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.

5 October 2014

Is France 'hopeless, downbeat and finished?' Andy Street (sounds like a convenient place to live) has been comparing France to England. He's the MD of the department store John Lewis, but does that make him expert?  Certainly the French economy is rubbish compared to the UK's current 3% growth, and France's unemployment is four points higher and the gap is widening. But:
In France university tuition fees only cost 188 euros a year v England's 11,461 euros p.a.!
In France unemployment benefits are 40% of your previous earnings v England's 92.19 euros p.w.!
In France childcare is 10% of family income v England's 26.6%.
In France, on average, people are thinner, they eat 3 proper meals a day and the health care is way better. Why are the French thinner?  No fast food, no snacking between meals and smaller plates! France has almost 4 times the number of Michelin starred restaurants as the UK (despite the lower obesity rates). And football? France has only waited 16 years since it last won the World Cup, whereas England?  Nearly 50 years.
So, have I answered the question?  Jury's out.

28 September 2014

When I first started writing this blog, I didn't know anyone else who wrote one. I merely felt the need to record some of my feelings about living in France as an English expat.  Now, 6 years later, it reads like an encyclopaedia of things that went wrong and what we did about them, albeit with Him indoors' unique comments!  I sometimes forget that other people are reading them and am quite shocked when I receive feedback - often from different parts of the world.  On Thursday I heard from an English lady called Amy who said they were house-sitting in France, didn't speak a word of French but had read my blog and found the bit they needed, and could I help them find a chimney sweep? Was only too happy to oblige.  Where we used to live in Tarn et Garonne lives a lady called Val who really helped us when we first arrived. She has a successful blog called tag-on-line.blogspot.fr . She acts as a marvellous link for all who live in the area, giving news of social events and much else, giving any proceeds to charity.  So, for whatever reason you write a blog, it's a great FREE resource. Of course, Him indoors says that's no way to run a business - but he would, wouldn't he?

21 September 2014

What a week of political turmoil! Thursday night the Queen went to bed not knowing whether she'd have a PM when she woke up. Was she singing:'They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace; Cameron down with Scottish malice?' But Friday morning, sense prevailed. Whew. And in France, with the President's ratings so low they're off the scale, he's tried to raise his own standard by punching above his weight abroad - allying with the US in bombing ISIL.  He must have thought 'that'll do it. Now I'm a global superstar, the French are sure to love me again.'  But no. Along comes Sarko to spoil his plans yet again by arriving - some would say in the nick of time - to spoil Hollande's plans by throwing his hat in the political ring again.  You can hear the cheers from French business everywhere and, it must be said, to beleaguered home-owners throughout the land.  Sarko may have his annoying bling, but at least he has charisma and that indefinable je ne sais quoi which might just lift French confidence and the economy again.  Let's hope so. One week's a long time in politics.

14 September 2014

Wasn't it Bros who sang When will I, will I be famous? Thought my time had finally come when I received an email from the Producer of BBC's Escape to the Continent programme:  '.. I have read your blog, which seems to be a brilliant source of information for those who wish to move to France and I was hoping to talk to you to see if you would be able to chat to our house-hunter on camera about life living in France.' However, rejection was just around the corner in the form of 'scheduling constraints'. Story of my life! So, I watched a few programmes and was struck by the mistakes being made - not in the glossy production but in the whole tenor, so here's what I told her:  '..not sure you are correctly focused on who your intended audience is....comes across as a holiday destination or somewhere to buy that second home in the sun. If it's intended purely for people planning a permanent move to another country - which I believe it is - then: 1. Include important websites on health care, English-speaking notaires in the area, tax info. etc.; 2. In France it is essential to have completed the sale of your English property BEFORE making an offer on the French one. So, ascertain this has happened BEFORE making the programme; 3. Include the living costs per month. Too much emphasis on capital, not enough on required income. Is intended gite income realistic? France is saturated with gite properties. 4. New property must have broadband - essential to transfer funds, communicate etc. Don't close that British bank account - opening a new one in the UK is impossible without a UK address! 5. Absorb the continental view: summer heat requires you to keep the place dark and cool - not with 'lots of light'. 6. Integrate and learn to speak the language, but still look for some English friends nearby (to keep you sane).S'pose I should record my own song 'Never will I, will I be famous, but still I can pack a literary punch!'