Picture the scene. The stage is set on the Kit Kat Klub in Berlin. Mario Draghi has a walk-on part singing Money makes the world go around, the world go around... A small, blonde German woman pushes on a wheelbarrow overflowing with euros whilst singing So what? In the backstage chorus is the darkly handsome Greek Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras, waiting expectantly for today's limelight. In the audience, cheering loudly, is Hollande thinking Now this will at last increase my appeal. To his Far Right, Le Pen: You ain't seen nothing yet. Surely this 1931 stage couldn't actually be happening in today's EU, could it? I mean, back then in Germany anti-semitism was rife and Jewish people were actively leaving the country. Back then, innocent people were getting shot and the country's printing presses were hard at work printing lots of money. Back then, ordinary people were cheering and saying Now things are going to get better. Certainly on Thursday, as Draghi arrived at the ECB headquarters in Frankfurt he received a rousing reception. And so it begins. And Him indoors? It's all one big Cabaret.
Feeling miserable. I thought our 'friendly' neighbour - the one who put 6' high red signs all around our garden proclaiming 'Propriete prive, defense d'entrer' - had seen sense at last as the signs suddenly disappeared. But no. The next day, there they all were again, double the size. Even though Bruno has been on permanent lock-down on our terrace, the neighbour had gone to immense trouble in constructing stronger, even higher (now 12') posts for the signs that our elderly dog still can't read. The exchange rate shows 1£:1.31 euros, giving more doom and gloom to those who want to escape all the mayhem and go back to the UK. At these rates, even if we could sell our house (despite the stupid garden posts), all we could buy would be a retirement flat in the UK. But such flats only take 'one small dog', i.e. not Bruno! So, I walked into the town centre on Friday to get a hormone drug for Him indoors. Miserable. Rain pouring down, leaking off the canopies at the weekly market. But, at least I didn't see any armed soldiers. Everyone going about their normal business, stoical to the last. That's what I'll have to be then. Where's Gene Kelly when you need him?
Ten years ago a bridge was built by a Frenchman and an Englishman. As the 50 millionth vehicle is expected to cross the Millau divide this summer, it signifies something special. I've always liked bridges. Although they cost a lot of money - this one cost 400m euros - and take a lot of time and effort to construct, it's worth it. They bring places and people together that were otherwise held apart. Global troubles and strife similarly need a lot of money, time and effort to cure. An important new bridge now needs to be built, one that will act as a global catalyst to cross divides and bring people together. Wars happen when people fail to understand each other and mistrust each other's motives. With all today's technology, with the internet already bridging global divides, we have that catalystic bridge already to hand. We have international organisations like the UN to use such a bridge. As the long, silent march begins today from the Place de la Republique in Paris, let that be the starting point. Erase misunderstanding. Use the bridge.
Still haven't got used to writing 2015 yet. So what's France proposing? I like the sound of the proposed new PAYE system. Anything that means I haven't to quake every April at having to complete a French tax form in French is a good idea! I'm never sure I've done it right and, being me, expect the gendarmes at the door any moment. Additionally France is removing the first income tax band, so that an estimated 9 million low-earners won't have to pay. Also like the idea of the new 'hotel hospitals', which will be a half-way house between home and hospital - a much cheaper, and personalised/adapted, way to convalesce after operations. Maybe the UK should look at this as a way of saving money so as to direct more funds to patient care. All in all, 2015 sounds promising. But, looking out the window, it's minus temperatures again. (Are you listening IDS?) Him indoors says it's like in Mississippi. What? Yes, it's Tupelo (2 below.....)!
Thursday will be a shiny new year. What will it bring? For France I despair for the desperate people at Sangatte in Calais. All they want is a better life for themselves and their families, but no country can provide permanent benefits which then get sent back to family members in other countries. The wonderful Banque Alimentaires food bank system in Albi has the perfect solution. They allocate 'personalised accompaniment' to all those in need and offer cookery classes because it's cheaper to make a puree than buy one, but the help is short-term only. They say accidents of life can happen to anyone, but the assistant prepares a personal file, explains what is on offer and crucially the end goal - and there must be a goal. No-one must use the benefit system as a lifetime choice. So, my wish for the UK in 2015 is to follow France's lead. Him indoors? Like the kangaroo meat he saw in LeClerc, people should jump at the chance. A healthy and secure 2015 to everyone.
An absolute must-have for expats is a laptop. Writing books, blogs, Skype, buying airtickets, books, news, Facebook, researching....you name it, it's invaluable. So, being a worrier, I decided to get a new one with qwerty keyboard in the UK recently. In readiness I took an extra case in the hold so I could keep the new laptop in its protective packing and not have to charge it up to please officious customs officials. Of course nothing comes easy. I'd forgotten that, whilst there were no size restrictions on hold luggage, Flybe does charge for weight. And guess what? The new machine pushed up the weight to 1kg over the free weight! So, I had to pay an extra 45 euros. But I now have this brand-new, super-dooper machine with its posh red cover. And, I've even learned how to use the 'cloud' system via drive.google.com for transferring all my old files. I've certainly come a long way from my first fixed PC with box on the floor and mouse, or even my first Imperial 70 typewriter. Just think how much I've saved on Typex and carbon paper!
Last Monday Him indoors started his external radiation treatment in Albi. He was given special dietary instructions beforehand: avoid raw and cooked fruits and veg, fried food, sauces, mayo, bread, cereals, normal milk. So, nothing much he could eat! We set off, with me driving - never a good idea. At the clinic, as I waited for the 20-min treatment to finish, I chatted in the waiting room. It's surprising what you learn. One woman told me I needed 'un bon de transport'. Apparently the amazing French health service provides free, medically-approved (conventione), taxis for people with long-duration conditions, needing to travel regular, long-distances for treatment. Next to the woman was such a medically-trained taxi-driver. Yes, he could collect and bring him home to our door every day for the required 7 weeks. And, the whole system's worked well so far, until I saw the name painted on the side of the taxi: funnytaxi81.com! What sort of an idiot would call a medical vehicle 'funny'? Perhaps they don't understand English.