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