Sick Again

Seasonal tradition – the pre-festive flu

 

Body aching like I’ve been thrown several times against a wall. Head hurting like it’s been clamped firmly in a vice, and someone is still turning the screw and I’m coughing like an old tramp nurtured on full tar cigarettes and left out for several days in the rain.

« Can’t give you any antibiotics » says the doctor,

« Just stay home in the warm. Take plenty paracetemol and above all, do nothing. »

And with a flourish of his drug company-sponsored pen, the doc signs off « Here you are » he announces and with a big beaming smile he pushes a form a across the desk

« What’s this? »

« A médical certificate for a week’s sick leave. Doctor’s orders, stay home for a week and do nothing. »

« Nothing ! »

Yes, those are the doctor’s orders – nothing.

Now, there are some people I know who would simply ignore médical advice, and, even with a médical certificate, would crawl into work and work, just to prove to everyone else, that what they do is so important, that no one can do without them, and it is thanks to such « heroics » that a everyone else gets sick.

I am going to firmly follow doctor’s orders

YES you’re ill. You’ve got flu or something nastier and though you are not going to die, you certainly feel in a state close to mortal demise.

Get it into your head that you won’t be fit for work

Doctor’s orders – DO NOTHING.

And that is exactly what I do for a week. I do nothing.

I head home, a shivering wreck. I pop a fistful of paracetemol, pull on a grotty old tracksuit, fill a hot water bottle and then wrap myself in a huge duvet and settle down in front of the TV for a week of nothing.

Yep folks – I’ve spent all week watching TV

The news channels, the soap channels, the shopping channels, the kids’ channels, the vintage re-run channels, the religious channels, the crafting channels.

I’ve watched watched North Korean Missiles tests with non stop beaming faced images of « Rocket man ». I’ve seen Laura Ingells comes to blows with Nelly Olsen, I’ve cruised on the Love Boat, I’ve solved murders with Angela Landsbury, I’ve been to Southfork and back via Falcon’s Crest. I’ve learned how to make « lovely » Christmas décorations and « scrapbooking-style » Christmas cards. I’ve learned how to cook the perfect turkey. I’ve drooled over everything from hot rocks and cool diamonds on the jewelery channel to power vacuums, slow cookers, fitness machines and stairlifts on the shopping channels. I’ve watched Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs all ranting their rants – I’ve had calls to prayer, calls ro reason and advice to bring me closer to God.

And in-between the programs – commercial and more commercials with slippers, surgical stockings, death insurance, more bloody chairlifts, exercise aids for the elderly, Christmas chocolates and incontinence pants and checks for colon cancer and urinary probems for older men

AAAAAGH – If I were old. I’m only 52 and in every bloody ad or programme or propoganda slot for the « elderly » it is echoed and re-echoed «NOW YOU ARE OVER 50 … »

Yes I must accept that at 50 you turn into a gibbering, slobbering, incontinet, piss stinking, disabled, semi senile , pyjama-wearing, slipper shuffling wreck. AAAAAAAGH.

Oh Thank God, I’ve found Boomerang TV on the satellite – re-runs of the original Hanna Barbera cartoons – Scooby Doo, Flintstones, The Jetsons …

Hey, If advertisers think I should be senile at 50, might as well watch some kids TV.

What I have loved about this week in the Twilight TV sickness world – all the mid morning ménopause unf*** your f****d-up life TV –

Forgotten second rate stars back from the grave with a book to sell and a career to relaunch.

The youngish, late fortysomething replastified bimbo looks caringly and meaningfully into the UV gaze of the late sixtysomething soap survivor –

« Tell me how did …

ménopause

breast cancer

the loss of your pet dog

Alcoholism

Drug addiction

Bankruptcy

Sexual breakdown

Divorce

affect your life ? »

« And what is the subject of your new book ? »

ALL OF THE ABOVE

And in this week of TV watching, I have loved all these heart-tugging broken family shows – like Jeremy Kyle

Get a mid morning TV slot, when all the world’s misfits are just rolling out of bed, and wheel some obese, loud-mouthed, no-brain, white trash dysfuntional families into the studio, get them screaming at each other, and you’ve got one shit hot TV show.

The Usual stuff :

Mother sleeps with daughter’s boyfriend a few weeks away from the wedding.

Husband-to-be is sleeping with his fiancé’s sister.

Father-in-law having a fling with his future daughter-in-law.

And after a venomous slanging match it all ends in tears and a big hug.

When I hear people at work reeling off about their perfect lives and their perfect kids, I always feel that I have kind of failed somewhere in my life, but it takes a week of watching Daytime TV to show me otherwise – aspiring and subscribing to the dreams, hopes and fears of the stay-at-homes – for whatever reason people have to stay home.

It takes all sorts to make up a world, and we all need some kind of place in this crazy world.

Back to work tomorrow – fighting fit and one thing is for sure – the first thing someoneis going to say « Did you enjoy your holiday ? »

 

 

 

 

 

Running Down A Dream

So this is a kind of rambling post about my clichéd American dream in the light of recent events

Running down a dream, that never would come to me …

I had this crazy, clichéd American dream – I was crossing the great wide open, in a huge, beat up old RV – I was cruising long roads into nowhere stopping off in battered old gas stations and sad motels – I was driving east to west looking for Bagdhad café, Kerouac, a Fistful of Dollars, Aliens and Vegas – I wanted to start at Rockaway Beach or Coney Island and drift through road movies – I’d be heading out across the plains with Born to Run blasting out the speakers in the RV.

I guess that has always been my American dream – I could hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach and travel on down to sit on the Dock of the Bay.

Running down a dream that never would come to be

It’s Monday morning – had a sleepless night, running work through my head – that’s always Sunday through Monday – half awake with this giant checklist churning in my brain like one of those old dot matrix printers spewing out endless reams of paper – must do, must do , must do … and what if it never gets done ?

Monday morning road trip, the rain thudding down on the windscreen, stuck in a long line of early morning traffic – crawling at dead slow stop snail’s pace, past the bakery, the supermarket, the café, the gas station – turn right at the lights and crawl on. Monday morning, half awake, half asleep – running down a dream ? I’m Running on empty.

Switch on the radio « Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door » – Guns and Roses version – Oh how I hate this song now – it’s been a staple of every band I’ve ever played in – « And now folks here’s a song about a dying sheriff … » – that’s how I announce it now – switch channels and there is news coming in about a mass shooting in Las Vegas – rain outside in the blurred half light of Monday morning and mass murder – feels like that big black cloud really is coming down. In France we are stiil reeling from the latest terrorist « attrocity » – two girls stabbed to death at the St Charles train station in the southern city of Marseilles – two students – both cousins aged 20 and 21 killed by a knife weilding madman who proferred God’s greatness and then hacked up two girls because they were girls – and now a 64 year old mad man who slaughters fans at a country music festival because … because they lke country music ? Because they wear Stetsons and cowboy boots ? Because he is mad ???

The profiler/psychiatrist /specialist professer guy on the radio is asked to speculate about a motive and the « profile » of the assassin. « Is he mad ? » asks the journalist of the expert. « We can’t say the killer is mad, for him, his actions are probably perfectly sane and logical. »

Running down a dream – news comes later in the week about the sad death of Tom Petty

« US Rocker Tom Petty … » announces the BBC – I never thought of him as a « Rocker » but as a poet – I suppose his words were the inspration of my clichéd American dream – I loved his road trip style, far flung, small town, dead town wanderings – listening to Tom Petty, I’d just want to esape to somewhere that was probably nowhere. He had a sideways, poetic, vison of the American dream, that seemed achievable « Even the losers, get lucky sometimes. »

Back in Vegas, the death toll gets bigger as the media rolls out non-stop coverage. I’ve got this kind of 9/11 feeling in the pit of my stomach as news comes in that terrorist group, Islamic State have claimed responsibility for the massacre – 64 year old former accountant/property developper/banker (the killer’s job changes with pretty much every news bulletin) – a white middle class senior with an unhealthy passion for guns, who would seemingly have undergone some fast-track, self-styled, internet radicalisation and then … It doesn’t fit.

I’m still in my American dream. My daughter mocks gently as she sees me consulting pages and pages of cowboy boots on Amazon. « OMG ! » laments the wife « You’re surely not going to …  not at your age. » Dreary, caustic disbelief . And why can’t I have a pair – I’m only just in my early fifties.

I suppose my American dream is still that fuelled by my American idols, from Lou Reed to Ray Bradbury, A Tom Petty, a Joey Ramone, some Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kurt Vonnegut with Patti Smith. I’d like New York Punk, a trip to Coney Island, Breakfast at Tiffanys – an RV ride to Aliens in Nevada and to top it all, a ride on the Chattanooga Choo Choo. – My wierd American dream scape littered with silver rocket ships, flying saucers, vast graveyards of planes left to « die » in the desert sun and rolling up to a battered old gas station on route 66 behind the wheel of my Chevvy Impala asking some « old timer » for some « gas » .

So, at the end of this clichéd and confused post, I guess that I am trying to says that I have, for years, been nursing a stilted and very personal vision of my American dream that procludes the Las Vegas Massacre. My dream is inspired by all my favourite muisical and literary clichés. For me the US is still this giant and impossible gritty western. It is Josey Whales peppered with Steppenwolf. I supoose this is like Americans who thin of the UK as all Bowler hats and afternoon tea ( oh dear). But I wanted in foremost and earnest fashion to sat that my heartfelt sympthies go out to all American readers after the Las Vegas massacre. My love to you all.

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.

IN PRAISE OF THE JAMBON BEURRE

It is the time of year when professional organisations and lobbies get together in interminable, self-congratulatory ceremonies and hand out awards – from films, to sport, to music and even agriculture, there have been innumerable ceremonies since the start of the year. Not to be outdone, I have decided to hand out an award, so ….

In the category of THE MOST UNLIKELY STAR OF THE WEEK IN FRANCE, the nominees are …

François Fillon, French Republican Party candidate in the up and coming Presidential election, for is role in the complicated and long running saga « The man who will not be President. »

Isabelle Huppert – gorgeous French actress for her role in the film – « The Lady who missed the Oscar »

The humble ham sandwich for its role as « France’s favourite lunchtime snack. »

And the winner is

THE HAM SANDWICH

Yes, amidst all the current political and social turmoil in La Belle France, the nations media found the time to spare a few minutes and column inches for the humble ham sandwich

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Last week, the French fat food industry held its annual Professional show at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre on the edge of Paris, and this year, as every year, journalists went along looking for a few off beat stories to lighten the load in what is currently very heavy and depressing national news coverage – but why the ham sandwich?

Well, long before anyone in France had ever heard of hamburgers or kebabs, or any kind of « fast food » for that matter, the humble ham sandwich was the staple « fast food » Easy to make, quick to eat and highly affordable, the ham sandwich was the lunchtime standard for many workers – wolfed down in a matter of minutes whilst standing at the bar in a café, and highly affordable – just a few francs. The ham sandwich is an iconic, national institution.

So, all you would be French speakers out there will be toying with the translation of « ham sandwich » – sandwiche jambon ??? sandwiche au jambon ??? You are all wrong, this lunchtime staple which represented 51% of all sandwich sales in 2016, actually goes under the name of « le jambon beurre » – ham and butter sandwich. This presupposes that if you just ask for a « sandwiche au jambon » you won’t actually get any butter – and a long time ago, you would have been right.

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A SANDWICH IN 76

A personal memory from the long hot summer of 1976 – mum has taken us to France for our annual Gallic camping trip. It is a sweltering day in Perpignan, around lunchtime, and as with lunchtimes of old, everything is closed from midday to 2pm – great if you want a long lunch, but lousy if your car has just broken down – which is the case of our crappy old Renault 6. Luck would have it that mum has found a couple of strapping young men, willing to push us a few hundred metres from where we have broken down, to the forecourt of a local garage, which is of course closed for lunch. It would seem a good idea to have lunch and wait. We head to a nearby café and order (in our best broken French) « un jambon sandwiche s’il vous plaît monsieur. » The wrinkled old, wine soaked patron, with a Gitane stuck to his lower lip, disappears into the kitchen, emerging a few minutes later with the ham sandwiches. First bite – NO BUTTER –

« Où est le beurre monsieur ? »

Consternation from the « patron » who gesticulates wildly and shouts « beurre » a few times. We understand that if we wanted butter we should have ordered butter, so we do, and the café owner disappears in a new fug of Gitane smoke to spread butter on our sandwiches, and when the bill comes, he charges us for butter.

Howls of indignation

« He can’t charge us for the butter! » exclaims mum, but he does, because we ordered a « Jambon sandwiche » and not a « jambon beurre sandwiche », when our humble ham sandwich became a ham and butter sandwich, we had to pay the dairy differential.

SANDWICH STATS

In 2016 the French chomped their way through a staggering 1,2 billion ham sandwiches, though this figure is 3% down compared to 2015. Consumed in Cafés or bought at the bakers or the local supermarket, the average national price for a jambon beurre (JB) is 2.93 Euros. The cheapest JB is to be found in the northern French town of Lille (2,52€) whilst the most expensive JB in France is not in Paris, but in the eastern town of Montbélliard (3,52€), there are however unconfirmed reports of a JB in the west coast town of Nantes retailing at 4€ – add to this the price of a drink, around 3€ and you are starting to look at an « expensive » lunch when you consider the alternatives –

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JAMBON BEURRE VS HAMBURGER

Take that other « fast food » – the hamburger. At McDonald’s you can get a whole Happy Meal for 4€ (burger, fries drink, dessert and even a toy). For the adults there is the « Best Of » menu – burger fries and a drink retailing at an average of 6,30€. KFC, Burger King or even the home-grown hamburger chain; Quick – you can get a standard burger, coke and fries lunch for under 7 Euros.

So, you wanna a traditional sit down lunch in a Brasserie with starter, main course, cheese, dessert and a small carafe of wine. Well big city or small town, you’ll be looking to spend anywhere from 10€ to 15€ – the bar at the end of my street does main coures, dessert, coffee and a glass of wine for 10€ – no wonder the place is always packed at lunchtime.

MASTERCHEF

For all its cultural significance as the French national sandwich, the good old jambon beurre, unlike other iconic homespun French dishes, has never appeared on one of the nation’s TV cooking shows – Top Chef, Master Chef … candidates might be asked for a new take on Bœuf Bourgignon or a Tête de Veau – but none has ever been asked to « revamp » the good old jambon beurre. Why bother though? The JB is simplicity itself – rip open a baguette, butter it up and then shove in a slice of ham. Hey Presto! Lunch!

THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY

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National price differentials in the jambon beurre obviously don’t come from labour costs – it’s al about the quality of the ingredients – take freshly baked crusty French bread, apply a generous covering of fresh dairy butter and then a good thick slice of traditionally cured farmhouse ham. You could also do what most people do, buy a cheap baguette and a pack of cheap, watery factory ham from the supermarket. Cut open the baguette without cracking it all (yes there are many bakers who sell freshly defrosted bread freshly baked the day before), apply a thin covering of margarine, whack in a bright pink slice of sloppy ham and …. And this is like to be the sandwich reality of many people.

It is hardly surprising therefore that ham sandwich consumption is falling. Yes the Jambon Beurre accounts for 51% of national sandwich sales, but in 2009 it represented 63% and not long before that it was 70% – but it was probably a lousy quality sandwich so people stopped buying it.

I’ll have to admit to not being a ham sandwich fan – if I do actually have lunch (which is pretty rare); I like something sexier than a humble ham sandwich. I would have to say though that in general, the French sandwich bar experience is a pretty sad one – dry sandwiches with unimaginative fillings.

SANDWICH WATERLOO

A few years back, I accompanied a group of French friends to London – come lunchtime one day, wandering around near Waterloo station , I suggested we head to a pub for a traditional pub lunch – general scowls and mistrustful looks all round, – the Gallic misconception that all British food is bad. A few yards down the road, one friend sees a sign « Prêt à Manger, »

« Ah, un restaurant français » and in we all trooped. Ah not a restaurant, a sandwich bar. Never mind it is reassuringly French- and my friends order soup and sandwiches and tuck in and chomp their way through all manner of sandwiches including Bacon Lettuce and Tomato, a Pastrami Bagel and a Peking Duck Wrap. And they all smile at me and laud the quality of these French sandwiches. I am of course saving the best ‘til last – despite the French name, Prêt à Manger is actually British. AAAAGH Perfide Albion. A sandwich Waterloo moment.

It comes down to ne thing. Apart from the Jambon Beurre, France is not a sandwich culture and the French just don’t make a decent sandwich. Who invented the sandwich anyway and how would you really translate sandwich into French ? Une baguette farcie ??

jambon-beurre

An afterthoughtif the JB’s position of sandwich predominance is being slowly eroded, it might also be in part down the Bagel or Beigel, which I notice, has now even reached my corner of small town France – seems like I’ll be waiting a long time for decent salt beef though.

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.

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)