23 November 2014

A frustrating week. It all started when my Dell laptop conked out. Suddenly the screen went black and the white light on the front went red. What to do? I know, I'll email son Jon. He always knows what to do. But my Samsung mobile kept saying 'Message failed'. Neither emails nor texts worked. So, I'm in communication limbo - a real crisis when you live on Mars, i.e. rural France.  Then, for a long time I've been miss-hearing what people say:  Have you seen my keys? Yes, in the fridge.  What? Why would I put my keys in the fridge? Cheese, cheese! And, recently the family kept shouting 'Turn the TV down!'.  No good. Can't put it off any longer. I'll have to get a hearing aid. But first, find a phone no. for Dell in France. They don't sell in shops, so you have to call them. Really frustrating:  automated phone messages are bad enough in English, but in French? Eventually, at last, I got a person. He kept saying send him an email. No, no, you don't understand. Was it my hearing, my difficulties in French listening, or the fact that I am a technophobe in any language?  Yes, all 3. So, Thursday I picked up my new hearing aid, and yesterday, a new Dell laptop battery arrived in the post. TG, laptop's working again. Voila!

16 November 2014

In a few weeks Him indoors will start a daily course of treatment for 7 weeks at the Claude-Bernard Clinic in Albi. In the wake of the latest NHS scandal at Colchester Hospital, where patients were found strapped to beds and given sedatives without permission, it'll give us chance, once again, to compare the French health system with the English.  And it is only the system. In my experience doctors in both countries are equally as good, but the English ones are hampered by an NHS system that has broken down due to sheer weight of numbers.  A recent survey showed that French patients are seen in A & E within 2 hours, half the 'target time' of the NHS.  Most are seen in less than one hour, those with traumatic conditions like poisoning being seen immediately. Yes, in France the patient is king: everything is patient-orientated. At a Limoges Hospital, staff listened and introduced different colour coding for staff uniforms. And what does Him indoors think? He says he'd better not swallow a 5-euro note at the clinic because then they'd have to keep him in for observation to see if there was any change...

9 November 2014

Today is 9.11. - the English 9.11 not the US version. But both signify remembrance for the fallen, for the UK it being the nearest Sunday to the 11th min of the 11th hour of the 11th month.  UK media commemorations and red poppies abound, but here in France?  The 'bleuet' bluebell actually precedes the poppy tradition, remembering the blue cloth produced by wounded soldiers from WW1 in Les Invalides in Paris. Poppies remember the dead; les bleuets remember the wounded. But where are les bleuets around here? Forgotten, it seems. The EU should serve to remind everyone that for 70 years there's been no war in Europe, and that's the reason it should stay and increase. No tinpot country killing people from another tinpot country for stupid land-grab reasons. If I had my way I'd stop all films showing the 'vicarious thrills' of one man killing another. To take another's life force away, or glory in it, is not a thrill but an abomination. So, at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, that's what I will be thinking: commemorate life!

2 November 2014

Gaillac is normally a quiet, peaceful place. Not last week in the Place de la Liberation. Remi Fraisse from the Save the Testet Wetland project was killed during clashes between police and protesters over a controversial dam project at Sivens. A hundred 'anarchists' wearing hoods threw incendiary devices at the security forces at around 2 a.m. The police, in retaliation, used tear gas, stun grenades and flash balls. But when I asked some locals why they didn't like the dam project, they told me it would mean all their taxes would rise. Sounds more likely to me. But everyone is convinced young Remi was killed by the police.  We saw walls everywhere daubed with graffiti proclaiming 'Police - Assassins', which needs no translating. Albi was the same, and when on Tuesday we took the family for a veggie lunch at the LeClerc cafe in Gaillac, police were everywhere. Hundreds of them. After us?  No. They'd simply come for lunch, occupying every table. Most intimidating. Let's hope no crime was committed that lunchtime, as every single police officer in town was in that cafe, eating!

26 October 2014

An amazing week. No, not in politics, but for me.  The children are here and for the first time for years just the four of us are all together en famille.  Tues and Wed we drove to Barcelona, with 2 dogs!  No border crossing (Schengen agreement), just a sign 'Bienvenida a Espana'.  A few things I learned:  don't attempt to drive in central Barcelona!  Like Paris and NY, you take your life in your hands.  Everyone drives scooters. They're parked on every pavement and roadside. No mode of transport would accept our dogs, not taxis, not buses, but the metro will only with a muzzle (on the dog not us). Two of us took the open-top tourist bus, but you need a second mortgage to pay - 24 euros for a 2h journey, which includes the '92 Olympics park. Noticed that more ordinary people spoke English than in France, and we found a good veg. restaurant off the La Rambla walkway. Back in Gaillac my daughter treated me to a restyle haircut: short club cut, with longer sides and a slanted fringe (carre en diagonale)! In Spain Him indoors thought Manual Labour was the waiter....

19 October 2014

There are fads with the way the general public thinks, largely driven by the media, but it can be dangerous.  Lately the English seem to be much taken with the blokish Nigel Farage. Everyone thinks how wonderful to have a politician who understands the common man.  Don't be fooled. Following a UK withdrawal from the EU, Steve Peers, Prof. in Law at the University of Essex, says:
a. The borders rules alone would apply, therefore more intrusive questions about the purpose of each UK citizen's visit, checks on the intention to return and level of income, potential for visa requirements on UK citizens.  b. You'd be part of the EU's entry-exit system, keeping a record of all movements of third-country nationals into/out of EU territory. You'd be subject to integration rules, e.g. need to speak the language of host country before getting visa status. c. Receipt and upgrading of British pensions would not be possible. d. Strict family reunion rules with waiting periods and integration language requirements. e. Intending migrants, as with current EU British residents, would be subject to quotas and preference rules on labour migration.  And much more. So,, for UK expats in France, be very careful whom you vote for in 2015......

12 October 2014

A few days ago a couple arrived at our front gate. 'Is your house for sale?'  Eh?  Well, not exactly, but...where did you hear that?  'A neighbour told us.'  Oh.  'Could we come round this afternoon and have a look.' S'pose so.  Frantic rush round to make the place presentable. Head in a spin.  1500h a car arrives and out climbs the couple together with the neighbours with the chickens at the back of our garden!  (For those with a long memory, the ones where Bruno jumped over the fence and attacked their chickens).  I should pause here. Did you ever see that film Castaway with Tom Hanks? Life casts him away from home in a lovely sunny place with all the coconuts he can eat. He adapts for a while, enjoying the sunshine, but eventually starts to build a liferaft. Why would you want to leave such a sunny place, family might say, before they return to their lives back home? Back to reality. Him indoors currently needs treatment that is only available in France, and exchange rates mean the price offered will only buy an apartment in the UK, and what to do with the 2 dogs. Nothing comes easy.