Within Pissing Distance of the Motorway

Back on the road for work next week …

Hotel

A long way from home. A lost, single soul in a world of lost, errant souls – lost from those they love, but all the road with purpose in their white vans or company cars, builders, salesfolk – the wandering workers of the world in their twilight world. Working far from home, livinh in « cheap » and « modular » hôtels. Plastic rooms all neat and scaled into little cubes and slid into concrete skeletons. Fitted boxes with all mod cons – but basic.

The modern hotel on the edge of the « edgelands », cast out of the downtown and thrown up on the wrong side of the tracks, within pissing distance of the motorway, between the shopping mall and the industrial estate. Thses places of no soul for errant souls and lost souls, lost in the week for the ones they love.

Hotels in lost lands.

Autumn Drive

When it feels like my small town is getting smaller, there is only one solution – ESCAPE – an escape to the country – a glorious autumn drive through mighty forests, golden vineyards, sleepy villages, smelling of sweet woodsmoke – and finally down to the banks of the Loire. Thought I’d share a few photos. though not all the world his yet in its full glorious autumn hue.

Sancerre rising from the Vines

Out on the highway, destination, the world famous wine town of Sancerre – half an hour’s drive from home, the highway starts in the flat plains round Bourges and rises, twisting like some kind of nonchalant corkscrew  to the vineyards.

In the woods

Textures

Through the woods from La Borne and Henchrichemont to Sancerre. Sleepy villages, nonchalant outposts bathed in glorious autumn sun and the air filled with sweet woodsmoke

Woodpile

General store

The store, open when the owner feels like it, and those hidden back years and gardens where we like to peek

Hidden places

Meeting the Messiah at a crossroads. The countryside is peppered with crucifixes

Meeting Jesus

Boat on the banks

Moored on the Loire

Of Satellite TV, Advertising, Barbecues, German supermarkets French Wine, Napoleon, British Bangers and the Metric System

I love my satellite TV – over 300 channels and I can still say (hand on heart) that there is nothing to watch of en evening. Take out the news channels, the plethora of religious channels, the shopping channels and TV reality channels – there isn’t much choice left, BUT, I do get British TV. I have a direct window on British news, views and contemporary culture . I can enjoy some excellent drama and also follow my favourite soap operas. Best of all, (and the best indicator of social and economic trends) I get all the ads –

British ads are so different from the French TV commercials. They are funnier, quirkier and far more professional than their French equivalents – There is nothing better tan the humble TV commercial to highlight the cultural divide between France and Britain.

On this, the hottest weekend of the year so far, when common sense would dictate that we all crawl under a stone rather than stand outside in the blazing sun, the good folks don my street are all firing up their barbecues. Midday was the sound of popping corks, as neighbours « unplugged » their rosé wine, and come early afternoon – following a long aperitif, the air was thick with the irresistible odour of sizzling meat.

I daresay this scene is being repeated across the Channel – everywhere in the UK is enjoying unseasonably warm weather – And on both sides of the water, there will be people crawling in to work tomorrow morning with hangovers and red raw flesh burned by the sun – Yes folks, never get too drunk on a hot day like today, and never snooze off in the sun for a drunken post BBQ nap.

Back at the commercial break, I am watching an ad for that German discount supermarket with an unpronounceable name – Lidl –

The ad is doing the hard sell on BBQ goodies. I am told that at Sainsbury’s supermarket, a good bottle of French Champagne will set me back £30, BUT for the same price at Lidl, I can get a second rate bottle of French fizz, a bottle of French white and French Rosé wine, several slices of Italian ham and a Moroccan cous cous, all for £29,95. Now I am not sure that the advertisers have actually understood what a cous cous really is, and they perhaps mean Taboulé – notwithstanding that’s quite a bit of food and booze for just under thirty quid and it’s all FRENCH – Oh thank you European Single Market. Oh thank you EU trade deals. Oh thank you EU. On this, the day before Britain sends a delegation to Brussels, to being Brexit negotiations. AH, all those European garden party goodies. How much will they cost after Brexit? Food for thought indeed. BUT if you are enjoying beer, burgers and sausages – yes they might be British bangers made at your local butcher’s, but they were made in regulation with EU-inspired food and hygiene norms. As for that beer, are you sure it isn’t a continental lager ? Perhaps from Belgium?

And that was a tenuous link into my next rant which takes you (dear reader) to Belgium) and the small village of Watterlot, known to the Brits as Waterloo.

Before we head to the site of the famous battle though, a quick final word on TV ads – you would never get that Lidl ad on French TV. Under national French TV regulations it is illegal to advertise alcohol on TV.

Off to Waterloo, which was a battle that gave its name to a London mainline train station and the 1974 Eurovision- winning ABBA song.

Napoleon cartoon wih more than a littlle hint of Mr Stallone

So the Brits named a station after a victory against Napoleon, well the French did the same – Austerlitz train station in Paris, named after old Bonaparte’s December 1805 victory over a Russian/Austrian army under the command of Czar Alexander 1st (Austerlitz is situated in the boundaries of the modern Czech republic)

Now we have a phrase in French –«  C’est son Waterloo » – meaning that it is a person’s last heroic but futile stand. Ironically (more Brexit) Britain begins Brexit negotiations tomorrow (Monday 19th June) in the Belgium capital of Brussels, just 30 kilometres from the battlefield of Waterloo. Will this be the British Waterloo – in the French sense ?

Napoleon – love him or hate him – left us a few daily reminders. He was the guy who introduced the metric system to France and eventually to Europe. I noticed this week, after the tragic events at Grenfell House in northwest London, all the journalists, fire fighters and assorted experts were giving their measurements in metres.

Back t the weather – on Sunday June 18th 1815 it was raining and the battlefield was heavy going for the cavalry. On Sunday June 18th, afternoon temperatures in my corner of France hit the 34°c mark. On the Friday night BBC London News bulletin, a very voluptuous lady informed viewers that Saturday temperatures would hit a 32°c high – no more Fahrenheit on the BBC, although wind speeds are still given in miles per hour.

Meanwhile back at the Lidl advert, the bottle sizes are being quoted in centilitres and the weights are in grammes and t is all for French wine. Perhaps Napoleon did win in the long run.

Okay – time to sign off and uncork a bottle of French Rosé. Later on, I’ll be having my Father’s day treat of a juicy Aberdeen Angus steak with good old Mc Cain oven chips made in the Netherlands.

Before I go, this Sunday is polling day in the second round of French parliamentary elections – this isn’t one to bet on, Emmanuel Macron’s « La République en Marche » party is set to wipe the board a forecast puts him at over 400 seats in the 570 seat French parliament. I can’t help thinking of a recently elected British prime minister who would love a similar majority – no snuggling up to the nasty Unionists.

Of course, voter turnout has been low, everyone here is too busy at the BBQ to go and vote.

Ok it is officially wine time.

Cheers

Freedom?

FREEDOM!  screams a huge banner headline from the front page of the Daily Mail.

Freedom ? Freedom from what ?

Has Britain just been liberated from years of foreign occupation ? Have the British people just risen up and toppled a vile dictator ?

« This is E-Day. » proclaims a sub-header

March 29th, E-Day ?

Has the world (or at least the Daily Mail) gone mad ?

Pardon my flinching , semi senile, wine-soaked, ex-pat memory, but unless we have just booted the nazis out of Blighty, I thought that Britan had been a free and democratic country for the past … well at least for the past 72 years since the end of World War Two, and possibly long before that – OK bar a few arguments about when full and fair universal suffrage was finally achieved – Britian has been « democratic » since mid –to-late Victorian times.

I know with this last sweeping assertion I am going to make some history buffs howl with indignation, because Britain (or England) had a « parliamentary » tradition for many centuries before, but not everyone got to vote for who was supposed to represent them.

History aside, I am glad the Britian is free again, and now, casting myself into the Daily mail mindset, I can say that Britain will be GREAT again.

March 29th, E-Day (or Exit Day). We should declare this day a national public holiday, along with St George’s Day and June 23rd which was Brexit day itself. – B-day – June 23rd 2016 ; the longst day though was June 24th – a long slow depresssing and distressing day, where us « remain » supporters were in a state of jawdropping disbelief, occasionally pinching ourselves just to remind us that this was not all a dream, or a nightmare or a parallel universe

I therefore propose three new public holidays – Merci Brexit, and if there too many public holidays , we will et rid of all those « unBritish » days that the European Union inflicted upon us … how many ? The Mayday Bank Holiday – I get the feeling though that many Brits would quite fancy keeping that one, as well as getting the three others –

Three new public holidays – think of all the extra shopping time that’s going to give the Brits – but I think quite a few of you might be working to pay the astronomical costs of goodies, when Brtain also leaves the single market.

Anyway, congrats to the Little Englanders everywhere, you can dust down your Union Jacks and toast the Brave new Britain in a good pint of British beer – though enjoy it while you can, in a few years Britain might be no more than a distant memory – Imagine that the Kingdom of England shares a land border with the Republic of Scotland, and what if Northern Ireland decide that after 400 years or so of accrimonious relations with England, to will be far better for all to unite with the South and just have one country called « Ireland » Now that sounds very sensible to me

Freedom ! No ! This is a bad day for freedom, unless of course your idea of freedom is simply being told what you can and cannot do – Yes the nasty old EU setting norms for just how much meat content you should have in a sausage or setting environmental norms for just how much sewage you can pump into the sea.

I genuinely think that joining the EU brought Britain out of the dark ages. Back when we joined in 1973, the UK was beset by strikes, and power cuts, the country was working a three day week, Brits used to stare jealously acrss the Channel at the quality of life in Continental Europe. YES, true we won the War and YES in 1973, Britain was still living firmly in World War Two – well now, Britain can once agin enjoy the War mentality – a ture Churchillian mindset of standing alone aginst this bureaucratic, Brussels driven monolith that is the European Union – now we are free to determine our destiny.

So, a few concrete ideas

Imagine when Brexit is a reality , that you have to get a visa for your two week fling in Benidorm.

Imagine that there is no more cheap unlimited booze and we go back to the old rules whereby you can only bring back three bottles of wine from your European holiday as opposed o the 40 or so bottles you can bring back at présent.

Imagine all our youngsters who might want to work in Europe – that’s going to be an issue.

And if there is economic lockdown ?

We will buy products that are made in Britain – well if you want a cheap TV or car or washing machine, all the parts come in via the EU. So here I am venturing on to unresearched ground BUT, unless the UK strike some serious trade deals with the EU before WTO trade rules kick in ???? Can the UK still independantly produce enough canoës and paddles to navigate itself up Shit Creek ? Not so sure.

My ramblings are fliipant and unresearched, but they come from a Britsh ex-pat who is taking out French nationality so he can still work in France after Brexit because his future was determined by those Brits who voted for Brexit – in a referendum where I did not have the right to vote.

Ok thoughts over for now, but dwell on this. Donald Trump was voted into the Whitehouse despite the fact that Hilary Clinton had 2 million more votes in the final result. As an ex-pat, I was not given the right to vote in the UK referendum because only ex-pats who had been out of the UK 15 years or less were allowed to vote. Democracy does not seem to apply in either case

If Republic of Scotland there is, I shall be validating my 3 generational Scottish ancestry for a Hibernian passport.

To all ye Little Englanders – well done on regaining your freedom. I hope you enjoy it, though put away the Union Jack and unfurl the St George Flag ; and I forecast (thought do not wish you) fractious times head.

End of rant

PS, for all Daily Mail readers you read the  paper founded in 1911 by Lord Northcliffe to halt the progress of Lloyd George’s parliamentary reform bill. and this was the paper that supported the British Union of Fascists in 1936; with that unforgettable headline “Hooray for the Blackshirts.” – Not that I’m calling all Daily Mail readers “fascists”, but there is a nasty whiff of BNP style nationalism about you all.

Be Kind, Random or Otherwise.

Everyday is a national or international day. Every lobby or interest group has its day. One American website (http://www.nationaldaycalendar.com) claims there are more than 1200 such days every year, a similar French website (http://www.journee-mondiale.com/les-journees-mondiales.htm) lists 459 – one thing you can be sure, there are only 365 days a year, so some of these « promotional days » or « awareness days are going to clash.

The world is just recovering, from the emotional and Financial strains of Valentine’s Day – but rather than the ritual and often forced celebration of love, wouldn’t you have rather celebrated National Ferris Wheel Day? So, this one didn’t figure on the French calendar of national days, meaning that depending were you live, all awareness days are different.

It seems that the Americans have far more national days than anyone. Take this last week as an example

13 February  National clean out your computer Day

14 February  National Ferris Wheel Day

15 February  National Gumdrop Day

16 February  National Do a Grouch a Favor Day

17 February   National Acts of Random Kindness day

18 February  National Drink Wine Day

19 February  National Chocolate Mint Day

Every lobby has its day and I for one will certainly be celebrating National Drink Wine Day, which in France is everyday – in fact there are none of these days I would not consider celebrating, but there also just too many days to celebrate.

Today, 17th February is officially International Acts of Random Kindness Day – so it was announced on this morning’s news. The journalist however failed to mention that, in the USA at least; it is also National Cabbage Day.

What exactly is an act of random kindness? (I would suggest that not serving your loved ones cabbage for dinner this evening is an act of kindness.) And how can kindness be random?

Take the journalist on the BBC this morning, standing outside a train station and offering cakes to total strangers. Already by having decided to offer up cakes was not a random, but rather a conscious and pre-planned act. Of course there were no takers, just bemused faces of passengers entering and leaving the station. A complete stranger offers you a cake in the street – my first thought « is it poisoned », secondly « what is the pay off? Nothing is free » and finally « just ignore this person, he or she is obviously mad and I just don’t want to get involved »

How do you decide what act of kindness to perform, on whom and when?

Why simply be kind today? Kindnesses can be performed everyday and in that context they are simply acts of common courtesy.

Holding a door open for the person behind you. Kindness, yes, but also common courtesy and common sense. I’m not just going to let go of the door and send it smashing into the face of the person behind me. We live in a litigation age, if I dent your nose with a closing door, you might just get one of those injury compensation lawyers on to me.

Simple acts of daily courtesy can make all the difference

There’s the lady behind me in the supermarket queue, she’s only buying one item and I have a whole cart load of shopping – hey just let her through – common courtesy – I often do this and sometimes live to regret it – the day I let an old lady pass through and she called up her husband who appeared with huge bags of shopping. I protested. « But you let me in front» she protested back and it all finished with me jostling back in front of the old dear.

Courtesy on the road to help traffic flow. Let the car out the side street, slow don and let the guy changing lanes to get in … perhaps he’s having a rotten day, perhaps he’s in a hurry. I’ve just made his life a little easier.

I’m a great believer in that old phrase « what goes around comes around » which I suppose is anther way of saying « you reap what you sow ». Enough acts of daily common courtesy and you’ll find that when you need to change lanes or jump the supermarket queue, it will happen. Kindness always happens and perhaps where you least expect it or when you most need it.

So, National Drink Wine day on 18th February in the USA, whilst in France we will be marking the International Right to Strike Day – that’s very French, my only question, why does it fall on a Saturday and not a working day?

I guess some of these national and international days are a bit frivolous. February 19th (according to my French website) is International Whale Awareness day whilst in the USA it is National Mint Chocolate Day, when the US National Confectioners Association will have you all guzzling … mint flavoured chocolate (is that different to chocolate flavoured mints?). My favourite up and coming day is February 21st when Americans will be marking National Sticky Bun Day. Perhaps as an act of Random Kindness I’ll stand in the street on that day and offer up sticky buns to bemused passers-by.

http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/rak-week

Do you have the French calendar reflex?

images

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)

Up through the vines

Blue skies, brilliant sunshine, crisp and invigorating cold, a hint of frost on the ground – a perfect day for a drive – Off again on my ramblings round my corner of rural France. Up through the vines to Sancerre, down to the might Loire at at St Satur and then home across field and forest. There is a hint of Christmas in the air. Even in the smallest villages, the lights are up. As day turns to dusk, there is a slight mist and a tinge of woodsmoke in the air – I love this time of year – the vines laid bare by winter, the golden autumn forest is now skeletal – all is minimalist, but not barren. I love driving cross country on such days and coming home really does feel like a homecoming.

Sancerre in the vines

Sancerre rising from the vines

The banks of he Loire at St Satur

The banks of he Loire at St Satur

Running parallel to the Loire for quite a part of its length is the Loire canal – a fully functioning commercial waterway and part of the vast European canal. Given time and patience, it is possible to navigate from here on the Loire down on to the Canal du Midi, or even head north to Holland, Belgium and Germany. There are a fair number of Dutch boats at local canal ports. Even the occasional British narrow boat.

Canal basin at St Satur

Narrow boat at St Satur

English narrow boat

A fully functioning commercial canal, complete with grain silos.

Grain silos

Home through the fields – a conference of cows

Conference of cows

Skeletal sunset in the woods. Something evil this way comes??? I hope not.

Sunset