Sunday, April 26, 1987

16-26 Avril 1987: In which we arrive in furrin parts

‘Allo ‘allo mes enfants!

Well, we have made it to La Belle France - after a flight of some 30 hours, courtesy of Singapore Air - and after a week in Paris are now in Vitré, a Breton village positively oozing rustic charm, and where I am typing this letter on a PC which has all its keys in the wrong places. (As usual; the French cannot bear to follow a standard other than their own, so if you see “q” where there ought to be an “a”, please bear with me.)

Contrary to popular belief, the French are incredibly friendly and polite - except, I must say (in the interests of accuracy), on the roads, where it is a combination of big-game hunting and ballet dancing. But apart from that, is no problem.

And while on the subject of roads, those in Paris are incredibly congested, and the parking has to be seen to be believed. It is physically impossible (I would have said) to get cars parked so close together - we saw one Lotus parked so as to take up half the street, with its nose jammed between the bumper and exhaust of the car in front, and a 6”gap between it and the car behind - and the location chosen for the act of parking itself is often selected for maximum inconvenience to the parker, pedestrians, and other road-users.

Furthermore, about 90% of all cars in Paris require major body-work due to the multiplicity of dings, great and small, all over. Having said which, I should perhaps point out that the price of a car is really rather low: for example, a late-model Alfa Romeo GTV 2.0 going for the piddly sum of FF 20000, or about $6000 NZ. (Tom Livingstone please take note.)

Anyway, hereafter follows a blow-by-blow description of our time - to date - in France.

Thursday 9.

Arrive, somewhat tired, at Orly airport at 10:00 am, where we are met by one Brian Gotto, an expatriate Englishman who has spent the last 20 years or so in France. We are allowed a shower each, and are then taken to lunch - the only French meal that we have for the next 2 or 3 days.

After this I actually do a bit of work whilst Margo catches up on a bit of sleep, and then we go out to dinner with Ian (Margo’s eldest brother, who is in Paris for 3 years starting last month, by the way), at which meal we eat Greek. Then we renegotiate the Metro and go to bed.

Now might be a good lime to mention that Allflex Europe have their offices on the Rue 4 du Septembre, in the heart of the 2eme arrondissement, and thus slap-bang in the middle of the financial district of the Bourse. This office, on the 5th floor of an apartment/office block (early 19th century, of course) has a flat attached, in which we stay when in Paris.

Friday 10.

After sleeping in till some incredibly late hour, we are taken out to lunch - Japanese - by Anne Rousseau, the equally incredibly elegant executive assistant of Alain Porcher. After this, it is time to do some shopping and to go on the Metro - by ourselves.

The Metro is a positively fantastic public transport system. It is clean, fast, regular, and cheap, cheap, cheap - for FF2.70 (NZ $0.80, or thereabouts) you can travel from one side of Paris to another, making as many changes as you like (provided, of course, that you do not at some point emerge from the system). A good map is of course essential, but as it turns out virtually every bookstore and tabac stock them.

And after that, out for an Italian dinner. Cooked, as it happens, by a Vietnamese chef. Rather odd really.

Saturday 11.

Most of the day spent with Ian, wandering about the 6eme and 7eme arrondissements where he lives and has his being. In the evening to Boul’ St.Mich’ to meet Ian and some of his French friends for dinner - Ian is (not unusually) late, and his friends, who are of course unknown to us, have departed during his absence. Never mind, we eat Italian again. During the wait we are accosted by two young Englishmen who mistake us for natives, asking the way to the river. Don’t know why, as it turned out that they didn’t want to go to the river, but there you are. Mad dogs and Englishmen, I suppose.

Sunday 11.

Devoted to sightseeing, all on foot. From the Opera via the Place Vendome to the Place de la Concorde, then through the Tuileries to the Louvre (admission free on Sundays, but unfortunately this fact is known to all American tourists). After a quick glance at Greek; Roman and Egyptian antiquities (saving the Mona Lisa for a special occasion) we bowled up and around to Les Halles for a sneer at the Centre Pompidou, then back to the flat. Sort of a quickie tour of the 1ere and 2eme arrondissements. Later on, dinner with Ian.

Monday 12.


Then out to Brian Gotto’s house, about 70 km out in the country, past Versailles (a place called Rambouillet, I think) for dinner and, as it turned out, bed - by the time we’d finished, the Metro had closed. 

Tuesday 13.
More work Then off to Vitre with Jacques Landrevie, the R&D director for Rockall, in his little Opel. Which he drives very fast, I might add. It’s about a 350km trip, I guess, and we covered it in about 2-3 hours, stopping en route for the French version of steak and chips. Anyway, we arrived at Vitre and made ourselves at home in the villa rented by RockalL This is a modern shack; built by a farmer and incorporating a tennis court,a boules alley and a couple of artificial lakes on which geese swim and make a godawful noise when alarmed. There is also a little paddle-boat; which is as yet unused (by us, at any rate).

Wednesday 15.
Today a tour around the Rockall factory and then a quick look at a couple of prospective flats - one an enormous barn of a place, rather like an enormous ski lodge, with a blazing log fire (well, one imagines that it would blaze when used) and animal skins draped everywhere, situated in a sort of park come paddock affair about 100m from a forest (which separated it from what one could - jokingly - describe as the main road) but unfortunately too far from anywhere, and probably prohibitively expensive to heat.

The other is a tiny little place on the same land as the Rockall villa, right next to where the farmer who owns both spreads his manure come springtime.

Out to dinner with Jacques again - dined à la Bretonne this time, with the Breton equivalent of crepes. These are called galettes, and are a solid, thick pancake of wholemeal flour with the filling of your choice. The only difference between savoury and dessert galettes, in fact, is the filling. Also at dinner was one Brigitte, a charming girl who works at Rockall, and who speaks English.

Thursday 16.
Work yet again. (For Trevor anyway, quoth Margo.) And we took lunch by ourselves - ordering and all -without too many peculiar looks. Mind you, they are all very polite here,, and also very used to tourists.

And that is the diary to date. Anyway, it’s a beautiful country with very nice people, and we both like it very much. Even better when we have a place to unpack our suitcases. And can understand more than a few simple phrases of French. Never mind, plenty of time.

Later ... Today is Friday - Good Friday, in fact, which is not taken too seriously by the French, as only the banks are closed. However, we have received some money, are booked into an hotel for the weekend, and have been introduced to the art of driving on the right-hand side of the road. To make it all the more interesting, this last was performed using a Citroen 2CV van (vanette?), which is a very strange little vehicle.

With luck, we should hear more later today or during next week as regards rather more permanent accommodation –to wit, an apartment in Vitré itself – and as it appears that personal loans at 2% interest are available to staff members, we might get an unfurnished one (either “vide” or “sans meubles”, it seems) which are apparently much easier to find.

An update on the population situation here, by the way: it seems that it’s about 14000, or 18000 if you count the suburbs (read “outlying hamlets” if you prefer). But it seems that there’s a mini-boom coming – up to a 20% population increase perhaps - as a fair amount of light industry has been attracted to the area.

It looks as though French Easter weather is pretty much on a par with New Zealand: although the last two days have been marvelously clear and hot, it is due to rain all weekend. It is good to know that some things never change. Still, we hope to take the Citroen and get a look at some of the Breton countryside, at least. Might even make it as far as the sea-side for a paddle.

It is now the 23rd. It came as a great surprise to discover that the Easter weather was in fact marvellous, so I suppose that the French forecasters are no better than those in NZ - comforting, I suppose. Anyway, we made it to Mont St. Michel to be overawed - quite amazing, and at the moment not too full of tourists (read “it is possible to move”). Then we went down to Redon, right on the southern border of Brittany and Aquitaine, where there are megaliths, and then up to Rennes, the capital of Brittany, where there are not. Rennes is rather nice - a somewhat smaller version of Paris. It is, like Vitré, “une Ville Culturelle et Historique”, due to its “interesting antiquities and constructions”.

Next weekend - the end of the month - we are to take a little working holiday: over to Chambery, close by the Swiss border, to stay with Jacques and his family for a few days and to discuss electronics, and then back to Paris for a while for some more business. It should relieve the boredom for Margo a bit

At the moment we still do not have a flat of our own, although we are to inspect a prospective one today, which will be good: we are still shuttling between the villa at Landavran during the week; and an hotel at weekends, all of which is a little unsettling, as you can’t really unpack or settle in. We hope that this will not last too long. Anyway, should anyone wish to write back to us, a letter to

Rockall France SA
Route de Beauvais
35500 Vitre

will do the trick. We will send an honest-to-god address as soon as possible - if this prospective flat is OK, perhaps as an addendum to this letter. And for those with access to something a bit fancier than pen and paper,
                                Telex: 740-858 F                                Fax: 33-99-744308

Well, it’s two weeks now and we both still like the country and its inhabitants, and our French is slowly improving: Jacques is very patient and does not laugh too much at our appalling mispronunciation and grammar.

We also looked at cars over the weekend, round the various used car lots here. We could pick up a Renault Fuego for about FF30000 (a bit under $10000 NZ, which isn’t too bad, I think) but we will probably go for something a bit smaller - initially at any rate, and work up from there.

This is for the benefit of Julie-Ann, who said I have to write part of the letters we send. Well as you have probably guessed Trevor is already busy at work while I try to keep myself amused. Not easy when you are staying in the middle of nowhere sans tv or radio but so far I am managing quite well. It will be better when we have a flat in town as I shall be able to practise my French. At the moment everyone tries to speak English to me and consequently my French is not improving as fast as Trevor’s. Those parts of France we have seen are very beautiful in a gentle sort of way – Brittany is very similar to parts of the waikato, especiany Cambridge. All in all l like it here and once l can speak French better I think we may stay here some time so, if you are planning to come to Europe let us know and we may be able to arrange to meet or for you to come to Vitre. So hope to hear from some of you soon, take care love Margo.

By the by, for those of you who are interested (others may skip this paragraph without losing marks), Unity Group (who now own, or at least control, the Allflex group) are rapidly becoming about as popular as a six-months-dead otter ie not very. It appears that they are about to do here what they have already done in NZ - that is, cut back heavily on R&D expenditure for the sake of an immediate, but short-term, increase in profitability. As you can imagine, this has not gone down too well with those in research here. Fortunately, I am assured that my position is secure - possibly even improved - by this: I am at a loss to see how, but never mind, it’s still comforting to know that I have not arrived only to lose my head (in a manner of speaking). Although I think that I may well have to become rather more involved in sales than has hitherto been the case. OK, enough of company secrets.

Friday now. We have a flat to look at on Monday - seems quite nice from the outside. So we hope that it will be alright, and that we may move in soon. Meanwhile, it’s back to an hotel for the weekend. As I am still on a tourist visa, and therefore may not - officially - be paid, I shall have to go down to the company accountant soon and get some cash from him to see us through next week. Off to Rennes tomorrow anyway, to take another look round when the shops are open (it being Easter last time, the whole place was shut).

Anyway, this seems like a reasonable place to finish, and so I shall do so. Regards, etc -

Margo & Trevor.