Sunday 30 November 2008

Mirror in the bathroom

Here it is at last, our microscopic bathroom and its new chocolate & cream look.

Bathroom. Nearly done!

Almost there! Just a wee bit of tiling to finish but I'm waiting for Hubby to fix a wee leak. As you can see, our bathroom truly is tiny, but the new colours do make the space seem bigger. And we're loving our towel ladder radiator, especially with the cold weather! I just need some chocolate coloured towels. John Lewis clearance, here I come!!

Monday 24 November 2008

Let's get behind the wheel

Our house is just off the main street through the village. Just at the end of the main street before a left-hand/right-hand double bend (we call it the chicane, because it goes left then right, like a chicane strangely enough).

You can't miss the bend. As you can see on the stunning illustration to the left (please excuse the rather crappy Paint-job here!), it's a pretty sharp turn. As you approach, there is a raised speed-hump-traffic calming thing, and they have surfaced the road with that beige "super grip" stuff. There are also big blue and white arrow signs stuck on the barriers on the curb (they put the barriers up after one time when a car actually ended up in the front door of the house on the corner (I'm seriously not joking)). But every week (again, I'm not joking) a car manages to miss the corner completely and carry on up onto the pavement.

It's just happened how, as it goes. The second in as many days. Yesterday someone kerbed quite badly in the snow. Any how, that's what gave me the idea for this post just now. We heard a screech and a bang. Like the busybodies we are, we tore upstairs to have a good ogle out the windows. Looks like a Clio. And it must be well and truly stuck because the chap hasn't followed usual procedure of just reversing off the pavement and carrying on.

I just don't get it. The chicane is in a 30 kmph (20 mph) zone. They put down super grip road surfacing (a sure sign of the need to go slow). There is a massive speed bump hump thing just before it. And still they come. I don't know if it's because people are going way too fast, they aren't paying attention, or what. Too fast I think. But I still don't get it.

It would be funny if it weren't that the poor folk who stay in the house right on the corner have had to have their front door replaced and part of their front wall rebuilt. They now have concrete blocks in their front garden to slow any out-of-control vehicles. And another chap who lives next door but one to that house got rear-ended by a driver who managed to miss the barriers but rode up the pavement and slammed into the parked cars. And then left the scene. Plus every time the barriers get knocked down, whose cooncil tax do you think it is funding their replacement?

Like I say, it would be funny.

Down here it's just winners and losers

On Friday the Parti Socialiste, the erstwhile main left-wing political force in France, voted for a new First Secretary (party leader, but not necessarily automatic presidential candidate). The run off was between two women: Ségolène Royal (didn't they learn when she lost the presidential to the Gnome?) and Martine Aubry (mayor of Lille, best known in France for masterminding the 35-hour working week).

That in itself isn't very newsworthy, but what does incite comment is the bitter argument now raging between the rivals' camps on who actually won. Initially Royal was proclaimed victorious (some would say unusually early into vote-counting), before the party leadership was finally bestowed to Aubry. Since Saturday both women and their lieutenants have been bickering, crying foul and generally disputing any result that says they lost. Royal's camp even demanded a re-vote, if you can believe it. A somewhat foolish suggestion, as people won't vote any differently. Re-count all you like, but demanding a second vote is just desperation.

The party's governing council is supposed to be re-checking all the results and confirming the result today. The main news bulletin is on now, but no news from the bigwigs thus far. And as you can imagine, the longer this infighting drags on, the bigger the smug smile on the faces of right-wing UMP Sarko-groupies. Any political movement that can't stop fighting amongst themselves is doomed to electoral failure. See the horrid Tories all through the 90s.

While I can't suppress a bemused smile at this débâcle, the sad fact is that the biggest loser here is France. As the Socialists, the most mainstream and biggest left-wing party, hurtles towards implosion and oblivion, France is left without an electorally-viable choice on the left of the political divide. Which means more Gaulist and righty governments and presidents. You'd better get used to it, French people, because the Socialists risk leaving the country with no choice.


Wednesday 19 November 2008

What do you mean when you say?

One of my bug-bears with the French, or more with common French expressions, is the (mis)use of the words "next" and "last" in a temporal context.

That sounds confusing. Let me explain... In English, or at least British English, we use next and last as follows:

"There's a great film on TV next Friday"
Said on Saturday or Sunday, means Friday in six days' time
Said on any other day, means Friday the following week. If it's Monday and you want to say there's a great film on TV in four days, say "this Friday".

"There was a great film on TV on Friday"
Let's say Friday was the 1st day of the month. This statement works until Saturday the 9th tops. Thereafter, you have to swap "on" for "last".

When the French tell you there's a great film on TV next Friday, they will probably mean Friday this week. Seriously. Today is Wednesday. A French person could say "next Friday" today, and actually mean the day after tomorrow. Weird!

I could concede that, taking the meanings of "next" and "last" at their most pure, the French use is correct. But I'm not letting that get in the way of a good semantics argument.

I had the perfect opportunity to grouse about this linguistic stupidity this very morning. I caught the end of the weather forecast (read "vague guess") and the bimbo presenter (French weather bulletins not presented by actual real live meteorologists) announced that we'd be in for some jolly cold weather next weekend. Bloody amazing!, I thought. Météo France are frequently unable to accurately predict what the weather will be doing in 24 hours' time, and now here they are forecasting a whole ten days ahead! Stunning.


Any other expats out there want to let off steam about the linguistic idiosyncrasies of their host country?

Monday 17 November 2008

Nobody does it better

Dear Zhu in Canada recently posted a wee list of French activities/customs/products that the Canadians have just never adopted and maybe never will. I did smile on seeing "demos" at the top of the list, Zhu!

Prompted by this, here is a wee list of my own. These maybe aren't the things I miss the most from Blighty, but I do think there's little chance of the spreading to France any time soon!

Cheap, industrial chocolate
I know, I know. It's full of vegetable fat and hardly any cocoa solids, but I'm a true Brit and I love my Cadbury's Dairy Milk (and Fruit & Nut, and Twirls, and Crunchies, and …). The French all like dark chocolate, consumed mostly in the form of tiny miniatures that come with the espresso (or express as the French say) coffee taken after a meal. Yuck. Double yuck in fact. Dark chocolate and coffee. Yuck yuck.

Cheap paperbacks (and hardbacks, for that matter)
I love books and I love to read. My favourite bookseller in the UK is Waterstones. I want to know when Waterstones shops will start providing trolleys so I can really shop! I especially love their ubiquitous 3 for 2 offers. A very clever marketing tool, as you always end up with four books you want, so you shop around for another 2, naturally. When you consider all the offers, probably the average cost per book works out at around £4-5 for a nice paperback, or £10-12 for a lovely hardback. (Aside: who else loves the smell of a brand new hardback? Ooooh, new book smell.)

In France, there is actually a law forbidding retailers to sell books below cost. They can sell them net of VAT (one of the best known bookselling chains, Fnac, does just this), but not below cost. It's something to do with protecting the cultural literary linguistic heritage. Or maybe it's more to do with lining publishers' pockets. Whatever. I reckon your average "nice" paperback (equivalent to a UK paperback, not those scratty poche books) will set you back around €8-9, and a hardback (they call them broché - basically a paperback printed in big typeface and bound with slightly stiffer card-like paper) comes in at about €21. That's nearly £18!

Yes, you do have to wonder at the long-term logic of stores like Tesco selling the latest chicklit paperback for £1.50 (though maybe a lot of these chicklit things are only worth a quid). But I don't care about long-term logic. I just need the books, man. Gimme the books. I couldn't give a stuff about any literary cultural claptrap. I just want cheap books to feed my habit.

Chips from the chippy. With salt & vinegar
What do you crave most when you have consumed maybe slightly more booze than you should have over the course of an evening? What must you have, immediately and right now? It can't wait until you get home can't this craving. You must have thick-cut, fatty chips. Hot from the bubbling oil, nestling in their paper wrapping (which the steam and fat eventually weaken so much that it rips and you risk losing your precious chips). A bag of chips from the chippy. Oh yes. The Scots like them with salt n' saus (salt and sauce to you, pal). The English prefer salt and vinegar. I have to say my English lineage dominates on this matter. But whatever, we're talking artery-encrusting quantities of sat fats plus blood pressure-rocketing volumes of salt.

Now that I'm past-it and mortgaged, I don't much go out on the razz any more. So I don't have these slightly inebriated cravings. But I do miss chippies.

Here in the Nord the locals love chips (is it the proximity to Belgium maybe? Or because main-crop potatoes are one of the main crops grown round here?). And I mean proper chips. Not those silly, skinny French fries. Chips. Thick slices of deep-fried potato. They even have chippies! They are often in the form of little outside catering vans (you know the sort that sell burgers outside football grounds?). But they still look at you funny when you ask for vinegar.

The Brits love to queue. We adore standing in line. We also love automated queuing systems. You'll notice these in post offices, and in some supermarkets (M&S food) or stores (Boots). Everyone stands in the same line, and an LED number board (sometimes accompanied by a disembodied voice) flashes up the number of the free cashier or till. And the corresponding till also has an LED number, which also flashes. So each customer is served in turn. There are also more sophisticated automated queuing systems in places like railway ticketing offices (you will wait for hours in these places, so the queuing process has to be adapted). A machine distributes numbered tickets to all comers, and you can sit (you'll need to sit) and wait for your number to come up. The older, basic systems just gave you a number. More recent evolutions offer a choice of which service you want (buy a ticket, change a ticket, make a journey enquiry), and you are placed in the appropriate queue accordingly.

And best of all are bus queues. People may sometimes loiter around the bus stop in no particular structured queue. But when the bus comes, there is no desperate surge forward. If there was no orderly line to begin with, the passengers all stand around looking at each other, wondering who was there first, and motioning "no, after you".

The French don't know how to queue. It's an internationally accepted truth. At bus stops, in subway stations and on railway platforms they, too, loiter in a disorganised group. Yet when the bus or train arrives, they form a ruck around the doors, jostling for position and trying desperately to be the first on. It's not so bad on the buses, as most of them have at least two sets of doors. You must get on the bus at the front, so passengers alighting can do so at the other doors and avoid the scrum.

The train is another matter altogether. Especially the TGV. One of the reasons the TGV timetables are so (reasonably) reliable is the strict station stopping times. Before the train arrives in the station, the guard announces how long it will stop for. And you can bet if they said 2 minutes, it's 2 minutes and not 2 minutes 03 seconds! The result is passengers scrambling to get off the train, and more passengers scrambling to get on. Sometimes they don't even let you descend before trying to push on. It's stressful!

The French also like to stand right up close behind you while you conduct your business at the post office, or at the supermarket checkout. I mean close. I mean boyfriend and girlfriend, husband and wife close. Now, in most banks and post offices, there is a red line on the floor, and customers are asked to wait behind it until a teller is free. This is a step in the right direction.

As well as loving books, I also love a nice cup of tea. Like most Brits, I like a simple cuppa: black tea, made with boiling water. I take mine quite strong and milky. You can pretty much get a decent cup of tea anywhere in Britain. I mean, it's hardly rocket science is it? Boil some water. Pour it over a a teabag. Leave to brew. Fish teabag out of cup. Add milk and sugar to taste. Use a teapot if you can be bothered.

The French drink coffee. Some of them drink tea. But they like poncy, arty-farty tea like green tea and white tea and herb tea. Made with tepid warm water. When plain old black tea is on offer it's more often than not something called Lipton Yellow Label. I think that this is some sort of phoney tea brand sold the world over as British tea. The world over, that is, apart from in Britain (where we aren't fobbed off by this pale imitation). When I first came to France this stuff made tea that looked like dishwater (and tasted like one would imagine dishwater to taste). Foul. I think it is now a bit of a stronger blend, but still. It's really hard to find satisfying tea in France. I always stock up on plenty fairtrade teabags when back in Scotland. I just wish I could import some nice, soft Scottish water to make it with ;)

I, too, have in mind a couple of expats I'd be interested to hear from one this one:
  • Confused Vicky: life in Switzerland for a confused Brit.
  • Sugar: another Brit in France, but I bet she'll do a good list

Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast

Wtf?! It's Monday again already. How on earth?! The last few days have whizzed by at an unnatural pace.

It was a strange week to start with, Tuesday 11th being a public holiday. Normally I would have had a looonnnng weekend, but Mum & Dad were coming over, so I worked the Monday and took Friday off instead. So I worked Monday, off on Tuesday, back on Wednesday and Thursday morning then weekend again. But enough about work.

I managed to give myself food poisoning from raw milk. Note to self: next time you buy raw milk, go straight home and put it in the fridge. Do not stop for a three-hour lunch. That was quite unpleasant. Have beaten it into submission with some tablets.

Mum & Dad came over. Hurray! That's always a good thing. Unfortunately they had a bit of an eventful trip here. Somebody driving a Jag northbound on the M11 managed to lose control and skid into the crash barrier, spraying up mud, stones and debris at just the exact moment Mum & Dad were overtaking a lorry southbound. Aforementioned debris rendered their car undriveable (is that a word?) by smashing the headlight, ripping the bumper, smashing part of the wing and so on. Poor Mum & Dad! At least my Dad had the sang-froid to keep driving straight ahead. I fear I would have tried to swerve left. Into the lorry. And thank the Lord, and the Highways Agency, for crash barriers. They keep out-of-control Jaguars on the other side of the road.

So anyway, poor red car was rescued off the hard shoulder and Mum & Dad carried on in a hire car. I think poor red car has been stretchered home to Embra for cosmetic surgery. Mum & Dad are now headed back home, in another hire car. It's a bit of a long story so I'll not bore you any further.

The main reason for Mum & Dad visiting this weekend was to go to the wine fair. This is held every year on the 3rd weekend in November in Lille. Hundreds of wine growers from all over France come to peddle their grapey wares. It's very useful for people who like to drink good wine, because you can get quality stuff at a reasonable price and you don't have to do a tour de France to get your mitts on it. We practically only buy wine at the wine fair now, and on holiday. No more supermarket buying for us. We're such wine snobs. So anyway, we did that and spent money but not too much and have some yummy wine to drink.

Because of 1/ shit weather; 2/ Lis having food poisoning we didn't really do a whole lot else, but we had a lovely time even so. I will admit to snivelling to myself as I drove to work this morning, having just waved goodbye to my parents as they left for Calais. Poor Mum & Dad, they are still on the sodding M11! Maybe by now they'll have made it to the A14 perhaps. The thieving insurance company were supposed to provide them with a courtesy car to go back to Scotland in, but then they cancelled it because apparently "the other party hasn't admitted liability" (that'll be the plonker in the Jag). Who gives a stuff? He probably doesn't even know he nearly hit another car. The insurance companies can fight it out later, but my parents need to get home! Then they drove around all of Cambridgeshire trying to find where to return hire car #1.

Anyway, I did say I wouldn't go into that.

So, my point was: crikey where has the weekend gone? Where did last week go? Now I'm home alone (with Doggy of course). Hubby at meeting in Paris. Parents on m'way somewhere. House is quiet and empty. Lis feels quiet and empty. I guess I'll be able to catch up on the 54 unread items on my reader this evening.

Image credit: Hero Dog Blog

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Lest we forget

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Saturday 8 November 2008

Especially for you...

... Alex Salmond, this one's for you.

It pleases me somewhat to think that this is in some way retribution for this. It's not, it's because the SNP-controlled local council is widely reviled. In a bizarre parochial way, I'm more delighted by this Fife by-election result than I am with the US election result.

Of course, the American peoples' choice is a big event. Mr Obama is a young man and is fairly new to the political scene (certainly here in Europe probably not many people had heard of him 18 months ago). And there's the obvious question of his ethnicity. If I was a big cynic, I'd say the financial crisis helped a long way into getting the Democrats' nominee elected. But whatever, let's just wish the President-elect well and hope he can live up to at least some of the weight expectations now on his shoulders.

But more importantly, let's get back to gloating at the Labour hold in Glenrothes. Normally that result wouldn't be news. Labour retains safe seat in former mining community. And? But after Glasgow East, a seemingly impossibly safe Labour seat, fell to the Nats in the summer, the Glenrothes campaign suddenly looked much more interesting (more so because it's bang next door to Gordon Brown's Kirkcaldy patch).

Well guess what Alex, some Labour seats still are safe. Looks like you still have some lessons to learn in politics. Is the honeymoon now over? Was there ever any honeymoon? In case you hadn't already guessed, I'm no big fan of the Nats. Don't go assuming that I'm a Labour die-hard though, because you'd be mistaken. The previous two Holyrood governments had their faults. But the current administration is busily 'cking up the whole wee country.

[Now Lis gets on her soapbox]

Let's look at their massively unclever but amusingly populist measure of freezing council tax. Yes, great move, well done. So what has happened since the Nats froze council tax? Households all over Scotland are paying the same council tax they did 18 months ago. OK, good. But councils all over Scotland are faced with huge budget shortfalls. My home council is £20m short this year. That means in order to balance the books, they are cutting services left, right and centre. Grants to voluntary organisations, often the providers of essential services that go a long way to "top-up" anything the council lays on, have been wiped. This means important services to the local population are or will be withdrawn or severely restricted. And folks' jobs are very much in the balance. Great work, Alex.

And I just cannot believe they approved the Trump golf course. 'ckers.

Sunday 2 November 2008

Something tells me...

... we'll be eating lots of soup here at Franco-British HQ!


Who needs a veggie box when you live next door to Jean-Pierre?! Which is handy, as they don't do veggie boxes in these parts.


Who says you can't be happy all the time?

For the next ten (12?) weeks, you can certainly be happy on Sunday evenings providing you have BBC2. Yes indeedy, the "men with the best jobs in TV" are back. [Lis beams with glee]