Friday, August 25, 1989

French Gazette Vol. 3 No 4 25 Aout 1989

Hello, it is I, LeClerc!

Bit of a shame, actually: “Allo ‘Allo” is finishing. With the pill from the till with the drug in the jug, not to mention the candle with the handle on the gâteau from the château. And the long-distance duck, shamefully shot in the pissoir by the Capitaine Bertorelli. (I tell a lie. We actually went out with René, disguised as a collaborationist French general - looking very much like de Gaulle -blowing up Herr Flick of the Gestapo with his fake nose, the fuse of which was accidentally set alight by Lieutenant Gruber after it had been squashed during the course of a passionate embrace with Mimi.) That’s not exactly what I was writing to tell you about, though.

First of all, after 8 months or so the bloke responsible for the maintenance of the apartment block has finally come round with the insurance assessor to look at the bathrom ceiling where the paint is coming off in sheets due to the falling damp occasioned by the flooding of the mayor’s terrace last winter. Having inspected the damage they’re going to call a meeting of all the proprietors before starting work, and as the mayor is still at his other house in Annecy this will not take place until the end of November which means that either nothing will get done until next spring (more little drips over the loo, no doubt) or they’ll start in midwinter anyway, discover it’s too wet and go away till spring, leaving us with gaping holes in the ceiling. However

The Readers’ Digest continues to annoy me from time to time, with letters along the lines of

Dear Mr/j~ BIMIeR, TREWXX, you have been chosen from amongst millions to participate in the 3g7th draw for a brand-new Daihatsu SportS runabout. YOU NEED NOT PAY US JUST YET! Unless we receive notice that you do not wish to continue, Ms TREWxx, you go automatically on to stage 5 of the contest! We can also offer you, as a discriminating first-time subscriber, the chance of a lifetime to buy the collected works of TV personality Jacques Chirac, leatherbound in real vinyl and each handsome volume personally signed by the author during one of the rare moments when hes let out of his straitjacket. HIRE-PURCHASE POSSIBLE! An offer you simply cannot refuse.

Yours slimily, illegible

They’re all the same, though. Margo gets the odd thing from a mail-order place, QUELLE (not too bad, actually) and so they bombard us with free offers, marvellous raffles and so on. The latest arrived today - “Dear Mrs Bimler, you have been selected to particiapte in the draw for 250 teeny B&W portable televisions”, with a little form to reply (and also place an order, if you want to) which has, at the bottom, a little box to tick if, as the text beside says, “you wish to claim your super prize of a television”. Which tends to give you the idea that you might at long last have come out on top in life, having finally won something. Then you notice that there’s a little asterisk beside it, and you look down to the extremely-small print at the bottom, which is where they hide the crib for asterisks and that ilk, and you can read (if you have excellent eyesight) “if I win.”

Speaking of small print, I’ve just had a letter from the Prefecture at Chambèry asking me to fill in a litle (big) form (coloured official cack-yellow) and to send in another contract, as my old one was no good. (All this for the annual extension of my work permit, you understand.) It seems that they want a fresh contract each year, and never mind the fact that the contract I have is an unlimited one - ie it doesn’t expire until I quit or am fired. An odd lot. Never mind, I’ve gone hack to an annual contract, which should keep them happy.

Anyway, I’ve just had confirmation that Allflex International j~ been bought (65% acquired, anyway) by a French company - the same company which, by an odd quirk of fate, owns Aliflex’s
major French competitor, Chevillot. (About three years ago, by the way, Allflex France had the opportunity to acquire Chevillot themselves, at bargain-basement prices, but turned it down. Bet they’re kicking themselves.) Interesting, I thought. Looks like they’ll he up for a bit of restructuring -again. As Jacques said, they can’t really have two lots of salesmen in the same district - especially as for the past few years the Allflex salesmen have been reviling their competitors and their products as useless, and vice versa. Even a farmer would have to notice if they suddenly became kissing cousins, so to speak.

Later, the same month ... the bike racing has finished at Chambèry, so life can go back to normal again and we’re able to go into town to do some shopping. You wouldn’t believe the crowds they had - and a fair percentage of them foreign. (Brits, Germans, Dutch - bleeding Dutch with their big fat caravans rolling along at Sokph blocking decent citizens from speeding - Italians, you name it.) Seems that the sister-in-law of the secretary here was able to let her balcony for 9000F for the week (only during the day, and I don’t know if that was standing-room only) to spectators. Enough to pay for a week for two in the States.

Speaking of cash, the taxman’s been at me again - sent a bill for this year’s taxes. I went in to inform them that I actually paid monthly (can’t he caught ought there, you know) only to discover that nobody had bothered to tell them this. They’ve promised to send me a little letter cancelling the bill. A propos, the latest crowd to go on strike are - surprise, surprise - the taxmen. They’re demanding more staff to handle the paperwork, and more money - which I suppose will mean more taxes, which’!! mean more paperwork, which will at least justify the extra staff. There’s a weird sort of logic to it if you look at it that way.

A complete and utter change of pace as autumn seems to have started. Sudden plummetting of temperatures towards the mid-20s, and everyone’s started scrubbing out the wine barrels ready for the vintage. Which, by the way, they’ve already proclaimed to he “the vintage of the century” - making it at least the sixth such so far. One of the last I recall offhand was officially announced by the then Minister of Agriculture about two months before the vintage: it happened to be one of those years (1964, if you’re interested) when rain stopped play, and the wine turned out to be somewhat mediocre. Much like the Minister, really. We’ll see how it comes out, anyway - I’ll let you know what the Beaujolais Nouveau is like in a month or so. Autumn also means that the kids go back to school after their three months or so of holidays. Goody.

Work goes on - the project I started on for Merlin Germ has expanded from simply testing cards to writing a bit of the low-level stuff for the eventual application which is going to run on them to actually defining the low-level stuff and various bits of stuff around the place: MG appear to have come to the conclusion that they’ve neither the time nor the expertise to do it all in-house. So it’s becoming a bit more interesting, at least. The only problem is that all the documentation - proposals, definitions of interfaces, counterproposals, rejection of stupid suggestions etc - has to be in French: natural enough, I suppose. So I type it all up (with frequent recourse to a dictionary to check on the gender of nouns and all the rest) and then give it to Evelyn, who goes through and sticks accents in all the right places. (There is, incidentally, a movement amongst the French to eliminate the circumflex - that’s this little fellow right here - as it serves no useful porpoise whatsoever, being pretty much equivalent to the grave. Double and silent consonants are also to go: thus, “Mitterand” would become “Mitèran”. A lot of the French themselves have problems with accents, and just stick a little line above a letter where there’s supposed to be one, and leave you to work out which one it is. An eminently sensible idea, in my opinion.) Anyway, she’s very good about it, and hardly laughs at me very much at all.

All of which reminds me a bit of the French joke about their multiplicity of tenses, which goes something like

the present perfect - “he is born” -
the past imperfect - “he was born” - and finally, the imperfect preservative - “he should never have been born”.

It helps if you have a thick French accent, and remember that “preservatif” is a condom. Anyway, that’s enough of that: time for me to go and stick my snout in the trough.

Somewhat later, my trotters are back on the keyboard. Friday’s rolled around again - when else would I find time to do this? - Friday the 1st of September, to be precise. Nothing particularly special about that, apart from the fact that you’re supposed to wish a happy saints day to every Giles you meet. It also means that sometime in the next week or two my brother descends upon us, bearing rich and precious gifts (I hope) - to wit, Angostura bitters and a couple of bottles of rustic Kiwi red for Renaud. Who is, incidentally, having a few weeks holiday in Corsica - I hope he hasn’t been burnt to the ground. The fires in Corsica are actually rather odd - for some peculiar reason they usually start in the night and are often in bushland right next to someone’s ranch or farm - onto which, coincidentally, they rarely spread. Some of the more cynical relect on the fact that, amongst those of Napoleon’s laws still on the books is one which states that you’re not allowed to expand your Corsican farm onto bushland - but if the bush happens to burn down (accidentally, of course), all bets are off. The same thing also seems to happen around the major towns, and especially around those suburbs which would like to expand outwards. (Frequently, those with a mayor who happens also to be a property developer.)


Margo still hasn’t popped yet, despite the shock of David arriving. Most annoying, this waiting business. It’s worse, I suppose, for Marie (she, you will rec~ll, is Ian’s wife): she’s confined to bed under doctor’s orders. Can’t last forever though. While I remember, I came across an article in Byte which might amuse you - the Elephant test for personnel placement. What, you may well ask, is this? Simple. You send job applicants to Africa to hunt elephan~s, then classify them according to the behaviour exhibited, to wit:

-    Mathematicians remove everything that is not an elephant, then catch what’s left. (A good one will first prove the existence of at least one unique elephant, a professor will demonstrate the proof and leave the actual capture to his graduate students.)
-    A computer programmer will follow the following algorithm:
a) start at the Cape of Good Hope.
b) traverse the country in east-west sweeps, moving from south to north.
c) on each traverse, compare each object found to a known elephant: terminate on a match.
An experienced programmer will place a known elephant in Cairo to ensure that the
algorithm always terminates.
-    Economists do not hunt elephants, but believe that, if paid enough, elephants will hunt themselves.
-    Hardware salemen catch rabbits, paint them grey, and sell them as desktop elephants.
-    A manager will set broad elephant-catching policy, based on the belief that elephants are like big field-mice, only with deeper voices.

There was also a scurrilous and entirely gratituous attack on lawyers, which respect for the good name of the profession prevents me from repeating.


And the news of the month is that we are now the proudish parents of a sprog, one Malyon Diana a.k.a. Frog. The gynaecologist got it right - much to his surprise - as she popped out, according to schedule, on the 15th. Four kilos and 53 cm from horns to tip of furry little tail, and if you want more details just write and ask - they’ll be sent by return post in a plain brown wrapper (discretion assured). Mother and child are in fine shape, and I’m as well as could be expected.

Other than that, nothing of note has really happened here. Still twiddling our thumbs waiting for our cartes de sdjour to arrive, but that’s perfectly normal. Merlin Germ (personified by the charming, but somewhat inexperienced, Mlle André) have sent yet another request for tender for yet another chunk of their network project which has landed on my desk with a heavy thunk: sent on the 14th of this month and asking for a reply by the 15th. A hit tricky even if the document happened to be readable, which it isn’t. You try estimating the time required to write a program module one of whose functions is - I quote - to “do something”. (The correct answer is, of course, “as long as a piece of string”.) I get the funny feeling that the whole thing was prepared in a bit of a rush. Never mind, we’ve organised a meeting for soonish, where we can perhaps clarify to some degree the various somethings. That’d be nice.

Jacques has informed me - with some glee - that the President Director-General of Allflex Europe, one Mr Alain Porcher, has been awarded a vote of thanks by the board of Allflex International, who also regret that his sterling services are no longer required given the intensive restructuring of the company which has been currently undertaken etc etc ic the raspberry (I learn that he has in fact been made a consultant, paid per consultation). In fact, most of Allflex Europe seem to be running about like heads with their chickens cut off, which I suppose is not too surprising under the circumstances.

There goes another lorry-load of Ferraris, closely followed by a truck belonging to the ubiquitous Mr Norbert Dentressangle. A rather bizarre name, I’ve always thought: reminds me a bit of a vampire. (A rather childish etymological derivation from “dent” or tooth, and “sang” or blood, yielding Mr N. Bloodstained-Fangs. I’d rather like to know wriat he transports in his enormous tanker lorries - bats, perhaps?)


And Margo and Frog have returned from the hospital, and I’ve come hack from my paternity leave. On now to politics, and a rather interesting idea from the Swiss (not a terribly likely source of interesting ideas in the normal course of things, I admit). The Geneva cantonal elections were held a short while ago, and before the elections themselves they organised a race - 400m sprint, or something of that sort - for all the candidates. Doesn’t sound too interesting? The good bit is that they allocated radio and TV publicity time according to the race placings. I liked it, anyway. So, I imagine, did the Green candidate, who came first (being youngest and fittest, I assume - although it’s possible that he’d been taking steroids, I suppose). Don’t know how it’d go down in New Zealand, though.

More on politics, or sort of - the French have won their first-ever test cricket match against England, at Lords. The fixture was originally planned for 1789, but was postponed due to rain (cf Louis X?? - “apres moi, le deluge”) and a certain political instability, and they’ve only just got around to playing it. Says something about the sorry state of English cricket that they can let themselves be beaten by the French.

Got to get into some paperwork soon - get Frog registered as a New Zealand citizen through the Embassy in Paris, check up on her exact status in France, and organise some tax relief (they lower your rates for the first year after the birth) - as soon as the tax people come off strike, that is. Then I imagine that once we’ve our cartes de sdjour I’ll have to get those changed to reflect our new status
more waiting ... and while I’m on about waiting I might as well mention that we ~ still waiting for the syndic (the fellow responsible for the apartment block, cf page 1) and his little henchmen to call around again. The man is obviously a Zen fanatic - prefers the contemplative life to actually fixing anything.

The other thing we’ll have to do is plan our holidays. It seems that I’ve still got about five weeks or so due to me, and we’ve got to use them up somehow. Perhaps a week or so in Paris with Ian and Marie for Christmas (have to look at getting a Kiwi Card so that we can get around on the train at half-price), perhaps a week’s skiing (everyone says that it’ll be a cold winter, hence lots of snow, as the onions have thick skins this year), maybe pop over Toulouse way in November to see Josette and Pascal - still leaves us with a bit to spare. Goody! Christmas in Paris should be fun, I admit - loiter outside Galeries Lafayette and ogle the decorations, freeze to death ambling up and down the boulevards (No! I have an overcoat now, thank God), exacerbate my hypertension whilst trying to thrust through the milling hordes ...

Trevor & Margo

Wednesday, July 5, 1989

French Gazette Vol. 3 No. 3 5 Juillet 1989

Back once more, I’m afraid.

First of all, on the international snobbery front: for all those of you who thought that Auckland was inferior to Wellington - it’s true. According to an international survey on the price of urban life with New York as a benchmark (score of 100) Wellington came out as n° 41 with a score of 101, whereas poor old provincial Auckland only got a measly 93. Not really very good for its cosmopolitan image, I must say.

Time is flying by, and it seems like it’ll be only tomorrow that I start a well-deserved week’s holiday. It will in fact be tomorrow, as a week has gone by since I committed the first deathless paragraph to disk. Sorry about that. See if I can’t do a bit better this time. We’ve not really done a great deal: we watch ‘Allo ‘Allo most evenings on Canal+ (I’ve no idea how many real Frenchmen actually watch it, but I suppose some must), we went through to Lyon again on the weekend to finally pick up a second bookcase, been having marvellous thunderstorms, and Margo’s parents arrived in the country on Sunday. At a rough guess, these events are unrelated. Anyway, come Thursday morning we load up the car, get a baguette or somesuch to munch on the way, and head off into the back of beyond to attend this wedding affair. Shall let you know how that goes; it could be interesting.


OK, it was interesting. We headed off on Thursday morning according to plan (not counting a small stop in Chambèry to pick up another 5 gallons of mint sauce to cover emergencies) and had a pleasant little trip via the routes nationales up to Macon and thence onto the autoroute. (All done with an eye on avoiding Lyon like the plague.) We got there about 4 in the afternoon, I suppose: the only real problem we had was trying to find the correct road to get to Pesselière (as they’re all marked as being at goat-track level on our Michelin maps). Quite nice countryside if you happen to like that sort of thing - gently rolling hills as far as the eye can see, nothing but fields of rapeseed, sunflowers and wheat (or grain of some sort - I’m not an agronomist, you know) broken by the odd belt of trees and inconspicuous little villages. Personally I find that it palls on me very quickly, but there you are.

Herewith, cribbed from the guidebooks: Pesselière, description of: readers, for the use of -

“a charming pastoral village, close by the justly celebrated city of Auxerre (once a world centre of the leech trade, the invention of the hypodermic syringe has all but killed the old craft of leech-farming, but the impressive Halitosis Research Centre is still well worth a visit). The architectural styles to be found are diverse, many of the houses being in Gothic Lean-to, contrasting prettily with the Squat Norman church (now, due to an unfortunate accident, in ruins) and the asylum (admission 7F50, ask at the 3rd cottage on the left). The old cottage industries of sheeptickling and moneylending are still practised, and on market days (once every 17 years) the village square becomes once again the centre of activity as conmen, thugs and village idiots, some from as far away as Sougères (the neighbouring hamlet), come to buy and sell raw Taiwanese plastic and oil futures. The traditions of yesteryear are very much alive: even the casual tourist cannot help but be charmed by the way in which the inhabitants cheerfully try to misdirect him (a delightful relic dating back to the thirteenth century and the depredations of Albert the Wall-Eyed) while the local children remove his hubcaps, and the visitor with more time to spend will be amply repaid by the opportunity to experience a traditional ‘tarring and feathering’. Considerable wine is grown in the district, some of which will recall to the discriminating taster the subtleties of a fine Indonesian Sauternes, with its rich, manure-like ‘nose’ and firm body, leaving a lingering aftertaste rather like silage. A culinary speciality of the region is porridge -generally flavoured with trotters or tripe - which is also much in favour as a diuretic: for feast days and holidays, the pièce de résistance is likely to be a dish not unlike the celebrated haggis of Scotland, being a sheep’s stomach stuffed with porridge, garnished with chocolate eclairs, pigs’ feet and blood pudding, but eaten lukewarm, with custard.”

References in boldface are to the Michelin Pink Guide.

And I’d like to thank the editors of the Michelin Polkadotted Guide for permission to include that extract. Sorry about that, something just came of me all of a sudden like, and now I suppose I’ll have to go back and make a few retractions before I get slapped with a libel suit. Auxerre is in fact a charming city, and has never - to the best of my knowledge - been involved at any time in the shameful trafficking in leeches which has tarnished the reputations of so many. There.

All that apart, their little farmhouse isn’t bad at all. From the ground up: the ground is, in fact, about 95% pebbles, the rest being large bits of gravel: I can’t recall offhand whether that bit of France was once a glacial bed or just the sea-bottom, but something sure left a lot of stones floating around. This is actually quite handy, as the house is (was) built in the traditional manner around those parts: to wit, hunks of stone with mud to fill up the gaps. (Not just any old mud either - this stuff lasts for a couple of centuries at least.) When I say “house”, there are actually two bits of it: the house proper, which is a sort of two-storey strip with its back to the road, and then the old stables, separated from that by a courtyard. Ian and Marie are currently working to get some bedrooms into the house bit which was, when they bought it, pretty much an empty shell. (One of them’s on the second floor, where the old granary was, and is reached by an outside ladder. In a promising start to the weekend Ian, having put this ladder in place so that some of the lucky guests could clamber up to sleep, managed to put his feet through two of the bottom rungs. We slept downstairs.)

All passed very well, anyway. Four days of sunbathing, eating and drinking and generally idling about can’t be all bad. The actual marriage ceremony was quite good too. They don’t actually have a Maine in Pesselière - the place is too small - so we walked to the neighbouring village (which also has a tabac and a boulangerie). That was Marie’s idea - the walking hit. Off we trotted, 40 or 50 of us, some brave souls wearing suits, in the blissful 35° heat: happily, the dog was the only reported case of sunstroke. (Incidentally, this neighbouring village happened to he all of 1.4 km away and - I promise it’s true - one of the inhabitants of Pesselière said that yerss, he’d heard of it, bit he’d never been there. “They do say it be a big place, and a fair step away and all.”) Having got there we all crammed into a small chamber tastefully decorated in shades of municipal green and with a bust of Brigitte Bardot peering down from the wall (in case you didn’t know, she was - until a few years back - the lucky one chosen as the model for Marianne, the spirit of the Republic, in all official statues, busts, portraits etc. These days it’s Catherine Deneuve, I think.) where we placed bets on the likelihood of the mayor getting through the ceremony without touching a tranquiliser. The poor chap had to read the names, you see: “Vickridge” was bad enough, but when then confronted with “Renualdo” (Portuguese) and “Nematchoffski” (Russian, what else), these being the witnesses ... he did a very creditable job, in fact, and hardly stuttered once.Then we tottered back to the farmhouse for drinks (of course) and the speeches - a tn-lingual affair in French, English, Portuguese, with a mock-Chinese version just for laughs.

Shan’t bore you any more with details of exactly how and in what order we did nothing for the next day or so: suffice it to say that on Monday morning I decanted Margo, her mother, aunt, and cousin Julia off at the railway station in Auxerre before heading off with Leigh and Howard in the car. Ian suggested that I take the scenic route: down through the national park of the Morvan to Vézelay (yet another ancient city absolutely dripping with history, or so it seems) and thence to Avallon, where you can get back onto the autoroute. “Dad and bro will love it” he cried enthusiastically, and so off we went. It must be my personality or something: the pair of them slept until Vézelay (only woke up there to take on a hit of food) and slept again till Avallon. Never mind, I’m used to it by now. At any rate we got back here (side-stepped Lyon again, not that I’ve anything against the place mind you) in time to pick up Margo and Jeannie from the railway station.
Tuesday’s excitement was getting rid of Howard (not, perhaps, the most fortunate turn of phrase, I admit). He wanted to pick up a few souvenirs, so we went into the Carrefour supermarket so that the garage close by could twiddle with my carbunettors while we shopped, and he bought -

-           one (1) dual-porpoise coffe machine (espresso, filter, and two dolphins)
-            one(1)coffee grinder
-           1 (one) kitchen whizz
-           two (2) kilos of coffee
-           one (1) suitcase.

We managed to get him to the station a few minutes ahead of time, lugging two suitcases and carrying the coffee machine as hand baggage.

I think that you can probably get by without too much on the rest of the week: we trotted off to Grenoble, Annecy, Chambery and Geneva - went up to Jacques’ for the day on Sunday - just a nice, calm holiday. I would rather like to know, though, why it is always overcast and a tad grotty whenever I go to Geneva. Perhaps it’s always like that, and those photos showing the famous fountain playing against a clear blue sky are all meticulous Swiss fakes. (Did you know, by the way, that you’re supposed to stop your car at red lights in Switzerland? Something to do with saving petrol and reducing pollution. Seems a bit bizarre to me.)

And that’s about all the excitement we’ve had lately. Apart from baby-sitting a squirrel, that is. It belongs to one of the kids downstairs (Margo gives him English lessons) and as they’re all off on holiday he asked if we couldn’t look after the little thing. We let it out for a run around the lounge most evenings, which thrills it to bits. Its favorite hobby is hiding behind the bookcases and performing unspeakable acts with all the power leads, followed closely by hiding nuts down the back of one of the folders. Don’t know why, ‘cos it can’t get down the back and so its little cache is totally useless, but it’s happy to pass its time running into its cage, stuffing its mouth with grain and things, running back to the folder, dropping all this down the hack ... you get the picture. That, and leaping around the furniture ... it’s easily pleased. We’ve discovered that the best way to get it back into its cage is in fact to twiddle with its nosh: it’s rather defensive about this, and rushes back to defend it. In fact, it’s so possessive about food that it’ll nip you when you try to take its little bowl out to fill it up.

Oh, I see that David Lange’s resigned too. For “health reasons”. It made the 8 pm news over here. Was it expected? I must admit that it came as quite a surprise to us - mind you, we hadn’t heard that Roger Douglas had been re-elected to Cabinet, which may, I imagine, have had something to do with it. I gather that Palmer is your new P.M. (He’s not ours: we don’t have the right to vote any more. Been out of the country too long.)

While I remember, who watched the Bastille Day celebrations? Not us, I’m afraid. I understand that it was all a bit shambolic, but better than expected. Better than the French had expected, at any rate. They did go to some rather ridiculous lengths about security, though - what with the heads-of-state meeting at the same time - even so far as to put an anti-aircraft battery on the Tolbiac bridge (which is right in central Paris). A bit silly really - as Jacques said, if they ~ managed to shoot down an aircraft, where the hell did they expect it to crash? But apart from the usual complaints about the money spent on the whole affair (somewhere up around “untold”) the sole whiff of scandal to come out of it was the celebrated dinner, where Mitterand invited the heads of all the rich countries to dine under the glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre, while all the second-raters had to fend for themselves in a two-star hotel somewhere (and no doubt lucky to get that). Raised a bit of a stink overnight, but nothing lasting - probably because 50% of the journalists and a good 90% of their readers were off on holiday.

What else is new? David (my brother, for those of you who’d forgotten) is probably coming over from England to see us at the beginning of September before heading back to NZ. Usual impeccable timing: he’ll arrive just in time to start folding nappies and things. We’ve lugged the spare bed down to the dungeon, so he’ll either have to sleep down there (not a good idea, as that’s where all the wine lives) or on the joke exploding sofa.) Be good to see him again, anyway. I have no idea what the French’ll make of him.


And as you can see, time has gone by. The squirrel has gone hack to its rightful owners (arrived back from holiday at 11:00am, kids popped up at 11:01am to check up on it), and a good thing too. We cleaned up after it’d left, you see, so I moved out the bookcases to hoover up its little grain stores and discovered that, as well as nicking bits of paper from Margo (in order to keep its food warm, I suppose) it ~ taken to nibbling on the odd power lead. That for the tape deck, in fact - it had munged its way through the insulation and left us with about 4 strands of wire. Good thing we didn’t feel like any music during the week. (It also ate one of the speaker leads - it must have a thing about two-core cable.) A cute little beast, but its taste in food leaves something to be desired.

We have our birth certificates and such-like tranlsated and covered with official stamps, so we’re all ready for the bureaucratic aspect of birth. The translator seems to he a reasonable chap: he wrote a covering note saying that if we had any hassles wc should get in touch with him to see if he couldn’t help. We probably won’t (cross fingers) but I’ll keep his phone number handy for a while OK, time to go and get something to eat, I think. Have a drink while you’re waiting.

All fed and watered, I hope? The weather is still fine (and hot - too hot still for poor little Margo) which I know is getting rather boring (foggy and wet where you are, is it?) but there you are, it is summer after all. I’m actually looking forward to September - it’s normally a little cooler, although still fine, and best of all there are very few tourists/Parisians around. Who knows - we might even get to go on holiday. Perhaps - if possible - go across Toulouse way, where Josette and Pascal (the people who lived in the apartment beneath us) are now living, and visit them.

In the news at the moment is the general grumbling of the gendarmes, who are muttering rude things about too much work, no overtime pay, not enough holidays etc - not content in fact with just muttering they’ve started sending letters to the big papers and proposing - not a strike, because that’d be illegal - but a campaign of “civil civility”, let’s say - flagging down motorists to warn them where the speed traps are and things like that. As the poor things -ire actually part ol’ the army (you can elect to do your military service in the Gendarmerie, although ii you asked to they’d probably put you into the Presidential Ballet Corps by mistake) it’s the Minister of Defence who’s supposed to be dealing with it, and he doesn’t seem at all impressed. And of course Rocard, the prime minister, is in Australia at the moment - a meeting which the French are anxious to portray as something of a love-feast on both sides. Seems that after a few years of somewhat strained relations (nuclear testing, cowboy tactics in New Caledonia and general club-footedness in the Pacific basin) they’re trying to be liked again. Just so long as Rocard doesn’t get kidnapped by a kangaroo or half-eaten by a dingo on the other hand, that might just boost Australia’s image over here. (Just kidding, he’s actually reasonably popular in France: somewhat surprising wher you consider that he looks a bit like a constipated ventriloquist’s dummy, but there you are, they’re a strange lot.)

And, of course, at Chambèry they’re gearing up for the world cycling championships. The really big day is the 24th of this month - I think - but they’ve already started closing off streets for the qualifying time trials and suchlike. The roads are thus full of sweaty-loOking people, bum-up and head-down, wobbling over the road for all they’re worth. It’d be quite funny if it weren’t for the fact that we’re now obliged to stop every 5km or so to scrape another crumpled hike off the underside of the car.

Work is going quietly along: it’s what they call “the hole”, being as half the staff and virtually all the clients are off on holiday. Consequently I find myself just pottering about doing this and that:
putting the finishing touches on some more stuff for Merlin-Germ (a rather pointless little piece of development work, if you ask me, but no-one did and they’re happy to pay, so who cares), nailing down the odd little bug or two that I’ve not had the time or inclination to locate during the past year, mulling over the design for a little network, and of course writing this lot. While I remember, the last time my brother wrote he mentioned something about having heard that some French company had been looking at buying Allflex International - is there anyone out there who can confirm or deny this rumour? Jacques would really like to know (and there’s no point in asking Aliflex France - they probably wouldn’t know themselves, and certainly wouldn’t tell).

Well, it’s 4:30 on a Friday afternoon and I’m just thinking vaguely about going down to the bank, getting some cash, and then heading off home to get ready for yet another idle weekend, hut before I do that I’d like to just finish this off and that way there’s a chance that we’ll get it posted before September rolls around. We’ve an anniversary coming up too, by the way: on August 23rd it’ll be the second anniversary of our (official) entry into France. Congratulations and bank drafts may be sent to the usual address, care of Otto. I have to take care of changing our bank accounts into real French ones (instead of foreigners’ accounts), which probably means that we’ll be subject to the same limits as the poor French (no transfers exceeding 2000F out of the country, have to be polite to bank managers ... at least until 1992, anyway). I may look at forgetting to do that at the Credit Lyonnais -after all, it’s only the Credit Agricole who told me that I’d have to.

OK, that’s it. If by some stroke of fate the sprog drops before we do get around to sending these I’ll scrawl size, sex, and distinguishing marks (“looks more or less like a prune, has something that could be described as a nose in the middle of what one can only assume to be its face, full complement of limbs and lungs apparently in working order”) somewhere: if not, expect a carrier pigeon. Bye.

Thursday, May 11, 1989

French Gazette Vol. 3 No. 2 11 Mai 1989

Hello again, everyone!

We’ve been trying to buy a car! In fact, weve signed the contract for a nice little red Alfa Romeo 33, which is currently having all its rust removed by the garage, so it’ll be a few weeks yet before we get to run around in it (which is probably just as well, considering what else has yet to be organised). But what a story to get to that point. First of all I went to the Credit Lyonnais to see if they would give us a loan to help pay for the thing. “Yes Sir of course Sir no problems Sir just come back in a few weeks after I’ve checked things out.”

Did that, and guess what? Not possible. First of all, we hadn’t had an account with the branch for the requisite 2 years; secondly, even if we had passed that test, we’d still be eligible for a loan of only one year’s duration ‘cos we are regarded as foreigners. At this point I started thinking of the last letter and the little bit on bank managers. . . then I went off to the Credit Agricole, who were happy to give us a loan. Thanks in part to Mr Quesnel, who knows the branch manager (and I suppose it helps that all Miqro’s banking goes through the branch too). Anyway, having put the car on a conditional contract (subject to finance etc) we rus~ied down to the garage to say “yes, we’ve got the cash and can we have the car please”, and then I thought it would he a good time to start looking into the intricacies of car insurance. I’d thought that this would be complicated: it is in fact very simple. It’s a ripoff. The first agent I went to is one of the ones that does house insurance and all the rest: he quoted me (please be sitting down) the paltry sum of 15000 francs per year (he said this with a straight face, too) - or just half that if I just wanted third-party. Considering that the car is only worth 27000 francs, I found that excessive.

Went off to another agent, who quoted 700F/month and that only out of the kindness of their hearts: to get that price we’d have to get a letter from our insurers in NZ saying that we had actually been insured, and if we couldn’t get that they wouldn’t be able to give us all-risks insurance at all, seeing as we’d not been insured in France for the last two years. Arrgh! However, various people to whom I related this sad tale soon put me right: you have to hunt down a mutual insurance group. Did that, and they’re happy with a letter from Mr Quesnel saying that I’ve been driving the office car during X months and have had no accidents (only a little lie, that), at a price of about 4000F. This is still daylight robbery (admittedly that’s the price for the first year ie no no-claims bonus, but even after two years of trouble-free driving the price is still double what I’d pay in NZ) but I suppose it’s better than outright extortion.

OK, enough of that. After a few weeks of grotty weather summer has at last a-cumen in, so we’re basking in 24 degree days again and back to leaving the windows wide open all night to give the mosquitos a chance. (And, of course, so that we can be woken up in the weekends by the jolly buzz of lawnmowers and Mr le Maire above us practising banging on the floor with a hammer. Or his wife, banging on the piano with a blunt instrument. I wouldn’t mind so much if only she showed some signs of improvement.) Anyway, what with all the sun floating about the prospect of dining on the balcony becomes more and more attractive, so having (relatively) successfully cobbled together a chest for Margo to put things in (a sort of dry run), we must now look at making a sort of folding table thingy for those long warm lazy evenings.


Back again. Margo’s gone off to London for a week to visit family and stock up on cheapie baby clothes and suchlike (they’re 0% rated for VAT over there) so I’m sitting at home in the thundery evening of rather a nice day, tapping this out on yet another PC (the latest Compaq portable, if that interests anyone) which has - of course - yet another keyboard layout to which I’m trying to get accustomed. Not to mention having a different feel to it, being too small etc etc ... complaining isn’t really what I do for a living, you understand, just that I’m getting good at it. Thundery evening ... for the past week or more we’ve been having beautiful days, hot and sunny, and then religiously at about 6 pm the clouds come up and at about 8:30 we get beautiful thunderstorms right overhead. With, of course, the concomitant power outages, TV going fizzle sputter and so on. According to the weatherman it’s all due to lots of naughty warm moist air over Italy (where else?) which rubs in a sensuous fashion up and down the Alps all day until finally something gives.

Been quite a momentous day for me actually: I finally went and picked up our car. They’ve done an excellent job of replacing the rust (they cut it all out and put in some brand new, guaranteed unused rust just for us), repainting, fixing up scruffy bits on the seats and all sorts. Only thing is that the rev counter doesn’t work, so I’ll have to take it in and get them to fix that up (all under guarantee, which is apparently not all that normal). And of course I have to get used to it, after driving the tank around for so long. It’s nice to have something that doesn’t make parallel parking into a complete nightmare.

This is impossible! This little computer, nice though it may be otherwise, has one of those disgusting LCD screens and if things move too fast - or if they blink - they’re impossible to see. Now you may not know this, but the word processor I usually use for churning these things out uses what they like to call a “pointing device” these days - a mouse, to the rest of us - and when I move it round the screen I have terrible problems ‘cos I can’t see it as soon as it starts to move and then I don’t know where I am. And I keep missing keys - or not bashing them hard enough - and so I have to flit around the place sticking in missing letters like nobody’s business, and of course you do have to use the little rodent for that (see whinge n° 1, above). I’ll probably just get used to all its little foibles and then they’ll take it off me: we’ve actually only got it to do some work for a crowd called Merlin Germ, who want a superduper program to show off all the nice features of their sophisticated circuit-breakers at the big electronics fair in Hanover. That’s what they want: what they’ll get is another matter, but so far they don’t seem too disappointed. I liaise (if you’ll excuse the word) with rather a nice chappy there who is, by an odd turn of fate, headed off to your end of the world: he’s being sent off to their Sydney office. (And by the way, the Australians pronounce “Seedney” exactly as the French do.) I suppose that I really should give him a friendly warning as to exactly what he can expect - the rituals, the quaint mating dances, the fact that everyone’s called Sheila (when it’s not Bruce) and all the rest - but we’ll see how this project goes: if they start make too many suggestions for “improvements” I shall become malevolent.

Business rolls on as usual: Jacques seems to be doing well - Allflex, to their own surprise - and that of everyone else - have managed to sell lots of his pregnancy detectors (in Hungary, of all places) and the market for his little electric prod is apparently very good too, so they seem to be mustering up the nerve to actually sign the distribution contract with him that they proposed some months ago. As it’s worth about 11 million francs, that’s rather good news. Miqro is ticking over as normal, although Renaud (a nice fellow, about my age, who looks after the industrial software side of things) is thinking of leaving to set up his own business - be interesting to see how he gets on. In fact, France in general seems to be blundering on quite nicely, thank you. We’ve had no gross administrative hurdles to overcome lately - they seem to have decided to leave us in peace for a bit. Apart from the social security, of course. In France, you do not get subsidised medicines, doctors visits etc. - well, they’re not subsidised at the point-of-sale, as it were. What you do is go in and get your ears reamed, take the prescription for gallstones down to the chemist (who’ll probably be fresh out of them, hut that’s another story) and pay for those ... then, when your little folder of official documents is getting a bit full (or your bank account a bit empty) you send off all the receipts and forms for these things and the social security reimburses you according to the going rate. (As Margo is pregnant, that’s actually 100%, which is rather nice.) The problem arose when I got a bunch of these back, with a note saying they lacked the vignettes. I didn’t know it at the time, and nowhere is it explained to the ignorant foreigner (I suppose I really should have asked ...) and even worse, they’d accepted other forms in the same state (it depends on which bureaucrat you get), ~if on the forms which the chemist gives you once he’s handed over the gallstones you must stick - in the place provided, of course - the price and identification stickers which should he (and sometimes are) found on the back of the packaging. Quite simple, really. God alone knows why they want the things, and of course we’d thrown out all the packaging ... do you keep the boxes your bottles of Disprin come in? How strange. So we missed out a bit there, anyway. Not to worry, I’ll know not to do it again next time.
8/6/ 89

And here I am once more. Margo got back safely, having bought the entire stock of BabyCare in Brighton (that’s what it felt like anyway, going by the weight of the suitcase) and a few bottles of this and that - including a NZ red for Renaud to have a sneer at (“A well rounded peppermint Burgundy with just a hint of wool in the bouquet ...“). Then we spent the rest of the week recovering from the shock of discovering that we’d managed to save a bit of money. (Speaking of which reminds me that I went into one of the higher-tech branches of the Credit Agricole to draw some out on the Saturday and discovered that they have a continuously-turning revolving door which starts to turn in the opposite direction to throw you out onto the street again if it doesn’t like the look of you. Well, it actually has a metal-detector somewhere about, and it won’t let you pass with too much metal about your person - watch, keys, belt-buckle etc. - and as it ejects you it mutters soothing phrases, asking you to stick all loose change and valuables into the buckets provided. After you’ve done that it might let you in - provided that you don’t happen to have a pace-maker, titanium hip-bone or other spare parts.)

The Sunday we decided to be very French: the neighbours invited us to come along on a picnic to watch the bike race up one of the local mountains. (Not really a mountain, I suppose - it’s actually the start of the Massif de Bauges, but in any case it’s a climb of about l000m to get from the bottom to the top.) As the day dawned bright and sunny we took them up on this, and armed only with a bacon-and-egg pie and other such delicacies we set off. By the time we got to the top the sky had clouded over and the wind had got up: a short while later the temperature started plummeting. What the hell, we had our picnic anyway. (We couldn’t have left in any case: the gendarmes had barred the road to descending traffic so as to avoid problems with the bikes coming up.)

Quite frankly, I’m of the opinion that bike-racing lacks a certain something as a spectator sport; entertainment value, perhaps. At least, watching sweaty young men ride - at about ten-minute intervals - up a 1 in 3 slope in sub-Arctic temperatures with a howling gale playing gently about my ears does little for me. Apart from freezing me solid, that is.

Enough whinging. Having stated above that we’ve no gross problems with the French administration, you are now honoured to be the invites at a special soirée during the course of which I shall eat my words. It’s not that bad, actually: just that the auditor-general or somesuch has decided that what Margo’s paid by Mr Quesnel doesn’t count as an honararium, and that she should be paying social security on it. Normally no problem, but due either to a typing error or sheer bloody-mindedness on their part, it’s backdated to mid ‘88. Mr Quesnel (who received the same letter as we) will be appealing. (He has lovely big brown eyes.)


Another weekend rolled round. The rose is blooming, the tarragon is working on stage #2 of its plan for world domination, the fuchsias are out and aphids are trying to eat my chives. Or were, until we sprayed the entire balcony with Paraquat (or a derivative thereof) which is guaranteed to cure any problems one might have with marauding insect pests - or anything else, come to that. In the fine print it tells you not to touch the sprayed plants for at least a year or two, which is a hit of a shame as the mint already needs trimming after only a day or two of my not plucking some off to go in a salad or whatever. Yes, we’re living on salads (and cherries, and asparagus and suchlike): it’s defnitely that time of year again. And after all, why go to the trouble of preparing a hot meal when you can pick up a few slabs of magnificent ham (guaranteed to not have been injected with water, sugar and other additives to bulk it out), a spot of pâté and then whip up a quickie salad to have a gourmet treat?

Margo has been off making enquiries at the hospital recently. They wouldn’t let her into the actual hospital rooms; probably afraid of Antipodean infections or somesuch. However, she did learn that she has to spend a minimum of six days in hospital after the blessed event. She’s also got antenatal classes starting soon, carefully arranged so that they’re all in the afternoons to avoid possible interference/attendance by fathers. Probably a good thing really, don’t want any of the poor frail things fainting at an inopportune moment, do we? (Personally, I intend - at the moment of birth, that is - to turn a delicate shade of greenish-white and then slowly slide down the wall on which I had previously been leaning in a nonchalant fashion to wind up rigid on the floor. I’m told it’s good for your posture.) Oh, we bought an electric drill the other day. This means that I can take up my correspondence courses on brain surgery again. (Only joking - it’s appendectomies that you can do by mail.)

While I remember, Jacques’ back from Paris having signed his contracts with Allflex. He’s feeling quite happy about the whole affair, and justifiably so, I should think. Godnose it’s taken long enough. (Actually, the real reason he went up there wasn’t to sign contracts at all - it was to catch a bit of tennis at Roland-Garros. Somehow he manages to wangle a few tickets each year. If there’s anyone there who gets tired of everlasting rugby in the winter and then cricket come summer-time, spare a thought for poor us: we manage to escape the cricket at least, hut we get tennis instead. Not sure which is worse - speaking purely, of course, in terms of viewing pleasure.) Ian’s wedding draws closer and Margo pops down to the cellar every other day to pour more alcohol over the cakes maturing there. Don’t know how they’ll go down: in case you didn’t know, the piece de résistance at a French wedding is a thing called a croquembouche, which is a sort of tower affair made out of cream puffs glued together with caramel. Rather a far cry from your traditional Anglo-Saxon fruity wedding cake.

Actually getting to the wedding is going to he fun. It’s not far from Pesselières (a godforsaken hole miles from anywhere where Ian and Marie have their country seat) or, in other terms, about 400k north of here. That in itself is not a problem: the timing is. We shall have to leave on the 13th to avoid the mad rush of provincials heading, lemming-like, to Paris for the festivities - it is, after all, the 200th anniversary of the Revolution (the official champagne of the Revolution is, by the way, Canard-Duchene, which is in fact not too had - I find it rather difficult to imagine hordes of sans-culottes quaffing the stuff whilst watching the guillotine come down, though) and of Parisians descending to the provinces to avoid the crowds. (Did you know, by the way, that if you had a two-bedroom flat in Paris you could lease it out for about 3000F per day during the celebrations? [Outdated: please refer to the penultimate paragraph.] The rumours have it that Mitterand is letting the ground floor of the Elysee Palace.) So we’ve stocked up on Michelin maps so as to be able to get there one way or another: could either take the autoroute most of the way, or we could travel - as usual - by the back roads or the nationales, where the petrol is cheaper and you don’t pay a toll. At least we won’t have to take the Nevada. Rather a good thing really, as we’ll be bringing Margo’s parents back here with us, and I don’t know how they’d take being slung into the back of the wagon and told to behave like sacks of chicken-feed. Probably not too well.


Once more unto the breach and all that, witha view to getting this finished and maybe even posted before winter rolls round again. You may have heard that we’ve been enjoying a bit of a heat-wave lately - or at least that’s what it seems like to the poor French, who get sweatily bedraggled at the mere thought of temperatures over 32°. Personally, i’m rather enjoying it, but Margo is starting to find it a bit much, something to do with carting all that extra weight about no doubt. In England it seems that it’s got so hot (only 27° actually, but that is I suppose hot for a land where “weather” is a euphemism for “lousy climate”) that lawyers have - gasp! - been permitted to remove their wigs in court! Can see the headlines in the tabloids now - “Q.C. Bares All! Bald Barrister Braves the Beak!”

Back onto the topic of the glorious revolution: if any of you want to come over for the festivities, it seems that there’s a nice little apartment going in Paris - only 500m from Place de la Concorde (could be Maxim’s, I suppose), 2brm, view (of Maxim’s rubbish bins, no doubt), 10,000 $US per week. I don’t ~ it was a misprint, and I assume that someone’s taken it - at least, the ad hasn’t appeared again. Alternatively, you could always doss down under a bridge or in the Metro in the best Parisian tradition. Under a bridge is probably the best bet: there won’t he any traffic noise to disturb you ‘cos they’re banning all traffic from central Paris for about a week. Which seems pretty stiff bikkies on those who actually live there - forced to ride on the Metro with their country bumpkin cousins reeking of garlic and Gauloises and getting poked in the ribs by 7-foot long telephoto lenses carried by the invading horde of all-too scrutable Orientals and having to listen to potato farmers from Idaho saying “isn’t he just such a typical Frenchman?”. Still, they could always go on holiday. Which is not, now that I think of it, such a good idea after all - one million or so Parisians haring
through the countryside like Stirling Moss on speed in search of a quiet spot away from it all in which to have a picnic lunch, scrap with the wife, abuse the kids and then dump all the garbage accumulated during the last Paris cleaners’ strike might be one million too many. Better that they stay in Paris and riot - burn down the Matignon or somesuch, “to the guillotine with tonton Mitterand”.

And that really seems to be about it for this little letter. Should anything really fascinating occur before the end of the day I’ll tack it on, but I somehow have my doubts that it’ll be necessary. Oh yes, I see that Ronald Reagan too has become an immortal (see N° 1, Acadèmie Franqaise, Rights appertaining to members thereof) and is thus entitled to wear a sword. Whilst in France, anyway. Good thing he’s not Gerald Ford, I suppose - ~ have managed to stab himself with the thing at the induction dinner. (Jacques Cousteau got inducted last night, by the way - his sword was a beautiful crystal-hilted affair of rampant dolphins and suchlike. Very nice indeed.) OK, bye now, and enjoy the ski season.

Trei’or & Margo

Tuesday, January 31, 1989

French Gazette Vol 3 N° 1 31/01/89

Hello chaps, how’s life?

Had a nice Christmas and all that? Super! We’ve been having an absolutely grotty winter -  virtually no snow at all to speak of, hence no skiing. Well, not entirely. I got back from a few days in Paris last Saturday, and we went up to a teensy little station called La Feclaz for the rest of the weekend with a crowd of other Arbinites. We had a bash at ski du fond (cross~country skiing to you) and a stroll about the mountains, and it doubtless did our French no end of good, but it’ll be the ruin of my liver. Anyway, ski du fond is hard work. The skis are long and skinny (hence more difficult to balance on), you’re wearing sneakers, the toes of which only are clipped to the skis (hence no support from your ski boots) and then you have to try to walk with this peculiar gliding motion which is not at all self-evident. And to cap it all off, there were bits of grass and dirt and wotnot pushing up through the snow. I only hope it’s not like this in 1992, or the events of the forthcoming winter Olympics are going to be somewhat curtailed.

About the biggest excitement we’ve had so far was going through to Lyon and getting a bookcase. (Which only just fitted in the back of the Renault 21, but never mind that.) Having lugged it back home and erected the thing, it has become evident that we’ll have to go back and get another: the number of books, memorabilia and just plain junk that we accumulate is astounding.


And back again. We’ve just had a visit from another New Zealander: one Greg Collins, with whom I worked at Allflex. He’s currently in the UK, and he popped over to see us, bearing gifts (more Angostura bitters for me, and patty tins for Margo), As it happened, Jacques had invited us up to his holiday home in the Jura for the weekend, so we all of us went up and had a rather nice time. The aforesaid house is an oldish place - last renovated in 1729 - which Jacques bought for 400FF about twelve years ago, and he’s been in the process of doing it up ever since. It’s very cosy, with a big log fire downstairs and all, just right for passing those long winter nights out of the snow that there was much of that - about a foot or so close to the forest and rather a bit more in the forest itself, but enough at any rate for Greg to have his first bash at ski du fond. I had another go myself, what with that and throwing snowballs for Tim the dog, I’m still a bit stiff. (Tim really is the name, by the way - he belongs to Valerie from Miqro, who also came up, with her brothers and boyfriend, with the aim of passing the week there.) And having mentioned Angostura bitters (which is that pink stuff I stick in my martinis, in case you’re interested) I’ll say also that I have actually managed to find it in France (which surprised me no end), although at a hideous price - evidently feel that only perverts drink the stuff, and want to see us pay for our vile habits.

Well, the infamous “Black Weekend” has been and gone without any problems. In case you’d forgotten, this is the weekend when the Parisians, bless their little souls, descend on Savoie like Attila the Nun and the Bretons return to whence they came. This usually means immense jams, but traffic was light due to the lack of interesting snow down here (only 3 million on the roads on Saturday) so it was all a bit of a letdown. The weekend before was more fun: both lanes of the autoroute from Chambery to here (about 14km) were jammed coming in our direction - I mean not moving. Stopped. Mobility nil. All quite impressive, really. Anyway, the weather continues at “set fair”, as they used to say on the barometers - in the southern half of France anyway, and that’s what interests us. Temperatures up to 16°, which isn’t too bad considering it’s still officially winter, and tops have all come off along the Côte dAzur. And to top it all off, Dr Who is on! At the ridiculously early hour of 9am Sunday morning, on the kiddie shows, but I’ll do anything far a Dalek. (Incidentally, I really cannot recommend the particular kids show concerned. They play interesting little games: in one of these, a kid gets to ring up and sing a song - if they get the song right the three male members of this show, who are sitting, bound hand and foot, in open stalls, must each pull a large bucket of cold water down over themselves. This is passed off as healthy entertainment - small wonder if they grow up with odd ideas about blowing things up.)

We went for a walk on the lakefront the other clay, too - a very French thing to do on a Sunday. afternoon. Half the population of Aix-les-Bains had apparently had the same idea. Heaps of families, all dolled up in their Sunday best (the kids usually toting their roller skates along, these being big amongst the weeny set) and of course the family dog(s). Which range from a matching set of those animated clothesbrush things all the way up to a Great Dane. (The term ‘Sunday best’ is pretty comprehensive, by the way. It includes a fetching little track suit arrangement in purple with a tastefully coordinated yellow and purple tartan shawl, also a leather miniskirt, ditto top sort of cape thing which looks as though you’ve got a dead sheep on each shoulder.There are some interesting checks for mens’ trousers, but I’d rather not go into that.

Anyway, one strolls around, greeting old friends and avoiding the dogshit (or vice versa, according to taste), casts a benevolent eye on one’s offspring as they attempt to dismantle one another with teaspoons and, when tired of this, goes off to a bar for a coffee or a beer before heading back home to kill more brain cells in front of “The Wheel of Fortune’ or the Lotto draw on TV.

And now for a spot of bad news: I have been reliably informed that Margo is going to become a parent. Please give generously - send a bootee. This is going to mean a safari into the hitherto unexplored backwaters of yet another part of the French bureaucracy - and me without my elephant gun. Speaking of that sort of thing, we got a second demand for the ‘taxe d’habitation” - rates to you - for the apartment in Vitré. (You pay the rates for an entire year if you are living in the joint on January 1st: as we were still - officially - in Vitré up till the end of January 1988~ we pay a year’s worth of rates there, but none here. If you’re going to move somewhere with appallingly high rates, do it at the start of the year, and then move out before the end.) This may not seem odd, but I had already received and paid the first demand. Rang up to find that the silly people had cocked up again: not only have they pointedly ignored every change-of-address notification I’ve sent them, but it seems that the first (paid) demand was for an apartment on the ground floor: the second was for one on the first floor. We lived on the second floor, One day they’ll notice.

Further bad news: the weather’s getting worse. This is, I think, related to the fact that the weather forecasters have just gone back to work after a week or so on strike. Most depressing really: just hope we don’t get a sudden cold snap ‘cos all Margo’s plants have poked their heads out, thinking that it’s spring.


And I’m back again. Our little cold snap has turned to snow, so I can at long last wear the big wool overcoat Margo’s made me without feeling like an absolute prat. At least it’ll make farmers happier - there’ll be a bit of water for the summer. (Around these parts, water is only melted snow, and with the weather we’ve been having they’d had to start rationing it in some places. Especially in some of the ski stations, where they’d used godnose how many million litres to feed the artificial snow machines.) Well, tax return time has rolled around again and I have to fill in the “simplified” declaration of revenues. At least the bill is not going to be a nasty surprise this year, as we pay monthly. On top of that we spent a few happy hours filling in the forms for future mothers: two copies to the place that pays us (they pay you to have kids!), another to the organ of the social security that looks after sickness benefits and health insurance, and a fourth copy to the p1ace that got the first two in order to let them know about the first two they got. After that I might have to at getting a livret de famille, which is the little booklet in which you and yours are registered – yea! even unto the seventh generation,and then we’ll probably have to call into the NZ Embassy in once the shouting’s over to see about getting the putative offspring registered on our passports and registered as a Kiwi citizen.

Actually, according to French law the whatever it is will be a French citizen as well, at least to the age of 16 (or 15, I can’t remember exactly) at which point it gets to choose whether or not to stay French. I assume that this is something for those countries who don’t really like you having dual nationality, but there’s another consideration - if it’s a boy, then by choosing to continue as a French citizen it’ll have to do national service for a year. (Although there are a number of outs for this - if you’re certifiably paranoid, for example, or the sole visible means of support for your aged parents, or if you can manage to keep on collecting exemptions for doing degrees. And if you really can’t the thought of being in the army, I gather that they’ll let you — albeit reluctantly - do your time in other branch of the bureaucracy.) Another thing we’ll have to do at some time is pick a name – or names - which’ll be acceptable to the busy minions of the French Institute of Standards, or whatever august body it is that occupies itself with such things. Tobias Lancelot lolanthe would be right out, for instance - too unFrench. On the other hand, Amédée Stanislas Fiacre would be fine, Still, we’re not exactly short of time in which to worry about such things.

The past few months have been pretty quiet, really: no great natural disasters to speak of, no plagues of locusts/rains of blood and frogs, and nary a piglet farrowed with the claws of a hawk  (vide Livy). We may thus conclude that the end of the world is comfortably far off - sometime after this weekend, anyway - and that the barometer will continue to read “Set Fair”. The depressing thing about this is that there’s sod-all that’s really newsworthy (apart from Boeings falling out of the sky but that’s rapidly becoming more of an everyday event than the exception). Perhaps I should invent a civil war. Oh, while I remember, Jean-Marie Le Pen has emerged from whatever septic tank he calls home these days to pronounce on “The Satanic Verses”. As it is now evident to even the meanest intelligence that the Arabs are one and all barbaric heathen wops (so runs his thesis) it is clear that they must all be expelled from France. I should point out that not everyone agrees: some of the more socially enlightened of the right-wing favour flogging instead; Speaking of the right-wing, poor old Jacques Chirac (still Mayor of Paris, and proud possessor of the biggest nose since Concorde, but not much else) seems to have faded from view. It’s as if the poor fellow had died no-one had noticed. These days it’s all bloody Giscard d’Estaing (remember him?), Raymond Barre, and of course good old uncle Mitterand. Who has, by the way, managed to keep his nose remarkably over the little insider-trading scandal at Pechiney.

In fact, it had been put forward by some otherwise respected wotsits that the whole affair was a put-up, revealed in an attempt to damage the Socialists at the forthcoming municipal elections. True, local-body politics in France is almost Byzantine in its complexity (and double-dealing, but never mind that) but if that was the case (which I doubt) it seems to have backfired rather with Mitterand’s latest speech, in which, hardly mentioning the Pechiney affair at all, and certainly not stooping to deny any involvement, he castigated the money-grubbing, egoistic (and dare I say it -  somewhat American) attitudes exemplified in the Bourse as undermining the social dimension of France and Europe. I imagine that the stockbrokers are quivering in their boots (come to that, Margaret Thatcher is probably doing the same - with rage) but it certainly seems to have upped Mitterand’s stock as a concerned socialist who won’t stand for corruption and naked greed - he prefers it decently clothed.


And here we are, back from Paris. We bowled up with Jacques on the Sunday morning (ie at the loathesome hour of 6am, which meant that I missed Dr Who) and arrived at about midday in time to grab some lunch and then hop on the Metro to Marie and Ians’. (The Metro cleaners are having a strike - or were - which accounted for the rather riper-than-usual aroma down there. Thought it was cheese at first.) Then on the Monday we went off to SIMA, which is the mega A&P show. Now I’ve mentioned before that this is rather big, but I’ll say it again. Spent the morning wandering around looking at sheep and goats and prize boars etc (also met Bill Gallagher, of electric-fence fame) and then about noon, feeling rather peckish and thirsty, we wandered off to the food and wine section. It’s actually rather good being a foreigner, ‘cos all the merchants are a) flattered if you’ve heard of their wine on the other side of the world and b) happier than usual to encourage you to taste (“just one more little wafer, Sir?”) And so taste we did. Vouvray (a fresh and delicious white), Tavel (the best - and probably the most expensive - rosé around), Bordeaux (just a common old AOC that one, but not foul at all) and vin de paille du Jura (literally, “”straw wine”, very special, very nice, and exceedingly expensive). We wrapped that lot off with a crepe suzette drowned in Grand Marnier (from the Grand Marnier stand – seems it’s their bicentenary or somesuch) and then soggily rolled our way out. Then we wandered around Paris for a bit, back to our old haunts (1st and 2nd arrondissements): into Marks & Sparks to spend our Christmas vouchers (dry sherry and makeup) and then to Brentano’s, which is the English-language book in Paris. (If you don’t count Shakespeare’s on the Left Bank.) For some bizarre reason books are cheaper there than almost anywhere else - either the books don’t get VAT on them, if from an English publisher, or perhaps French publishers are just more rapacious than their English and American counterparts.

Tuesday was grotty. The day before we’d been wandering around in shirtsleeves, soaking up the sun: Tuesday it poured down. A real sod, as we’d planned all our embassy-visiting for then. We went ahead anyway, and got sodden. New Zealand embassy first off, then to the British consulate. Slight problem there as they’d moved, so we arrived at the embassy (in the middle of renovations) where the cop on duty told us that he rather thought it was here - then one of his mates gave us the right address, not too far away fortunately. Got there to find that the British consulate goes to sleep until 2:30, so we popped into the bar next door to wait and discovered the entire consular staff as well, Anyway, having got that out of the way (we were looking for certificates of patrialitv, as it happens) we went to the British Council to see if we could get the names of institutions offering courses in “Teaching English as a Second Language”, which is what Margo would rather like to do, and having been-mis directed around three floors of the building (which is. in case you’re ever in the neighbourhood and start feeling a bit peckish, not too far from Maxim’s) we went off in search of the afore-named institutions. We found them too, which was very nice ‘cos it meant that I could stay in the warm and drip all over their carpet whilst Margo chatted with them.

Having dried off, the next day we went museuming. Only one, actually, as we got up rather late - la Musée des Decouvertes, which is where you learn that electrons are about the size and shape of a small pea, and depending on which way they’re spinning around their respective protons (or somethings) the bathwater will either gurgle or not when you pull the plug out. They’ve got ants’ nests and fish and lab rats and all sorts actually - great stuff. Sated with learning, we took in “Baron Munchausen” (yes, in English) before heading off with Jacques on Thursday. All in all, rather a nice week.


Hohum, another day, another dollar. We’ve been off to yet another wine fair: this time, “la Foire du Vin et de la Cuisine” at Annecy. This may well have been an error, as we wound up purchasing a crate of 1983 ChateauNeuf du Pape. A very nice fellow, the vigneron who sold it to us: inisisted on our tasting the ‘86, ‘85 and ‘83, just to give us an idea of the differences between the years (don’t buy the ‘85, it’s a bit thin), and then some of their white wine as well. Having arranged all that we carried on round: tried some Côte Rôtie and Côte du Rhône from the charmingly named Montre-Cul vineyard (which has an interesting and only mildly obscene label), some Régnié (which is the latest addition to the Beaujolais appelation, and which tastes just like any other Beaujolais) and some wine from Chateau Ripaille, on the French side of Lake Geneva. We have also been told that if we’re ever in the district, we must come in and visit ... the poor dears really are fascinated by foreigners. We took a look around the cookery side as well: tasting cheeses, sniffing coffee, looking at aspic jelly that had gone rather runny (it was the second day of the affair, after all:) ... personally wouldn’t have cared to sample any of the fish. But from far enough away that you couldn’t see it wiggling, the set pieces were very striking.

We’ve been off for Margo to have her first echograph, by the way. (The gynaecologist bloke who did it doesn’t seem too keen on the English - he refuses to write his papers in English a a matter of principle, saying that if it’s good enough for the English to publish in the native toingue then it’s good enough for him too - but is willing to make an exception for Kiwis.) It seems that is something in there, with the usual complement of heads and other appendages: it is for this that the Sécurité Sociale pays Margo SOOF per month.

Spring has sprung - officially, at least - and as a result the weather has turned bad. More of these rotten depressions and very anti cyclones sweeping in from north and south to sit on top of the country, bringing rain with occasional periods of precipitation. I’m unimpressed. At least the daffodils and suchlike on the balcony are in good health. And with the somewhat warmer times we’re having, the Academic Française has come out of hibernation again, ready to wage war on those horrid foreign words that are creeping into and debasing French. It seems that “Walkman" has to go - it’ll probably get replaced by the glorious (but totally unusable) phrase “lecteur portable des cartouches amovibles magnetiques”. Never mind, it keeps the superannuated literary gentlemen (and lady) of the Academie occupied and off the streets (where they would otherwise be obliged to write more of the same unread tomes of lit. crit. as those that won them their seats, in an effort to survive). Oddly enough, although the members of this illustrious body are collectively known as "Immortals", in a reference to the fame that will everlastingly be theirs, no-one can remember who they are, how many of them there are, or even where they stick the dead ones - when they notice. You may be forgiven for thinking that the whole object of the exercise is in fact to provide a comfortable club for retired professors where they can dress up in silly clothes and snaffle the seats at the Opéra. Which reminds me that among the attractions at that Salon du Vin at Annecy was the initiation of some politician - Rocard, I think - into the Order of Fraternal Creme-de-Menthe Sniffers. A bit like Capping, reallv, with the robes dragged out of the cupboard again and the scent of mothballs heavy in the air: still, at least you get to have a decent drink.

And before I leave you, a small note from the wonderful world of business: the French banking association has started a campaign to improve the public image of bankers and banking (currently lower than that of Genghiz Khan, whose worst enemies could not say that he’d ever raped a fund or helped strip an asset). One of their ads is a full page spread, multiple-guess format with pictures:

“Which of the following animals” it asks "does your bank manager most closely resemble?"
    a) a shark          b) a rat
    c) a vulture       d) a sloth
    e) a hyena         f) a snake

Difficult, isn’t it? Especially as there isn’t an “all of the above” option.

And another bit, this time from the “heroic failures’ department - it seems that the French Gendarmerie wished to institute a sort of prize for good driving, the idea being that they wouldn't’ stop bad drivers, but would congratulate and give cash awards to good ones - a sort of incentive scheme. To be eligible, you had to be driving at the limit, signalling with your indicators rather your fingers, not doing anything too stupid, wearing your seat belt, observing road signs ... a pretty tall order, admittedly. The first bloke they stopped (an otherwise perfect specimen) was so alarmed at being (he thought) arrested that instead of pulling over he zipped out into the fast lane in front of a lorry and promptly crashed. The next one they had to book for being over the limit ... the scheme was cancelled after a few months, as they’d not been able to award a single prize, even after whittling requirements down to just being on the correct side of the road.