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.