The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

Wednesday 29 June 2016

I'm too old for this!

Crikey, what a week last week was! Apart from being incredibly busy at work it seems like all my "end-of-term" parties came about during the same week. I ended up going out every night since last Thursday, all day Saturday and Sunday and then again Monday and Tuesday. Problem is, while an evening out with the ladies from the sewing club ladies is just the thing for us adrenalin junkies, I ain't 25 any more. I remember when I first came to Geneva, I lived in the city itself as a single girl for five years and I never, ever, stayed home in the evenings -  not even once!  Quite an achievement but then I suppose I was that much younger right! But I am soooooo glad not to be going out tonight.

Last night was the final of my monthly patchwork lessons down in a place called Cluses. So far we have been making small projects designed to teach us different techniques and I have to say Lydie, the teacher, is excellent. When we go back in September we will start working on a jellyroll quilt and I am really looking forward to that. She did offer to do a couple of afternoon courses during the holidays where participants can make one of two tops, each aimed at teaching a different technique. So she asked anyone interested in participating to let her know which project they wanted to make along with their sizes so that she could get the appropriate patterns - small, medium or large!!! Well, I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this one can't you. Bloody hell, have you ever seen French women - they come in sizes "skinny", "extremely skinny" and "invisible"! I, on the other hand, need an "extra large" in France just to house my "womanly assets". Flaming hell, where they will be putting in bust darts I will be inserting tent poles! Somehow I think I won't be bothering with this particular course, all the more so since it will be given during the day time and I work full-time - thank God for that, is all I can say! Still, the thought of stripping off in front of a bunch of French women has bought home to me (yet again) how much weight I have put on in a relatively short space of time. I had started at Weight Watchers in January but then two deaths in the family in two months, and two trips back to the UK and I kinda got out of the swing of it and, to be honest, while I'm sure it works, I can't help feeling that Slimming World is much easier to follow and more effective.  But of course they don't have it over here and trying to do it online when you have as much willpower as a chocolate teapot just isn't going to cut it.

Anyhow, today at lunch I was talking about "Brexit" to a Scottish colleague and he said that finalizing the purchase of a house in Switzerland on Friday had been completely overshadowed by the vote. When I commented to him that it probably made financial sense for him to buy a house after many years of renting he said "oh, I bought it to lose weight"! Funny that, I'm sure a WW subscription is a helluva lot cheaper than spending 2 million Swiss francs on a house, but then what do I know! Anyway, he explained that since it is out in the country he will now be able to cycle to work and back every day, thereby getting a couple of hours of exercise in each day and hopefully losing about 10 kg in the process. I don't know about you but I still think a subscription to Weight Watchers would have been cheaper but who knows how the Scottish mind works! Anyway, idiot here then challenged him to see if we could both lose 10 kg by Christmas, so I guess we're on. I'll probably lose the bet as I swear it's easier for men to lose weight, but if the alternative means having to strip down to my bra in a sewing class and drag a hand-made marquee over my head, I think I'll go with the weight-loss challenge. Watch this space - I'm off to shave my legs before weigh-in!

Anyhoo, I'm not a football fan so haven't been watching the Euro 2016, but I have to say "well done Iceland"! What an achievement. Of course they knocked England out of the tournament a couple of days ago (and this from a country with a population of 320,000 people)! What can you say, except well done - I hope you go all the way (even if you have to forgive them for using up all the vowels in a game of scrabble)! And blimey, well done England - fancy leaving Europe twice in one week. Again, what an achievement!

Talking of Brexit, I was up at my son's the other night discussing what we plan to do when Brexit comes into force (if it ever does - but that's another story). There is no rush of course but we pretty much agreed that we will both apply for French citizenship. There is no problem with being an Anglo-French dual national, but I did check that there would also be no problem for him having Franco-American citizenship - and it seems that there won't. Blimey, he'll have to buy a new handbag for all those passports!  It's not so much a problem for my other son as he both lives and works in Switzerland, but son number two and I are both in France. Anyway, when leaving his place you come out onto a landing and are immediately faced with a field as it is quite rural. And in this field are a couple of (very noisy) donkeys. Actually, aren't all donkeys bloody noisy - we have had all manner of beasts in the field behind my house and donkeys do seem to take the gold medal in the noise-making Olympics - even worse than a randy bull, in my expert opinion.

I guess it must be something about my family then that seems to attract donkeys, as my parents' home in Dorset backed onto a field where the owner kept a couple of donkeys - Bailie and Mary. Aaaaahhhh! I remember my dad used to go to the back fence and throw apples for them from the tree in his back garden. Anyway, one day he got it into his head that Bailie was getting more apples than Mary and "it just wasn't fair", so he did what any upstanding proponent of justice and fair play would do - and "invited" Mary into the back garden by way of the gate! What on earth he was thinking we don't know but he had this bloody donkey in the back garden, with Bailie looking forlornly on from social purgatory in the field.

In retrospect it might be that my dad was already starting to become unwell at this point - he must have been around 80 years old, I guess, and his behaviour had certainly started to become a little strange, to say the least. He eventually went on to develop full-blown Alzheimers, but at this point we didn't know he was ill, so just took it as one of dad's madcap schemes. The problem was, instead of behaving in the conciliatory manner of all well-behaved donkeys and eating the apples my dad had so kindly provided for her, Mary tootled over to his veggie patch and started munching her way through his lovingly tended carrots!

At this point dad must have realized that Plan A wasn't exactly working so had to instantly switch to "Plan B". Plan B, as it turned out, was my old man standing behind Mary and trying to push her back into the field. Well, if you have ever tried to push a reluctant donkey anywhere it didn't want to go you will realize that "Plan B" wasn't going to work either.  That being said, it was incredibly funny watching my 80-year-old dad trying to push this donkey out of the back garden. What a pity we didn't have a camera to hand! Eventually the owner managed to get Mary out of mom and dad's garden, but I suspect that was the last time she was ever invited over for lunch, the ungrateful cow - er donkey!

Tuesday 28 June 2016

International cooperation at its best!

This weekend I took a bus trip down to Turin to visit the market. We had done it last year and thoroughly enjoyed it, so even though it meant getting up at the crack of dawn it was something we wanted to do again. It is has been pretty much non-stop for me since last week so I must admit I was completely Christmas-crackered ("knackered" in Cockney rhyming slang) after last week.

Work has been frantic, but always is at this time of year. I don't mind actually but it does seem to be a feast or a famine sometimes. One of my sewing clubs had kindly moved their end of year get-together from Saturday to Friday night so that I could be there, and although I was a bit worried I might end up missing it because of working late, I actually made it to our rendez-vous point just in time to meet up with the others.

One of the great things about these ladies is that they always seem to pick out a new-to-me restaurant that ends up being a little treasure. We ended up very close to where my son lives in a small village called St. Jean de Tholome, eating at what you could, I guess, technically call a "burger joint", but in reality it was superb.

St. Jean de Tholome
The food was excellent and very reasonably priced and the staff really friendly. Now I know why you have to reserve (well we were 12 anyway but apparently it is hard to get a table if you haven't called ahead).

After dinner some of the ladies decided to go out for a drink but I begged off as it was already 12.30 and I had to be up at 4.30 to get the bus to Turin.  I have to admit getting up at the crack of dawn didn't exactly thrill me, but as long as no-one spoke to me for the first hour it was doable and heading up through Chamonix to get to the Mont Blanc tunnel was a dream. And of course I didn't regret it. While black clouds threatened everything turned out just fine. The market was again wonderful and I really love all the hustle and bustle. Geneva is lovely and pristine, but I have to say it lacks that vibrant buzz that you get in Italy!

Yet again the fruit and veg were just amazing and so tasty compared to the plastic rubbish you often find here, and at least half-price, or maybe even one-third of our local prices. When I asked one of the ladies why this should be she said the Italian producers weren't taxed like the French were (though that didn't explain why things should taste so much better in Italy, particularly given that we are on pretty much the same latitude! Go figure).

I also bought myself a very nice, "really expensive" (not) handbag and a lovely throw for my bed for the grand total of 20€!

Lunch in the centre of the market place was again fabulous (spaghetti carbonara à l'italienne anyone)! While we were eating, a group of young schoolgirls started taking photos with a selfie stick (I'm thinking they were probably from an international school as they were speaking English and French). Just as they were about to take the last photo an Italian pizzaolo ran up to them, jumped in the air and got right into the middle of their shot. I bet it turned out to be the best photo they took!

We were told to be back at the bus by 3 pm but one group of ladies came back very distressed. They were a group of four sisters (I think) and one great-granddaughter out for a day's shopping, but right at the last minute they had lost track of the oldest sister, aged 86. Being that age, of course, she didn't have a mobile phone and they were worried sick. Now I know people say to watch them like a hawk, but just as with kids all it took was one moment's inattention and she was gone. The market would have been pretty confusing for her anyway I guess. We waited until 3.30 pm and in the end the trip organizer arranged with another coach heading back to France a couple of hours later to bring them back if and when .... trouble was, "when" didn't happen. In the end two of the sisters stayed back in Turin to look for "mamie" and the other sister brought the young girl home.  What a nightmare - they were absolutely frantic.

On the way back, before reaching the border, the coach stopped at a big hypermarket so that people could do more shopping. According to one lady, bottles of spirits, for example, would be about €10 per bottle cheaper in Italy, as would cigarettes etc. so a lot of French routinely cross the border to stock up as it is cheaper than France - even taking into account the toll to get through the Mont Blanc tunnel (a feat of engineering indeed - 11.5 km of road hacked out under the Mont Blanc)!

But something to think about is this. Put that shopping in the context of "Brexit" and swap "Turin" for "Calais" or "Cherbourg" and you can get some idea of the kind of impact Brexit will probably have on the French economy. Brits routinely hop over to France on a day trip to fill the car up with French products but if, after Brexit, the Brits are again limited to two bottles of wine, 200 cigarettes and €100 of other goods, what will that knock-on effect be for the local French hypermarket?  Tough times ahead, I think.

I bought some mozzarella and parmesan cheeses and a little olive oil but other than that not too much at the hypermarket.

Anyway, when we got back to France, the coach started dropping people off, including the sister of the lost "mamie", who had to get all the other sisters' stuff off the coach, in addition to her own. My friend and I were the last two people off the coach at the final stop, so the driver and his young helper offloaded our stuff and headed back to the depot. Trouble is, when we had finished loading up my car we found we had ended up with two extra bags! Obviously someone had forgotten them on the coach. So when I got home, I put what I could in the fridge and called the organizer. He said if someone called him he would give them my number but otherwise, I guess, I should take it as a windfall, since I couldn't hang on to the perishables too long.

Next day, however, I got a phone call from the owner of the missing bags. She then put me on to her son-in-law and we arranged for him to come over and pick up the bags (which included clothes and shoe shopping in addition to the groceries). On the off chance I asked him if he was related to the mamie who had gotten lost and he said yes - that is why his wife had missed some of the bags on the coach. It turns out that mamie had wandered off and got completely lost. She had been found by an Italian policeman in the backstreets of Turin. Said policeman, who didn't speak a word of French, managed to collar a French lady, who didn't speak a word of Italian but who took pity on the older lady, brought her back to her own bus and the driver took her back to France with them. Trouble was, this bus ended up back at a town called Aix-les-Bains, about 70 km away. Mamie had been so distressed that she couldn't remember her own phone number but the Good Samaritan went through the phone directory and eventually managed to track the family down.

So in the end it all worked out. A kindly Italian policeman found a French Good Samaritan to bring the distressed older French lady back and an honest Brit returned the unclaimed bags to them, via her lovely French neighbours who agreed to stay in to hand over the bags to the son-in-law (I hope you are following this). I tell you, I think we should just kick out those idiots in Brussels and let the proletariat run the show - I think we would do a better job don't you!

Talking of Brexit, I went to bed Wednesday night thinking it would be a close call but we would remain in the EU. I got the shock of my life the next morning to hear they had voted "out". I say "they" deliberately as I was really, really angry that I wasn't allowed to vote because of the arbitrary decision to exclude expats who had lived outside the country for more than 15 years. Bloody hell, as someone most closely affected by the damn vote I was spitting cobs at the thought of not being able to vote on an issue which could see me getting kicked out of France! In all honesty, I don't see that happening but I really, really resented not being allowed to vote on an issue that affected me 100%. I have calmed down now, and while I would indeed have voted to remain in the EU given the chance, I think the fact that the UK has voted out is a good kick in the teeth for the complacent, arrogant dictators in Brussels - let's hope it is the wake-up call they need, or maybe other countries will follow suit.

I intend to start the process of reverting to my maiden name after my holiday in September. Once my British passport is updated my son and I will begin taking the necessary steps to become naturalized French citizens. I will go ahead regardless of how events unfold after Brexit as whatever happens I intend to stay here when I retire.

Anyhoo, moving seamlessly on, on Sunday we had our annual "neighbours day", where we basically spend a couple of hours cleaning up our "lotissement" (housing plan, I guess) and then have a pot luck lunch together. Again we were lucky in that the weather was nice, and I have to admit our little lotissement really does look nice once it is all squared away - not that it ever really looks bad as people do seem to take care of it.

It's a nice lotissement to live in. The people are friendly and seem to look out for each other. There may be tensions occasionally of course, but as I am on my own I feel very secure in this friendly little French enclave. Brexit be damned!

Thursday 23 June 2016

In or out!

Whichever way it goes, I can't wait for the "Brexit" issue to be decided. I don't even live in the UK and I have found it so tiring, though to be honest, living in France I consider myself to be one of the people most keenly concerned in the event of an "out" vote. If it comes to "out", I think there will be tremendous chaos as there will be so much change and so much to be sorted out. For me, for instance, I would have to ask for a residence permit for France (carte de séjour), something that neither my son nor I need currently as citizens of an EU member State. Then what happens to all the EU citizens (think Polish nationals, for instance) currently living and working in the UK? While I'm pretty certain anyone already living there would have an automatic right to stay, just like I will in France, administratively it will be a nightmare.  Then there is the issue of "reciprocity" of health care systems, pension funds etc. I know one thing, I wouldn't want to be the one having to sort all that out.

For me, personally, getting residency in France wouldn't be a problem as I have been here 27 years already, and can get it through my employer anyway. In fact, I intend to revert back to my maiden name in the coming months (not looking forward to all the extra work that will involve) and once that is sorted, and if necessary, I would probably ask for French citizenship, but in my new name, should the UK vote out.

Still, it hasn't happened yet, but like so many I can't wait for tomorrow morning to find out the results and for the whole thing to be over. Personally, if I had the vote (and that's a whole different issue), I would have voted "in". Purely from a trade point of view, with the UK having almost 50% of its trade intra-EU (and therefore tariff-free), I think it would be an economic disaster from that point of view alone. Now I know the big issue in so many minds is immigration (it is here in France too, by the way), and I'll be damned if I know the answers, but I would have voted "in" if I had got the chance. And there is my biggest bone of contention.  I am a born-and-bred Brit living in France and have NO say or vote on an issue that can affect my right of residence in another EU-member State because I have been out of the country more than 15 years! How screwed up is that!

Now I know there are idiots who think (if you can use the word "think" in their case) and have even said outright that if you chose to live in another country, well then just take that nationality and "bugger off". Well it isn't actually that simple. Quite a few countries do not allow dual citizenship (as was the case when I was living in the US some years ago) and there is no way I would give up my citizenship to take on another nationality. And what if I have no desire to take on that country's citizenship anyway, or what if I happen to be living in another country because of work commitments, or if said work commitments mean I have to move around? To be told "just leave" is simplistic and idiotic and in any case I don't see why anyone else gets to decide what I should or should not do regarding my citizenship (think armchair critics of the DM)! (Gets down off the soap box)!

Anyway, like I say, only time will tell. My gut feeling is "remain" will win, but since when was my gut a good economic indicator! That being said, during the Scottish referendum on independence, again I hoped that they would chose to remain part of the UK, which in fact they did but as in this case, I think it would have proved very, very interesting had they voted for independence, to see the reality of the outcome, as opposed to the predictions of the scaremongerers and doomsayers on both sides. The honest truth is, I think, that nobody knows what will/would have happened unless and until the vote is counted.  But like I said, I think everyone will be glad when it is decided one way or the other and the "incivilities" can stop.

In other matters, the weather has finally picked up here after a particularly crappy beginning to June. Wet, wet, wet - a little bit of sunshine then wet again. The upshot of that of course is that my bloody lawn grows like triffids and I can't get out there to mow it for ages, but when I do I end up feeling like a great explorer, machete in hand, slogging my way through the overgrowth. I don't have that much land, but being on the side of a mountain it is not flat (to put it mildly) and the bloody grass bag gets so heavy. Yuck. My neighbours mentioned something about getting a lawn service in to do theirs - I must ask them about it because I am getting to dislike it more than ever now and between the two homes it might be worth it.

That being said, my peonies were a riot of colour recently too, although peonies, unfortunately, don't last that long and all the bloody rain we have had has tended to bash them about a bit.

Another positive last weekend was that my youngest son installed a new kitchen sink for me (after me nagging him for ages). Jordan did a couple of years of bilingual office studies after school with thoughts of looking for work in one of the multi-nationals here in Geneva but didn't really like it. Still, it's not a bad skill to have in any case. So as his friend's dad was looking for an apprentice for his plumbing business J made the hop over to an apprenticeship. He has just completed his second year as an apprentice plumber for the mind-boggling monthly salary of half the minimum wage. But, despite that, he is very happy - much happier, I think, than if he had ended up working in an office. So while he is a bit older than most other apprentices he probably has the maturity to handle it better. He has just finished his second year exams (finals for this part of the diploma) and the first exam was English oral!  Ha, ha, how great is that. He doesn't have his results yet but fingers crossed.

He had never installed a sink on his own before so what better way to figure it out than to practice on his mom! I must admit I kinda blackmailed him a bit since as he is on such a low wage I told him I would continue to take care of his car expenses and I just had it serviced and new tyres put on the other week. So really, you see, he had no choice did he! Still, he made a good job of it and I must admit I am so pleased to get rid of the old sink. My oldest son had been doing his usual enthusiastic washing-up routine some years ago and banged a hole in the old one. To rectify that my ex put something which looked like a big gob of chewing gum over the hole to prevent leaks. Over time, of course, the "chewing gum" got dirtier and dirtier and was really looking disgusting, so I am pleased to see the back of it.

Jordan (and the most spoilt kitten in town)!
So if anyone needs a bilingual plumber, very conscientious (only a small commission payable to me) and highly recommended by yours truly just let me know!

When I took the old sink and tap fittings down to the tip, the guy there nearly jumped on me and took it over to their little hut rather than dumping it in the bin. I don't see them being able to get much use out of the sink, to be honest, but I reckon they can probably salvage the tap fittings and make someone a few euros and/or very happy.  A win-win situation as far as I am concerned.

In other news, where I live I have to cross the one-and-only bridge from our little town over a river up to the village. Well the "good" news is that that bridge is going to be undergoing major works shortly and will be closed for around a year! Bloody hell. Because of the layout of the surrounding area, crossing that bridge is pretty much the only way to get into town, to the train station and onto the highway to Geneva. It will entail quite a lot of traffic now having to go through backroads and tiny villages to get across the river. I'm sure no-one is going to be too happy about this dragging on for a year. It will be a royal pain in the butt. I was talking to one of my neighbours who is a hunter and he said you can actually go further up the mountains to get on the motorway to Geneva but it is not an easy road and in winter is pretty miserable anyway so I guess we will all have to put up with the inconvenience - like it or lump it so to speak.

Last Monday night was my end-of-year dinner with my patchwork club, and very nice it was too. I have to admit I am still in awe of what these ladies (and one very talented gent) can do, and am looking forward to the time when I can take more of their courses and learn new techniques, but for the time being I am stuck with "evenings only" meet-ups.

Moving seamlessly on, my friend sent me a link today to an article in the UK press which states that about 100,000 people over the age of 50 are set to receive the bad news that they will not be eligible for a UK state pension through not having contributed to the pension scheme for a minimum of 10 years. I'm not sure of all the facts but of course there were the usual "outraged" citizens mouthing off about how unfair it was (probably all the fault of the "bloody immigrants"). But one thing I don't get, assuming you are not disabled, or that you have not made the conscious decision not to work for whatever reason, I can't understand how you can get to your mid-fifties having actively looked to work and not managed to get 10 years of contributions in. Maybe I am missing something but really? (and that applies to me BTW - not enough years of contributory service).  I am now 57 (soon to be 58) and could technically take early retirement from my job here (full retirement for me is 62 but I could also stay till 65). However, having gotten divorced at age 53 and taken on a new mortgage I can't afford to retire until my mortgage is paid off. Now I reckon I can do that in another four years (so paying off a 17 year mortgage in 7) but without that I can't afford to retire. Even selling up would make no sense because I don't have enough equity in my house as yet to be able to buy a decent apartment for the money I would get from the house. Moreover I love where I live, my neighbours are great and I am not going to buy a pokey little apartment in exchange for my lovely house. So stay I will, and if that means carrying on working for another four years then so be it. Another reason for me to hope they vote "in" today in the UK is that if I do "flip" and get fed up of working my other thought might be moving to Spain where it is much cheaper and warmer than here - but then I need to be/remain an EU citizen. Catch 22 I suppose. I don't think I will actually end up moving to Spain even though I love the country but it is just something else to think about as to where my future lies.

What the thought of retirement does do though is make me realize that lately I have been very, very busy at work and I really like it (my work is every cyclical). If I want to do other activities outside of working hours it means quite a bit of running around, but I love it. So it has really brought home to me that while I would like to quit work (I am so tired of the 3-hour commute each day) I want to have a retirement in place with quite a few activities/commitments scheduled or I think I would just get depressed. I haven't exactly worked out what all these "activities" will be but I do know I won't be stopping work before I have more concrete plans in place. One madcap idea is to get a dog when I retire, meaning a commitment and getting out walking every day, but I have to give serious thought to that before doing the deed, since I still want to travel.  Who knows. I guess only time will tell.

Talking of "busy", this Friday I have the end-of-year dinner of my other sewing club (this is the one where all I do is yack)! They had planned to go up the mountains on the Saturday lunch time like last year but since I am off again to the market in Turin on Saturday they kindly brought it forward to Friday night. So that's out Friday night, up at the crack of dawn to head off to Turin Saturday, and then our annual "clean up the lotissement" (housing plan) followed by communal BBQ on Sunday! I will be on my knees. Then Monday after work back to sewing and Tuesday my final lesson in my once-a-month patchwork club. Goodness, I was saying I like to be busy - let's see if I am as keen after all this lot. (Oh, and I have to get my lawn cut tonight because I just won't have time before next weekend otherwise - great fun)!

So there you have it, another chaotic but happy week. Can't wait to see what the referendum holds so until next time - à plus!

Monday 13 June 2016

So sad for Orlando

Having seen the news coming out of Orlando, what can I say? It is just so, so sad that people can be deemed acceptable targets by some lunatic just because he doesn't like what he believes they represent, whether it be homosexuality, "westerners", "infidels" or whatever these inadequate nutters use any excuse to justify their savagery. Who the hell gives you the right to take someone's life because you don't like who they are? Are they hurting you for God's sake? Good God alive, they are all somebody's child, somebody's loved one.

My crazy ex posted on Facebook that he didn't think people in the US should be flying flags at half-mast because "that should be reserved for the military". Well I don't agree. If someone wants to show respect for those that were injured or lost their lives to some lunatic by flying the flag at half-mast that is their right, and if that gives a small iota of comfort to those left behind then surely it shouldn't be for my ex to criticize. It's easy to be an armchair pundit of course!

So to those caught up in the slaughter and mayhem - wherever in the world that may be - you have my condolences. Words can't make anything better but know only that some of us care!

Friday 10 June 2016

Food wastage

There's not much new going on here at the moment, except for my being frantically busy and us getting yet more rain. I swear the rain has been on and off for six weeks - I'm kinda getting fed up of it now, I have to admit, even though I don't actually mind the rain. As for the "frantically busy" bit, well that is just the current work cycle. I prepare two large meetings a year (July and December) and four big reports (two for each meeting). Not that I actually write the reports - we have eggheads to do that - I just put it all together ready for translation/publication. So at this time of year it is pretty busy - not that I am complaining - I like to be busy and you do get a sense of achievement when the bl***dy things are published.

Traffic is pretty bad (or maybe even getting worse) here in Geneva, what with the ongoing works to build the CEVA (the train that will link the local French area with the central train station in Geneva, thereby (hopefully) cutting down on thru-traffic in the city centre. Can't wait for that to go through, of course, but I fear it will probably be too late for me as I will, hopefully, be retired by the time that is completed.

On top of that, the Swiss have just voted yes to building a bridge over Lake Geneva, also with the aim of easing traffic through the city, but this time I know it will be too late for me work-wise, though it should eventually have a positive impact on the city nevertheless. Geneva is, of course, stunningly beautiful but since it is located at the end of the lake, pretty much all the traffic wanting to get from the south bank to the north bank of the lake (i.e. ME) has to go across the Mont Blanc bridge, and that is a nightmare!

I come in from France (to the south), and although I park at the border and catch the bus, I still spend at least 40 minutes each way on the bus to get over the lake. It is what it is, I suppose, and I (like everyone else) just have to put up with it.  It's worse in the winter of course or if there is an accident, but at least catching the bus allows me to get tons of reading done, which I would do anyway, so I'm thinking positive here.

Which leads me to my next point. I was recently on the bus reading a local French magazine and an article on a new French law aimed at stopping food waste. I'm pretty sure this has already gone through, though I don't know the exact date. Under this law (and I am paraphrasing here) all grocery stores/supermarkets over 400 square metres in size have one year to come to an agreement with a local entity whereby any food near its sell-by date which they would otherwise throw out will be donated to that entity. Presumably a local charity or food bank.  Moreover, they are no longer allowed to pour bleach over it in the trash cans to render it unusable!

I think this is a wonderful initiative, aimed at reducing food waste and helping out local food banks etc. in the process.

Every week when I go shopping I pick up a couple of extra items of food, and when I have a box full I take it down to the local food bank. It is run by the Red Cross, who do a wonderful job with limited resources. They know me now and took me round their storage unit last time I was there. I have to admit it is pretty small and depending on the time of year they can come quite close to running out of supplies, since they are only allowed to collect outside the supermarkets once or twice a year. These people soldier on, however, and I have nothing but admiration for them.

Since I got landed with a bunch of my ex' stuff when he upped sticks, I asked them last time if they needed clothing and it turns out they are indeed happy to take that too. They work with the local psychiatric hospital and were particularly keen to get hold of men's coats over the winter - men, it seems, being more likely than women to end up homeless and in dire need of warm outer clothing. I have been able to give them eight coats so far, which must be a win-win situation for everyone!

Anyway, I think the French are to be commended for this initiative and can only hope that the UK and others will follow suit. In fact, in his recent programme on supermarket waste, the wonderful Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall went out one night "dumpster diving" with volunteers from a local soup kitchen, taking perfectly good food from supermarket bins that was being thrown away and lugging it back to the soup kitchens to make into dinner for those in need. The young man said that he had once been placed in the back of a police car and had begged the supermarket to file a complaint and the police to arrest him - but of course the supermarket wouldn't because of the bad press it would generate. Good on him, and good on France - let's hope it catches on!

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Don't let the facts get in the way there!

You know how sometimes sh#t happens, well it happened to me last week. I got home on Tuesday evening and there were two messages on my answering machine. Usually I just ignore them because I get, on average, I would guess, three calls per day from telemarketers, which I just delete. They drive me nuts but, like most people I guess, I don't see how I can stop them. Moreover, I am now starting to get calls from Swiss as well as French numbers and at first I thought about calling back.  When I checked in the Swiss telephone directory, however, they actually have a note posted to the effect that this number is being used for unsolicited telemarketing!

Anyway, back to the story line. I did listen to these messages and the one that jumped out at me was "garble, garble, I swallowed my adenoids, Gendarmerie"! So I listened again and got the same mangled message but just about made out the "Gendarmerie" bit in my local town. I called back immediately only to find an answering service. So then I called again the next day and told them I couldn't understand the name of the person who had left the message but here is my mobile number. Well nobody called back so I called yet again the next day. I ended up chasing my tail like this until this Friday when I got a "convocation" to attend the Gendarmerie on 30 May. Since I knew it was open on the Saturday I stopped in Saturday morning. The young man there was very pleasant and told me that it was to do with an incident in my local LIDL where I had apparently knocked over the pole where you punch in a code in order to get out of the parking lot.

Well let's back up a bit. My local LIDL is opposite several apartment blocks and people from those apartments were using LIDL's parking lot so much that shoppers were turning away as they couldn't find parking. I have done this myself, preferring not to waste my time and going to another store. Very wisely LIDL began installing entrance and exit barriers, where you took the number off your LIDL receipt and punched it into the keypad on the pole at the exit to get out.

Now I had pulled into LIDL on Saturday 7th May to do some shopping and as I drove past this pole it fell over. I didn't hit it - it had obviously been clobbered by someone previously, and in any case was only in the initial stages of being installed so I would guess not totally stable. Well someone must have taken down my number plate and reported it to LIDL, who, it turns out, then filed a complaint against me at the local Gendarmerie.

Anyway, on the Saturday morning the young gendarme was very pleasant but couldn't help me. He told me to come back on the Monday morning to meet with the "big boss".  So that's what I did. Turns out the "big boss" obviously had a thing for himself in uniform (love yourself much mate?) and he began to spout off about how "I had been filmed in my 4 x 4 on the evening of Friday 6th May knocking down this pole".  It took a second to dawn on me but when I queried the time and date again he repeated what he had said. So I pointed out to him that it couldn't have been me as I was flying back from England from my mother's funeral (thank you mom!) and had landed in Geneva around 10 pm that evening, before picking up my car from the airport around 11 pm.

Well that seemed to annoy the shit out of him so he said "well it must have been your husband". (To be fair, they knew my ex well since I had had to call them out on several occasions due to his violence and they actually arrested him at one point, but I digress). When I pointed out to him that I was divorced and that my ex was in the US he said "well it must have been one of your kids". By this time he was beginning to annoy me so I told him I didn't have any kids (I have two but what's a little white lie between friends). He was a real tw@t I can tell you and when he realized I had got him he basically said "see you in court then"!

So I walked on down to LIDL (again) to try to speak to the lady who had filed the complaint and yet again she wasn't there. The young man in charge, however, agreed with me that it couldn't have been me because the film was definitely of a 4 x 4 in the parking lot on the Friday evening. I told him I drove a Ford Mondeo and outlined my story so he said he would take it up with the boss when she got in.

In the meantime, I tried to call LIDL but they go through a centralized telephone unit and they refused to put me through!!!! When I explained my situation to the customer service agent she said to send her an email and she would forward it to the lady concerned.

So I have fired off an email to them and put a copy of my letter, plus flight tickets, etc. in a registered letter to them, asking them "for God's sake call me back".  We'll see.

I have to admit I don't usually have any problems with local officers. I cross the border every day and 99 times out of 100 the customs officers/police are only ever friendly and helpful.  Trust me to get a Rambo-wannabee!  Anyway, we'll see what happens next.  Watch this space!