French Nationality and the Norman Yoke

It was the standard government bad news envelope – « Republique Française » stamped high up in the left hand corner and my name and address visible through the small cellophane window  – the kind of envelope that never brings any tidings of joy, just tax demands or parking fines. I’ll open it later.

The envelope got progressively buried under a pile of magazines, junk mail until I finally retrieved it and opened it and read the letter inside and shouted OMG, nice and loud so the Almighty himself might hear because I am French – I mean literally, I am French – It says it here in the letter – I have just been awarded French nationality, I have been French since July 1st, a whole week the envelope lay there and … that’s one whole week I’ve been French and I didn’t know.

I’m not sure now if I have dual nationality or two nationalities or I am French in France and British in the UK – I’m going to have two passports, at lets I will apply for a French passport and when I renew my Britsh passport I just won’t bother telling anyone that I have a French one.

I’m not sure either if this makes me Anglo-French or Franco-British. Am I now two different people at the same time, or just half and half ?

It all started roughly eighteen months ago – whilst Britain was in the throes of a rather accrimonious referendum campaign – to brexit or not Brexit ? That was the question. For many it was just a formilaty, a forgone conclusion. Of course Brits would vote to remain in the European Union – it would be madness to leave, but just in case the tide went against the prédictions of the pundits, I decided it would be wise to have some kind of insurance policy, so I applied for French nationality.

I’ve lived and worked in France for 26 years – I’m a fully paid up member of French society, but I’d always clung on to my British nationality, despite feeling more French than British over the years . I work as a civil servant – normally a status reserved for French nationals, but since the enactment of the 1992 Maastricht treaty, all EU citizens have been able to work in the French civil service – then on June 24th THUD – SHOCK – DISBELIEF – the Brits voted for Brexit and by doing so voted to rip all those treaties and agreements to which they had been signatories – those precise and precious papers that guaranteed my job security – faced with the prospect of being « stateless » – like many Brits living in France ; I applied for French nationality. Now I am French, I have a job and a future in the land I call home. Whatever the fate reserved for UK nationals living as ex-pats in the European Union, I at least won’t be sharing it. Yes, it was a question of survival, but after so long living here I guess the time had also come to take the plunge.

Yes, I am happy to have French nationality, but joy is tinged with anger agaisnt the 1.7 million or so Brits who tipped that balance in favour of Brexit. I can’t say there is a standard Brexit voter, they seem to be a hotch potch of elderly people, white working class and bunch of misguided nationalists believing that Brexit will make Britain GREAT again. I suose in the thirty or so years between the end of World War Two and the oil crisis of the early 70’s there was a notion of « greatness », though I would be more prone to call it a misconception born from the fact that Britain emerged victorious from World War Two and until the 1970’s enjoyed relative prosperity, as did France. Yet in their Empiric and Waterloo like mindset, the Brits always thought they could go it alone, until evrything came crashing down in the mid to late seventies.

I am mistrustful of all these Brexiteers who trade in terms of « Greatness » and « Freedom » and the idea that now the UK is leaving Europe, the nation will be free to determin its own destiny and make its own laws. Was living within the EU so bad ? But now that the UK is « free » and is all set to be « great » again, towards which historical model will the pro Brexiteers look ? How Churchillian, Cromwellian, or Victorian will the Brave New Britian be ?

I’ve rambled on a length about Brexit – misguided musings with the occasional pertinent pointer, but I have never spoken about the « Norman Yoke » – nothing to do with eggs from Normandy- Let’s take a trip back into the dim, distant, but still very relevant past – The English Civil war, or what some historians such as the late (great) Christopher Hill, referred tas The English Revolution. In its entirety, the war lasted from 1642 to 1651 – I know that Charles 1st was beheaded on January 1st 1649, but it took Cromwell’s parliamentarian « roundhead » forces another two years to « mop up » the last Royalists in England and Scotland. Charles 1st may have been no more, but his son – the future Charles II carried on the campaign against Cromwel’s forces with the help of the Scots – historians refer to this period as the Third Engish Civil War – has this anything to do with Brexit ? Of course – apart from the various political and religious causes of the English Civil War (or Revolution), there was also a considérable part of the Parliamentarian forces who were fight for Freedom for all Englishmen – There were factions in the anti-royalist forces who blievedthey were liberating England from The Norman Yoke – yoke being that large wooden « harness » hung around the neck of bulls or horses to pull a plough – these « true Englishmen » believed that there ad been no such thing as true English liberty since 1066, when William of Normandy won the battle of Hastings and the last true Saxon (English) king, Harold 1st was slain (hit by an arrow in the eye so legend goes) – from 1066 onwards Kings of England were no more than French usurpers and al those wars with France wewre no more han family feuds where good English blood was spillt to settle the diferenecs of accrimonious French cousins. The rise of the Puritans and their staunch anti catholicism is also the story of the rise of the first English nationalism – both go hand-in-hand. Though England had become a protestant country over a century before the start of the English Civil War, there was still mistrust of the Church and the monarchy for supposed catholic sympathies. Charles 1st had a French (and therefore catholic wife) – Queen Henrietta Maria – she had a Catholic Chapel built in her private résidence at Greenwich and Charles 1st was suspected of having convertde secretly to Catholicism. The Norman Yoke was all this, the idea that around 1642 all true Englishmen had been living under foreign political and religious domination for nearly 600 years – with the exécution of Charles 1st and the declaraion of Cromwell’s Commonwealth, all Englshmen were finally free – I think this is somewhere within the mindset of pro Brexiteers – Britain is free once more. This might all seem flippant or even futile as an argument, but somewhere we are still in the mid 17th century mindset, there are still Cromwellian dinosaurs out there.

The current conservative government is kept in power by a minority protestant party from Northern Ireland – The Democraitc Unionist party (DUP-) – founded in the early 1970’s by the late Reverened Ian Paisley, they were no more and no less a radical regional party set up in Northern Ireland to (as they saw it) protect Protestants and above all to protect and maintain the union between Ulster and Great Britain – hence Unionist – as opposed to Republicans who sought a United Ireland. The DUP (in my opinion) are a 400 year old throwback to Cromwell. They are the modern incarnation of « The Norman Yoke », and they are currently maintaining Theresa May in power. This is not good for Britain, and convinces me that any Brexit will be negotiated in a mindset of misguided nostalgia, a harking back to a time when … I keep thinking that our Brave new Britan will be like some kind of Beatrix Potter thème park – a rural idyll where the peasants are free to sit round drinking ale and … It’s a nightmare.

Parting thought – the UK conservative government are trying to negotiate (what I hope will be) a common sensé Brexit. They are maitained in power by a manipulative minority party (the DUP) with a credo that is a throwback to seventeenth century Britain. They were founded by a venemous Victorian vicar caled the révérend Ian Paisley, who one qualified the European Union as « a manifestation of the anti christ. » If the Queen does finally pop her clogs, then Brexit will happen under the reign of the future heir apparent – Charles III – sorry have we just gone back 400 years.

Hey I am happy to be French and living in a republic. I think what Britan needs now is Charles De Gaulle.

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OF RESOLUTIONS AND REVOLUTIONS

Possibly my last post about New Year (promise)

A GOOD RESOLUTION, A LIFE-CHANGING REVOLUTION, RESOLVING TO DO GOOD DEEDS AND WHEN TO TAKE DOWN YOUR CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS

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It is that time of year, the turning of the year when we resolve to make ourselves better, fitter, happier healthier people. We decide, to give up bad habits, to divest ourselves of those physical or mental burdens that make us unhappy. We resolve to change our ways. We are full of good intentions.

Ah yes, the good old New Year’s resolution, but never a revolution. Where there is a will there is a way and it will take us all our frail human determination to accomplish those goals which we have set ourselves, therefore, we are not going to undertake anything too difficult that might just revolutionise our lives. Radical change? Heaven forbid. Just the act of going back to work after the festive blip is going to require a heroic effort.

The return to normal life. I know on the first day back at work, everyone will be wearing glazed expressions of emptiness. It will be like a train station or an airport during a computer glitch or a system failure – transport staff put up large signs “Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible”. We will all be wearing such signs until late January, when finally the last vestiges of Christmas decoration have been taken down and it feels like we are all “back to normal”.

Hold on though, why are we all heading back to work when it is still officially Christmas? Why are we all slaving away? The Wise men haven’t arrived yet. Jesus is still in his manger and Mary and Joseph are still sitting in the stable. Christmas does not officially finish until February 2nd – Candlemass or Midwinter’s Day. Why are you ripping down the Decorations on Twelfth Night? You can leave them up until Candlemass. Yes, but isn’t it just a tad depressing, heading off to work on those cold January mornings with your tree and tinsel still up? Yep, what is worse than crawling to work in mid-January and passing shops and houses still festooned in their festive garb.

Candlemass

Candlemass commemorates the presentation of the baby Jesus at the Temple. In a more “sinisiter” vein, it also marks the ritual purification of Mary 40 days after the birth of her son.

Up until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the “purification” of young mothers was a common ceremony in some churches – it was called “Churching” – There was something inherently sinful in the act of procreation and something “unhealthy” about the act of childbirth, therefore young mothers underwent a purification ceremony before they were allowed back in church again, or allowed to take Holy Communion.

This ritual purification dates back to biblical times. When Women weren’t allowed to worship at the Temple or Synagogue after childbirth. The length of time that women were excluded from worship depended on the sex of their baby. In the case of a boy, young mums got a 40 day ban that increased to 60 days if they had given birth to a girl. So, if Jesus had been Jessica, we might well be keeping our Christmas decoration up until late February.

Jesus or Jessica ?

Of course Jesus wasn’t Jessica, but I am just wondering, if, next Christmas I could ask my employer for forty days off work for the festivities?

Oh Lord! Can you imagine celebrating Christmas for 40 consecutive days.?

40 days or 60 days. If Jesus had been Jessica, that would certainly have thrown the Christian calendar out of synch. Imagine Jessica spending 60 days in the wilderness – a 60 day long Lent. Of course this means that Easter would come 60 days after Ash Wednesday, meaning that Easter would fall firmly in Spring and we might actually get some decent weather for Easter.

Candlemass, like all good Christian ceremonies is of course based on a Pagan Ceremony – Midwinter’s day and the Festival of Light. Time to light a few candles and bonfires to mark the halfway stage of winter and a slow return to longer days right up until June 21st – Midsummer’s Day, the point at which days start to get shorter. Seems a bit weird that those long summer days are actually getting shorter in the run up to winter.

A Good Deed a day

 So, back to resolutions. I have decided to have daily resolutions or rather good intentions – that good old boy scout thing of « a good deed a day ». Some small act that will make someone else’s existence a little easier such as holding a door open for the person behind me, rather than letting it fly and shut firmly in their face.

Yes, there are plenty of day-to-day things you can do. When you driving along a main road with a huge line of cars behind you, why not stop and let through the poor bastard who has been waiting all day to come out of a side road. Do the same at roundabouts, give way to a couple of cars. If every motorist just let one car through on a roundabout it would do wonders for traffic flow. In the same way, stop at crossings and let that little old lady across.

Pity The Old Lady and her tin of cat food

Good deeds in shops. There you are at the checkout, a trolley laden with shopping and behind you, a fellow customer with just one or two items. Let the, frail little old lady with her tin of cat food go in front of you. Statistically you have longer to live than her. So you have the time as she pays for her cat food in one cent coins.

For all those small good deeds you do, the one day that you need a good deed just to make life a little easier, well generally it happens just when you need it.

And finally a good deed that costs nothing. A warm morning greeting with a smile for friends, neighbours and colleagues. You know, when you are down in the mouth with a bad case of the Monday morning blues, it just takes a smile and a heartfelt greeting from a colleague to make your day.

Sun-Drenched Beach

Oh dear, this all sounds so trivial, but then you don’t need a spanner in the works to make the machine breakdown, sometimes just a grain of sand will do. I’m hoping my grains of sand will pile up and form into one long sun drenched beach, for this is also that time of year that we traditionally think about booking our summer vacation, and every year, the stress levels in our house go through the roof as I annoy my family with holiday plans. This year I’ll go with the flow and pick up something at the last minute. And so, to my final resolution – cease stressing those around me with my plans, fears, worries and good intentions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

New Year Prayer

In a pre Christmas poll commissioned by the Catholic Church (surprise surprise) fewer French people than ever believe in God. A staggering 41% do not believe in anything (perhaps not even themselves.) Oh ye of little faith. Here’s a prayer you can all recite mantra style for the New Year.

To whom it may concern …

May I go into this new year with joy and unbounded naive optimism.

May I take pleasure in every task, no matter how small or futile.

May I go into this new year with the patience to suffer fools and the courage to confront them.

May I be tolerant of others and may I forgive their misdemeanors.

May I achieve my goals and help others in achieving theirs.

May I find purpose where there is none.

May I bring sense where it is lacking.

May I love my family and those that love me and may I try to love those who don’t.

I pray for a hassle free year

May I still be alive at the end of this year to enjoy Christmas

 

 

Breakfast With(out) Donald

 

Scrambled Eggs

It’s that Saturday morning thing – catching up on neglected household chores,the dirty washing piling up and festering away in the laundry basket , that broken light bulb I’ve been meaning to change for weeks – the plates in the sink that I couldn’t be bothered to wash last night and the kitchen floor could do with a good mopping it looks more like pavement than a floor

Breakfast first, life begins with breakfast – yes, a good breakfast – no matter what happens today, no matter how bad this day can be – at least if I’ve had a decent breakfast … like the mantra of the condemned man about to walk out on to the scaffold – at least I won’t die on an empty stomach.

This is France so, Fresh croissants, delicious baguette, a good strong coffee – Don’t kid yourself, the baguette is rock hard, and I’ve run out of coffee, so I’ll just microwave the ominous brown dregs lurking at the bottom of the cafetière. Eggs, I’ll make scrambled eggs! I think there’s still a a couple of eggs sitting in a box at the back of the fridge, where they have been for weeks on end and are well past their «use by date» and so I can’t use them and were I a condemned man, I’d just give this breakfast a miss hoping that there might be something better for lunch. Microwaved coffee, hard bread and I begin to write a shopping list.

No point listening to the radio, I don’t fancy breakfast with Donald. Yeah, even three days after the event,  it’s just all non-stop post mortem on the US election results. Experts and more experts until there are no more experts left, all giving the same expert analysis that … they got it wrong and now no one knows what the Donald is going to happen.

To be continued (perhaps)

 

 

 

A Few Ghostly Thoughts.

No ghosts? Not even a fleeting phantom? Not even the slightest errant soul?

The tour guide shakes her head and “assures” me that the castle is not haunted.

You can’t have a castle without a ghost, that’s like Starsky without Hutch or Kojak without his lollipop (yes I betray my age.)

But I want a ghost or at least a spine-tingling ghost story about the castle. I am very disappointed. I almost feel like asking for my money back

This is France. The French don’t do ghosts, not like the Brits and the Americans. I live in the historic heart of France, there are chateaux everywhere, but not a single ghost

My town’s medieval centre is so thick with history, half -timbered houses and historic monuments that it is perfect for ghosts, but in the 25 years I’ve been here, I’ve never heard of a local ghost – if this were in Britain, there would be spirits, phantoms, headless noblemen, grey ladies, white ladies … all happily haunting away.

I get the feeling that it must be hard being a French ghost. Imagine after death, that you need a job as a ghost – well there are plenty of places that need haunting in France, but it seems that the French just don’t have ghosts – employment prospects for phantoms are therefore severely limited in France.

I often wondered why the French don’t have ghosts – sure they’ve got witches and demons and suchlike, but they’re not super on the supernatural. Could it be a religious issue? – this is a predominantly Catholic country and catholic doctrine doesn’t have much room for ghosts. The Spaniards and the Italians don’t have ghosts, yet the Irish have plenty of them (perhaps for the tourists).

A Frenchman visiting a chateau will not consider if it is haunted or not, yet on a tour of a British castle or Stately Home, the guide will always chuck in a ghost story.

So, next time you visit a French chateau and get a tingle down your spine – no, it’s not a ghost, it’s just a draught, and as for that murky apparition – your glasses need a good clean.

11/9

It happened on Sunday 9th September – my faithful old Macbook pro just decided to give up. Monday morning, off it went to a savvy local Mac technician for a spot of major surgery and now after a heart and brain transplant, the Mac is back – all this to explain why this post is over two weeks late and perhaps has little or no relevance, but I enjoyed writing it, so here is 11/9 (European date configuration)

Sunday September 11th 2016

Thank God for normality. The boring grind of a slow Sunday. The weekly trip to the supermarket, filling up the trolley in the same old systematic, Stepford wives way – I spare little thought for what we’re going to eat, I just sling the stuff I always buy in the trolley because I know exactly where it is in the aisles, and if I try anything new or different, I will be forced to leave my well worn supermarket circuit and embark on a voyage of discovery. This is Sunday! I don’t want an adventure because Sunday is not an adventure kind of day. (and what if I get lost?)

Please, nothing too adventurous or physical on this, a day of rest. I don’t want t have to have to reach up or bend down to find new products, that are probably exactly like the ones I take already, which are nicely set in the middle of the shelf, so I can just reach out and grab them with a minimum of effort. No, I sure don’t want to make any efort, it will take time I haven’t got and besides, by taking those packets, tins and boxes arranged at mid-height, I spare the poor underpaid supermarket shelf filler. If I take too low down or high up, then the wheezy old arthritic lady (well past retirement age) who stacks the shelves, will be obliged to reach up or bend down – My unimaginative shopping ritual is saving her aching joints. String at the contents of my trolley as I pass through the check out, I’m not sure if there’s actuallu anything in my shopping that might make a decent «square» meal.

So, back home to corrections and lesson preparation – the fate that befalls all teachers, Sunday is already Monday.

Thank God …. not quite the right turn of phrase when I consider those terrorist acts perpetrated in France over the summer,in the name of a God or a religion. Let us say thank goodness (if there is any of that still left), thank goodness for normality as the first rays of sun penetrate through the shutters and I lazily turn over and let fly an enormous Sunday morning fart, then shake the duvet to air the bed and allow the onion gas from the night before to escape. Never have onions for dinner, bad breath, stomach acid and flatulence, that is all they are good for.

Oh what a rude awakening, but I have been awake for some time, raised from my slumber by the gentle sound of gunfire – shotguns popping off in the local woods. No, this is not some Daesh offshoot shooting off – this is the first day of the hunting season and all game is fair game (though there are strict quotas). Our local woods are bristling with bristly boar. As hunger pangs begin to gnaw, I begin to hanker after a slice of roast boar. The good old hunting season, I hope the morning news will be full of hunting stories, those good old perennials. Every year, prominent members of the pro-hunting lobby pop up on prime time news to slog it out with those who defend animal rights – hunting is cruel. Oh please let us have a good old hunting debate rather than the summer long, tawdry, fastidious, burqa-burkini row or the wall-to-wall coverage of the war on terrorism. Let us have a day off. No chance though, Sure this is Sunday September 11th, but the world is gearing up for a week of rememberance, this is the 15th anniversary of 9/11. What were you doing on 9/11? asks the sombre-voiced journalist on the morning news – «ring in and tell us where you were on September 11th 2001» – I guess we all remember where we were, but I can’t imagine that anyone would have thought that we would be where we are now.

After breakfast, a trip down to the mail box; no postal delivery on a Sunday, but it is stuffed to overflowing with junk ads from local supermarkets, car dealerships and clothing retailers. It is that time in the retail season when not much is going on. The kids are back at school and have all been kitted out already, so those who want to sell us stuff that we don’t want, have to come up with new exciting shopping «events».

New Year is not until January, yet, September in France has beome the unofficial new year, back to work and back to school after the long summer break.

New year, new car – local dealerships are offering unbeatable deals on new models, and this Sunday they are open for viewing and test drives – not so exceptional in other countries, but this is France where national trading laws are such, that everything is closed on a Sunday, and for years an unholy alliance of clergy and labour unions have fought to keep it that way – no one works on a Sunday, save teachers and those who man the tills in the increasing number of supermarkets that are now open on Sunday mornings, because they sell «perishables»

I don’t need a new car, but the glossy little «magazine» from the local supermarket reminds me that their annual wine fair revs up in three days – I even have a voucher for a 5 Euro cash back when I spend over 30 Euros on wine. Better still, next week, (like the hundreds of other people who have had the sale junk thrust through their letter box) I have a personal invitation to the local supermarket’s inaugural wine fair evening. I went to one of these a few years ago – we all squeezed into the wine section of the supermarket for a glass of cheap red plonk and a slice of pâté. We were entertaiend by a local folk group, plying drunken versions of traditional tunes and jigs and suchlike. A memorable evening. Most of the musicians had been on the wince well before. The singer kept slurring his words, the fiddle player could kept missing the fiddle with his bow, and three members of the accompanying dance troop were so drunk that they fell over. A good time was had by all.

The supermarket wine fair – they’ve been around for twenty years or – a commercial initiative to cash in on the grape harvest. From Bordeaux to Beaujolais, the noble fruit of the vine is being harvested by nimble fingered students, eastern European immigrants and retirees trying to augment their meagre pensions. So, this is the time across the land when supermarkets stock up crates of wine from floor to ceiling and the customers pour in for cheap deals on quality vino to stock up their cellars. I am an adept of the wine fair, but nothing ever stays long stocked in my cellar – wine is for drinking now. can’t see the point of keeping bottles for ten or twenty years for someone to drink when I’m dead.

The normality of those everyday French things – hunting, wine, and as I head into the supermarket, I see that the local goatman has set up stall in the entrance – and is selling cheese that is literally fresh out the goat.

Normality – back home to unload the shopping before sitting down to prepare new lessons. Every week I attempt to imagine inspiring and beguiling ways to impart the Queen’s English to my students – and before you know it, it is that time on early Sunday evening when you think about cooking dinner, or doing the ironing or having a bath and contemplate the evening’s TV viewing. Which US police show will I watch tonight? What tired old films are the TV schedulers offering up tonight? I would like a comedy, however old, however unfunny, however many times I have seen it before. I just want something that might raise a feeble smile because at the moment there isn’t much to smile about.