Saturday, March 28, 2009

Oh Joy.....

A little while back I mentioned in my blog about French forums, as in forums for people who live in France. One of the forums I belong to has a section that I read more often than I should. It is supposedly for 'informal discussion about things that are non-France related'. For the most part, it seems to be peopled by boring old farts who do nothing but moan and groan about their pensions, single parents, crime in the UK, binge drinking, all the things that affect them on a day to day basis of course.

What is is about France that seems to attract such a sour bunch of folk to these forums? Aren't they all supposed to be living the dream in the sun with a chilled glass of rosé in their hands, no mortgage and oooh so integrated? And not only sour (yes, I'm going to say it.... deep breath) stupid, ill-informed and completely obsessive about what is going on in the UK. Well, not really what's going on, more like what the tabloids say is going on. Most of the people that post seem to be slightly to the right of Atila the Hun with a world view that brings new meaning to the word narrow minded.

I have to be truthful and say that the people I meet on a day to day basis are not at all sour, quite the opposite, but then most of them have proper lives and don't spend hours on the internet telling us all what we should think and how we should live our lives.

I try to keep away from this sub forum but sometimes it is a bit like a scab that you just can't leave alone. Maybe there should be some sort of Forumers Anonymous where we all sit around and say 'I'm (insert your forum ID) and I can't stop reading forums'. That would make its acronym FA, which is, in fact, very appropriate! It's about how much most of them seem to know about just about anything.

I've not had much to say recently but today took issue with someone who made a comment about single mothers on a thread about that girl in the UK who supposedly got pregnant by the 13 year old boy. It was the usual tired old chestnut.... they'll get free housing and loads of benefits all paid for by the poor old pensioners. In actual fact, single parents aren't entitled to any benefits that the rest of us couldn't get but let's not let that get in the way of a good moan. I took issue because I know a number of single mothers, single through choice and all successful in their own fields. Also the CH's ex was a teenage mother and between them they did a fabulous job of raising their child. I object to them being portrayed as benefit scroungers.

Of course anyone in their right mind would have seen through the story and realised that a boy who hadn't even reached puberty was unlikely to have fathered a child but no, righteous indignation and much 'it didn't happen in my time' (because, of course, sexual promiscuity is something that only started in the 1980s isn't it) and the 'UK has gone down the toilet' is far simpler than actually stopping and thinking about it. Needless to say, apparently this child isn't the father. No surprises there then. And of course this ONLY happens in the UK despite a link posted by a French member to an article about young teen pregnancies in France which of course was completely ignored just like any mention of binge drinking, MRSA, gang crime, stabbings and violence.

"Doesn't happen here, don't you know " they all say, as they pour their coffee into their wine glasses and place their knives and forks carefully on the table alongside the half eaten baguette.

Of course my response, pointing out statistics, benefits and experiences of family members was completely rubbished because people just want to believe what they want to believe. Hey ho. I know how a teacher in a sink estate comprehensive must feel like. It's so sad that people can still be so ignorant but secretly, now that we are heading back to the UK, I'm glad that they are all over here. France is welcome to them, bless their little cotton gussets.

Anyway, someone on the forum, one of my usual detractors I should add, dared to say the following....

"of course you never moan? Just read your own Blog. Pot calling kettle black or what"

MOAN...... MOAN..... Is that was my little ramblings are? Moans? I thought it was a humorous look at life in France. How could I have been so wrong? I'm devastated..... I may never blog again! I shall have to throw myself onto my strimmer - it's the noble thing to do.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Travels with my strimmer....

I'm the first to admit that I'm a newbie to this strimming lark. Not because I've consciously made a decision not to strim, but more because all previous attempts have ended in disaster.

A few years back we bought a sooper-dooper heavy duty Honda strimmer for 200 euros from a friend who'd bought it in a job lot of stuff from a couple who had lost the will to live with their house renovation and scurried back to the relative civilisation of the US. (did you manage to read that sentence without taking a breath? If so, stop now and breath IN). Said friend had tried it out and and reported that it worked well and was good buy. What said friend failed to mention was that he had inadvertently filled it up and used it with 2 stroke. But as any Honda connoisseur knows, they run on 4 stroke. On first use the entire engine casing split in two and our local repairer of all things mechanical, the snake hipped Monsieur L, pronounced it 'complètement foutu' and beyond repair. Said friend shrugged his shoulders and was in no hurry (then or ever since) to refund the money. The foutued strimmer is still sitting in the barn as a dreadful warning not to buy things from mates in the future!

Those who have been reading for a while will remember that when our very expensive Honda mower died a death not four years after it's purchase I replaced it with a very cheap one that came in an unbranded box marked 'Lawnmower', much to the disgust of the CH. Needless to say, you do get what you pay for and the unbranded Chinese lawnmower has currently gone tech. But with several viewings on the house this week, I felt that the unkempt look of the lawn was reducing our kerb appeal - and as an acolyte of Phil and Kirsty, I know how important kerb appeal is.

The trouble with our lawn is that it was originally a field and if you turn your back on it for a minute, it reverts to the sort of lawn only really suitable for a herd of Limousin cows, in fact, Mellors, my old gardener, suggested we do just that. Cheeky bugger! So with the Chinese Lawnmower out of action I had to resort to trying to tame the lawn with our recently acquired (for 30 euros from another friend - some people never learn!) Ryobi strimmer.

I've always had this vague idea that strimming the lawn would be a relatively calm affair, all you have to do is hook it up to your harness and off you go, creating a bowling green from the cow pasture in wide, sweeping arcs. Maybe if you have a bowling green to start with some sort of neat, surburban affair can be achieved but trust me, if you start off with a field, you end up with a field, only this time it looks like it's had a bad haircut.

The first problem was adjusting the harness so the strimmer sat at the right level. Obviously if you do this before you start it's hugely helpful because trying to adjust it at the same time as trying not to amputate your toes, or those of your nearest and dearest, is more tricky than it looks. Actually no, the first problem is getting the damn thing started. All you do, says the CH, is press the priming thingy eight times then pull on the starting cord thingy, it fires up and off you go. It took me half an hour and lots of swearing to start the damn thing. Why can't things just have keys?

Next you don your goggles - absolutely vital in order to avoid corneal abrasions which are incredibly painful. That's when you discover that your eyes can actually sweat! I used to have a full face mask but..... oh it's another long story involving the same friend who sold me the Honda strimmer but yet again I seem to have come off worst.

All kitted up you meander round the garden swinging your strimmer and in an hour or so, voila, a nice neat lawn. Not so in my case. Your strimmer alternately digs large holes in the lawn and bounces off the tops of the long clumps of grass, spraying you with chopped up dog poo that Prudence, the golden non-retriever, has left behind. Words will be had with the offspring, who's job it is to collect said excrement and dispose of it on a daily basis. It seems that standards are slipping on the Homestead.

A slip of the strimmer and you've beheaded the daffodils and narrowly missed a chicken but you press on gamely. You strim and strim some more, trying to recreate the wicket at the Oval, but what you get bears more resemblance to the Somme the day after.

By now, you've lost all feeling in your hands, so much so that the concentration required to peel the potatoes for supper is such that you might need for splitting the atom with a chisel and a hammer. You look down at your clothes - decent ones which you probably should have changed - and discover that you are now covered in a fine layer of grass cuttings and other things that you decide not to look at too closely. Not only that but the juicy grass has left, well, juice all over you and your white leather trainers are now lime green.

Eventually the petrol runs out and you breathe a sigh of relief and swear that you'll pay someone to do it for you in future. You step back to admire your handiwork. It looks more like the Russian Steppes than a lawn. In fact it looks more like the Spanish Steps.

On the plus side though, you congratulate yourself on all the useful items that your strimming has revealed. The missing head to the pool brush, about 20 pegs, a screwdriver and the dog lead.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The day the Mail came......

Now, I've been more than a little bit critical of that bastion of balanced reporting, The Daily Mail, so it's with just a hint of embarrassment that I have to admit to recently starring (well, second billing at least) in a double page spread in said worthy journal.

What? I hear you ask. Is Mme VLiF really an unmarried single mother(or even grandmother) with 8 children by different fathers, expecting another 6 through NHS funded IVF, with a partner in the slammer for GBH and living in a council flat in Bolchester? Is this France thing really just the ramblings of a demented inhabitant of 'Broken Britain'? If not, why is the Mail interested in her?

Here's how it happened......... (wibbly wobbly dream sequence thingy like on the telly......)

As I checked my e-mail, I noticed one which was a reply to a post on a forum.

Dear Mme VliF, it read, I was interested to read your post on the AngloFranglo* forum and would love to have the opportunity to discuss it in more detail for an article I'm doing for the Daily Mail. If you'd be interested in talking to me, please get in touch. Love your blog by the way.

Oh blimey... now what trouble has my big mouth to me into? A quick look back at the thread confirmed, which was about life in France, confirmed that it was one of my more 'outspoken' posts. Hmm, the Daily Mail. Could I really put aside my dislike of this paper and submit to an interview? While I've previously been described (by a dyed in the wool Socialist friend) as 'slightly to the right of Atila the Hun I'm really a woolly liberal at heart. No, I couldn't compromise my beliefs by appearing in the Daily Mail.............. could I?

But hey, a girl's got to get her fun where she can in rural France so with my moral compass set firmly at magnetic north I hit the reply button.

Yeah, why not. Give me a call.

Several hours later, the phone rang.

Hello, is that Mme VLiF? asked a pleasant English voice.

Yeeess, I answered curiously,half expecting the next sentence to begin with 'for security purposes.....'

Hi this is Fred Bloggs from the Daily Mail. We're doing a piece on how the exchange rate is affecting British people living in France on a sterling income. Would you be interested in talking to me?

Well, he caught me at a bad moment. I hadn't had adult conversation since the day before so I was loquacious in the extreme, much to his delight.

Well, of course it's difficult because we've lost 30% of our income in a year and France can be very expensive to live despite what all these wishy washy 'Living the Dream' books say. Our property taxes are double what we used to pay. Our utilities too. It's made things a bit tight. We think about how we spend our money and keep running the Grand Gasguzzler to a minimum. We try to use as much of our own wood as we can so we don't have to buy so much and don't use the heating as much as we used to. DS had two school trips planned, one to Italy and one to Spain but we've cancelled the Spanish one.

"If 'Living the Dream' involves spending half the winter covered in mud, with calloused hands from splitting logs, then I'm living it," I joked. "My mother says I have hands like a peasant!

He laughed.

Well, I'm going to be in France in a couple of days with a photographer (OMG!!!! - that's me not him!) would it be OK if we came down and took a few photos of you?

Oh bugger... why didn't I stick to that diet? Still, mustn't forget the miracles of Photoshop.....

Well only if you make me look 10 years younger with a body like Scarlett Johanssen, I told him

Don't worry, my photographer is a whizz at photoshop. Anything is possible

I'd wait to see the raw material first before I made promises like that!

So, the day of the photoshoot came but first I was helping a friend who was selling up her entire house to pay off the bank and start a new life. Well, a new, new life. France was supposed to her new life but it hasn't worked out as planned. Hers is a truly sad story, but it's hers not mine, to tell.

Gates opened at 10am sharp and within a nanosecond her back garden was swarming with people picking through her life for a few euros.

Suddenly a well dressed (i.e. no wellies and had clearly bathed this week) man appeared at my shoulder. Hello" he said "would you be Mrs B?

No, she's over there I replied.

You wouldn't be Mme VLiF by any chance would you?

Well, blow me down with a baguette (not a day old one of course, that would knock me out!) it's only Fred Bloggs from the Daily Mail, who unknown to me was also interviewing my friend.

Well, he was a pretty decent bloke. We chatted about all sorts of stuff and life in France while I gradually sold off Mrs B's possessions.

Eventually it was time to go and as he was heading back to the UK and not coming with the photographer in the afternoon, we said goodbye.

What on earth are you doing here? he said You're nothing like these people.

Not sure if that was a compliment or not but I took it as one.

I smiled. I often ask myself that.

Good luck with selling your house and he was off.

So, fast forward to the afternoon and the arrival of Paul, the photographer. A nice, cheery bloke who didn't seem to mind sidestepping the chicken poo on the terrace as he made his way to the front door. He took one look at our golden non-retriever and said "it's a pity it's for the Daily Mail. If it was for the Telegraph the retriever would be de rigeur. As it's for the Mail, how about the chickens...."

We chatted for a while and I reminded him of my criteria for being photographed. 10 years younger/Scarlett Johanssen. He assured me he'd do his best (but did I detect a hint of doubt in his eyes?)

So perched on the wall in front of the house and out on the balcony with an assortment of chickens and children he started shooting.

800 (yes I did say 800) photos later, he was finished. He took a few for the family album and promised to send me a few.

The article was due out at the weekend.

I was hardly even out of bed when the phone went mad. "It's in the Mail today" they all shouted.
And let me tell you.... Photoshop really is miraculous! I'd be transformed into a photo of the parade of shops in Virginia Water! Clearly Scarlett Johanssen was a task too far for the photographer and I'm still snorting at the description of me yomping through the woods with a chainsaw in my hand..... Oh, and he said I had hands like a peasant!

And did we ever get the photos? Nah. Hey ho!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Virgin on the ridiculous

Bereft as I am of gainful employment, M. Sarkozy having had other ideas about us wicked foreigners stealing the jobs of real French people, and having reduced the housekeeping to a minimum by tying the offspring to the sofa each evening in front of some suitably intellectually stimulating output from the BBC, I'm often reduced to posting on various forums in search of a bit of light entertainment.

I'm a regular poster on the education section of one forum where I frequently get my head shot off for daring to suggest that the French education system is actually not perfect (note to self: put new tin helmet on Christmas list). I was even asked to become a sort of junior moderator thingy which was probably just their futile attempt at shutting me up. Needless to say it didn't work.

Recently, there's been an interesting discussion on the documentary that was shown on TV called 'The Virgin Daughters' about the purity movement in the US. People were outraged at the idea that a young girl's virginity should become some sort of prize, paedophilia was mentioned, patriarchal religion was lambasted and the Muslims were blamed.

What? But they don't have anything to do with it. No matter, when indignation is righteous, common sense flies out of the window. One of the best comments I saw recently was 'not all Muslims are terrorists but all Islamic fundamentalists are Muslims'. Well DUH!!

I suggested that, really as they weren't affecting my life, I was happy to let them get on with it. If they want to go to the altar as virgins, why not. At least they wouldn't be accompanied by those little 21st Century friends, Chlamydia and Herpes. I of course also went to the altar a virgin..... virgin on middle age, virgin on a bus pass.

It seems that that wasn't the right answer. I'm supposed to be righteously indignant too apparently, even if what was being said was incorrect and borderline racist, I'm supposed to expound the virtues of our Western way of life, which as we all know leaves much to be desired.

They are funny places, these internet forums. I know people that live out some sort of bizarre fantasy life on them, no doubt because their own is so mundane, otherwise calm and gentle people who turn into ranting lunatics, some people even have more than one username and argue with themselves!

While they can be a mine of useful information, all too often they become the domain of the armchair experts and people who seem to have far too much time on their hands but still manage to fit in hours on the computer telling everyone how THEY are the only ones who 'integrated' (my least favourite word), that THEY are the only ones who moved for the lifestyle and love of France, everyone else just wanted a bigger house, that THEY have such a wonderful, full life here that they just don't have time for anything else. Well, a quick look at their posting history reveals that they logged on at 8am and were still there at 11pm. So much for a full life, eh?

But the thing that gets my back up most is the constant UK-bashing -or yUK as they have so cleverly renamed it. Sometimes I wonder if they aren't just trying to convince themselves that they made the right decision such is the vitriol they reserve for their home country. The worst offenders clearly never read French newspapers or watch the news and have only a vague grasp of what is happening here while their view of UK life is clearly modelled on the worst rantings of the Daily Mail. Everyone under 21 carries a knife (in France, it's more likely to be a gun), everyone under 21 binge drinks (the government here has recently introduced measures to combat the growing problem with binge drinking), it's full of immigrants (immigrants make up over 10% of the French population, compared to around 7% in the UK). This is actually one of my favourites as they are immigrants themselves - no sorry, they're expats aren't they? Well actually no, not in any sense of the word. The NHS is rarely spared. 'Filthy and riddled with MRSA' they shout (France has a similar MRSA rate to the UK) and the healthcare is so much better (well, if you can afford to pay for it). Get them going on education and you hear that discipline is so much better (wrong again. Discipline is fairly appalling), the students respect the teachers (the number being stabbed by their pupils seem to belie that), the teachers know how to control their class (seeing as they have no actual training on how to be a teacher, this is as hollow a claim as all the others).

But I always wonder why they feel the need to be so negative about the UK, while at the same time being so uninformed about France.

As far as I can see it's the same shit, just different shaped bread.