Saturday 28 July 2007

Elected representative?

Here's a question to ponder: why is that fat (and getting fatter) little Nationalist MSP for Gordon, and also MP for Banff & Buchan? Because he has made it very clear he won't be heading down to Westminster very often, being as he's prancing about as First Minister in Bute House now. So, while his constituents in Gordon have their elected representative, it would appear the residents of Banff & Buchan don't. And why he is still claiming his full MP's salary for the Banff & Buchan seat? That's actually quite a good wheeze, getting paid for a job you are quite openly not doing. Maybe he's cleverer than I thought...

No, he isn't. He is swindling tax payers and his constituents. Would the good people of Banff & Buchan have elected him at the last general election if they'd known he would be so quick to abandon his duty to represent them at Westminster once he got his Holyrood seat? Hmmm, maybe the good people of Banff & Buchan are stupid and would indeed have elected him anyway. I certainly wouldn't appoint anyone to a job if I knew they were going to abandon their post two years' into the contract, but continue to expect a wage.

Stand down and let there be a by-election so that your Westminster constituency can be represented, Mr Salmond. You're depriving them of something everyone else has and it's not fair.

Friday 20 July 2007

Wibble wobble

At lunchtime today a couple of colleagues and I went for a try-out session of PowerPlate. It's apparently the latest "thing" amongst celebs such as Maddy or Sadie Frost. The concept behind the plate is that it vibrates at up to 50 times a second, and this makes your muscles contract at the same frequency, giving them an intense workout. The end results (after several sessions) are a toned silhouette and less cellulite. And all this without having to actually exercise (all you do is squats or leg extensions), because the vibrating plate is putting your muscles through the equivalent of 1800 squats or ab crunches in just 1 minute.

Well, that's the hype. The truth is this: some of the positions are pretty hard to hold, even for just 60 seconds (especially if your abs are non-existent like mine!); because your muscles are contracting at such a high frequency, your body generates a lot of heat and you consequently get all sweaty (bleurk); it's expensive!

The best bit of the whole session was the massage at the end, where you just get to lie on your back with your thighs on the platform and it jiggles away your cellulite (hence the jelly - that was my thighs!), supposedly.

Having tried it, I certainly won't be forking out 200 and something euros for ten sessions (said to be the minimum required to see some results). Powerplate might give your muscles a workout but it's not cardio-training, so it's not actually bringing any real health benefits. And while you might work up a sweat, that's the only side effect of a "real" sports workout you'll notice. Because there's no cardio-pulmonary workout, you're not getting the oxygen rush and endorphin "high" you get from 40 minutes of RPM or step class. And isn't that the best part of sport? It's not the "look at my flab-free abs" and "be impressed at my 10k times", it's the buzz you get, even though you've worn yourself out. Powerplate can't do that.

Which all adds up to the (for some people inconvenient) truth that if you want to get in shape and stay healthy, a buzzing platform and some silly stretching positions are no substitute for a run round the park or a body pump class.

I'm off to renew my gym membership...

Wednesday 18 July 2007

I want to ride my bicycle

Hubby had an appointment to see the consultant as part of his broken ankle follow up. Météo France and the Met Office were both predicting fine weather and pleasant temperatures (at last - it's only been raining since 30 April after all). I was feeling fed up and rather like a fat little dumpling (new challenge: not be fat for 30th (eek) birthday/lose 5kg). It seemed everything was coming together and could only mean one thing: Lis was finally going to get on her bike!

Yes folks, my good intentions have at last become more than just intentions and I biked it to work today. How lovely it was to ride through the park at 8.25, with not a soul in sight. Birds hopping about the dewy grass, the heron watching the still river water intently. No dopey-driver induced stress, instead a gentle 20min ride to arrive at work with flushed cheeks and cycle hat-hair (that went away thank goodness). And not a sore bum in sight (thanks to gel saddles and full suspension frames) - yay!

Of course, there are some minor drawbacks to my get-fit and be-green transport: no iPod (that could be solved by the purchase of new earphones); requirement to get lazy self out of bed at an earlier hour; dependent on suitable weather conditions. But hey, if this can help me get to what I consider a reasonable weight by my 30th (eek) birthday and cut my carbon footprint, I'm all go. I just hope this spell of decent weather will last!

Sunday 15 July 2007

On the bonnie, bonnie banks

Some popular cultcha, and some trivia. First, Scottish folk/rock band Runrig's version of "Loch Lomond":

I only just learned the "story" behind this song, it's about two Jacobean soldiers, captured as they retreated from England. One is to be hanged, and one set free. That's the low road and the high road: the one to be hanged is taking the "low" (underworld) road back to Scotland (so he'll be home first). The high road is the real road.

Anyway, even without the little snippet of trivia, it's worth a listen.

Saturday 14 July 2007

What I could happily live without

Continuing in the same vein, and still in the interests of fairness, let's have a look at what I wouldn't miss in France if one day we escaped from here...
  • French driving. Here's a tip if you're ever driving round these parts: don't stop at the lights unless they are red. Do not stop at orange. Or, if you do, check your mirrors first. If there's a car behind you, keep going, because if you stop you'll be rear-ended. I think part of the problem is that the lights stay on orange for too long, instead of passing almost immediately to red. Many other gripes about French driving include: lane discipline (an unknown concept), indicators (too confusing), headlights (not required in town because there are street lights so you can see where you're going), and don't get me started on roundabouts...
  • French TV. It is quite awful. The TV licence costs about £80, admittedly cheaper than in the UK. But in France, public service channels have commercial advertising. Lots of it. And all the programming is bought, either from the US or Germany. I suppose that's why it's cheaper than the BBC, no expensive programme-making here! And the "private" channels are like ITV on a particularly bad day.
  • strikes. Especially by railway workers. They are possibly the most molly-coddled public sector workers in the world. They work for three years then retire on full salary (paid for by me!), but like to go on strike often and inconvenience lots of the people who pay for their pensions in order to claim the right to retire after just two and half years working.
  • taxes. I am especially intrigued by the fact that, the salary I must declare on my tax return is actually about €720 greater than what I actually got paid. How does that work? That's a clever system, though, getting people to pay tax on money they never had. Cunning.
  • diesel cars. In France, nearly everyone has a diesel. They are all driving around in their diesel cars, pumping out sulphur and black soot particles, giving us all brain cancer and asthma. Diesel cars sound like tractors, smell like something very smelly and foul, and are just generally bad. Yes yes, modern diesel cars emit less carbon than modern petrol cars. OK. But the French don't have modern diesel cars. They have ancient Peugeot 405s that have never been serviced and pump out huge clouds of black smoke at all times. I also love the myth peddled in these parts that diesel cars are cheaper. No they are not. They cost more to buy and more to service. Apparently it takes ten years (at average mileage of 12 000km a year) for the initial extra investment of buying a diesel car to start paying off in cheaper running costs. Think I'll stick to petrol.
  • the Académie Française. This is a sort of old farts club that holds sway over the French language, deciding whether a word is "French" or not. Whenever a new word comes on the scene (like start-up, or e-mail, or web [as in, the interweb]), the academy sets about finding a suitably French equivalent. So we have contrived words like "courriel" or "mél" for e-mail, and the "ouaib" (I kid you not) for the interweb. Most people, naturally, speak of sending a "mail" and surfing the "web". If a language is allowed to evolve and grow, it will stay alive. If some stuffy group of academics try to keep out any "new" or (worse) "foreign" words, the language will die. Think on, academiciens.
  • nuclear power. The French think they have the answer to meeting Kyoto targets and beyond in generating their electricity from nuclear power. It is hailed as a "clean" energy of the "future". Personally, I find nuclear power is a bit like crapping in a shoebox and leaving it to your grandchildren. It generates highly toxic waste, and we have no idea what to do with this. So we bury it far underground and hope it will go away. I'm sure our children's children will thank us very much for this gift to them.
  • people speaking about "England" and the "English" when in fact they mean "Britain" and the "British". That really, *really* winds me up.
Still, it ain't all bad. I have Hubby and Doggy to help me through :)

Thursday 12 July 2007

You miss the little things the most ...

If you have always lived in the same place (be it same county, same town, same country, whatever), you end up taking many things for granted. You also probably end up noticing the negatives about where you are rather than the positives.

Being an expat (oh no, I said it, does that mean I am one??), I have learned that it is only when one leaves one's home country that one truly appreciates little aspects of the way of life that one now pines for. I appreciate this is not the case for everyone, but it generally is for me.

The little things I miss about the UK / Scotland are, in absolutely no order at all:
  • newspapers. Yeah, you can get newspapers here too, but they are either very regional (and a bit parochial if I may say), or far too serious (national dailies like Le Monde or Le Figaro are unreadable for a poor foreigner like myself). I miss The Scotsman (er, what was I saying about being parochial?), The Independent. I miss Sunday papers that have so many supplements it takes you until the following Sunday to read them all.
  • curry. Love curry. Love going out for a curry. Cannot be done in France. At least, not in the part of France where I am. And the rare French Indian restaurants (OK, 2 then) I have visited don't serve Cobra beer. How I am supposed to enjoy my jalfrezi if there's no Cobra? Note to Matt - you need to find a good curry place in Rotheram!
  • my family.
  • hilly countryside. I grew up in a fairly hilly place. I spent many summers in the Lake District. I like gradient in my landscape. Here the countryside is flat. It's a bit boring. But I guess living in the Alps would solve that one.
  • being able to get a decent cup of tea in cafés/restaurants.
  • Sainsbury's (how sad am I??). I can't explain it, but the Sainsbury's supermarket experience is just different from the Auchan supermarket experience. Not the same at all.
  • Waterstone's. This one is self-explanatory. But I'll explain it anyway. French books are rubbish. Even ones translated from English. They are written in some 13th century tense called the past historic and it's offensive. Imagine having to read everything in Chaucer's English. Would be tiresome. Also, French paperbacks are unattractive. The typeface is too small and the covers never look enticing. And they are expensive.
  • bacon. Cooked breakfast. Baked beans.
  • the long summer evenings. When the weather is good, where better than Scotland in June? The evenings last forever. And the twilight barely has time to fade in the north west before daybreak creeps over the eastern horizon.
  • the M&Ms (they know who they are), boy Nicklas...
  • M&S food to go. Good thing I don't have access to their salads because my bank manager would be demanding I give my money card back immediately.
  • people knowing how to queue properly. I think anyone who has spent any time in France will appreciate this.
  • men in kilts!
  • childhood "references" - school friends (well, those I still see), the house where I grew up, even grotty Dalkeith! No actually I don't really miss Dalkeith. Not much.
  • John Lewis (big consumer theme going on here!!)
I'm sure there are many more of the little things, Hubby should keep a list! But it can't be all that bad because I'm still here after all these years.

In the interests of fairness and equality, and if you can be bothered to decipher my French, I've done a corresponding list of French things I would miss here.

Monday 9 July 2007

Bloggers Anonymous

It seems my blog addiction is not too severe.

52%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?
But maybe if I had done the questionnaire on a different day, I would have scored higher. My blogging and blog addiction is sort of bi-polar, as it were!

And just to prove that I have a real life (TM) too, I'm switching off the laptop now and I'm not coming back until tomorrow. Toodle-pip, everyone.

Bruised and battered

Monday comes around ever so quickly, don't you find? You hardly have time to get to weekend cruising speed and suddenly it's Monday again. Oh well, it's out of the way for this week now at any rate.

Been a busy weekend here at Franco-British HQ. Mum and Dad (or, The Grown Ups, as Hubby calls them - not sure they would agree with this moniker) were here for a layover between the end of their hols in the south of France and the journey back up Britain. They came laden with many goodies, mostly of the food variety and some of the fermented grape juice variety. All very pleasant. As usual, the time went by too quickly and they were packing up the car to leave this morning. I cried like a big baby (because I am), and Mum stoically didn't cry until she was in the car (because she has to put on a brave face for her little girl). And off they went.

Because the mundane aspects of life (like work) have a habit of taking over, I had no time to dwell on my sad heart, which is maybe not such a bad thing. So off to work it was, and to a team meeting. With my office-mates we had the usual ritual of "have you prepared your presentation?" "no, why, have you?!", but it was surprisingly useful (meetings often are in my job, it's always nice) and informative. At lunchtime we went and did some archery (corporate "rules": team meetings must include time for sport). I am now the proud owner of a nasty bow string bruise. Whenever I do archery, there are never any arm guards provided. Only once did I manage to avoid the dreaded bow string bruise. Should I report it as an occupational accident? Is quite sore actually.

Anyway, enough of feeling sorry for myself, I have a blog-addiction to feed...

Friday 6 July 2007

Desperately seeking ... français

Spurred into action by a simple query from Stratford Girl, I'm on the hunt for (good) French blogs to (potentially) add to my blogroll over at Excuse My French. I have decided that I must put more effort into my French blogging, and maybe having some decent blogs to look in on will motivate me. Or maybe not.

Still, it's worth a try. Send in your suggestions on the back of a postcard to: well, to the comments form, probably would be best.

Thursday 5 July 2007

The blog arriving at platform 2 ...

A new arrival in my blogroll and I'm all pleased. A long-standing (see how I tactfully didn't employ the world "old" - that's tactfully for both parties) real life (TM) friend has joined the world of Blog. Check out her embryonic blogworld here.

Oh, a prize

The charming Princesse Ecossaise has seen fit to give me a blog award. I am très touchée [blush]. The lovely lass included Attention All Shipping in her list of five schmooze-tastic blogs. I have the power of schmooze! Hurrah.

The illustrious (!) Power of Schmooze Award was founded on 2 July 2007, by Mike at Ordinary Folk, to recognise those bloggers who are "gifted in the ability to schmooze", schmoozing being "to converse casually, especially in order to gain an advantage or make a social connection". Hmm, not sure about the gaining and advantage, not with my ramblings of an only half-connected mind ;)). Anyway, you can find out more here.

So now it now befalls me to nominate a further five worthy bloggers who I feel are very much entitled to add this prestigious little badge to their blogs. Here goes...
  • Stratford Girl, because even though she's only new to this blogging lark, she has already regaled us with stories of puking dogs and paperclips in her Fox's biscuits (just the paperclips in the biscuits, of course).
  • Jo, because she lives on a boat and she has a big heart, and a lovely dog called Paddy.
  • Willie, because I love to read his latest pronouncements on music and because he's one of the most interesting people I know, and one of the most intelligent, and because our friend Jane describes him as "slightly eccentric". And, most importantly, because we both love curry.
  • Polly, because I have been dropping in on her blog for a while, and I love her blog's name.
  • My brother, because when he makes the effort to post he often makes me smile.
I also must give out some special prix du jury to:
Princesse Ecossaise, she's such a sweet wee thing
Miss Despina who is more adventurous than I, she's living in Prague!

Wednesday 4 July 2007

It's not fair

The sole purpose of this post is to have a moan.

I left work at 7.30 tonight, and my colleague was still there finishing things up. And why were we stuck in the office until so late? Because for a month now we've been having IT/network problems that prevent us from working properly.

Some background: we use translation memory software, and the memory database is stored on a server (it has to be, so we both have real-time access to it). We also store all our "working" files on the same server, as we both need access to them.

So for the last month, the connection to this server has been woefully unreliable, some days it goes off ten or more times. Each time the server connection is lost, if we're working in the the TM software, the whole thing freezes and the quickest solution is to kill it in Task Manager and start again. Can you imagine spending about 15% of your working day just re-starting a program?

The other really great thing that can happen is this: if the connection to the server is lost at the very time when you are "writing" to the TM, this can corrupt the whole database (two and a half years worth of translations here), rendering it useless. This has happened twice since I came back off holiday. Luckily, I copy the TM to my hard drive every morning so we don't have to wait for IT to restore the file from the backup.

And what solution does the helpdesk offer? "Work from your hard drive and copy to the server at the end of day so everything is backed up". And how exactly does that allow real-time sharing of the database? Well, they don't have an answer to that one.

I estimate that in the 10 days I've been back at work, I have lost 3 of them to this problem. Great productivity! Which adds up to things taking far longer than they should, and us being stuck in work until late to finish projects.

I did warn you it was a moan. :(

***UPDATE: they have bought a new server. Yay.***

Alan Johnston freed

I guess I can take my Alan Johnston button down now... the BBC's Gaza correspondent was freed by the Army of Islam in the early hours of this morning. Relief all round in this house in any case.

Looks like Hamas will be trying to make political capital out of this happy conclusion to events. Let's see ...

Tuesday 3 July 2007

Poorly Lis

Note to self: when you feel thirsty, get up from your desk and get a drink.

Don't think "I'll just finish this" and never get round to getting that bottle of water. Because yesterday, I kept "just finishing this" and ended up with the most awful headache/sicky feeling. I thought I was going to die last night (she declares, melodramatically). But instead I woke up at 4.12am and couldn't get back to sleep. Well, not until 7.05am, after the alarm had gone off. Fortunately, I have a backup alarm called Hubby. He left me to sleep until nearly 8. Poor me.

In other news:

Weather remains soggy and cold.
Work remains hectic but there may be light at the end of the tunnel.
Hélène survived her first day in her new job but she's not sure how.

Sunday 1 July 2007

Been reading

I finished Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane. I've read a few of his books, they're all what book reviewers call "dark", but this one is particularly hard-going and grim. All about the darker side of human nature, about pure evil, even. Still, a good read if you like that kind of fiction. Ha! No seriously, it's a mystery thriller and it's pretty gripping stuff. Also you get to feel clever when you work out what's about to happen just before it does. Of course, I'm now taking a break from Lehane. I can only read one of his books a year otherwise it all gets too much.

Say no to plastic bags

Come on Britain, why not follow Uganda's example and banish plastic bags?? They're made from oil, they don't biodegrade, they litter the streets, countryside, rivers and seas. They poison the soil and choke animals, birds and marine life.

I confess to feeling slightly righteous about this. Most French supermarkets have already stopped handing out free plastic bags. You have to bring your own (most people have those bag for life ones), or plastic or cardboard boxes. I've already covered that subject in more depth here.

Do something positive, next time you're at the supermarket, don't grab all the free bags (you probably take far more than you need anyway - you know you can carry more than a loaf of bread and a punnet of strawberries in one bag?). Buy a bag for life and remember to take it with you on future trips.

You don't need the throw-away plastic bags. Because that's what happens to them - they get thrown away and finish up scarring the land. They make the whole country look like a tip, strewn along motorway verges and blowing around high streets. BAN THE BAGS.