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:

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.

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 this one does not work.

I await their next response.