Tuesday, 29 November 2016

A time for presents and trimming the tree....Part One

It is my favourite time of the year, I love the preparation and anticipation of Christmas, I do not, however, like the expense and the obligation.

This year I will be adding some trimmings to my tree that my daughter and I have made ourselves, thanks in the main to the social media application Pinterest.   I am not a fan of social media, I only have an account with LinkedIn (for business purposes), WhatsApp (so I can keep in contact with my best friend and my son) and now Pinterest.    I use a nickname for the latter and find the creativity and generosity of the people that use it inspiring.

The gift giving this year will be frugal, my twin boys are going back to the UK to spend Christmas with their father, whilst their older brother (who is at university in the UK) will be crossing the Channel to spend Christmas with me and his little sister.    There will be token presents under the tree and we will spend the day itself mainly eating lots!

France is a secular country, the schools do not perform Nativity scenes and the religious aspects of the festival are not highlighted within the school curriculum.   However, nearly all the communes will have a Nativity scene near the local town hall or church and Nativity crèches are sold in all the shops that sell Christmas decorations.

I was brought up in a Christian family, was baptised and even went through confirmation.   I love Christmas carols and I will bring out the Nativity crèche each year.   Nowadays, in light of the mess that religion on the whole is in, I would say I was more a spiritual agnostic than ardent Christian.    Although with the way things are turning out with other less flexible religions in the world seeming to dominate there may come a time when all agnostics have to choose a religion in order to survive, but I will save those rantings for the New Year.  

For me Christmas isn't about the day itself, it's about my close family and friends.   I love the preparations, the present buying, the decorating, the food, all of it, although not so much the the card writing (this year will include the making of the cards which may, or more than likely may not, go according to plan!!).

I will write a post about my idea of a perfect Christmas versus the reality in part two.


Entente cordial has been severely diluted!

I am putting this in writing for two reasons, first I need to get it off my (rather generous!) chest!   Writing is supposed to be therapeutic.   Second, I am making a sociological statement on the declining social fabric that is happening all to quickly here in France (it's just my opinion and is not based on any scientific research, just non-empirical observation!).

I am not sure whether I have mentioned it before but, in an effort to supplement my meagre income, I work as a teacher, teaching English as a foreign language.   With my private one on one clients it is a dream and the most rewarding thing ever.    With the primary school children I teach every Friday afternoon it is a nightmare!!!   

Last Friday a particularly odious little boy decided to ruin the class for everyone else and I asked him to write out the words "I must not play around in class" in English ten times.   He was told what the words meant and I asked him to take it home to have his parents sign it, thus drawing his appalling behaviour to their attention.    Now, if that had been my child, I would have been mortified, I do not see my children as little deities who can do no wrong.   However, here in France, there is a new breed of parent, the Snowflake parent.

The "snowflake parent" is part of the social justice movement, except in France they have little Napoleonic syndrome too.   Their little darlings are just "expressing themselves".    NO. THEY. ARE. NOT. They are disrupting the other children in the class and preventing them from learning a language that could expand their horizons.   

The particular "snowflake parent" of this child felt that it was acceptable, not to excuse his son for his parlous behaviour, but to write on the bottom of the written punishment that the "course was not an actual lesson but a non-obligatory peri-scolastic activity".    The written punishment this particular child received was not his first that day and the other staff member was also taken to task for reprimanding the "golden child" in such a fashion.   This parent was recently elected as a "Conseiller d'Ecole" (effectively a "governor") so is now so full of his own perceived importance he feels compelled to criticise the disciplining of his child instead of dealing with the child's behaviour.    But then what did I expect from a family where the mother can criticise me for riding my bike, without lights, at dusk on a little used country lane, in order to get home because a sodding school meeting has taken two hours to dissect problems that could have easily been resolved in half an hour!  Yet her own husband (he of governor status) can roll up outside school on his Ducati motor bike to collect his (then) five year old son (who was (and still is) well below the 25 percentile on the height chart) to ride pillion on the back of said Ducati with nothing but a BICYCLE HELMET to protect the precious one's head!!

I have had it!!! These ridiculous, self-important mini Napoleons with snowflake tendencies are going to be the death of France.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Murphy's Law? or the Law of Sod? - Take your pick!!

Anyone who is lucky enough to live in a rural environment will understand that the need for reliable independent transport is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

My darling car broke down at the end of July, at the worst possible time financially.    The absolutely worse thing happened, the clutch went, spectacularly so, even if I do say so myself.   Fortunately for me, I was at a friend's house and not on the open road.

Number three son is, again fortunately for me, doing a mechanics course specialising in heavy goods vehicles.   My go-to mechanic was mired in family problems and cars were piling up left, right and centre at his place so he couldn't help immediately.

Again, fortunately for me, my other half had his car and we were mobile, for a while....    Then it happened, a suspension spring on his car snapped and in August!!!   Dun! Dun Dun!....anybody that lives in France or has dealings with anyone in France knows that August is the month that nothing gets done.   Nada, Nichts, Rien!

As mentioned, our go-to mechanic couldn't be gone to and he didn't have the tools to do the specific job required (Sod's Law came into play here, the part that broke rarely fails, therefore, the tool required to remove said part is expensive and not all mechanics have them!! - Joy!)   So off we went to the next village and enquired at the newly taken over garage whether they could repair the spring. It took the owner four days to get back to us with a price and availability.    At this point, I must point out that we ourselves were looking on-line for a replacement spring.     

We tried VW in St Lo, who tried to convince us that both springs needed to be replaced and he would call me back, that was never going to happen!!!   When the village mechanic came back to us he said it was nigh on impossible to find the part for my partner's VW Golf in France, because the sports chassis wasn't sold in France!!!  He quoted a 200% mark up on the part and factored in eight hours of work!!!  And we had to agree then and there or there would be a four-week wait because (you guessed it!) they were going on holiday!!

Thankfully my next door neighbour gave me the number of his go-to mechanic.    In this case, he really was "go to", he has been banned from driving so we had to limp there with the car!!!  We ordered the part from Euro Car Parts (a fantastic company in the UK see link below) it was with us within a few days (delivery companies in France appear to work on a skeleton staff also during August).    Was the sorry saga over?   Nah!   Don't be daft (remember Murphy's Law?   Well it turned into Sod's Law!)   

We dropped off the car, making plans for the rest of the summer, trips to the beach etc, only for our hopes to be dashed!!!   Told Ya!!

Apparently, we needed another part (stabilising bar) which we ordered from a French website with a 24-hour delivery.    Redemption?!   Nope!!  It didn't turn up the following day, we chased it and were informed that it takes up to 48 hours to action the order (remember we're in August!?).   So I cancelled the order and ordered the part again through Amazon France, again a 24-hour delivery, and due on Saturday morning.   The Saturday morning came and went, we checked on the on-line delivery status and guess what?!   The driver had tried to deliver in the morning with no response (according to the system), this was, of course, absolute bollocks!   Amazon France delivery notice stated that the address couldn't be found!   So needless to say I was not amused!!!    Call me pedantic ("You're pedantic!") but one cannot state that no-one was home when the address cannot be found in order to ascertain whether anyone was home or not!!!   Amazon France was brilliant, they refunded my express delivery charge because it was anything but and the part was delivered to a nearby DIY store for collection.

Now I will digress a little here, I have always looked at motorbikes with a degree of fear, why would you want to bowl along at 90+ miles per hour without a shell to protect you?!    Necessity being the mother of invention (and in our case lack of transport) we were forced to use John's motorbike.    He has been a motorcyclist for nearly four decades, so he gets it, loves it even!   Me?   Petrified!!   But I donned Number three son's crash helmet and manned up!!!   Wow!! I loved it!!!  It was amazing!! 

Anyway, back to the sorry tale of two cars...second part found, ordered, delivered to the mechanic, who.....went away on a four-day bender with his new girlfriend!!!!    When he eventually came back (and sobered up) he then told us ANOTHER part was needed!   Back we went on-line, Amazon France again came up trumps and delivered the third part express delivery to the DIY store.

John's car fixed, the last week of the summer holidays, it rained!!!   We managed two days on the beach, two wonderful days!

Number three son volunteered to strip out the engine and clutch on my Citroen C4 Grand Picasso.   It was going to be under the watchful eye and mentoring of our go-to mechanic, but the latter was still dealing with personal family and work issues.   So Number three son had to go solo.    With the aid of a manual, he started dismantling the engine.    I would say at least two-thirds of the engine had to be dismantled in order to get to the clutch.    But before that, we needed to take off the two front wheels.    Easier said than done when you have locking wheel nuts that have worn and refuse to budge!!!   Seventy euros poorer and with the new key and some expert advice gleaned from the wondrous invention that is the internet, the two wheels were removed.  Then the brakes, then the suspension, then the drive shaft, then the particle filter and turbo, not to mention the battery and all the electrics.     

Anyway, to cut a long story short, it's fixed!!! Three and a half months without a car and it starts, it goes into all the gears and it stops, except....it is now belching black fumes, lacks power when the accelerator is depressed (I could very well be depressed myself at this moment in time!) and it will most definitely fail its emission test for its French equivalent of a MOT!!!

To be continued.....


Wednesday, 9 November 2016