God and the BBC is their touchstone for information on France (!) and almost to a man (or woman) don't read or write French.

This, in their opinion, makes them very well placed to have informed opinions on France and these opinions are the only ones that are right.

They are armchair experts on all facets of French life and love to post 'facts' on the internet. The problem is that said facts are usually gleaned from some bloke in the bar of their village or some similarly dissaffected British escapees who heard it on the BBC. I mistakenly used a certain well known internet forum to help fill in my first French tax return. I was given bucketloads of information..... and every single bit of it was wrong.

A recent BAC 'fact' on the internet.

"FACT. Car insurance is cheaper in France than the UK" (Fact. It ain't!)

The same BAC followed it up with this 'fact'.

"FACT. Property taxes in France are cheaper than the UK" (Fact. Property taxes vary hugely throughout France and in some areas are significantly higher than in similar areas of the UK)

They stalk the internet spouting their misinformation and arguing with anyone who doesn't agree with them.

In particular, they search out anyone who expresses even the most minor dissatisfaction with France then gang up on them trading insults until eventually the thread is removed and their mission is complete. Another attempt at presenting a more balanced view of life in France bites the dust. However, the paradox is that they hate the thought of any more British immigrants moving into their patch because think France is already overrun with them.

They have the capacity (in spades) to dismiss any rational, well documented argument as 'fabrication' mainly because, in order to back up a discussion on France some links to French websites are necessary and, of course, when they put it into Google Translator it came up with a load of incomprehensible rubbish, only mildly less incomprehensible than the original French it was written in and of which they still have little or no grasp. (Typical BAC comment overheard recently "I didn't understand it so I gave it to someone who does the French to sort out")

BACs will state, with absolute certainty that there is no knife crime in France. Taken from a BAC post on AngloInfo recently.

'And when do you hear of a French kid stabbing another one? Never!'

Oh dear, clearly this BAC didn't hear about this one, and this one , this one, oh, and this one only a few days ago.

They will state with absolute certainly that no French children play up in supermarkets. Of course the only time they go to the supermarket is when most French children are at school rather than on a Friday night or Saturday morning when the shops are heaving with fractious, whining French kids.

They will state with absolute certainty that there is no MRSA in France despite the fact that as recently as 2004, France had the highest MRSA rates in Europe. Current rates are largely similar to the UK (but don't tell them, they won't like it!). It's all well documented on the internet but, what's that you say? Oh, yes, they can't understand it because it's all in French.

They will state with absolute certainty that the French education system is better than anywhere else. The fact that most of them are retired, have no children in the French education system, nor in many cases even know any child who is, is totally irrelevant to them.

They will state with absolute certainty that there is no binge drinking in France despite the fact that the government recently set up a body to look into the problems caused by binge drinking in many University town.

They will state with absolute certainty that discipline is better in French schools. 80,000 violent incidents in schools in an average year says it's not, as does the recent spate of pupils stabbing teachers.
I've had all these discussions with them on internet forums.

How to recognise a BAC:

  • They are usually to be found wrapped around a carafe of red wine, not generally their first of the day, in any cafe across France, talking in loud voices about being 'integrated' which they consider themselves to be because they know the name of their neighbour.
  • Like minor aristocracy who are more royal than the Royals, they are more French than the French, gleefully leaving their cutlery on the table instead of on the plate and happily drinking their coffee out of their wine glasses. They are also known to favour outdoor urination because 'that's what the French do'. If they can buy themselves an old 2CV and live on 2 Francs and an old bottle top, they are in raptures. The worst offenders join the local chasse and pass the winter slaughtering fluffy little creatures. They are generally considered figures of fun by the French
  • They generally read the Daily Mail for all their information on life in France.
  • They are internet bullies
  • They wittily refer to the UK as the yUK
  • They will talk about their life in a pompous fashion, intimating that they could have a seat on the conseil municipale if only they had the time, such is their level of integration, to which we must all aspire. Scratch the surface a bit and you discover that they generally live in the growing number of 'Little Britains' that are dotting the French countryside.
  • They are pathologically incapable of saying anything positive about the UK.

BACs should not be confused with Bubble Brits who exist in their English enclaves, admitting to their inability to conquer the language, the fact that they don't have a clue what goes on here, do no-one any harm. They are a largely genial group.

So, given the choice, which group would you prefer to belong to. I know which one I'd choose.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Brassens-ed Off


The trouble with the credit crunch is that suddenly a free evening out seems like a good idea.

Today was My Dear Friend's 40th birthday and
being as we are all a bit financially challenged at the moment we decided to celebrate the event at a free picnic to celebrate the Fete de St Jean at a neighbouring village.

This particular fete has it's origins in pagan celebrations of the Summer Solstice but was then snaffled by the Catholic church as a feast day in honour of St John the Baptist. A quick look on the e-How website provided 'everything you need to know about celebrating the Fete de St Jean'.

'What you will need' it read.

Fire retardant clothing
A bell

Any evening that requires fire retardant clothing and a bell sounds like a great evening to me! So a quick check in the wardrobe, suitable fire retardant clothes were located - thank god I never threw away that old Fireman's outfit! - and we were ready, except for the bell.

Across France, to celebrate St John the Baptist/The summer solstice depening on your leanings large bonfires are built because........ because they are and historically the young blades of the village would leap the dying embers, which I personally thought was a great way for My Dear Friend to welcome in the new decade of her life. She had other ideas though, not to mention a dodgy foot and had failed to turn up in suitab
le fire retardant attire.

Anyway, enough of the history, we weren't going because we wanted to partake of a French tradition, we were going because it was free and there was music.

We all pitched up to the playground of the villa
ge school, clutching our picnics and wine, to find the place deserted and just a lone microphone and amplifier standing as testament to the fact that someone was there somewhere. No sooner had we rocked up than it started to rain so we decamped under cover amid much looking heavenward and assurances that it would pass, which it eventually did.

We set up our picnic and I have to say, we excelled ourselves. Without doubt ours was the best picnic by far and we were quietly smug as we tucked into quails eggs with celery salt, melon and parma ham, parmesan chicken, goat's cheese quiches, salads, charcuterie and cheese.

Eventually the entertainment started. Now this is when you realise the benefits of doing your research, because it's traditional in France to sing patriotic or traditional songs at the Fete de St Jean and we were just about to be subjected t
o a couple of hours of the songs of Georges Brassens sung by some beardy-weirdy. Brassens has many followers in France (but hey, they like Johnny Halliday too) but to me it is the equivalent of giving a manic depressive a very sharp knife and a large bottle of pills.

I gamely sat through 'La Mauvaise Herbe', 'La
Trompette de la Renommée', 'L'auvergnat' and 'Les copains d'abord' and a whole host of other well known (to everyone else) songs, smiling, trying to sing along and generally look as if we were having the time of our lives.

What we hadn't taken into account was the French reverence for Georges Brassens, who is treated as a favoured son who's every pronoun
cement must be savoured and enjoyed. Chairs were turned round to face the front, picnics packed away (it seems to be disrespectful to continue to eat while Brassens is being sung - or at least that's what we deduced from the dirty loo
ks we kept getting until ours was duly returned to hampers and coolbags) and the Fete took on the appearance of a concert which we neither knew about nor wanted to attend.

The thing about Brassens is that his is really poetry put to music and while the words are often quite upliftings, when put to music they seem to take on the appearance of a funeral dirge that makes Leonard Cohen seem positively upbeat. It's a French thing!

As I stared into the flames of our citronella candle, I mused that being attacked by a swarm of malarial mosquitos would be more fun that yet another Brassens song.

Eventually the fire was lit but at a good a 4 metres high the chances of any young blade, had there been one present under the age of 73 and a half, the chances of leaping it were, I would say, minimal.

Still, we must be grateful for small mercies. At least they have dispensed with the old tradition of cat burning, when a basket full of live cats was suspended above the flames and the locals would dance and sing as the cats were burned alive. Nice!



Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Does a Nobel Prize beckon?

Well, having failed so miserably with our self-sufficiency attempt last year - one aubergine and two peppers aren't really enough to feed a family of 4 for a year - I've been quietly confident about this year's effort.

We only planted a small plot but in a few weeks it's gone from this......



To this....





I planted 6 tomato plants, a mix of the coeur de boeuf and cherry types, loads of beans, two courgettes de Nice plants (the delicious round ones), some chillis and best of all, two melon plants. I've been dreaming of tucking into the delicious melons from my own garden for weeks. The plants have been tended lovingly, sang to, talked to, watered (but not too much), in fact you'd be hard pushed to find anyone who has lavished so much attention on their veggies.

When I first planted them, the CH came to admire.

"So, what have you got? Beans, tomatoes, courgettes, peppers and... more courgettes"

"No, they're melons" I corrected. "These are the courgettes".

"Well, they look like courgettes to me" he replied.

Well, what would he know, townie that he is. I was brought up (almost) in the country so there's not much I don't know about identifying vegetable plants.

So, a few weeks passed, the plants have all gone mad. The tomatoes are flowering nicely, the chilli plants have loads of little white flowers growing on them and the melons, in turn, have huge yellow flowers.

"Wow, I said to the CH "if every one of them becomes a melon, we'll be laughing!"

"They look like courgette flowers to me" he replied.

Oh for heavens sake! Does he think I don't know the difference? (And anyway, I took them from a rack that was clearly marked 'melons'._

So, you can imagine my excitement when he came in today and asked whether I had seen what had happened to my melon plants.

"What? What's happened? If the chickens have been at them they all be Coq au Vin tonight".

"No, it's better than that. You're not going to believe it"

"What?" I asked with mounting excitement, imagining the first fruits and tucking into luscious melons with the juice dripping down my chin.

"Your melon plant has grown a 7 inch COURGETTE. It's a bloody miracle!"

"WHAAAAATTTT? It can't have. It's a melon plant. It grows melons not flaming courgettes"

I dashed to the vegetable patch and there, winking at me from among the leaves, was a beautiful, shiny, green .......



No, this can't be? I mean, it's not as if I don't know the difference between a melon and a courgette plant, and there's the little matter of the garden centre having sold them to me as 'melon plants' so they must be, mustn't they?

I know what's happened. I've actually created a new hybrid melonette. It's a botanical marvel! It might look like a courgette but it's sure as hell going to taste like a melon. The world will go mad for them. In fact, I may even win the Nobel Prize.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mon enfant trilangue......yeah really!

As it's getting towards the end of the school year, the children are starting to empty out files and get rid of a year's worth of 'controles' (school tests). I think schoolchildren in France must be among the most tested in Europe!

I came across a Spanish controle belonging to DS and, while I don't support the lack of effort he put into it, well, you have to laugh! I know people who mistakenly believe that their children will leave school here trilingual, having mastered English (if they didn't already speak it), French (if they didn't already speak it) and a third modern language, in our case, Spanish.

Here's an excerpt from DS's test and I'll leave you to make up your mind.

Translate the following:

le voisin/la voisine (neighbour) el voisinos, la voisina

le fromage (cheese) el fromagos

un sandwich (no translation needed!) uno sandwichos

un oignon (onion) unos oignonos

l'huile (oil) el huilos


So, what do you think? Trilingual or not?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

It's a regular form-filling frenzy...

Ooh, owww!  Careful now.  I've just finished the annual form-filling-in-fest that is the 'reinscription scolaire'. I have a severe case of repetitive documentation injury.  My eyes are crossed and my mind is boggled.

Being France you don't just have to enrol your child in school once, you have to do it every year. Well how else can you keep all these 'fonctionnaires' (government employees) in a job, with early retirement and a big fat pension. Sound familiar? 

It used to be the case that the forms arrived with all the information already filled in and it was just a case of making any corrections but clearly, with unemployment soaring in rural France they think we have more time on our hands. Either that or the revolving door that is relationships in this part of the world means that the forms serve as a reminder to the children who their latest daddy/mummy  is and which of their classmates they will share them with this year.

The idea of sharing information doesn't seem to exist here so the same information has to be written on the form for La Vie Scolaire, the school administration, the school nurse, the janitor, the class guinea pig... (what do you mean there isn't one?)

So, on top of everything else I've had to do today I've .....

a) written my children's names 14 times

b) written my name 12 times

c)  written my husband's name 8 times (well of course he's much less important!)

d)  written my address 10 times

e)  written my phone number 10 times

f)   written my mobile number 8 times

g)  written my emergency contacts details 8 times

h)  written the children's bus route 4 times

i)   written my doctor's name and address a mere 4 times

j)   signed my name 10 times

In addition, I have 12 pages of duplicated information about the school canteen, the new 'free' bus service which is actually costing me more than the free one the children already have and the latest bonkers idea for the beginning of next term.  They start back on Wednesday for a half day, have Thursday off so the new intake can have the school to themselves (normally the new intake starts the day before the rest of the school) and back again on Friday.  A good half acre of Amazonian rainforest must have been felled.  They know I have two children in the school, why not just one set of information?   Imagine if I was a good French woman and had supplied the state with a 'famille nombreuse' (4 plus children)?

So, off for a hot bath with a pack of frozen peas on my right arm.

Tomorrow, I have the school transport forms to deal with.......


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Who rained on Sarko's parade?

Ooh la la!  There's nothing like the war to bring to the surface all those long hidden emnities not least in the British tabloid press.

'Queen snubbed' roar the tabloids after it emerges that the Queen isn't being invited to the 65th Anniversary of the Normandy landings. 'Nah, I didn't want to go anyway' responds HM.  So what's it all about? 

Thanks to the somewhat partisan output of Hollywood, which for many is regarded as a valid source of historical fact,  we all know that the liberation was the work of the US alone and a handful of brave French patriots don't we? We also know that the Great Escapees were almost to a man, lantern-jawed Americans, assisted by a few shiny cheeked British chappies with pinched vowels and handlebar moustaches. Clearly someone has forgotten to mention that in fact not one of the Escapees was American. And fortunately we have Saving Private Ryan to remind us that only the US was involved in the D-Day landings, so why would HM want to go anyway?  Apparently there's also a new film coming out proving the yanks won the Battle of Britain too. Oh how we will have to re-write those history books!

The British and Canadian troops didn'
t land on three beaches, compared to the US's two did they and don't forget we have the US to thank for breaking of the Enigma code, even though it was broken before the US even joined the war. 

So, it's understandable that the celebrity-obsessed Nicholas Sarkozy, who I'm starting to believe really is a Spitting Image puppet, should maybe not have that big a grasp of historical fact.

                  

The self-promoting Sarko wanted it to be an Franco-US lovefest to celebrate the 'special relationship' between the US and France. Hmm, where have I heard that before?

Really it's so he can brown-nose the 'homme du jour' Barack Obama - who of course visited Broon long before he dropped in on the poison dwarf. Jealousy is a strong emotion! He wanted that photo-opportunity with Barack all to himself  though what he'll have to say to him, seeing as he barely speaks English, is anyone's guess but then, that's what he's got the multi-lingual Carla for. And you thought he just married her for her shapely behind!

In doing so he insulted, whether intentionally or not, the countries who provided the troops who liberated France. France itself just provided the battlefields. While it's easy to dismiss the frenzy whipped up by the tabloid press, the Canadians are also less than impressed with the situation.  In fairness it should be said that many French believe that it is impossible to hold a bi-lateral ceremony without representatives of all the countries involved and look on this as yet another of Sarko's messes. 

Back in the UK Broon said that the UK wasn't going to commemorate the 65th Anniversary as it wasn't usual to do so but as it is going to be the last gathering of the Normandy veterans a campaign to change this was launched by, what else, a tabloid newspaper and Broon bowed to public pressure and asked for an invite. 

Barack then said that he wanted the Royals to be there, thus pooping firmly on Sarko's parade but HM may or may not have spat the dummy and said she didn't want to come anyway. Step forward Prince Charles, who had convenient gap in his diary, to represent the Royal Family. 

You gotta laugh at a French President so keen to impress an American President that he forgets some of the things that they have said about his country. So just in case he's reading... these are for you M. Sarkozy

'I'd rather have a German battalion in front of me than a French one behind' - General Patton

'Going to war without the French is like going deer hunting without an accordion' - Norman Schwartzkopf

'As far as I'm concerned, war always means failure' - Jacques Chirac to which the response was...

'Where France is concerned you are right' - Rush Limbaugh

'The only time the French want us to go to war is when the Germans are sipping coffee in Paris' - Regis Philbin

'The only way we'd get to French to join is if we told them we'd found truffles in Iraq' - Dennis Miller


You can really understand why he thinks France has a special relationship with the US!


Monday, June 1, 2009

WARNING! WARNING!

The CH has announced ominously that 'tomorrow I will be doing the bathroom'.  Those long term readers will remember that DIY really isn't our thing so I feel it only fair to send out due warning of impending doom.

Actually, 'doing the bathroom' really just means removing the manky old tiled bath surround, complete with feature wooden shelf that is probably growing the cure to the common cold, Swine Flu, Bluetongue and every other ill of the modern world.

Really I'd like to gut the whole bathroom. It's OK but very tired ..... and worst of all, all white. White floors, white ceiling, white walls. White is alright unless you happen to be married to a dark haired man who's losing his hair. Sadly, with our credit well and truly crunched and the CH having been on gardening leave for the past 5 months while ITV re-runs Ballykissangel and On the Buses, it's not an option.

The bath surround has proved to be a classic feat of French building. It's held together by little more than tile adhesive and grout and how it's lasted this long is a mystery. But not for long. The CH has carefully removed all the tiles and cleaned them up and from tomorrow he will be rebuilding it.... better...... stronger.....faster than before. Sorry, got a bit lost in 1980s television for a minute there.

Bearing in mind that when he took the lid off the toilet cistern, a simple job which involved unsecrewing the flush button and lifting it off, we NEVER managed to get it back on properly ( in fact most of our friends have also failed to get it back on properly either) the chances are that the whole bathroom will collapse or he'll electrocute  himself or burst a pipe.... the options are endless.

Therefore, it is my civic duty to advise you all that tomorrow the CH will be doing DIY. This may be my last post and, if so, it's been real and it's been good... but it hasn't been real good (Oh the old ones are the best eh?).

Keep away. You have been warned!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

It is with regret.......

....that I announce the news that French singing legend Jean-Philippe Smet (otherwise known as Jonneee Alleeday) has decided to hang up his guitar.Tomorrow he starts his farewell tour, called Route 66, a reference to the eponymous US route and, sadly, his age. He fears that if he carries on he 'will become pathetic'.  Here's a bit of news, Mr Hallyday......



Those of you outside France and possibly Belgium and bit of Switzerland could be forgiven for going... who?  

So here's  bit of catch up. Johnny Hallyday is a legend in France. For what, I'm not quite sure. Maybe just for being a legend, for being the Cliff Richard of the French music scene, or maybe even the Madonna as he is busily adopting the whole of Vietnam while Madonna makes her way through Malawi, or perhaps for the revolving door that is the title Mme Hallyday, previous incumbents having been Sylvie Vartan, herself famous for not being known anywhere outside France, followed by Babeth Etienne, Nathalie Baye then Adeline Blondiau. 

This is he with the current version, Laeticia Boudou who has held the title for the past 12 years. Clearly she married him in primary school.  Now what do you suppose she sees in him?



You have to feel sorry for the French. While other nations, many of whom the French consider culturally inferior, regularly produce international quality stars, the French since the heady days of the 1930s and with a small blip in the 50s for the likes of Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel (who was actually Belgian) have singularly failed to do so.  Even Plastic Bertrand (remember him?)  was Belgian.  Things may be looking up a little with the arrival on the scene of Justice and Daft Punk, both of whom have had a bit of success across La Manche.

But back to M. Hallyday. Back in the late 50s a young Elvis Presley appeared on the scene to bring rock n' roll to the masses. A few years later, a young Jean-Philippe Smet, calling himself Johnny Hallyday, appeared on the French scene, swinging his hips and making the right noises. And 49 years later, that's exactly where he remains. A couple of years ago, the BBC did a documentary to introduce us Brits to the lovely Johnny. That says it all really. After nearly 50 years on the music scene, he remained vitually unknown outside France.

Perhaps unwisely, Johnny tried, a few years back, to become Belgian. Perhaps it was so he could at least feature in that well-known parlour game 'Name 10 Famous Belgians'  (errr......... Jacques Brel?  Hercule Poirot? Plastic Bertrand?  Jaywalker?) . He claimed it was to rediscover his Belgian roots and exorcise the demons left after his Belgian father abandoned him (is it any wonder? Even Johnny's millions haven't flushed out the illusive M. Smet senior).  Closer inspection revealed, however, that it was more likely a ruse to escape the crippling wealth tax bought in by Francois Mitterand.

Sadly, his claim to Belgian-ness were refuted by the Belgian government who don't recognise illegitimate offspring such as he!. How sad is that?  To be turned down by Belgium.  Still, had he become Belgian, he would have had to renounce his only claim to fame, that of being the leading French rocker and then maybe the BBC wouldn't have made the documentary

Never mind, the tax haven that is Switzerland beckoned and there he remains, leathery to the last, like an iguana squinting in the sun.

Recently I had the dubious pleasure of sitting in our local cafe while a French friend regaled to me in tiny, minute really, details of his most prized possession. He boxed set of the complete works of Johnny Hallyday. All indexed and kept in chronological order. I'm just hoping that my slightly glazed expression wasn't too noticeable. His lasting appeal to the French mystifies me but then so does much about the French to be honest.

A few years back, a friend who is a tour manager for some real legends - U2, Rolling Stones - was personally asked by Johnny to manage his upcoming tour.  Said friend felt that having a Johnny tour on his CV would actually be damaging to his career and so declined, citing much needed weeding in his garden.

But, never fear, all you Johnny-rockers out there. It's au revoir, not goodbye.  He's planning to concentrate on his acting career now.  No doubt if the BBC ever decides to to remake Steptoe and Son, there will be a part for him as Steptoe Senior.









Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ode to Prudence

It's not often that poetry moves me but.....


I love my old dog
But she doesn't half stink
Of slightly weak bladder.
And who would think
that a Golden Retriever 
Could belch like a drunk?
Or fart so bad(ly) 
She'd embarrass a skunk?
With breath that could fell
a 200 hundredweight hog
I don't half love my malodorous dog.





Is there an opening for a new Poet Laureate? Damn, I think the position has just been filled.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It's a swine, this flu

Well, I may live in deepest, France but even I follow the news so I know that I'm probably pretty much talking to myself now. The pandemic of Swine Flu, or Grippe Porcine as it's called here has, no doubt, killed off all of those who cunningly avoided Bird Flu last year and SARS before that.

Any suggestion that a convenient pandemic would deflect talk away from the pitiful state of the global economy is clearly cynical but I have a sneaking suspicion that if an audit was done at the Centre for Disease control a few vials of Piggy Flu virus would be unaccounted for. That would then be followed by a sneaking suspicion that said vials would be found in the undergrowth near an intensive pig farm in Mexico. A conspiracy theorist's dream!

The French government has been no less alarmist putting the country on alert level 5 even though there were no confirmed cases in France so when I went down with flu like symptoms I was sure I was about to be the first. Do those masks come in different colours to complement your outfit? Lipstick or not underneath? Should I be like the Frenchman on the TV who, when asked if his facemask was hot to wear, he announced that he'd already sorted that out by making holes in it! I kid you not! So, what to do? Call the SAMU or go to the doctor?

Figuring that the actual probability of having Pork Flu was slightly less than zero I opted for the doctors, with a whispered apology to my fellow patients for any infection I may pass on to them. People round here are from good peasant stock. A touch of Pigglywig Flu wouldn't stop them in their tracks anyway.

I explained my symptoms to my doctors - which was actually more difficult than I thought as we always speak in French, although he speaks perfect English. For some reason, that day he decided to talk in English while I was prepared to talk French so I mumbled some bizarre Franglais explanation about pains in my articulations and mal au throat which may be the reason why I'm here and not in isolation somewhere with TV cameras doorstepping my neighbours.

I left clutching the usual array of medicaments for every conceivable situation.... antibiotics, anti inflammatories, 1mg paracetamol tablets that look like horse pills. But a week later, I still feel like someone is ramming sharpened knitting needles down my throat. Maybe......

DS came downstairs yesterday with the start of a cold and announced he had 7 of the 9 symptoms of Hog Flu. See, that's how panic starts. The media has a lot to answer for.

Still, pigs of another variety, the ones in pinstriped suits, have now conveniently knocked this story off the news headlines and left the WHO and the CDC to think up the next 'pandemic'. Giraffe flu perhaps?