Tuesday, 31 August 2010

La Rentrée

Throughout the summer politicians in France are on holiday. That has not stopped the government from expelling hundreds of Roumanian gypsies and deporting them back to Bucharest. In fact, to be more accurate, they are leaving “voluntarily” after having received 300 euros per head as a resettlement allowance.

The policy received more coverage after a speech by Sarkozy at Grenoble which emphasized “La Securité” and these two things were linked together by implication. His popularity rose in the opinion polls as a result.

The combination of picking on a minority group and linking it to stronger controls on immigration appeals to many voters in France, particularly those who vote for the Front National. Seeking to overtly appeal to an underlying current of racist opinion is a dangerous political card to play. It has already rebounded once on the UMP earlier in the year when Eric Besson, the Minister for Immigration and National Identity launched a national debate about what it is to be French, opening the door for the National Front to hijack it and gain substantially in the Regional Elections.

The reaction of the Socialists during the summer has been to deliberately say nothing very much because previously, when they reacted strongly, they found that it helped the UMP. Politicians are now back at work and this morning Segolene Royal, who really seems to be attempting a rapprochement with Martine Aubry, was on France Inter. She avoided fully answering a question which was posed about the deportations and security, and turned it into a question about how she would deal with the rising level of delinquency. Again playing on people’s fears and practising negative politics.
 I was disappointed because someone needs to say that blaming minorities for your problems is a slippery slope towards fascism. Stephane Guillon would have been quick to point this out in one of his bitter and often outrageous chroniques, but he was sacked by France Inter in June. http://johnpreedy.blogspot.com/2010/07/thousand-protesters-outside-france.html
In addition, whilst blaming minorities when you are in difficulty might gain you a short term political advantage, it does not face the real problems of the country. Of course what people perceive as the real problems and the reality are different things, and depend on your political complexion. The Socialists and the more extreme left are still fighting the battle against exploitation of the workers, and asking for even more social protection, whilst the Right have resorted to stigmatizing small minorities to distract attention from their lack of leadership concerning economic issues.
 Meanwhile Germany has just posted record growth figures for the last quarter.

Sarkozy had the opportunity to set France on a new path towards a more prosperous future. When he was elected I hoped that he would seek to change people’s attitudes concerning the relationship between the Individual and their expectations of the role of State, a sort of French Thatcherite revolution, but he has bottled it in favour of a fuzzy economic policy and a populist appeal to right wing voters. What a disappointment!

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

A Basal Cell Skin Cancer

24th August 2010
Yesterday I had a skin cancer removed. It was a basal cell epthelioma. It started as a small spot which I first noticed in March/April and which was not resolving.
I had a consultation in June with the specialist, Dr Labrousse, who said that it needed to be removed but it was a type of cancer that didn’t metastasize, and wasn’t dangerous, so I decided to have a holiday and redo the kitchen in the flat in Richmond before having the minor operation. During five months it had tripled in diameter.

The operation was done under local anaesthetic and after the injections I felt nothing. Since it was on the bridge of my nose I had my eyes closed throughout. Although I am not nervous in these situations, and I have had more needles stuck in me during chemotherapy twenty years ago* than a typical pin cushion, I am unable to prevent a mild shock reaction and I was a bit wobbly for about an hour afterwards, so Christiane had to drive us home from Brive. We stopped in Vayrac to see Anne’s expo and I felt ill at ease with people because of the large dressing on my nose, but nobody looked at me strangely so it was all in my head. The stitches are due to be taken out in nine days and until then I am supposed to wear the dressing because otherwise my glasses sit right on the stitches.

Dr Labrousse said that I had a very fair skin and I must be careful to avoid the sun. He is the second doctor to tell me this in the last few weeks. Fortunately throughout my life I have always avoided the sun because I burn very quickly, but my face is more difficult to protect.  Here, in the summer, just walking about for twenty minutes on a sunny day is enough to make me go pink and when I’m gardening I usually wear long sleeves and my Australian hat!

I have a friend, with Scottish ancestry, who, when he was younger, worked in Africa and the Far East for many years. Now, in his sixties, he has had several cancers of this type on his arms, legs and face. But it isn’t only the English, Scottish and Irish who have this problem because my French neighbour has also had an epthelioma as well! For all fair skinned Europeans the sun is potentially dangerous!

12th September 2010
One very small advantage of this minor op is that pulling the skin together after the cancer has been excised has removed at least one wrinkle!
When the stitches come out I will post another photo!

And here it is! The skin is still quite reddish locally but that will fade.

* I first mentioned this in May, click here to read more.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Wild Beasts in Our Garden

The first four photos were all taken within an hour of each other in the lower part of our sloping garden which we keep as a meadow. I was using a Canon 450D and the standard 18-55mm kit lens.

 Rose Chafer - Cetonia aurata
Large Conehead Cricket - Ruspolia nitidula
Red and Black Striped Shield Bugs - Graphosoma italicum
Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary - Clossiana selene

Wasp Spider - Argiope bruennichi
European Praying Mantis - Mantis religiosa

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Replacing the Kitchen

When we moved to France four years ago we kept our flat in Richmond as a hedge against UK property price inflation and to provide us with some income from letting.  In the last two years we have progressively replaced every electrical item, together with the boiler and the hot water tank, as a result of breakdowns.  Fortunately Jacqueline and Ari were very tolerant about all of this but they are now buying a house and the flat has been empty since early July.
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We had already decided to replace the kitchen, which was installed when the building was built in 1994 and was deteriorating.  The kitchen cabinets of that period sat directly on the concrete floor and every time there was a leak it soaked into the chipboard.  
 To save some money I have done most of the work myself, but having no choice about the timing has meant that we missed our planned trip to the Pyrenees and we have ended up doing it all in a hot and humid UK summer.
We started on 7th July and have just finished.  There was a destruction phase, requiring many trips to the tip, followed by chasing the walls for changes to the electrics, followed by a rapid installation of the base units.  This gives a strong illusion of progress which then seems to slow to a crawl as the work moves towards more detailed electrics, plumbing and carpentry.  
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The NVQ training that I did for plumbing and the exam that I passed on the 16th edition IEE electrical regulations (85% the highest result the training centre had ever had)  were helpful, but not as useful as the two months that I spent last year supervising Audrey’s major refurbishment project.  There is no substitute for experience in practical matters!  Perhaps one day I will get measurements right first time and not make silly mistakes.  Not that I am intending to do more of such projects.  In fact I would be quite happy if this was the last one that I do!  I don’t enjoy the hard work and I get very frustrated when I don’t foresee the problem areas.  If you don't use an Ikea corner unit, beware of corners in L-shaped kitchens!! Ikea give no advice about this sort of thing and you are expected to know! The quality of their kitchen cabinets, however,  is very good and all doors and drawers have soft close mechanisms which are not at all expensive.
The physical toll is several episodes of gout, a few bruises and a notch less on my belt!  Unusually I have only given myself one electric shock when I forgot that the cooker supply is on a separate MCB.  Last week I avoided flooding the flat downstairs because I noticed, just before leaving for the day, that a connection I had made earlier was leaking.  That was a close thing.

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The end result looks good but, as usual, when I look at it I see the things that didn’t go quite right, or caused a problem, and take the rest for granted. 
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Until yesterday there was still an issue with the heating system to put right, before we could leave and return to our home in the Lot. We were waiting on the very busy Paul to come and sort it out.  He has been and checked everything, he wired in a new valve actuator, and we hope that this is now all resolved.  I will check it again tomorrow. Heating system electrics are probably the most complicated subject that electricians ever tackle and not many can do it.  Of course it would be so much easier if they worked to drawings and labelled wires, like one does on an engineering project, but they prefer not to!
We have found a young couple through Foxtons who take over on 1st September.  We hope that they have a better experience than the last tenants and no breakdowns!