Sugar Free Cereal Bars For Halloween??? Are you crazy???

Hollowing out a pumpkin – a messy and fastidious business and probably the closest I’ll ever get to brain surgery – anyway Mr Jack O’Lantern is now on the windowsill burning into the dark Halloween night. I can’t say he looks scary, more of a stupid smile …

Sweets are ready too – a big bowl sitting by the front door, awaiting the hordes of ghoulish kids that will soon come to darken our door.

I’d swear that sweets are getting smaller – in comparison to the chocolate or candy bars of my childhood, today’s offerings are tiny – or have I just got bigger? – of course I had to test the merchandise, so few chocolate bars went my way) chomp, one bite, two bites and they’re gone. Increasing obesity levels, rampant tooth decay and a massive hike in cocoa prices – the trend is away from large bars – but no kidding, the size of today’s bars … it’s a joke.

This year, I bought decent « branded » candies – I guess it is in a reaction to all those years I went trick or treating with my daughter and her friends – traipsing round the neighbourhood with a coven of kids in tow, in search of candies – and some people occasionally gave decent sweets, but the result was often crap – cheap candies with near-sounding brand names, from the discount supermarket or the leftover sweets from last year – it doesn’t seem right to have to look at the « use-by » dates on the candy wrapper before your kids can eat it. And what is worse than last year’s Halloween candies? Why, the box of cheap chocolates you got as a gift at Christmas but never got round to eating – stale chocks with « white » surface markings, loaded into your kid’s

Halloween bucket by some seedy-looking old guy – has he washed his hands? DO NOT EAT THAT! You scream at the kids.

There were those Halloween’s of old when I would buy the sweets and then « plant » them with neighbours in the afternoon.

« Oh, the lady at number 21 gave us looooaaaaads of coooool sweets, » my daughter and her fellow witches and wizards would enthuse through mouths full of chewy toffees and bubble gum. (Yeah kids, but that’s only ‘cos dad planted them with the neighbours this afternoon.)

My Halloween nightmare was the lady giving out sugar free cereal bars – what the hell, this is Halloween! A fistful of marshmallows ain’t going to get my daughter tipping the scales.

Okay, I can see some ghosts floating down the drive, better go and fill them full of candies.

Happy Halloween readers.

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Road Trip from Cabourg to Quiberon

Last leg of our road trip along the north and north western coast of France. From the English Channel at Cabourg to the shores of he Atlantic on the Quiberon Peninsula – from Normandy to Britanny, via the Mont St Michel.

Month St Michel

On the tourist road to Quiberon, another vital stopover on the tourist trail – the standing stones at Carnac – miles of menhirs dating from 5000BC and no one knows what they are there, other than to attract tourists.

Standing Stones at Carnac

The Road to the Stones

Stone-spotting tourists

And on to Quiberon – a popular family holiday resort at he end of the Quiberon peninsula – who says peninsula also says one road in and the same road out – huge traffic jams and a lengthy wait for the delights of Quiberon

Quiberon

Black and Whire Quiberon

On the beach in Quiberon

And from Quiberon we head home to an empty fridge, empty bank account, utility bills and mountains o lessons to prepare before heading back to school. We’ll be back next year.

Heading For the Normandy Beaches

French holiday road trip from Calais to Cabourg.

We leave the UK from Dover; which is a town so unpleasant and sinister that it makes a great place to leave from – always better to start a journey from some from somewhere so awful that anywhere else is better – the somewhere else is Calais – on the opposite side of the English Channel – another miserable port town – in the news over the past few years for the vast number of migrants, in and around the town. From Algeria to Afghanistan, they come in their hundreds with one singular intention – to cross to the UK and make a life there. In between there lies the Channel – only 23 miles wide between Calais and Dover. The immigrants will try any way to get across, hopping on lorries, hiding in trailers, walking through the Channel Tunnel – any risk is worth the risk for the promise of a new life in Britain. Escaping war torn countries, or grinding poverty in the lands thy called home, they cross Europe, last stop Calais, waiting to take their chance in a chance crossing. For years, the migrants were huddled in an illegal camp knob as “The Jungle” – that was dismantled by the authorities and the migrants were “dispersed” to other parts of France, but many just headed back, intent on crossing to Britain. The migrants err around the town, along the highways into Calais or on the car parks of petrol station or lay bys on the roads into Calais. They have become such a familiar sight that what was once “shocking” is now commonplace.

On the road out of he port, mile upon mile of high wire mesh fences surmounted with rolls of  razor wire to stop the migrant eating into the port. The once sedate Channel Ferry port now looks like a prison camp.

From Calais, we head to our destination of Cabourg – a small family seaside resort on the Normandy coast, near Caen, very popular with Parisians. Welcome to Cabourg – revel in the nostalgia of what the seaside looked like a generation ago.. Along this stretch the Normandy coast is all slong, windswept,sandy beaches with iconic beach huts.

Beach huts in Cabourg

Cabourg beach front with a sepia finish

Sandcastles in Cabourg

Low tide in Cabourg

Once in Normandy – A pilgrimage to the Normandy landing beaches and a viitto the Bayeux Tapestry. Today it is raining, his is definitely not a beach day and every tourist in Normandy has headed to a museum. Lines of wet tourists snake their way around the entrance to the Arromanches museum. No pre booking by Internet, you just wait in the rain. At Bayeux, the queues are o great that they have had to close the museum.

Waiting in line in Arromanches

Rainy day for the beach

Rainy beach misery

On the Beach in Arromanches

Next leg from Cabourg to Lorient

Small Day Hot Town Blues- No Road Trip this Summer

“I got those small day hot town blues baby …”

Yep, temperatures are starting to soar again on this, another weekend for the great French summer getaway. All routes to the sea have been at gridlock all day, with police and the national road authorities describing driven conditions as “black” – meaning just don’t leave home today if you want to get anywhere soon.

Small town, hot day, I am reminded of all those songs about spending a long hot summer “kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town,” – My dreary small town favorites – that Tom Petty classic “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” – slow summer in a hermetic tupperware kind of town. For urban boredom – the Jam song “That’s Entertainment.”

Your soul i screaming for adventure but your bank balance is telling you to stay home. No titles on these, just your judgement. “Small Day, Hot Town.” or “No Road Trip this Summer” – it is 35°c and all you want is shade or a week by the sea. You need release.

You need to get away “Autres destimations” – written on every mail box in France – that slot where you post letters to other places where you want to be. Those places that others send you postcards from, wishing that you were there, and you wish you were

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No road trip this summer. Your car ain’t fit for tripping.

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If you can’t afford a garage, you’ve just gotta keep the car in the garage.

No money to get away, you gotta look closer to home for your place in or out of the sun.

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PTSkiD or Getting Off a Mountainside with Fred and Ginger and Nancy

SLIP SLIDING AWAY

Slip slidin’ away

Slip slidin’ away

You know the nearer your destination

The more you’re slip slidin’ away

Lying flat on my back, arms spread out, staring up at the blazing sun – crucifixion position, numb with cold and rigid with fear – « nailed » to this steep freezing cold, ice-covered mountainside. What a punishment. What have I done to deserve this?

I should have read the signs. I was doing fine on the green run, lazily sliding along on my skis, on the wide and almost flat slope, and then, I took the wrong turning and ended up on the red run; a steep, near-vertical run all bumpy and lumpy and … this was my ski version of the wall of death

My ski buddies implored me to go slow, to zig zag, and above all, « Don’t look down » – but once I hit the slope – a giant whoosh, I lost my footing, fell, lost my skis and poles and went rolling 100 metres down the mountain side, first on my arse, then on my back, wondering if this was my last moment, until, miraculously I came to a halt. And in my slippery wake, I had brought down two friends, who like me slid down the mountain. They lay « intertwined » all bodies and skis a few metres away.

All the while, I could hear whoops of laughter from above – as skiers on the chair lift guffawed at our slippery antics and filmed us on their Smartphones. Just how many people are now watching my fall, slide and dented pride on social media sites?

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NOTHING’S IMPOSSIBLE

Now you’re down, nothing to do but get up and get off this bloody mountain side, like the old song – « Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again. » – but, here I am, rigid with fear. I would like to just glide off the mountain, Fred and Ginger style, after all …

Nothing’s impossible, I have found

For when my chin is on the ground.

I pick myself up,

Dust myself off

And start all over again.

Don’t lose your confidence

If you slip

Be grateful for a pleasant trip

And pick yourself up,

Dust yourself off

And start all over again.

I’ve started singing the song. I like the irony of the lyrics in my current situation. Obviously when Dorothy Fields penned these words back in 1936*, she didn’t have dorsally prostrate skiers in mind

My ski friends implore me to stand up, put my skis on and follow them down the mountain.

« NO WAY ! » I scream in the near hysterical scream of all those helpless with fear. I just want to lie hear and have someone come rescue me before I freeze

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Calm down and think. Just how I’m going to get off this f***ing mountain. I certainly ain’t skiing down, besides, my skis and poles are still 100 metres up the slope. There are just two solutions: I can either try and slide down on my arse or my back , perhaps using my arms and legs as some kind on brake, or, I can just get up and walk off.

Considering the first solution … well my 100 metre arse/back slide was actually pretty fast and I’m not sure that I will be able to control my speed. I’m getting these kind of slapstick cartoon clichés, whereby rolling down the mountain, I’ll turn into a giant snowball, picking up other skiers in my wake before finally crashing into the chalet at the bottom of the ski run. The second solution, therefore seems far more achievable, except I am rigid with fear still pinned/nailed down to this mountainside by what is no more than a self-induced, advanced neurotic state that I will now refer to as Post Traumatic Ski DisorderPTSkiD – something that I will suffer from for the rest of the holidays, to the point that putting on skis, and standing at the top of a run makes me want to be physically sick.

 

THESE BOOTS AIN’T MADE FOR WALKING

Fred and Ginger are one thing. I won’t be waltzing off this mountain, but now that some kind skier has retrieved my ski poles, then I’ll be walking off. I manage to stand up and now ; it is with Nancy Sinatra in my head that I precariously step and «sideways tip toe » my way down the rest of the slope. I look ridiculous. I don’t give a f***, there is nothing broken and … well a quick word on ski boots – they sure as hell ain’t made for walking.

So, I lived to tell the tale of my ski misfortune, but , unlike the song …

Don’t lose your confidence

If you slip

Be grateful for a pleasant trip

… actually getting your confidence back is one hell of a job.

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The next day, I get a mild panic attack in the cable car, that disgorges a crowd of keen skiers at the very top of a mountain, all with the one sole purpose, sliding down to the bottom on two lengths of laminated wood. What is the appeal? I used to like this. I used to be a reasonable skier at my own basic level and this morning’s run is hardly the stuff of Olympian downhill difficulty. The keen kamikaze skiers have all swished off down tortuous, semi suicidal black runs, and I am about to take a long lazy meandering green run that slithers like a dead snake on Valium. Nothing to fear, besides, I’ve already done this run, but, I’m sweating and shaking as I clamp on my skis, I want to be physically sick, and as the slow run starts, I just block.

A complete loss of confidence, you are there and not there and cannot move. « Get me the F*** outta here ! »

« One must confront one’s fear to overcome one’s fear. » This is the line my mum’s therapist used to spin her to get her back behind the wheel after a minor car accident – it never worked. I’m not a fan of this kind of therapy – I find it more Orwellian – Winston Smith in Room 101 – well that is how I feel right now.

In the end, my friends get me down the slope – but I still fall ten times in the process, and after this hapless and hopeless run, I feel useless, incapable, surplus to requirements and a burden on my ski friends. Dented pride is one thing, this is far more.

I can blame this on my skiiing. However when I ski on real snow, I’m not such a bad once-a-year, holiday skier

I can blame this on the poor quality snow, that isn’t really snow, but the recycled, manufactured stuff, blown across the slopes by snow machines and lying in a sparse covering like frozen icing sugar on a frozen mountain side. I haven’t been skiing, I have been ice skating with skis.

I can blame this on me. I hate taking risks, I hate leaving my comfort zone. I like to navigate in calm, shallow and familiar waters. It’s always alarm bells, panic stations and abandon ship when an ice cube sized iceberg « looms » on the horizon.

Hey, I’ll just do it like to song says

Don’t lose your confidence

If you slip

Be grateful for a pleasant trip

You gotta slip once to know how not to slip again.

*Pick Yourself Up – Music by Jerome Kern and Lyrics by Dorothy Field – featuring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in he 1936 musical « Swing Time. »

Get (Dis)Connected or Turn Off and Drop Out

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Turn on

Tune in

Drop out

The iconic 60s phrase, coined by writer and psychologist, Timothy O’Leary. Since January 1st in France, rather than turning on though, French workers have been given the right to turn off and drop out.

It’s all down to new French employment laws that came in to force on January 1st : now, when employees leave work, they are allowed to disconnect – turning off all their mobile gadgets, for a quiet evening or weekend.

We’ve all had it – you get home after a hard day at the grind and no sooner have you sat down, than a plethora of « urgent » texts and mails arrive « for your immediate attention ». There goes the quiet evening you had planned.

Evening ? Did I say evening ? There are those messages that arrive at the dead of night or in the wee small hours. Colleagues sending mails at midnight or later.

« What do you want me to do ? I’m in bed. I’m not working now ! »

You might not be working, but your boss or colleague is, slaving away, at home, or perhaps (God forbid) still at the office. Sending out texts late into the night as if to say « look at me, I’m still working … aren’t I a model employee. »

Of course such people also pollute your weekend.

Sunday afternoon, and « ping » goes the computer to signal something in your mail box …

« Hi … do you think you could just check this report for our Monday morning meeting ? »

You want to scream a resounding NO !, but that person who is sollciting you on the sabbath adds “ it will only take a few minutes… ”  Like hell it will. It f***s up your weekend and causes stress.

Well, now you can say NO ! with the full backing of the law.

What goes for evenings and weekends also goes for holidays. No more annoying communiqués from work to spoil your hard earned tanning time.

Let’s be clear though, the new law does not make it illegal for your boss or your colleagues to send « out-of-work » mails, but it enshrines the right of employees to ignore them out of working hours.

I suppose this brings the wider question of – Who are all these people working after working hours that send out-of-work mails and texts ?

They fall in to three distinct categories

Those deliberate late workers who want to show the boss and felow colleagues just how hard they are working. All those middle ranking managers who like to think they are indispensable or endeavour to make themselves such – Like we say in French – the local cemetery is full of people who thought they were indispensable.

The coffee drinkers and socialisers who actually don’t work during work, but burn the midnight oil to do exactly what they should have done during the day (or like the first category – show everyone that they are working so hard that they must stay late)

The sinkers and drowners – Those who can simply not manage their workload and spend every hour of the day working just to keep their haed above water.

I daresay, that despite this new law, the out-of-wok mail still has a long future as a weapon in the workplace. It’s not because we can now all turn off, that we still won’t burn out.

Do you have the French calendar reflex?

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1st of January, you open up the calendar and see when the next public holidays fall and on which days – thus knowing how long you will have to survive at work until you get more time off.

The average French worker gets six weeks paid leave every year. Since the introduction of the 35-hour week in February 2000, French workers have had more time off. With the 6 weeks statutory paid leave, time off in lieu thanks to the 35 hour week and national public holidays, the average French worker can now chalk up between 8 or 9 weeks « holiday ».

I bet that sounds a good deal to all you overworked Yanks who probably only get a couple of weeks paid leave per year.

Hey! This is France – we don’t work – we loll around all day eating gourmet meals, drinking wine and occasionally we might produce a few cars, a high-speed train, an Airbus, some perfume, champagne or a designer dress.

Ok, this is a thin time of year for public holidays, nothing now until Easter Monday on April 17th – unlike the Brits, we don’t do Good Friday.

Of course, no self-respecting Frenchman is going to work nearly four whole months without a day off. The next school holidays start in mid February – time to delve in to those valuable days of annual leave and take the family skiing – and this is what mot French workers will do – or at least those who can actually afford to a ski holiday for the family.

The French ain’t dumb; they have most of their public holidays when the decent weather kicks in. During May and early June there are no less than 4 official public holidays

May 1st – May Day

May 8th – Victory in Europe Day

May 25th – Ascension Day

June 6th – Whit Monday

All that holiday! There has to be a catch?

Here is the catch – in France we get the public holiday on the day it falls, so if May 1st falls on a weekday, everyone is happy. If it falls on a weekend – Oh Dear.

There is none of this British business of tagging on an extra day (or days) if public holidays fall on the weekend.

Imagine Christmas day falls on a Saturday and Boxing Day on a Sunday – under the British scheme of things, the following Monday and Tuesday will be public holidays. Not in France though. Christmas day is Sunday and the French don’t keep Boxing Day – so you get a one day Christmas, whereas the Brits get four days of revelry (some might say a one day Christmas is quite enough.)

So, let us look forward to May 2017. Both the May Day (May 1st) and VE Day (May 8th) holidays fall on a Monday this year – long weekends for everyone.

Ascension Day or Ascension Thursday (May 25th) – as the name suggests, always falls on a Thursday. Hooray another long weekend. French workers will once again dig into their leave days and take the Friday as a « bridging day » – a common practise in France to carry prolong public holidays through to the weekend.

Whitsun Monday (well obviously a Monday) falls on June 5th.

Now, seeing as all annual leave in France runs from May to May (Lord knows why), if you haven’t taken all your annual leave by the end of May, then you lose it, meaning that French workers will « use up » any untaken leave in May

So – workers with four or five days left may decide to take their days from May 1st through May 8th.

Monday May 1st – a public holiday. Four days of leave taken for Tuesday through Friday and then another public holiday on Monday May 8th. That’s actually a full six days off work with only four days leave used up.

There are of course those public holidays, which seem almost a waste – Bastille Day on July 14th and Assumption day on August 15th. No matter the day they fall, they always fall during the summer holidays, when everyone is on holiday. However iconic Bastille day may be, it might be better to shift it to another day in the year where it might make some real impact.

November is the next big holiday bonanza with two public holidays: All Saints’ Day on November 1st and Armistice Day on November 11th. This year All Saints’ falls on a Wednesday – a good opportunity to take a couple of those « bridging days » and make a long weekend of it, especially since November 1st is normally during the school autumn (fall) holidays. No so lucky for Armistice this year, which falls on a Saturday.

There is perhaps a valid argument to adapt the British model, where the public holiday is « given » the nearest Monday after the actual event – meaning we all get a long weekend – I suppose that Christmas and July 14 would be the exceptions were such a logic used, after all, December 25th falls when it does, but were it n a weekend, why not give the workers the following Monday as a holiday.

So there you are folks – French national holidays.

Do we get more or less than you lot?

As every year, the French will get 11 public holidays in 2017, two of which will fall on weekends (January 1st fell on a Sunday and Armistice Day will fall on a Saturday), meaning therefore that we only get 9 real « days off »

There are officially 12 public holidays on the UK calendar this year, however, taking into account regional variations (different bank Holidays in Scotland and Northern Ireland) – UK residents will get 9 full national UK-wide public holidays.

In France too, we have regional variations. Lucky residents in Alsace, Lorraine and Mosel in Eastern France get Good Friday and Boxing Day (St Stephen’s Day) added to their list – a hangover from that period from 1871 to 1918, when the east of France was a German territory. (A thorny and complex subject to explain in a later post.)

Happy Holidays folks (when the next ones come)