Tuesday, November 12, 1991

French Gazette Vol. 5 N° 4 1 Septembre 1991

Back again, folks.

As those of you who are not currently living on another planet will know, the coup d’etat in Russia has been and gone; gone, insofar as we’ve been able to glean from the French news, largely due to a stem telling-off from Mitterand, the well-known French president of the same name. This leaves only China, the odd nowhere place like Cuba or Libya, and the French Communist Party as the last bastions of Marxist thought in the world, and I believe that the PCF tends to regard the Chinese with a suspicious eye as being rather too liberal. Be that as it may, according to a recent poll 54% of Frenchpeople are of the opinion that Georges Marchais (head of the aforesaid PCF) is a) extinct, like the pterodactyl (with which he has nothing else in common, the pterodactyl having been a rather good-looking bird in its day and in its own way) and b) should resign. 100% of French cartoonists are against this. Largely due to sheer laziness: he’s incredibly easy to caricature, as he can be made up out of off-the-shelf parts and needs no complicated bits (like a neck, for instance).

We’re sub-letting a bit of the flat at the moment - that is to say we’ve got a couple of bats who’ve taken up occasional residence behind the shutters. The only inconvenience of this arrangement (apart from bats being notoriously slack at paying the rent) is that you’ve got to check before you close the shutters during the day, just to make sure that neither of them is currently in. In other respects they’re model tenants, very quiet and they do their own washing, neighbourhood doesn’t smell of couscous, all in all nice people.

Finally got around to checking up with the British embassy on price and so on before applying for British patriality and a good thing too, because it seems that it no longer exists. What I can get is a “Certificate of Right of Abode” through my mother: it basically gives me the right to live and work there without hassles, costs 840 F or thereabouts, and has to be renewed every time your passport gets renewed (for me, in 5 years or so). Margo can’t even get that, not having a British parent - she can, if she can prove a visible means of support, get something which is renewable annually. All in all, it’s a bit of a sod. On the other hand, we’re eligible for French citizenship next year, and neither France nor New Zealand are upset at people having dual citizenship (having two passports might make them think a bit though, but these things can always be arranged ...) and gaving French citizenship plus a French/EEC passport is as useful, if not more so, than the right to live in England alone. I’ll toddle off to the Prefecture soon enough and find out just what the story is: let’s face it, if you have to learn more than two verses of the Marsellaise it’s just not worth it.

Margo said that the people at the embassy were charming and I’m prepared to believe her: they may also have been handpicked as representative British civil servants because when they sent me -as promised, and by return of post - the application forms they forgot to enclose the exact price (despite dire threats on form IM2(A) that every application must be accompanied by the full amount, cash in small denominations please) and then, in an excess of enthusiasm, sent 5 (five) copies of the foresaid 1M2(A) (which is pink) but none of IM2(C) (cack-yellow, usually), which it seems is what I’d have to fill in. Never mind.

Later - three weeks later, to be exact - it’s Friday afternoon and I’m trying to wind down after a hard week’s familiarising myself with some of the more exotic esoterica involved in writing programs for Windows. Not only is my brain throbbing, but my shoulder is giving me merry hell as well: I think I’m getting RSI from shoving the rodent around on my desk. (That, and playing too many games of Solitaire when I really ought to be doing a bit of work.) To top it off the car’s in at the panelbeater’s getting its right rear wing fixed up and it won’t be ready till tomorrow lunchtime, which means walking home again.


And so much for getting down to a bit of serious writing. As you can tell, rather more time has passed than I’d originally planned, but here I am back again, anyway. The car’s back from her visit to the panelbeater (rust and rip removed) and is currently passing the day at the garage for the usual 5000km checkup. Which is rather annoying for Margo, as she’s working today and consequently has to take the train in and out of Chambéry and it’s Autumn, cold and rainy.

And speaking of Margo working, she’s no longer with Europe School, the bi-lingual creche/primary school: the directrice (who is, let it be said, somewhat bizarre in her ideas) no longer wanted her - a) she drank too much coffee, b) she told a child off for misbehaving in the presence of the parents, c) not being English, she can’t speak English properly. The person who is (in theory) in charge of the English side at the school wanted her to stay on, but she decided that for the (miserable) pay it wasn’t worth the hassles that were bound to keep cropping up, so she left. She’s since found part-time work with Cite des Langues, a private school which arranges lessons for all sorts of people: today she’s supposed to be taking a class of hautes fonctionnaires (that’s highly placed uncivil servants to you) and we’ll see how that turns out. Other than that, she’s signed up for a post-grad diploma course at Lyon in teaching English as a foreign language, which means one morning a week at Lyon - happily, the train time-tables seem to fit in reasonably well. We’ll still have to look at getting a second car, though.

In the Extremely Annoying Band of Cons department: la Cinq, perhaps the most useless of the pretty appalling French ‘IV chains (and, incidentally and probably unrelatedly, privately owned by the Bouygues construction - nearly wrote “corruption” - group) had one redeeming feature - they were screening “Twin Peaks” which, as those of you who follow this newsletter will know, we followed in a religious fashion (we nearly came home from Pesselière ahead of time the last time we were there, there being some doubt as to whether or not they could pick it up). I say just one redeeming feature because they are now consigned in my private demonology to the least agreeable of all the circles of Hell (the one with no comfy chairs), as they decided, with no apparent reason (certainly no published one) to stop screening it. After the penultimate 23rd episode. In which Dale Cooper (at least, I think it was he that came back) is possessed by Bob the Killer, who hides behind mirrors. This, when you’re anxiously waiting to find out what happens, is the sort of thing that gets up your nose. (Has anyone over there been recording it? Got a spare copy floating around?)

We’ve bad a couple of visitors in the past months: Vicki Watt turned up from Saigon (or Hanoi, I can’t seem to get the places straight these days) at Geneva at some ungodly hour one Saturday morning, and then Phillippe took a weekend off from looking after the TGV and came down to sample the local wines with us. The only problem we had with Vicki was trying to get through to Vietnam by phone so that she could reassure her husband that she’d arrived safely: it is not the easiest thing to do and I can recommend it as an advanced exercise to students of Bureaucracy 302, Practice & Principles. First of all you have to go through the operator at this end who (with any luck) gets through to an operator in Vietnam who ~ then get through to the switchboard operator at the compound (foreigners being generally isolated to avoid - I assume - tainting the pure Marxist thought of the natives) who, to the dismay of the French operator, speaks neither French nor English. It took five goes, but we eventually made it.

We had a very pleasant time with Phillippe: so as not to derange his habits too much we ate French-style all weekend ie large, long lunches, ditto dinners, each accompanied by a bottle or two of wine and prefixed, naturally enough, with an aperitif. Which makes for not really wanting to do a great deal in the afternoons - it’s a wonder to me that we actually managed to go and visit even the two vignerons we did. We went out for dinner one night too: we found a restaurant (‘La Tête du Lard”, should you be in the neighbourhood) which claimed to do Savoyard cuisine, and thought it’d be a good idea to show Phillippe what it was like. They did, as advertised, specialise in regional grub and extremely nice it was, but not adapted to a night in August - by the time we staggered out we were all sweating profusely, and not just from the effort of carrying round a few kilos extra.

More recently ... as you may know, the French farmer is (it seems) an endangered species but, despite that, extremely altruistic and are particularly concerned that European (and especially French) consumers should not be forced to suffer the agonising choice between buying French beef/lamb/ whatever at exorbitant prices and imported meat of equal or better quality at lower prices, especially as the average housewife, unable to understand the issues involved, would be likely to make a disastrously wrong decision. In an effort to convince the government that people simply must continue to be protected from themselves they march in Paris, slaughter and burn (or slaughter or burn) imported English sheep, demand higher subsidies and generally kick up a fuss. The EC does its best to keep them happy and, in the latest piece of Euro-cretinism has come up with a marvellous idea for placating the Poles, pacifying the farmers and, once again, screwing the hapless consumer. East-bloc beef (one of the few things, apart from low-quality industrial pollutants, that they can produce competitively, it seems) is be allowed on to the European market without having horrendous tariffs imposed to raise its price above that of French beef: it will, however, all be bought by the EC and then re-sold (doubtless at a lower price) to the “traditional” market - Russia. (Or what’s left of it.)

The farmers are still not happy: for them it’s the thinnish end of the proverbial wedge and they can see the day coming when the EC runs out of food-aid cash and is forced to leave some of this foreign meat on the internal market. So they’ll be keeping a pretty strict eye on things: according to a spokeshomme they’ll be following the hygiene side very closely (they’re not totally convinced that the stuff is edible - although it may be alright for Russians) and they’ll be following government and EC ministers very closely indeed on their visits to the countryside - a thought which would worry me considerably were I a minister, considering that the hunting season has just opened.


Here I am again, folks. Yet more distress in France: this time the EC has forbidden Aerospatiale, the (heavily subsidised) firm which is a large percentage of Airbus, from taking over de Haviland, who make small commuter airplanes, on the grounds that it’d give them a near-monopoly position. So not only are the farmers marching and the nurses agitating, but government and industry are yelling about unfair treatment (the Competition Commisioner, Leon Brittan, being British it’s suggested in some quarters that he’s not totally impartial and is trying to do down the French).

We also have the edifying spectacle of politicians of all shades vying to outdo each other in “getting tough on immigration”. Which is short-hand for “stopping Blacks and Arabs getting into the country”. Fair enough, everyone knows that they dress differently, don’t smell the same, slaughter goats in public parks, are lazy, take jobs away from Frenchmen, are always on the dole ... Valery Giscard d’Estaing started the ball rolling when he suggested that the right to French citizenship should in future be limited to those actually born of French blood rather than, as now, being open to all those born in the place. God alone knows how he plans on defining French blood, let alone what percentage of it you need to be considered French .To their credit (and to my surpnse) the RPR almost immediately (small pause for reflection, you understand) disassociated themselves from his statement. Le Pen of course had a field day, remarking that an ex-president of the Republic had at last said what he’s been saying all along: all in all a shabby little business.

On to the good news - it’s Autumn now and to celebrate we’ve all three of us come down with colds. Notwithstanding, Margo and I braved the wintry night air on Monday to go and see the latest Peter Greenaway film, “Prospero’s Books”. Which I enjoyed, although I missed Death. We were actually congratulating ourselves on having - as we thought - seen each and every one of his films until we came across a potted bio hanging up on the wall and realised what a prolific little sod Greenaway actually is.


How time flies. Margo has started going off to Lyon on Wednesdays and is trying to arrange a set of English lessons in Arbin through the Mairie. This came about because the Zanella family (the hairdressers who live below, the ones with the luscious 17-year old daughter) foolishly let Fréderique (for such is her name) go off to England a while back and she returned in possession of an English boyfriend. Which is not, in itself, a bad thing, but the problem is that he speaks no French and the only word of English that Mme Zanella knows is “grandmother”, which you must admit is not a great deal of help when you’re trying to make light conversation over the petits fours. Anyway, Mme Zanella would like to learn English and knows of a couple of other people that would also like to get into it, and it seems quite possible that there’d be a fair bit of interest in such a thing. Now once you start doing too much private teaching on the black, as it were, things can start getting complicated (not to mention entailing a fair bit of running around between various peoples’ houses), and setting yourself up as a ‘travailleur independant’ in order to do it legally costs heaps, so the idea is to arrange the courses through the Mairie, which provides a room, takes the cash, and pays Margo a salary and generally arranges things with the Securité Sociale and all that. At any rate, Mango went off to see the mayor a few weeks ago to start the ball rolling (and he seemed interested enough himself) and he rang back on Tuesday to see if she could come in on Saturday morning, so we assume they’ve reached some sort of decision.

We very nearly didn’t have a cat anymore, by the way. Tuesday night Cato didn’t come home as usual, so we rather assumed he was off practicing being a male cat (something we’re planning on changing ASAP) although, given that the night temperatures are now getting down to zero or below, it seemed a funny time to do it, and then when I got home last night I found that one of the neighbour’s kids had found him limping piteously about and had brought him up to the apartment. We have a friend who’s a vet, so I rang him up, and fortunately Mango had rung earlier to say that she’d got a lift back from Lyon and was going in to Cite des Langues for a meeting, so I was able to get in touch with her and let her know that I’d be late picking her up, then chucked Cato and Malyon in the car and went off to see Vincent. The silly little beast had been hit by a car and fractured his pelvis, so he’s stuck in the apartment for the next three weeks with strict instructions not to do too much moving about. With any luck he’ll at least have learnt to avoid roads from now on.

I’m feeling quite pleased with myself at the moment, having got my little Windows application up and running and hardly crashing at all any more, apart from the odd time when it just seems to feel like hanging the machine. Quite fun getting it all going, really, and I learnt a lot - notably that Windows is highiy unforgiving of even the slightest little error, such as trying to send a message off to a task which doesn’t exist anymore. Usually this leads to the sternly named “Unrecoverable Application Error”, which means in practice that the machine stops dead in its tracks and you have to find the reset button (hint for Windows developers - get your machine fitted with a heavy-duty one -you’ll need it). Which is rather annoying if you have to do it five or six times in rapid succession. The nastiest part is that the debuggers for Windows applications seem to have more bugs in them than whatever it is you wrote, and often hang the machine out of sheer spite before you’ve even got to the point at which you know  that things are going wrong. Ah well, you can’t have everything.


I really am going to finish this today, promise. Cato’s three weeks of bed rest are finished and a good thing too: he’s currently about as popular as rabies. We had a dozen roses delivered on Saturday night, plonked them in a vase, arranged that on the table and so to bed. Next morning ... water all over the floor, roses all over the table, Cato extremely unpopular. Morning after ... more water all over the floor, remaining roses all over the table, Cato within 5mm of becoming a handbag. We decided to let him go out that day. Now all we have to do is get him an appointment with Vincent to get his rude parts removed.

The roses arrived - in an unexpected fashion - because Margo telephoned England for Mme Zanella, in order to ring up Frederique’s best friend to see if she couldn’t ring Fréderique to find out why she (Frederique) was passing her time crying in the bathroom. (The general consensus is that it’s the pangs of first love, and it’ll all pass in time.) Anyway, Margo did this thing and half an hour later a bloke arrived and plonked the bundle of flowers on the doorstep. Very nice of them. (By the way, we had a rather yummy meal at the Zanella’s a while back - at least I did, because Mango came down with a bug of some sort which made her feel ill at the smell of food, a shame as we had honest to god Alsatian foie gras to start off with - to let us meet the boyfriend and give him someone to whom he could say things other than “grandmother”. Pleasant chap, works for British Airways - gets staff reductions which cut the airfare to NZ down to about £150. Boo!)

And dear old Mitterand - having apparently concluded that he’ll not get in for a third term, being that his popularity rating currently puts him slightly behind botulism - has revealed that he’d like a Constitutional Congress after the local-body elections next year to see if the presidential term can’t be reduced from 7 years to 5, said reduction ~, to be applied to the current office-holder, of course. It’s possible, I suppose, that he thinks that if he does get beaten in ‘95 (or whenever it is), like this he’ll only have to wait for five years before having another go. He doesn’t think he’s too old -wants to beat Ronnie in the Guinness Book of Records as Most Decrepit Head of State, I imagine. He’s certainly likely to outlive Edith Cresson (still PM, but no-one’s betting on how long she’ll stay that way) who’s even less popular than he is.

Finally, we’re having to watch our tongues around Malyon these days. I took her in to Chambéry on Saturday to go to the market and - as usual these days - it rained. Never mind. We got the shopping done, headed back to the car and, whilst loading up the boot, got the edge of it on my head and a bucket or so of cold, wet rainwater down my collar. In circumstances like these I am, I admit, sometimes wont to let out an expletive and why not, it’s a perfectly natural human urge - all the same I’m sorry I did ‘cos Malyon spent the trip home saying “Dada bugga! Dada bugga!”, which gets a bit embarrassing. Not so much around the French, but when we have English-speaking visitors around

Anyway, now I have to go off and ring England to see about some cross-compilers I’ like to get hold of and then try to find out (using only a Swiss army knife and a multimeter) why the rearwindow demister doesn’t work. Bye.

Trevor, Margo and Malyon

PS -    I hear that TV3 pulled much the same trick with “Twin Peaks” as La Cinq did here - only at least they had the decency to put it back on, even if it was at 11pm. Three (half-hearted) cheers for la télé néo-zélandaise, three big boos for Bouygues.

Tuesday, July 30, 1991

French Gazette Vol. 5 N° 3 25 Mai 1991

Only just got the last letter to bed, and here we are again.

We had a busy weekend: open day at Margo’s work the Saturday morning, so I profited from that to go in to the market with Frog and get all the freshly-killed spring vegetables for the week, then back home, bake a tart for the Sunday, drop Frog off with Steve and Isabel, then off to the wedding. Which was a lot of fun, I must say. We left extremely early - at 11pm, in fact - ‘cos we were totally shagged out, but Renaud and Sophie stayed until 6am. Made of strong stuff. Stayed the night with S & I, arrived back home on Sunday morning, picked up the tart and headed off to lunch with Sue and Serge.

Other news: Margo’s glasses broke definitively a short while ago, so she’s now gone back to wearing contact lenses: worked out cheaper that way, especially as hers are an off-the-peg pair, so to speak. And we’ve got a kitten, tentatively called Cato. Mischevious little beastie, Malyon seems to like him. Although she gets awfully jealous when he starts playing with her toys (which basically means anything lying unattended on the floor) and starts telling him off in no uncertain fashion. (She does that when we tell her off, too: called scapegoating or something like that, I believe.)


Tom arrived safely, and we thought we’d celebrate the occasion in a fitting fashion with the first barbecue of the year. Great idea. We got out to Aiguebellette and it started raining - just a little, so we said “Won’t be frightened by a little rain, we’ll just have it under shelter until it clears up ...“. And so we started our barbecue under the convenient little shelter and the sausages were grilling nicely and then the thunderstorm (for such it was) decided to show us what it was made of (which is, in case you didn’t know, mostly wind and water, with a fair amount of static electricity floating about for good measure). As a couple of the littlies seemed to be in some danger of being carried away by the floodwaters swirling about our feet we decided to abandon the premises, women, children and lamb chops first.

Played the same trick the next day, too: we were up at Steve and Isabel’s, looking after the livestock again, and after a luxurious lunch decided to go for a little walk to see a waterfall. (And exercise the half-wit duo at the same time, why not?) Decided to turn back about 15 minutes from the falls, due to ominous rumblings and enormous grey clouds making an appearance, and so we were only about 400m from the gate when someone turned the taps on. (Which didn’t actually matter too much for the first minute or so - the drops were so big and far apart that you stood a fair chance of dodging them.)

Tom’s headed off to Italy for the week now (took the day train rather than a sleeper; I must admit that the stories of people in sleepers being gassed and then robbed at leisure are pretty hair-raising, and some of them are true to boot) and in theory should turn up again Thursday or Friday. He’s using our place as a base for his European travels, which fits in very nicely for all concerned.

And while I remember: we’ve finally bumped into the other Kiwi couple at Montmelian. Or at least, I bumped into the female half of it. I would have walked straight past her into the Post Office (I was posting a letter, yes it was on work time, mind your own business) except that someone wearing a Massey University sweatshirt kind of sticks out a bit in these benighted parts.

In the “Unusual Requests” department - Margo has been asked to write down the lyrics, in English, of a couple of Peter Hamill albums (“Nadir’s Big Chance” and “In Camera”, for those of you interested) so that someone can translate them into Italian. Must see if I can lay my hands on a decent cassette deck so that I can stick them on a tape for us while we’re about it.

Today is a particularly slack day at work, in case any of you are wondering what I’m doing writing this instead of being productive. I did try to be good, spent all morning twiddling my thumbs and polishing my code until it shone, but the fact is I’ve got my current projects as far as they can go without a bit of hardware to run on, and there isn’t any, and everyone else has gone up to Cluses to reinstall a system for Eaton (who make, amongst other things, washing machine controllers and oven timers) and consequently I’ve naught to do. I even tried reading a French computing magazine rather than conduct personal letter-writing in work time, but that soon palls (a bit like having your brain wade through sudsy molasses) so I’ve given up.


One week later ... we passed a lovely weekend; Malyon came down with gastro-enteritis and has been throwing up all over the place and I started to think I’d broken the car. These two facts are not particularly related. The first came about ‘cos there’s a bit of an epidemic going about amongst the sprogs of the countryside, and Malyon doubtless picked it up at the halte-garderie. (Just by the way, Margo is now on the committee, having foolishly gone off to the AGM the other night she got pressed into service.) She’s slowly getting better, actually asked for some bubbles for breakfast. (Kelloggs Rice Bubbles, that is.) As for the car, Tom, Malyon and I headed up to Annecy on Sunday, and on arriving I had to brake rather suddenly to avoid slamming into someone up ahead: managed that alright, but got the rather unnerving feeling that the brakes seemed to be locked on afterwards. We parked and had our look around anyway, then tried to find a garage that could take a look at the brakes - no such luck, you’d think Sunday was a public holiday or something. So we thought “Well, if anything’s locked up it’ll be the front discs ...“ so we jacked up the car and the front wheels seemed to go around without too many problems, so what the hell, off we set - slowly.

Then we stopped en route at a place called St. Felix to look at a car museum - just as I stopped the brakes gave a jolt and came back to normal and a good thing too, ‘cos the rear drums (as it happens) were smelling of extremely hot metal. We ducked into the museum - a bit disappointing, but still, they do have a couple of rather nice cars (a DB-5 and a couple of MGs amongst them) - and then, eventually, found a bar that was open (Sunday syndrome again) before heading back home with nicely cooled brakes. I later found out what the problem was. Alfas have a handy little mechanism for automatically taking up the slack on the brake cables for the drum brakes ... if you brake very hard, very suddenly, it takes up an awful lot of slack, and it doesn’t want to give it back.


Still later ... barbecues seem to have an adverse effect on the weather - something to do with the ozone hole or something, no doubt. I say this because we went up for a barbecue above Bourget du Lac on Saturday night, and no sooner had we got the thing started and the chicken legs sizzling nicely than the thunderstorm came rolling down from the mountains above us, making menacing noises and raining seriously. In fact, the thought of someone calmly enjoying an outside meal seems to have perturbed it to a degree bordering on the extreme: it rained all Sunday and it’s still raining now. A good summer for ducks, so far, and that’s about the best that you could say for it..

Tomorrow Margo’s off to Lyon to see about a course which apparently qualifies you to teach English as a second language. Find out about the hours and (especially) the cost, things like that: been there, done that. They’re not sure if they’ll be offering it (depends on student numbers) but if they do it’ll be about 5000FF, and they’d prefer their students to have adult teaching experience. See what happens. She’s also heading back to the university here to remind them that she exists, should they need any English-language tutors come September (the start, should you not know this, of the new academic year).

While I remember ... I have been informed by the usual fairly reliable sources that the Post Office (or Telecoms Corp. or NZPost or whatever it is these days) is in the process of mucking up all your phone numbers. Would those of you who are still on speaking terms with us please let us know how to get in touch?


Well, Tom’s left to head back to New Zealand, the school year is over for Margo, we’ve been to another barbecue - and this time it did not rain - and I’ve just finished the awfully tedious process of installing Windows 3 on my nice shiny new machine. The Dutch are out in force on the roads again -as are the dreadful Parisians - and in another two weeks we’re off on holiday! Back up to Pesselière to pick up our camescope this time - and see Ian and Marie and Elise, of course.

The weather’s been beautiful and warm for the past few weeks, so last Sunday we headed up to a place called Mont StGilbert for Serge’s birthday party. As the name suggests, it’s a mountain, and when you get to the summit (which takes quite a while, ‘cos the road is very narrow, very twisty and unsealed for the last few kilometres) you find, dug back into the rock, an abandoned Napoleonic fort which looks out over the Maurienne, this being the valley that leads on into Italy. I suppose the idea was to give the army somewhere nice and safe to hide: no-one in their right mind would bother climbing up all that way to fight them, so they could sit there snug and safe for the duration (until they found out whether they should surrender or start a victory parade). Be that as it may, these days it makes a lovely spot for a picnic, and in fact we spent all afternoon up there eating, drinking and not doing very much of anything else, which made quite a nice change. Malyon got herself a sunburnt nose, and Margo’s been a bit tender for the past few days, but that was about it.

As for little Cato, he’s rapidly developing into a right royal little pain - to date he’s devoured two pot-plants, half the sofa and a fair bit of my patience. When he wants to be he’s really nice, but he does have this annoying habit of waking up all bouncy at about 4am and wanting to eat shoes or something, so we have to chuck him out on the balcony until a more reasonable hour. If we could do that with Frog as well life would be perfect.

And as I mentioned, my faithful old 286 machine has shifted off my desk (it’ll probably get cleaned up and palmed off on the next client who needs a PC as part of a system) to be replaced by a shiny new 386 - rather a slow one, unfortunately, and currently possessing only 1Mb of memory, which is totally inadequate for any serious porpoises. But I still managed to amuse myself installing Windows 3 on it - without any of the problems I’d rather expected - and have passed much of my time today drawing little pictures of Kilroy (who wuz, if you recall, here) to act as the wallpaper for my screen. It passes the time of day, and I’ve no great urge to get out there and work terribly hard just at the moment, given that the temperature is about 29° in the shade. Perhaps I’ll have a game or two of solitaire.

We seem to be developing into some sort of Eastern-bloc aid agency these days - we’ve got a couple of Rumanian stagières here working for us now. (Do not confuse these with etagères, which are bookshelves: a stagière is someone who is paid by the state to work somewhere - or more accurately, his or her employer is paid to employ him - as part of their education/integration into French society/payback/whatever). Took them up to Eaton the other day to see some of the sort of stuff we make (about ten of us from Miqro turned up in the end - the poor fellows must have started to think they were being invaded) and had a great old time driving along misunderstanding one another. (What with various French accents, and their habit of sticking English words in from time to time ... I must have seemed a right prat at one point: she mentioned small-talk, and to me SmallTalk is a computer language; I replied - very virtuously - that I didn’t speak it, and it wasn’t till five minutes later that I realised that house-wives natter was the actual subject of conversation. I thought vaguely of trying to excuse myself for being a cretin, but quickly realised that doing so would only complicate matters more - they actually think I’m some sort of village idiot - and decided not to bother.)

Anyway, it’s currently Sunday the 7th, and we’re off on holiday the week after next. It’s been so hot that Cato gets exhausted just rolling over, and twitching is almost too much for him. Until this evening, of course, when the thunderstorm started about 4:30 and has only just let up, and it’s now 10:30 at night. We’ve passed a reasonably pleasant weekend, in case any of you were thinking of asking: Saturday morning at the market in Chambéry, picking up fresh fruit and veg (including a kilo of la ratte , last year’s trendy spud but still good eating for all that) - a bit of a sod really ‘cos I buy so much more at the market (it looking so nice and fresh and all) that, although it’s cheaper, I wind up spending more there than I would if I just went on down to the fruit shop. Then lazing about in the afternoon, followed by a swim at the lake and watching a Kiwi film on Canal +. (“Merchants of Shadow” in the translation, starred Annie Whittle, all about a mad - or perhaps not - architect who wanted to raze central Auckland and replace it with something fit for human beings to live in. If that means anything to you.)

We’d actually planned on going down to the lake again today, but then this thunderstorm intervened so in fact all we managed was going down and getting some picture frames for a couple of photos we had blown up - ones which accidentally turned out so well that we thought we’d stick them up on the wall to be embarrassed. So all in all we’ve done very little, and personally I’m not against that. But just now, les enfants, c’est l’heure de faire dodo and I for one am headed for bed and the arms of Morpheus, being as I am tired and shagged out after a prolonged squawk and the effort of getting up at 6:30 this morning to look after Frog (it being my turn for the dawn shift).


Back again, all fit and bronzed after a delightful holiday. We made it up to Pesselière according to plan, to discover that major renovations were to take place (not according to plan - not our plan, anyway) so Margo spent her time knocking windows out with a sledge-hammer whilst I hid in the kitchen. Where I discovered why it is that the traditional French country house-wife is depicted as a small, bent, rather frail looking little old lady: you would be too if you were preparing three cooked meals a day for ten people.

We took Cato up with us, not really wanting to leave him shut up in the apartment for a week - which meant that our trip was punctuated by cries of “Pipi! Pipi!” from Malyon, and blood-curdling yowls from the cat. He really enjoyed it once we got there, though: spent the first day running around like a mad thing and, as a result, was too exhausted to move the day after. (The very first night Marie got all upset, thinking he’d run off: she’d looked all over the place and couldn’t see him, so we spent ages traipsing up and down the main - and only - street of PesseliIre looking for him before we hardheartedly decided to give up and go to bed. At which point Marie found him sleeping on her bed, which just goes to show.)

Anyway, you probably get the picture: we spent a week eating and drinking too much before heading back home to relax for a while. (We nearly left early, as it happens: Marie didn’t think that the TV at Pesselière could pick up la Cinq, so we thought of rushing home on Friday to catch “Twin Peaks” that night. Fortunately Phillippe twiddled the aerial sufficiently that we didn’t have to take such drastic steps.) Which sort of reminds me that, it being summer, they’ve started screening “The Avengers” again, but in VO this time (ie in English, with French sub-titles) at the ridiculous hour of 10:30 in the morning, during the week. That’s bad enough: worse is that, starting tomorrow, “Monty Python” takes over, and where am I? At work, that’s where. I hope to pick up a cable tonight that’ll hook up the camescope and the TV to allow us to use it as a VTR.

And that’s pretty much it for now: I’ll see if I can’t print this off before getting back to another round or two of solitaire. Bye!

Trevor, Margo and Malyon

Friday, May 17, 1991

French Gazette Vol. 5 N°. 2 8 Avril 1991

Back again, folks.

Well, we were so inspired at the sight of our nicely redone bathroom (holes bogged up, more tiles stuck in, repainted) that we went out and repainted our kitchen to go with it. It now looks awfully Mediterranean - not that there are clots of sewage floating about, and the topless sunbathers are mostly notable by their absence - but it has the walls in a slightly agressive sky blue and the roof in ultraviolent white, which is a bit of a change from the government-surplus shade of “Muddy Cream” it was before. (To be totally fair, some of that was due to the walls not having been washed for a goodly number of years: the original designer “Ivory Cack” had been overlaid by what people in the art trade call a “patina” but which most of the rest of us over here are inclined to call “crud”.) Anyway, we’re now trying to get used to living with the municipal swimming baths.

Things got pretty difficult over here during the Gulf crisis: so much so, in fact, that even vital supplies of imported music were interrupted for some time. Which left us in the unenviable situation of sitting down one night to watch “Les Nuls” and discovering that their “musical” guest artist that night was Boy George. I’d thought he was dead! (I’d hoped, anyway.) But there he was, surrounded by a pack of rather anaemic-looking Buddhists (for so I assume them to have been, although if it hadn’t been for the flowing yellow robes you could have mistaken them for a flock of vegetarian Mormons) chanting about love, peace, living in harmony and the primal path toward reconciliation of the atman with universal oneness. I think.

Anyway, just at the moment the weather’s fine and all the dinky wee spring vegetables are popping their heads out for the slaughter - asparagus, strawberries, all that lot. And right now Margo can’t profit from it, ‘cos she decided to come down with the dreaded lurgy yesterday. Seems there’s not really an awful lot of it about, so she did very well to catch it.

And now for a (mostly) true story, a snippet from the “Faits Divers” column in one of the papers: “Man Injured by Photocopier”. You may well ask how this came about: your average photocopier is a pretty placid sort of beast and, apart from the occasional one which goes rogue and starts nipping the secretary on the ankles as she passes, or eating every second copy, have an excellent - you could almost say dull - safety record. As it turns out, in this case the poor thing was provoked: for reasons best known to himself the man involved wanted a photocopy of his bum. (As far as I am aware there are no branches of the French administration which currently demand such a document, but there may well be a Ministry in Charge of Haemorrhoids somewhere which does. Best perhaps not to ask.) He removed his trousers, therefore, sat on the glass, and was about to stick his one-franc piece into the slot and press the button when he fell through the glass, causing lacerations to his nether parts and leaving bloodstains on what are technically known as the “guts” of the photocopier, the removal of which required the intervention of a specialist from Xerox. A rather sad story, particularly as (so it turned out) the contrast was maladjusted and the required photocopy was unusable.


And, as usual, we’ve fallen a bit behind, so here I am, trying like mad to rectify this situation. Last time I wrote I was boasting about the good weather: you can hear the sound of syllables being munched as I eat my words. Things took a distinct turn for the worse a week or so back, temperatures dropped back into the horrid ones which have a minus sign in front of them, and we’ve even had more snow. In fact, we’re having some now - admittedly more slush than snow down this low. The end result is that (it is claimed) about 90% of the Champagne vineyards have been frost-damaged, the Touraine has been wiped out for the year, altogether ‘91 may be an expensive vintage. On the other hand ... I’m always inclined to take these claims of sudden poverty with a largeish pinch of salt, especially so when you know that the winegrowers are really looking for another government handout disguised as “disaster relief”. We’ll see, anyway. (PS: scepticism is advised. The vines are already putting out new buds.)

Headed off to Grenoble on the advice of one of the secretaries and managed to find the Toys’R’Us shop, which is really good value even if you do have to wade through piles of Mutant Ninja Turtle Dressing-Up Kits and the Complete Barbie Omnibus Wardrobe, which comes with its own DIY bankruptcy declaration for Dad to sign at the checkout counter. Margo found some stuff she was looking for, I finally managed to get my hands on some Japanese acrylic model paints (sure beats cleaning out the air-brush with white spirits, and it dries in 20 minutes) and Malyon would, if she could, have happily gone off with a 2500F Ferrari kiddy-car (none of this pedal-pushing stuff either - the things are motorised). Then the next day we went to the annual spring-time second-hand fair at Chambery (which is sort of a garage sale spread out over the city centre) so that Margo could look at getting stuff for the school. I was sorely tempted by the remnants of an ancient rocking-horse, but what with the price the chap was asking for the bits (the body, two legs and its head, all in pretty bad nick) and the fact that he started off addressing me as “My poor sir, if only you knew the prices these things fetch, you can’t get the wood these days” I decided to forget about it.

More Lyonnais policemen have been arrested and charged with crimes ranging from simple assault (which isn’t really considered an offence by the police, especially if you’re in the Arab quarter of Lyon or Marseilles ... ) all the way up to grand fraud, larceny and extortion. It’s a funny thing, but surveys showing public confidence in the police forces don’t seem very popular in France. Not, at least, just at the moment.

Hands up all those who’ve been watching “Twin Peaks”? Noticed last night that La Cinq had started screening it, so we came in on the second episode. (Normally I don’t bother looking too hard at what’s scheduled on La Cinq: it’s the chain that does low-budget soft-core, Italo-Polish coproductions of “Conan the Inland Revenue Inspector”, cheap martial arts films and early Schwartzenegger. Bad.) So far so good, anyway: I gather that the second series flopped in the States, partly because they couldn’t decide who really killed Laura (artistic differences between screenwriter and director), partly because (it seems) they were so blatant about trying to milk as much money from it as possible, with the “Who Killed Laura” T-shirt, beer mug and probably suspender belt as well, that even an American audience noticed. The other bright spot on the TV landscape is that M6 seem to have acquired the entire “Star Trek” series and have started screening an episode each night. (The gloriously named Canal Jimmy - available on cable TV at Chambéry - has since started screening Monty Python. Pooey.)

Anyway, Margo’s on holiday at the moment (two glorious weeks of vacances scolaires, unfortunately ingloriously unpaid but that’s too bad) so next week we’ll profit from that to head up to Pesseliere for a few days If we sneak out of Arbin at about 4am on Saturday there should be sod-all traffic on the roads for the first few hours at least (which means that if we really want to we can take the autoroute up and go through Lyon, something I normally avoid like a rabid toad), and with a bit of luck Malyon will go back to sleep in the car and stay that way for a while, which gives us that many hours of trouble-free driving. The car’s out of its running-in period too, which is comforting: be able to travel at a reasonable rate of knots.

Then we’ve got a wedding to go to next month: Renaud and Sophie have decided (Sophie has decided, anyway) to finally get married, so at long last we’ll get to see how the French do such things. (From what I can gather from films, it’s much the same as the way we do it, but they tend to go in rather more for piano-accordions as the “musical” accompaniment.)


Sorry for dashing off like that without saying good-bye but never mind, we’ve made it back again. The idea of heading off early worked well in all but one respect: Malyon didn’t go back to sleep. But at least we made it through Lyon without problems, as planned (read “hoped”). Then we settled down into some serious lounging. Apart, that is, from going off cellar-visiting and winetasting on the Saturday afternoon and then doing an antique and second-hand fair “somewhere in the region of” Vezelay on the Sunday. I say “somewhere in the region of” ‘cos it was exactly that: according to the ads it was at Vezelay, when we asked there it was actually at St. Something, not far down that little road just there, when we finally got there we’d done a fair few kilometres and learnt a lot about the local geography. The prices were, as usual, exorbitant: I sometimes suspect that antique dealers are only let out of the asylum on weekends, especially when I see a corkscrew - identical to, apart from being a bit rustier than, the one at Pesselière, admittedly functional - with an asking price of FF200. I did come across one rather intriguing little curio, which I didn’t have time to look at closely: carved ivory, might have been a salt-cellar but I rather fancy its purpose was a little more intimate than that.

Can someone please explain to me, by the way, why it is that people with silly names seem curiously attracted to the world of cinema, where they get stuck up in the credits for all the world to see? Like, for instance, one David S. Hamburger, assistant executive director of “Silverado”. And, of course, the Brothers Broccoli. Or Quintin Radish, stunt-man. (Invented, that one. Sorry.) Whilst on the subject of silly names and things like that, something that really gets up my nose (or, sometimes, tickles my wotsit - fancy, that’s the word) is the way people seem willing to pay a small fortune to place an ad somewhere, but nothing at all to make sure that the ad itself is good or even literate. Noticed this a lot in BYTE, where Taiwanese computer companies pay the GNP of an African republic to get a full-page spread, which they fill with an ad translated (by a half-drunk Swahili-speaking Hungarian) into what could loosely be called English, and illustrated with a mug shot taken with someone’s Box Brownie and developed by Attila the Your-Photos-in-5-Minutes-Or-Else at the local dairy.

All of which leads us inexorably to the publicity handout produced (in 5 languages or so) by the Office de Tourisme of Beaune (of which more later), which advises the innocent English-speaking tourist (if this is not a contradiction in terms) to visit the Chateau of the Ducks of Burgundy. Gotta be worth taking a gander at.

Monday the 29th of April, a black day in the annals of music-lovers everywhere, the day (as it happens, and this is true) of the Annual World Reunion of Bagpipers. Held in Burgundy this year (obviously not too worried about the wine being turned), featuring instruments ranging from the ludicrously simple (ie two straws stuck into a pig’s bladder - what the pig thought of this is not recorded) to an affair which resembles a cross between a pipe organ, one of those machines that goes around putting new tarmac down, and a rather unfortunate road accident. No deaths were reported. The same day saw the signing of a treaty of eternal amity (or at least temporary peace) between France and New Zealand, the X’s being placed on the appropriate dotted lines (after having being vetted by Treasury officials) by Jimbo “Potatohead” Bolger and Michel Rocard, well-known Pretender to the Presidency. According to the French news services Rocard was both conciliatory (apologising - a bit - for blowing up a boat in Auckland harbour) and firm (insisting that France has the right to blow up bits of the Pacific - or boats - if it feels that way inclined), which makes him sound a bit like a blancmange.

Be that as it may, on Tuesday we decided to do some sightseeing, come what may. So we decided to go down to Clamecy, a charming town with Mediaeval bits and the added attraction of one J. (for Jacques) Potts, who makes pottery. (This too, is true. Promise.) Picked the wrong day, we decided, having been blown past the cathedral for the second time, not to mention being soaked to the skin (or at least, the underclothes). So we gave that one up as a bad job, and I decided to fill up the car and then head back to the house. Now generally speaking I do not fill the car at supermarkets, their having a somewhat clouded reputation in the purity-of-petrol department (small floaty bits, origins indeterminate, absence of) but having spent a good half-hour searching - in vain - for a petrol station I gave in. As luck would have it the supermarkets were still open, and weren’t too proud to serve me.

That night Malyon decided to try sleep-walking. I’ve no idea why, I know only that around midnight I looked around the bedroom and saw a white blob in the middle distance (or what passes for it when you’ve been asleep for a while and aren’t too sure if opening your eyes is a good thing, or even what eyes are for that matter) and said to myself “Hullo! There’s a towel hung over the back of that chair, or my name isn’t Norman Furtwangle.” At about that point I remembered that that is not in fact my name and, logic being one of my stronger points, concluded that in that case it probably wasn’t a towel at all. And I was right. It was in fact Malyon, who’d got out of bed (not too difficult, she was sleeping on a mattress on the floor), walked a few paces and then stood there, still holding Nounours (the French-speakers amongst you will realise that this means “Teddy bear”: a big raspberry to them ‘cos what she means by it is her fluffy portable rabbit) and still fast asleep.

Wednesday she decided to try suicide for a change. She managed to loop the curtain cord around her neck, and you should have seen the look on her face when she tried to walk forwards. Margo and I stopped laughing soon enough to be able to get to her before she turned too blue. We picked up some wine, too, as you might expect. Half-a-dozen bottles of Pinot Noir, aged in oak, from Ian’s favorite vigneron, Mr Maltoff, and ten litres of plonk from the same source, with which we amused ourselves by bottling it.

And on Thursday we headed back home. Having a bit of time in hand, and finding ourself in the region, we thought we’d take a quick detour to Beaune. So we hung a left on the D9wotsit, and found ourselves going though villages with names like Meursault, Volnay, Pommard, Puligny-Montrachet -you know, the wine-label ones. Eventually we got there: according to the Guide Michelin it’s worth the trip, but architecturally I found the bit we saw to be rather null and void - I’m perfectly willing to admit, however, that we only spent a few hours there and that perhaps not in the best of circumstances (Malyon having decided to go running on the admittedly picturesque but totally impractical cobblestones and, as a result, fallen and cassé sa gueule - which is one way of saying she fell flat on her face, with the attendant cuts and bruises) so why not go and look for yourselves? All that apart we had a rather nice meal with good wine (what else would you expect) and apart from a few problems getting out of the place (the local Town Planning department being ideologically opposed to road signs) rather enjoyed the visit.

Those of you who remember a bit of your geography will (or will not) recall that from Beaune, to get to Chambery and other points south, you go through Chalon-sur-Saône and then, if you want to, Macon. Macon has the air of being a town founded by camp followers: every second street seems to be named after a regiment. (Or, failing that, a squadron or, at the very least, a colonel.) For instance, Place du 4eme Bataillon de Choc. A nice name, and it intrigued me enough to ask around a bit: according to Renaud (who has, like every male French-thing who hasn’t been able to get out of it, done his military service and who should thus know) this group of elite troops are trained in the arts of disguise and free-form yodelling to the point where they’re able to hide behind almost anything and, at a given signal, leap out, shouting “Boo!” in unison, thus alarming the enemy (whence the name - the 4th Shock Battalion) and provoking one or two second thoughts as to the wisdom of his current course of action. (You expected perhaps a retreat? They’re good, but not that good.) They’ve never yet been proved in combat - even during the Gulf crisis they were held in reserve - but all of France sleeps the sounder for knowing that they’re there.

It was whilst musing on these and other points that I forgot to take the turning to Bourg-en-Bresse, which was rather silly of me. In fact it was even sillier to have gone through Macon in the first place, I could have turned directly toward Bourg at Tournus and avoided Macon and cut a few kilometres off the trip, but there you are, I forgot. In any case, we promptly dived off the N6 (which was bent on taking us to Lyon, where we emphatically did not want to go) and into the complex system of routes departmentales, communales and - ugh - forestières which makes navigation in the French countryside such an interesting affair. We managed to escape, pretty much as planned, at Amberieu, from whence it’s a doddle to get down to the autoroute and home. Although should you ever decide to do it, follow the signposts toward Grenoble, rather than Chambery, unless you’re a dedicated amateur of the pictureskew. No matter which you take, you’re probably doomed to spend half your time behind a Belgian furniture removal van, following a Danish septic-tank cleaner who, himself, is following an extended Dutch family who, with friends and relations, are taking fifteen or so caravans on what feels like a walking tour of France. Don’t bother overtaking: a) you can’t, b) there’s no point ‘cos two kilometres further up the road you’re going to bump into the same situation, just lie back and enjoy the scenery.

Somewhat later ... it’s next week now, which is rather nice because it’s a two-day week: Wednesday and Thursday being holidays (Armistice 1945 and Ascension, or something along those lines) we get Friday off as well which is all remarkably nice. So we’ve a lovely long weekend which we plan to pass at St Jean d’Arvey, as Steve rang up last night to see if we could house-sit for them while they’re away on holiday in Spain. It was then that he sprung a small surprise on us: not only have they two floppy and rather cretinous dogs (which we knew about) but also two doubtless equally cretinous lambs (about which we were not totally in the dark) and several chickens (which came as news to me, at least). So we’re going to play at being farmers (in the broadest possible sense) for a while.


Been there, done that. You really all ought to try it some time: nothing like getting up at the crack of dawn to take a pair of half-witted Labradors for a good hour-long walk up a mountain. It’s even better when it rains. Not only because you then get rained on (and rain is wet), but also because Allie and Pip, who together can just about muster up the intellectual capacity of a cockroach, take it as a heaven-sent opportunity to roll in the mud and then leap all over you. Then there’s the question of the chickens, whom I suspect of developing psychopathic tendencies. Malyon loved it anyway: dogs to stroke, chickens to chase and sheep to try and feed. Only one sheep now, ‘cos the other one got savaged by a dog the day we checked out and had to be put down: rather upsetting for Steve (and, of course, for the sheep). Sunday we’re going round for lunch: roast lamb’s on the menu.

The more clued-up amongst you will have realised that Michel Rocard has just resigned to pursue other interests (ie, the Presidency, next time it’s up for grabs) and the rumour-mongers would have it (with, to all appearances, some reason) that he didn’t fall, he wuz pushed. By Mitterand, no less. Suitable recompense, no doubt, for signing a treaty of everlasting friendship and cooperation with the perfidious Kiwis. The news here is full of it, even down to the usual in-depth analysis (we don’t seem to be able to escape it) of the President’s speech (only 5 minutes, 31 seconds this time - yes, they really did time it) announcing the resignation and the appointment of Edith Cresson. Be that as it may, France has stolen a march on New Zealand by appointing their first ever female Prime Minister: rather a back-handed compliment to Margaret Thatcher on Mitterand’s part, really. Roll over, Jimbo: Ruth Richardson wants your seat!

Anyway, tonight Margo has gone off with Sue to see some modern ballet at Chambery: next week I go off to see “Measure for Measure”, in French, directed by the rather Germanic Peter Zadek. We’ll see whether I manage to understand what’s going on. Other news: we’ve decided to buy a camescope. Rather than pick one up in France (where, in the usual attempt to protect state industries, ie Thompson, from the indignities of competition with the perniciously efficient - and quality-obsessed - Japanese, the absolute minimum price you can pay is about $2000) Margo’s parents have promised to get one in NZ, from whence it’ll be express-delivered by Ian and Marie when they come over in July. Which I suppose means that we can’t really avoid going up to Pesselière again, ‘cos they’re unlikely to come all the way down here. So eventually those of you who haven’t managed to make it over here might get to see where we live.

OK, tomorrow we’re off to Grenoble again to see an exhibition of Celtic artifacts at one of the museums and try to pick up a wedding present for Renaud and Sophie, but just at the moment I’m listening to a CD of odds and sods by Jethro Tull from the past 20 years, so I’ll sign off here. If anything really fascinating crops up in the next few days I’ll let you know: otherwise, it’s ciao for now from us all -

Trevor, Margo and Malyon

Thursday, March 21, 1991

French Gazette Vol. 5 No. 1 17 Janvier 1991

Hello, and officially welcome to a new year and a new edition.

One of our readers has written in to complain that New Zealand TV is so bad it gives her cat boils. I don’t know whether what we get is actually worse - we haven’t got a cat here - but I can tell you it’s pretty bad. F’rinstance ... as you probably know, unless you’re currently living on another planet, we’re in the middle of the Gulf crisis at the moment, and so last night the head of state and the chief of the armies (both perhaps better known as Francois Mitterand) spoke to the nation: a speech which began, as always, with “Frenchwomen, Frenchmen, everybody ...“ and ended up with “Vive la France!”.

Then they started on the in-depth analysis. “Well, we’ve just heard the speech of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, a speech which lasted for 7 minutes and 15 seconds, something of a record if you recall that the longest prior address to the nation (Tuesday, August 3rd, during the Algerian crisis) lasted only 5 minutes and 37 seconds. Addressing his speech to the entire nation, male and female alike, the President’s closing words were ‘Vive la France!’, rather a trademark, and now it’s over to Boris for detailed parsing of the sentence structure, then our guest Françoise Sagan will have some commentary on the use of feminist imagery. Boris

I swear that I am making very little of this up.

Anyway, current affairs in the Gulf are attracting quite a lot of attention here just at the moment - there’s a war on, you know. Some people know it all too well and have gone out to stock up, which means, in practical terms, that if you try to buy sugar, pasta, rice or oil in the supermarkets you’re likely to be stiff out of luck. The shops must be laughing all the way to the bank - in fact, we know they are, ‘cos they interviewed the head of one of the big chains, an interview in which he said that he couldn’t understand it, France was self-sufficient in all these things and anyway the supermarket chains themselves have 6-months-worth of stock on hand, but if people really wanted to spend money he could think of worse places to do it than in one of his stores. (Personally, I think people are rushing out to buy oil because they think there’ll be a shortage if the Saudi oil fields are damaged and, being more than a few shillings short of a pound, haven’t yet worked out that the olive oil they’re buying is not quite the same as the crude that comes out of the ground.)

The only reason I’m doing this today, it being a Thursday, after all, is that I’ve just finished typing up Margo’s CV in French so that she’ll have it for her job interview tomorrow. Didn’t mention that, did I? She actually had one in December too, up at Annecy: picked a day when it was actively snowing to drive up, the car started playing up, she got soaked (snow is wet) and when she got there they said sorry, we were actually looking for someone completely bi-lingual, forgot to mention that on the phone. Be that as it may, she’s got an interview with a language school at Chambery in the morning, so we’ll see how that goes.

Did you have a nice New Year’s Eve? We did. Spent it with Steve and Isabel and their friends and assorted children, eating snails and lamb and cheese and assorted desserts, drinking too much and staying up till all sorts of ungodly hours. They’d already had quite an exciting day, as little Rémi came in and said “Maman, wotsit’s coughing a bit, please come and look” and it was all true possums, wotsit (about the same age as Rémi ie 3 or in that vicinity) was indeed coughing and it was because he was turning blue and strangling, due to the tinsel from the Xmas tree that Rémi had thoughtfully arranged round his neck. Delightful things, children are. Anyway, we all made it home safely, even Raewyn (not at all a sure bet, it being the first time she’d been exposed to snails and hordes of screaming French kids).

Raewyn, for those of you who don’t remember/don’t care, was Margo’s bridesmaid, and she thought - having got over the shock by now - that she might pop in to visit. Which she did. Weather was particularly foul, but we decided that she had to see a bit of the countryside anyway, so we dragged her off to see Chambery in the rain, then to Grenoble (it rained) and finally to Annecy where (you’re beginning to get the idea) it poured down. Then she toddled down to Italy for a few days just as the nasty depression which had been hanging over France causing all the rotten weather decided to get off its chuff and slouch down to southern parts - result rain in Italy and fine weather here. She did have one nice day with us: we profited from the occasion to go up to La Feclaz and get some skiing in. Bit icy, but beautiful weather. And, to top it off, they only have chairlifts there, with no trace of the horrid Pomas, so I didn’t fall over!

She treated us out to dinner at Les 5 Voutes, by the way, and anyone else who wants to is welcome to do the same. The decor is best described as “over-stuffed English armchair”, silver service, grande cuisine. Well worth a visit if ever you’re in the neighbourhood, just mention my name and, they’ll put 10% on.


Doesn’t time fly? Next weekend we’re off to England for ten days to see Cousin Julia get married, so I thought I’d better get my act together somewhat. Someone gave us the name of a travel agency that had cheap flights: to wit, FF 650 for the round trip Paris-Gatwick (fortuitously enough, Gatwick is where we actually want to get to), and as Raewyn kindly left her unexpired Eurail pass with us and Frog travels free anyway that leaves only me who has to actually ~ to get up to Paris, and we can profit from the occasion to stay with the Vivions (these being Marie’s parents) for a few days on the return leg and with a bit of luck I’ll actually get around to going to look at the Musée d’Orsay (modern art up to 1920 or thereabouts, supposed to be very good and a place I’ve always wanted to go and look at but somehow have never quite found the time). Here’s hoping they haven’t decided to close the museums for fear of bomb attacks.

Speaking of which, I must remember to check, when I go in to pick up our plane tickets, if we’ll be allowed to carry a camera with us. If we were flying on a German carrier I wouldn’t bother to ask (along with hair-dryers and microwave ovens, I rather think they’re banned), but as it’s British (Air Europe, actually) I’ll give it a whirl just on the offchancc.

I spent an interesting Friday night with the Association des Amis d’Arbin, a group of which I am, due to a moment’s inconsideration, a paid-up member. (Actually, it came about ‘cos they sent out two issues of a sort of newsletter/bulletin, rather better-produced than most and containing some rather interesting stuff on the history of the village, and enclosed with the second was a subscription form which - in a weak moment - I signed.) Anyway, it was the AGM Friday night, so along I bravely trotted (to find myself - to my not inconsiderable surprise - the only New Zealander in the room). General business out of the way, it was time for a slide-show (the French are very keen on these) on - guess what - the local history. It really was interesting stuff: seems that the place used to be the favoured suburb of the local Roman aristos and then (somewhat later, of course) of the Cistercian monks. Wasn’t until the Revolution that the parvenu Montmelianais got ahead of us. It actually inspired me enough to go out for a walk with Malyon and the camera today, looking for picture-skew bits.

Which I thought was extremely brave, seeing as we spent last evening (well, until early this morning in fact) at Steve and Isabel’s, indulging in a raclette with them and some friends. Malyon had a lovely time playing with Rémi, we had a great time eating, drinking and talking: very nice. We had a - I suppose “wide-ranging” is the word for it - discussion, starting out with the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy for some, Completely Absurd Policy for others, depends on what you think about wine lakes and butter mountains. Latest idiocy: the European taxpayer - me included - is paying the Russians to buy Euro-butter before it goes off in the cool-stores and, at the same time, seem likely to be asked to pay more to small Euro-family-farmers as minimum price supports [anyone in NZ remember SMPs?]) going through the right to vote (Michel thought it normal that, as a taxpayer, I have no right to vote in France but found it a denial of my fundamental human rights the fact that I cannot vote in NZ) to nappies (one of the reason that cloth nappies are not used in France is, it seems, the time taken in washing and then ironing them).
Seven degrees below zero is what the smart money is betting on for tomorrow morning, rising to a high of zero during the afternoon. I hope you all feel suitably smug. Personally, I already feel cold.

Somewhat later ... not only has it been cold, but it’s been snowing: in Nice, of all places. Doesn’t do a lot for the reputation of the Côte d’Azur (but then, neither has the affair of Jacques Medicin, ex-mayor of Nice, currently in hiding somewhere in South America and in possession of certain sums which, strictly speaking, do not belong to him). And Margo has a job. A bi-lingual kindergarten, with whom she’d earlier left a copy of her CV, called her up to go in for a job interview, so off we toddled in the driving snow (always seems to snow when she has interviews) and later that day they called back to say that she had the job if she wanted it. It’s part-time (which is good) and badly paid (which isn’t so hot) but never mind, it’s a good start: she should also qualify now for part-time work at the University, which is much better paid. Anyway, we’ll see. Must dash, got luggage to pack and a train to catch.


Here we are, back again. We got up to Paris with no problems, found Philippe waiting to take us in hand on the platform at Gare de Lyon, spent the night with the Vivions and then flew off to Gatwick (after leaving at a ridiculously early hour so as to get to Roissy about two hours before takeoff). We left Paris in the snow and arrived to find London in the same state, which gave British Rail a marvellous new opportunity to look ridiculous. They didn’t squander it: they claimed that the reason two-thirds of scheduled train services weren’t running was not that it was snowing: the problem was that it was the wrong sort of snow. They weren’t expecting the stuff to fall from the sky, or something like that.

Fortunately, we weren’t relying on BR to get us to the church on time. It was an interesting wedding: English-style vegetables and Turkish dancing afterwards. The only hitch came at the end when, in time-honored fashion, everyone stood in the slush outside for the ceremony of Hurling the Bridal Bouquet. Now Julia is a big girl (used to play rugby for Wales, I believe), strong, but apparently lacking a strong sense of direction: she hiffed the thing onto the hotel roof, from which the biggest, hairiest male of the party later retrieved it.

Monday the IRA decided, as you probably heard, to liven up the London scene by blowing up a couple of tube stations. As train services (those that weren’t cancelled anyway due to snow) were promptly stopped, this led to the horrid possibility of Uncle David’s being stuck in London and thus unable to pay for the swish dinner arranged for that night - a possibility happily unrealised. (It really was an excellent meal, I must say.) Another disturbing event came to our notice that day: we learnt of an Air Europe pilot who had to be summarily removed from the plane just before takeoff on the grounds that he was rather under the affluence of incahol and not really in the best of states to deliver a planeload of people to Paris. Disconcerting.

And now for an humanitarian appeal: please run - do not walk - to your desks and write to the American ambassador to protest US brutality to the English language. The other day we were privileged to hear a briefing from an American military spokesman, reporting that Iraqi troops gave in. What he actually said was “As a follow-up to the on-going offensive situation, EPWs (that’s “Enemy Prisoners of War” to those unused to YankSpeak) went into surrender mode”. War really is hell, isn’t it?

On a happier note, we got back into Paris on the 20th with nary a problem (plane didn’t wobble excessively, all the hostesses appeared able to walk a reasonably straight line ...) apart from the suitcase, which had developed a definite list to port (eaten too many tins of golden syrup), and the gall of Parisian taxi-drivers (who wanted 250FF to take us from Roissy to one of the northern suburbs. Took the train instead.). Got a few bits and pieces done while we were there: off to the NZ Embassy for a start. (Ours is, by the way, one of the few embassies which is not protected by gun-toting Neanderthal paranoids from the CRS: goes to show how high up we rate on the diplomatic scale, I suppose - although I must admit that we’re a bit in the low-rent district as such things go. So much so that whereas other embassies have lines of Mercedes and BMWs with CD plates outside, we have an old 2CV parked next to the ambassadorial Mk II Zephyr - means you don’t get the hub-caps lifted as often.)

Went off to Brentanos again to stock up on a few books and then, taking Philippe’s copy of “Paris Pas Cher” (“Paris for Cheapskates”) firmly in paw, in search of a reasonably priced pair of jeans. (Should the bottom fall out of your last pair whilst in Paris, try Jeans Stany, Bvd Magenta.) And we finally got to the Musée d’Orsay. Heaps of Rodins around the place, Impressionists by the bucketful, an excellent section on French and Belgian Art Nouveau. And a fascinating model (well, it fascinated Malyon and I, anyway) at 1/100 scale or something, of the Opera district, set in a glassed-over pit in the floor so that you can walk (or crawl) over it. We weren’t actually sure that we’d bother to go in when we got there, as the queue stretched about 400 yards, ‘cos they were passing everyone through the metal-detector: they must pay the guards on a per-head basis, though, as it moved quite quickly. Definitely worth a look: don’t miss one of the grand salons from the hotel (originally part of the Gare d’Orsay) which they’ve preserved in all its turn-of-the-century opulent bad taste. So gaudy it’s glorious, dripping with crystal chandeliers, oozing gilt and plush.

Malyon got on well with the Vivions despite being - to all appearances - a confirmed dipsomaniac. At least, every time we had an aperitif (and this was quite often - before every meal except breakfast), she’d make a bee-line for the glasses. Port, pastis, all one to her. When she’d finished amusing herself with that, she’d start grabbing handfuls of Apericubes (which, for those who’ve never come across La Vache Qui Rit, are little flavoured cubes of processed cheese) and give them out to all and sundry before reclaiming them. Then she’d head back for the liquor again. Endless fun, she’d do it for hours given half a chance.

Finally, we made it home on the 24th. The TGV was stuffed to the gunwales with Parisians coming down here to ski and on top of that it was hot: never mind, we made it anyway.


Since which report Margo has undergone her first week’s work. So far so good, might get better (like, she might start getting a petrol allowance, which’d be nice). It’s an interesting job anyway, I suppose (moulding the tiny minds of infants, or the other way round, I can never remember) andd the school could well develop and expand. As far as I can gather, it doesn’t really serve the English-speaking community of Chambdey (which is surprisingly extensive: Margo said that the chap who installed the cable TV line at the school was an Irishman), but rather the French: either they want their child to learn English (fear of 1992 and all that, plus Europeans in general seem to be keener on having a second language than the somewhat insular English) or they’ve noted that the fees are not hideously higher than those of yer normal kindergarten and they plonk the sprog in there ‘cos the local halte garderie is booked solid for the next few years Which rather puts them in the invidious position of having some parents who don’t particularly care about the educational side and some (who do) worrying that yes, their little blossoms may start learning English but will they get far enough ahead in the rest of the French educational system to be assured of a place in the lycée? (Which is what counts.)

In any case, she now has the car and I get dropped off at work in the mornings. Although this week things could be tricky because the Alfa goes in to have her engine completely re-done on Monday. (Shouldn’t really be any problem, they’ll lend us a car for the few days it takes - I rather doubt it’ll be the 1991-model Zagato they had in the workshop when I went in, though, which is a shame. Only 400,000FF, brand new.) Malyon spends her mornings with a friend at Chambery and seems to enjoy it, Margo gets out of the house, away from Malyon and has something to occupy her, no problems so far.


As it happens I was right, it wasn’t the Zagato: it was a beaten-up Austin Maestro with a poorly regulated automatic choke, a rear-view mirror which spent most of its time on the floor, no insurance or registration and a very thirsty engine, but it got us about for the week. Now we’ve got the Alfa back all right, but we’ve got to run it in again: no going over 3000 rpm for the next 1500 km. Which means that our effective top speed is about 100 kph, which leads to the embarrassing situation of being overtaken by Renault 4s and other little piles of tin. Never mind.

We headed up to Annecy last weekend to stock up on wine: the food and drink show rolled round again. Half a dozen bottles of Rioja from the Spanish stand and another case of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. A pleasant little outing, and Malyon seemed to enjoy herself. The big news, though, is that the painter starts work on the water damage to the flat tomorrow! (Remember hearing about that, do you?) Difficult to believe, and I’d sort of got used to the flakes of paint dropping on my head in the shower: I’m going to miss them.

Anyway, the daffodils are bobbing their heads about (or should be - ours are rather slack, they flowered once two years ago and although they pop up religiously in around this time of year we’ve had no flowers off them since) and the trees are in leaf, small furry animals perform unspeakable beastly acts every night (to judge by the squeakings and snufflings), with luck you might even surprise a fugitive smile running for cover across a gendarme’s face, up and under the képi: it’s Spring, innit? And a happy Autumn to all and sundry, but I plan on printing this off and then heading for home. Bye.

Trevor, Margo and Malyon