Thursday, 5 April 2007

Sorting the Sheep from the Goats

Cutting the Meadow
Sometimes you drive 50 kms to look at furniture and end up buying a mower/brushcutter instead and on Monday we bought a tondeuse/débroussailleuse near Figeac. We only want to cut the “meadow”, that is the lower part of our terrain, two or three times a year, to encourage the wild flowers to set seed, and allow our rich insect life to flourish. If we were really ecological we would buy a tondeuse naturelle (a living lawnmower), but the responsibility of looking after a goat or a sheep is daunting. Anyway they like company and I don’t think that the rabbits which are digging up and eating our plants would count. I wouldn’t mind if they ate the grass!

What we really need is a virtual sheep! Perhaps we could host an episode of Shaun the Sheep. How about “Shaun goes French”? On the way to buy a pain au chocolat he could have a close encounter with one of the bulls that protect their herds out in the fields in the summer, or meet the goats who produce the cheese and try a croissant with spinach and chèvre. He could also help us by asking the sheep, which occasionally live in a field near us, why they wear bells around their necks! (I have a theory concerning les grelots but it doesn’t translate very well into English)! I’m sure that if he brought his friends along they could eat our meadow in no time. Shaun has his own show now on CBBC (1800 Saturdays), quite a step up from a minor part in Wallace and Gromit. I wish him and Nick Park every success in this new field.

Angora Goats

At the Ferme de Siran, on the Causse above Autoire, Gaëlle and Julien Taillefer raise angora goats. We first met them two years ago when we visited in March and it happened to be their first year of “kidding”, (well what would you call it)? It has become a regular trip now, especially if we have visitors. All the goats have names and last year, when the letter was B, we were introduced to Boum and his sister Bada-Boum. The little goats are very cute and are similar to lambs, but they have tiny little horns and an in-built desire to play “King of the Castle”.

Gaëlle and Julien have now been breeding them successfully for three years and starting with 24, they now have more than 120. They are firmly ecological and I find it hard to identify anything they do which is unsustainable. They don’t use fertilisers, they hardly use machinery and their crop is the mohair wool and woollen goods which they produce. This week they are presenting their farm as part of the event “Seven Days of Biodiversity in the Lot”. You can see their website at it might remind you of something!

Conte e’Moi – A Festival of Conteurs
Rachid Bouali is a conteur. He told a colourful tale of his childhood in an immigrant suburb, with all the characters and events that populated it. At one stage I was crying with laughter as he related the story of the sacrificial ram named David. He managed to create a three part polyphonic rhythmic episode, with a chanting crowd, the swish of the blade being sharpened and the cries of the ram who sensed what was coming! It was quite a dramatic achievement! By the way the ram escaped which, of course, led to a frantically hilarious chase around the neighbourhood. This culminated in his assumption into heaven, where he took his rightful place in the constellation of Aries. The inspiration for the sacrificial ram was the story of Abraham and Isaac, which like many of the religious texts is shared between Islam, and the Judeo-Christian Old Testament. Isn’t it amazing that three religions which share many of the same holy books can be so opposed to each other!

The tales that a conteur tells usually last for between an hour and an hour and a half and in France it is still an active profession. Our nearest town, Bretenoux, hosts a week long festival of conteurs this week and we went to two events. I was pleasantly surprised that my French was good enough to understand the stories and even the jokes. On the first night Christiane said that it was because they talk slowly. It is true than Jean–Marc Derouen, one of the organisers who opened the festival with a tale of mermaids, fishermen, the sea, and lascivious curés all drawn from his native Brittany, had a slowish manner of speaking but you could not say the same of Rachid Bouali.

Both evenings were very professional and of the highest standard. We will certainly be keeping this week free next year!

Stop Press
Yesterday we saw the first swallows flying over, today I heard a cuckoo and it’s cold wet and windy so it must be Spring!

Monday, 19 March 2007

Presidentielle 2007 - Why is Libéralisme a Dirty Word in France?

libéralisme, nom masculin
Sense 1: Doctrine centrée autour des libertés individuelles. 
(Doctrine centred around individual liberties).
Sense 2: Doctrine économique qui défend la libre entreprise, la non intervention de l'Etat dans le secteur économique.
(Economic doctrine which defends free enterprise and the non-intervention of the state in the economic sector).

I have mentioned before that in French politics liberalism is a dirty word. I thought at first that this is because France is fundamentally left wing, and is very concerned about social cohesion and preventing the exclusion of its less favoured groups, but for the last twenty five years it has alternately elected right and left wing governments. I have therefore found it difficult to comprehend why France should be so strongly against liberal policies, but with the help of an article in Le Monde 13 March, based on an interview with Pascal Perrineau, the Director of Political Research at Science Po, I am beginning to understand why.
I have quoted heavily from his interview in the following extracts. I hope he will forgive any inaccuracies of translation.
Liberalism has become a scarecrow, almost an affront to public opinion. And lacking an enemy, which today’s French politics cruelly misses, liberalism has become the ideal enemy. Today, even when in reality liberalism flows through a candidate’s political culture, no candidate can take the risk of proposing and defending a liberal policy”. Elsewhere in Europe liberalism has a visible political existence. Across the channel it is an integral part of the Conservative Party and the Labour Party has adopted some of its aspects. In Germany the Liberal Party is the hinge between the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats. In Holland, Denmark and Italy liberals actively participate in government coalitions, generally of the right, and bring their political themes”.
“The only true attempt to offer a liberal alternative to French electors was in 1997 when Alain Madelin created a party called Democratie Libérale and stood for election in 2002. He got only 3.9% of the votes, which represents one million electors. These came mostly from the owners of small businesses, the artisans, the self employed and those working as senior managers. Amongst the middle and working classes his support was negligible. This failure has shown that no one can brandish the liberal flag without suffering the opprobrium which follows and this has condemned liberalism to being a stowaway in political programmes”.
“Why has liberalism never been able to occupy a durable and credible part of French politics? From Colbert (advisor to Louis IV, 1619 – 1683) via Napoleon to de Gaulle, there is an historical attachment, from both the right and the left of French politics, to the power of the state. For a variety of historical reasons, this does not exist in Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain or Italy.
There is also a cultural question. The right in France has developed around catholic values, whilst the left has developed around Marxist concepts. Both are hostile to money and business.
There is finally a very French political and judicial approach under which public power embodies the general interest. Particular interests, which menace the general interest, are therefore illegitimate. For our neighbours, however, the general interest flows from the addition and co-ordination of freely developed particular interests”.

So, in 21st century France, liberalism is seen as a right wing political doctrine which leads to adverse social consequences, such as a loss of jobs and a greater divergence of income between rich and poor. But liberalism is an economic doctrine which defends free enterprise and the non-intervention of the state in the economic sector; therefore it is also seen as a potential challenge to what people have become used to as the role of the state.

French people rely on the state to protect and nurture them, and their belief in the concept of the Republic is partly founded on the ability of the state to deliver this protection. Therefore a political doctrine, which by definition implies the withdrawal of the state from some of its customary responsibilities, threatens this belief. This is profoundly unsettling for many French people and is one of the less obvious reasons which explain why liberalism is such a dirty word in France.

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Presidentielle 2007 - From your French Political Correspondent

Two weeks is a long time in politics. Nearly two weeks ago I wrote about Francois Bayrou (UDF centre right) implying that he was irrelevant, since he was in third place at only 17% in the opinion polls, and he was unlikely to get elected. He has risen steadily since then and Le Monde (9 March 2007) was quoting support for him now standing at 21%, seriously challenging Segolene Royal at 24% and Nicholas Sarkozy at 29%. The Socialists are worried to the point that their spokesman said on France Inter (10 March), that if Bayrou beats Royal on the first round, he should withdraw so that France is offered a true left of centre alternative to Sarkozy. French journalists are so well trained and respectful that no one laughed!

There are two rounds of voting for the Présidentielle. For a long time I have been trying to understand the rules for the second round, so finally I looked them up and they are very simple. If a candidate does not get a majority of the votes cast in the first round, then there is a second round with only the top two candidates. Whoever wins this is elected. In the same poll quoted above, people were asked who they would vote for on the second round, and the figures were Bayrou 55% against 45% for Sarkozy.

So there is now a serious possibility that Bayrou could pull ahead of Sego in the first round and win in the second. Since he is an experienced politician he is unlikely to make silly gaffes, and his platform, of being an alternative to the left – right pendulum of the last 20 years, is clearly going down well. It is after all a very simple message to sell. I shall now have to try to understand whether he has anything else to offer because I still have reservations about him. Firstly his basic left-right coalition idea is naïve and will not work. Secondly I watched one of his speeches a few weeks ago and a disproportionate length was given to education, but he had only one serious idea for helping businesses and re-launching the economy (he used to be Minister for Education). I am, however, certain that he has no grand ideas for reforming France and voting for him will be a vote for the status quo. Lastly, there was an event this week which bears on him and deserves explaining.

Simone Veil is a Grand Dame of French politics. She is Jewish and was a concentration camp survivor. She is a symbol of the re- construction of post war European politics and is said to be one of the best liked personalities in France. As a female politician, over the years, she has championed the rights of women but from a right wing rather than a left wing perspective. She was a member of the UDF, Bayrou’s party. For some years she has been on the Conseil Constitutionnel, an organisation, which amongst other things, sets the rules for elections and is non political. This week her term of office ended and on the Day of Women she announced her support for Sarkozy. In 1989, Bayrou directed her campaign for the European elections, which was considered a fiasco, and she lost. She is on record as saying that he was ineffective and their antipathy has deepened since then. Her intervention did make the television news, but we will have to wait to see whether it has made any significant impact.

There are still six weeks to go until the first round of voting on 22 April and that is a very long time in politics. I don’t think that any of the candidates are really dominating the media and they are missing opportunities. There is little of the rapid riposte and media management that we are used to, and got very tired of, in the UK. I think this is especially true of Sarkozy whose message is not getting through and needs simplifying. I wonder whether Alistair Campbell can speak French. I would say that their politics are very similar and there is still time to make an impact.

José Bové (Confédération Paysanne, Peasants Union) is in a bit of trouble. He is a colourful character on the greenish extreme left, and is one of the minority candidates who is difficult to ignore. His difficulty isn’t the fact that he has been sentenced to four months in prison for driving a JCB into the front of a MacDonald’s. Since he is out campaigning as usual, that is not his most immediate concern. His problem is that he is several hundred signatures short of the 500 that he needs to sponsor his candidature, from the 36,786 mayors in France. Until the list closes on 16 March, the CSA (Conseil Supérieur Audiovisuel) has decreed that all candidates should get equal airtime. This explains his frequent appearance on many TV discussion programmes, which I am disappointed to report, has confirmed to me that he isn’t a peasant, but a well educated politician. I look forward to seeing much less of him very soon.

Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Presidentielle 2007 - French vs UK Social Models

“On a more serious note I know their social model doesn't bring as much economic growth as ours and leads to even more bureaucracy than ours, but the Anglo-Saxon model does seem to be at the expense of unhappy social divisiveness. I am not sure the extra material wealth is worth it.

I am very interested in politics, although I have never joined a political party. My interest gets more intense around election times and I must apologize in advance if you think that some of my remarks are excessive. I should stress that my negativity in what follows, towards the French socialists, does not extend to New Labour who are more realistic. (Although I did once say that I would leave the UK if Gordon Brown ever came to power, but in the end I anticipated that event by a couple of years). Here New Labour would be considered right wingers who pursue “liberal” economic policies. (“Liberal” is a real dirty word here, it’s time to invent a new one).

The problem with the comparison of the French and Anglo Saxon social models is that it is implied that they are alternatives. I believe that to be false, because the French system does not deliver greater overall contentedness and less social divisiveness.

In France the overall unemployment rate is in excess of 8% but in the banlieu, amongst the youth of immigrant families, it is more than double this. The riots of last year were, I think, due to a feeling of hopelessness amongst the youth who cannot see a future for themselves. In general there is a national feeling of malaise, a lack of confidence in the future and a real lack of opportunities for the young and the seniors (that means anyone over fifty). We have been through similar periods in the UK.

The French are also aware that their disposable income is falling year on year. Companies are using the fear of unemployment to keep wage increases lower than inflation, whilst at the same time the Social Charges have increased, and so people have less money to spend. (Because of the Jospin 35hr maximum working week you are not allowed to work longer and get paid for it if you are salaried).

There is considerable agreement on what is wrong with France, and what’s more they all say they want change but, of course, they don’t agree on what and how. They also seem to realize that another swing of the pendulum from right to left will not deliver what they want, hence the current interest in the centre candidate Francois Bayrou (UDF).

I find it strange that the French are all aware that their overall taxation rates are among the highest in Europe but they are not clamouring for them to be reduced, just saying they are too high and then quietly working on the black.

As an example of the total tax take I will quote Christiane’s niece, who is a 40 year old single mother, qualified as a speech therapist. She told me that as a member of the "professions liberales" the total deductions from every invoice she puts in are 77%. She is not a high earner, because the rates she can charge are limited by the state. As an artisan my deductions would have been about 15% lower, (unless I employed someone, when I would then also have to pay a 15% tax on my professional assets each year). Yes that’s right; they have different social charges for different professions, and different pension rates and also different employment laws! Mad!

The left is very strong in France. There are actively supported communist and extreme left candidates whose ideas get significant air time and weigh quite heavily on the Socialist Party (PS). The left in France believe fervently in Social Justice and the redistribution of wealth but have very few suggestions to help in the process of creating wealth to then redistribute. In fact the creation of wealth comes very low on their list of priorities. In their philosophy profits should be given first to the workers and then what’s left to the shareholders. Although they cite mondialisation as a reason for all their problems, they don’t really accept that we all live in a world market economy where investment capital will flow towards the best conditions for making a profit. In fact they hardly mention investment at all, except in terms of training and research. Their instinct is to protect what they have, subsidise individuals and reject change.

I will give an example. Everyone in France is afraid of “delocalization”, in other words, closing French factories and relocating to Asia or Eastern Europe. So Segolene’s policy is to adjust the corporate tax system to penalize companies which re-locate. But the PS does not stop to think whether this will affect the decisions of foreign companies concerning where to invest new capital. I believe that this policy would lead to a progressive decline in the competitivity of French companies as a result of under-investment. In 21st century Europe it is not possible to live behind a wall of protectionism and exchange controls, and thus try to prevent businesses from making rational investment decisions. Bizarrely this policy is promoted by both the extreme right and the extreme left.

Another example is the PS’ idea to re-launch growth in the economy by using an increase in the minimum wage (SMIC) to 1,500 euros/month as against 1,254 currently, a 20% increase. This is after it has already risen 18% in the last 5 years, much faster than salaries. They don’t stop to ask where the money will come from in businesses using low paid workers, or concern themselves about whether it would lead to some businesses becoming unprofitable and closing, or others deciding not to even start up. (Somehow it will promote growth in the economy which sounds a bit like printing money to me). An economist has called it “le Smicardisation de l’emploi”!

I can’t decide whether these highly intelligent people, who are better educated than me, really can’t foresee the next logical consequence of their flawed policies, or whether they are perpetrating a conspiracy to fool naïve electors?

The right (Sarkozy UMP) also believes in Social Justice (they are above all French) but their analysis of what is wrong (low investment, low competitivity, low levels of innovation) inclines them towards helping businesses to create wealth and this makes people suspicious because they don’t generally believe that the wealth will come to them but that it will go to the (foreign) shareholders.

In general I am not particularly impressed by Sarkozy, who is struggling to overcome his Rambo act last year when, as interior minister, he started talking zero tolerance on delinquents and cracking down on immigration. He also has the disadvantage of still being part of the existing UMP government which has made the usual mistakes and not delivered very much of consequence.

In my opinion, neither Nicholas Sarkozy nor Segolene Royal, thus far in the campaign, has demonstrated any of the necessary grasp of foreign policy, which is a French President’s direct responsibility. I expect you heard about Royal’s gaffes over Quebec and Corsica, but these are long forgotten now. Who was it who said a week is a long time in politics?

I will be bold and make some predictions. If the right win the Presidency and the Assembly, then after some months they will run into trouble with the unions who, supported by the left, will challenge a key policy, probably to do with limiting union power. France will descend into the streets, and grind to a halt, until the government withdraws to lick its wounds. (French governments always back down against popular opinion; remember the attempt to introduce a new form of employment contract, the CPE). The Prime Minister will be changed and no further serious reform will be attempted. During the rest of their five year term, France will continue to decline relative to its European neighbours.

I have not spoken much about Bayrou, who presents the French with an alternative because he proposes a broad Left-Right coalition, citing Germany as a successful example. He has a problem because his UDF party is traditionally right of centre, but he does have the appeal of avoiding another swing of the pendulum and his coalition approach is his only serious way of distinguishing himself from the other parties. Personally I dislike coalitions, unless they are forced by circumstances they are unlikely to hold together for very long and usually lead to weak governments. To propose it as a policy objective seems to me to be politically naïve. If he wins the Presidency, (which at the moment looks unlikely) then a wishy-washy set of policies will be introduced, which tinker with the margins of the problems, whilst more radical propositions will be discarded, because they will not receive a majority of votes. In this way he will avoid the revolution in the streets but, although it could be amusing to watch the Left - Right juggling act, it would not seriously change anything, and again France will continue to decline relative to its European neighbours.

If the left win they will introduce their very protectionist, business unfriendly, policies without complaint from anybody who matters politically, and quietly foreign investment will dry up and French companies will transfer their assets overseas. At the end of five years unemployment will be higher and disposable incomes lower. Taxes will also be higher, discouraging initiative even further. If they are unlucky there will be a downturn in the world economy which will make things worse. In this scenario the crisis will come from further rioting in the banlieu and to deal with that they will try to create unreal jobs with borrowed money. (Sounds familiar doesn’t it)? It is possible that after this a realization might emerge that change in the other direction is imperative. In a Machiavellian sort of way this could be the best way of achieving the necessary change in France.

So you can see that France like the UK is divided politically and I believe that it will struggle to live up to its political ambitions either right or left. The resulting lower growth will bring more social division and lack of opportunity, and the brightest young people and entrepreneurs will leave France.

The polls are currently showing Royal and Sarkozy level on 28/29% and Bayrou at 17%, with Sarkozy winning narrowly on the second round. Whichever way they vote, France is going to go through worse times in the next five years than it is currently and maybe it’s a good thing that we have a UK based income and don’t live in a city!

Sunday, 25 February 2007

Presidentielle 2007 - Brits for France

The Five Propositions - Les Cinq Propositions

You may have heard about Segolene Royal’s 100 propositions, the fruit of a process of consulting the people who, of course, were quick to ask her for what they wanted. Even Christiane, a life long socialist, is shocked by some of the policy ideas, such as the “Sécurité Sociale Professionnelle” under which, if you were made redundant, you would have the right to 90% of your salary until you find another job. (One could ask “why would you bother”?) When you do find another job, you would have the right to the same salary and other accumulated rights such as pensions. This idea was originally proposed by the CGT union and has been taken seriously and adopted in different forms by the leading candidates of the left, centre and right.

I have been thinking that when Sego consulted the people, British expats, were not represented. This may well be because they can’t speak French, nor can they vote, but nevertheless, in the interests of social cohesion (la Lutte Contre l’Exclusion), Égalité and in the spirit of La Solidarité Européen, we should have been asked for our views. I have decided that the only way to redress this situation is to form a political pressure group and contribute to the debate.
It would take too long to prepare 100 propositions and, like Segolene’s, nobody would read them anyway, so I will restrict myself to the local Brits’ “five most wanted” and then use my influence to get them heard by the people that matter. Since my last communication from the Chateau des Anglais, I have also decided to adopt a more modern style and suppress my natural authoritarian instincts as Lord of Autoire and Bretenoux. In this way I hope to get more support from the common people.

Proposition 1
France has a problem of economic growth, which at 2% is the lowest in the EU apart from Portugal. If foreign businesses do not find France an attractive place to invest in, this is certainly not true of Europeans in general and Brits in particular. So:- “All capital imported, by expatriates now resident in France, and spent in France, will attract a government grant of 90% of the sum imported and spent”. The grant will be paid annually through the tax system and should be very easy to administer. In this way foreign money will be encouraged into France which will help to re-launch the economy and finance other policies.

Proposition 2
The French wine industry is not doing very well, which is rather surprising because you can only buy French wines here, but it needs a boost and the government should intervene so:-
“All French wines bought for local consumption will attract a subsidy of 75%”. This could have been complex to administer but, fortunately, there is already an existing mechanism, so I propose to introduce a modification to the Carte Vitale. You would present this at your supermarket checkout, where the tills would be equipped to register your purchase with the Sécurité Sociale, which would then reimburse you in the normal way, directly into your bank account. If you were worried that you might suddenly have a lot of visitors, or go through a stressful time thereby causing your consumption of wine to increase, the insurance companies could offer an “Assurance Vinicole” which would reimburse the 25% not paid by the Sécu. This policy should be a real vote winner, popular with both locals and expats.

Proposition 3
To help solve the problem of unemployment, and also to encourage more French youngsters (who may find the prospect of the administration of a business in the French system somewhat daunting) to aspire to become artisans I propose:-
“Work done, on an expatriate’s principal residence by local registered artisans will attract a 100% subsidy”. This will be paid directly to the artisan, via the existing system used to collect social charges. In this way artisans will be paid soon after they prepare their invoices and expats will be saved the trouble of checking invoices months later in a foreign language. This policy is designed to attract more foreign money into France, again helping economic growth. I believe a secret unofficial pilot version of this scheme is already in operation here, since sometimes we never get bills for work done.

Proposition 4
“After two years residency in France, expats would have the right to buy their favourite imported foreign delicacies (such as HP Sauce, Branston Pickle, Hobnobs, Marmite and 450mm wide tinfoil) at a VAT rate of zero”. To make this policy more palatable to locals it would be conditional on expats a) being retired and therefore not taking jobs from French people and b) on a reciprocal agreement being set up with other EU countries on a nation by nation basis. I know that there are many French people living in London who miss their Ricoré, paté de tête, rillettes and fritons very much, so they would be sure to vote for presidential candidates who adopted this proposition.

Proposition 5
And finally a policy, which will not be generally popular, but could be sold as being; good for the environment, good for the health of the nation, as well as making a start on reducing the hole in the finances of the Sécurité Sociale.
“A tax will be introduced on all carrier bags used in pharmacies”.

I believe that this contribution to the presidential campaign is built on the solid foundations of the French Model of Social Democracy, a tradition with its roots in the revolution of 1789. But it is also looking to the future, since it addresses the needs of both France and its growing expat community. When these propositions are adopted, they will not only have far reaching effects on growth and employment in France, but will also promote Solidarité and Fraternité between our communities.

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Le Chateau des Anglais

Near us in Autoire, “Un des Plus Beaux Villages de France”, we often walk up the valley, which is surrounded by cliffs, and back down via the Chateau des Anglais. This is really more like a ruined defensive wall, perched halfway up the cliffs under an overhanging rock, than a castle. It was a place of refuge for the English mercenaries who occupied the valley during the hundred years war in the 13th century.

It occurred to me yesterday that, since I am English, I could be descended from the original owners of the castle and that I might have some legal rights concerning it. This is doubly possible because my mother has always said that I have Huguenot ancestry from the French Protestants who settled in Clerkenwell in the 17th century.

Perhaps, like David Beckham in his contracts, I might have rights to the use of images of my castle. Or perhaps I should hold a fête there once a year, to celebrate the building of the castle and it’s Englishness. Since the French love a fête, and any excuse is good enough, this should not be too controversial. But first, in the interests of politeness, it would be necessary to inform the Maire. You can perhaps imagine the scene should I foolishly succumb to my delusions of nobility. . . . . . . . . . . .

I arrive at the Mairie in my 4WD warhorse, scattering the peasants in the streets of Autoire on the way.

“Bonjour Monsieur le Maire, I am Lord Preedy and I would like to inform you that I am going to hold a fête in my castle each year on 16th April”.

“Excuse me, I don’t understand, which castle”?

“The Chateau des Anglais of course. I am English and I claim the ownership of my chateau. I am going to hold a fête in the castle to celebrate the victories of my English ancestors in the 13th century”.

“Perhaps you would like to join our “comite des fêtes” and propose the idea to them? They are always looking for new members”. Says the Maire, thinking that this might get rid of me.

“Oh no! It would be inappropriate for the Lord to attend a village committee but I would be pleased to receive them at my castle”.

“Ah”, he says, “That could present some difficulties for the older committee members; they would have trouble climbing up there”!

“Worry not. I am in alliance with Lord Malcolm of the Gers and he has powerful engines, driven by steam, one of which we could put on the top of the cliffs and lower down a basket on a cable for the older ones”.

“Do you have insurance for that”? Says the Maire. “Come to think of it the castle isn’t very safe either. It would be unlikely to pass an inspection for social events”.

“ Insurance? I know nothing of insurance, but an Inspector you say! Does he work for Queen Elizabeth? Does he have daughters? If he doesn’t co-operate I will reintroduce the Droit de Seigneur”.

“He works for the Prefecture in Cahors and they are very strict about public safety”!

“The Prefecture! This must be some new institution that the Queen has introduced. The internet is so slow here! Last year I discovered that three years ago she granted me the monopoly on the importation to England of walnuts, foie gras and cassoulet! But, forsooth 'tis true that 'tis draughty up there. I will send my lieutenant and a few of the guard to conscript some of the local maçons. In a month or two they would rebuild it like new, with the right sort of incentives”.

Ah, so you will need the forms for a “Permis de Construire” and a “Declaration de Travaux! Will you be installing a septic tank”?

Wednesday, 31 January 2007

A day in the life of an XP Warrior

Good or What?

So the subscription to Norton Antivirus (2002) had run out. So that wasn’t good.
So I downloaded Kaspersky Internet Security Suite for a 30 day free trial. So that was good.
So I scanned my computer and it found 145 naughty things. So that was(n’t) good.
So I deleted/disinfected the naughty things. So that was good.
So I then loaded the software for the new webcam. So that was good.
So I restarted the computer and got an error message saying “ComComp.exe has encountered a problem and has had to close” making it impossible to get onto the internet using “Espace Wanadoo”. So that wasn’t good.
So I tried to find ComComp.exe and couldn’t. So that wasn’t good.
So I tried reinstating some of the naughty things in Registry that Kaspersky had deleted but without effect. So that wasn’t good.
So I switched off all the functions in Kaspersky ISS to stop it bothering me with annoying messages. So that was good.
So I reloaded Windows Service pack 2 and I could see ComComp.exe in the Prefetch folder but there were two of them. So that was good (I think)!
So I restarted the computer and got an error message saying “ComComp.exe has encountered a problem and has had to close”. So that wasn’t good.
So I reluctantly reloaded Wanadoo’s utilities, which hijack the home page and insert “Navigateur Wanadoo” every time you try to use Internet Explorer. So that wasn’t good.
So I still got the error message. So that still wasn’t good.
So I tried to reload Windows using a custom install which allowed me to reload “accessories” but not the main event. So that was nearly good.
So I looked for Internet Explorer and it wasn’t there! So that really wasn’t good!!
So I found out how to activate Internet Explorer and did it. So that was really good!
So I removed all the Wanadoo useless utilities in Add/Remove programs. So that was good.
So I reset the Wanadoo internet connection using Windows and could get onto the internet. So that was really really good!
So I switched on Kaspersky ISS and it was quiet. So that was good.
So I checked in Windows Update and it still had all the latest updates. So that was also good.
So I restarted the computer” and still got an error message saying ComComp.exe has encountered a problem and has had to close but I could get on the internet. So that was and wasn’t good.
So this morning I restarted the computer” and didn’t get an error message. So that was that!

So how am I? I’m good! But not perfect! So that's good!

Friday, 19 January 2007

After the Baby is Borned*, We Finally Arive in the UK

Joanna was born on 17th January, the same day as my father’s 101st birthday. Of course we wanted to get to the UK asap so we flew from Limoges on the 18th. We should have arrived at Stansted with plenty of time to get to the hospital in Kingston and see everyone, but it did not turn out as planned. We hadn’t realised that the UK was having very high winds and even if we had, we would not have thought that this might affect a commercial jet.

The approach to Stansted was very turbulent and I have never been thrown about in a large plane like that before. It was bucking and side-slipping like it was a small light aircraft. It reminded me of a trip in the tail of a DC3 going over the Rift Valley escarpment in Kenya at three in the afternoon when the thermals were really rising off the cliffs. As we lost height I was nervous, but I expected it to improve as we came down. It didn’t. If anything it got worse. The group of young French lads in front of us thought it was all very funny, but I couldn’t see any reason to be amused. I did not believe that it was possible to keep the plane sufficiently horizontal in order to land it safely! We were less than a couple of hundred feet off the ground when the pilot aborted and did a “go around”. This involved a noisy full throttle climb away from the runway and a big circle for another attempt. As we came in this time the lads were very quiet! Again he aborted, but at a slightly higher altitude. I am never a nervous flyer, but I admit I was scared! When you don’t know the full situation, or the available options, the imagination takes over and the adrenalin was pumping.

With the plane still bucking and weaving, the pilot said that his wind shear radar had twice sounded an alarm and they had no choice but to abort, but that he had plenty of fuel and was going to wait for about a half an hour for the wind to drop, which it was predicted to do by 4pm. It was much calmer in the stack at a higher altitude, allowing the stewardesses to walk down the cabin and pass around the sick bags. I knew Ryanair would regret its ridiculous no seat pocket economies! I relaxed a little. But after about 25 minutes he announced that the winds at Stansted were still gusting to 65mph and we were diverting to East Midlands airport, where 25 other planes had previously been diverted during the day.

Having keyed myself up for another bumpy ride, the landing there was relatively smooth and a round of applause went up. Christiane and I were glad to be on terra firma all in one piece, but you can imagine the chaos with the bags. After waiting for an hour and a half they finally appeared allowing us to leave and find out where we were, and how to get to London. We decided that we would abandon any ideas about taking a coach to Stansted when firstly, the information desk did not have any information and secondly, a policeman told us that the M1 was closed due to overturned lorries! We eventually caught a local bus and took a train from Derby, which was very slow since the rail network was also disrupted, but it got us to St Pancras at about 10pm. The rest of the trip to Richmond was uneventful.
 James was still up and showed us pictures of little Joanna, who is a very lovely, well rounded and hungry little girl. We will see her today, when we hope that Sandra will be bringing her home.

*(Borned? - past participle of “to be born” when Christiane was feeling rather excited)!