Sunday, April 9, 2000

09/04/00 Spring's Sprung

Spring is officially here - since the 21st or something, the French reckon the seasons based on the equinox or whatever the thing is. Sometime around the ides of March, anyway. And last weekend we slipped into summer time (or daylight saving, to be more accurate) without really noticing - whatever your clocks were set to, we were late up.

While the garden is still in an untamed state now is probably its best time of year - the grass is green but not too long and the clumps of different varieties of daffodils are in flower, along with the primroses, the violets and, just lately, the bluebells. Be a shame to mow it all, but you can't stop progress. Or a maniac with a lawnmower, come to that.

Really have to replace the bridge across the stream, though. The creaky plank that went in over a year ago as a temporary measure is not really adequate. Discussed the matter with the neighbours from up the road, who share the access with us, and decided that we really need a decent bridge, not too heavy, on a solid concrete base each side of the stream. We have the wood, they have the concrete mixer and cement. (The Americans have the technology, but we'll muddle through without.) Almost laid the foundations there and then, actually, but Eric reckoned that it looked as though it might rain and that is apparently not good (how would I know?) so I went off and flew a kite with Jeremy instead.

And as it happens it DID rain, and in fact it snowed - again - not this low down, but not that far above us either. Most annoying because it's got all cold again, and I do not like that. And it's wet. And grey. And basically miserable. A typical European spring, really.

It may or may not have come to your attention that our esteemed PM, Lionel Jospin, has reshuffled the cabinet. Dominique Voynet, the Green minister for the environment (who was guilty either of doing a very bad job or of having a very bad spin doctor) is out, as are Sautter, DSK's successor in finance, and Allègre, in education. Sautter sinned in trying to reform the Finance Ministry without having either the political guile of DSK or Jospin's support at 100%: Allègre - unfortunately for him - told the truth once too often about the teachers' unions. At any other time they'd probably both have been kept on - everyone knows that the (rather modest) reforms they proposed are necessary - but the presidential elections are looming up and nothing must compromise Jospin's chances.

So Laurent Fabius (an ex PM under Mitterand, perhaps best-known in NZ as being PM at the time of Rainbow Warrior but got definitely sullied as far as the French are concerned when implicated - up to his neck - in the business of AIDS-contaminated blood transfusions) takes on finance and Jack Lang, a media-savvy intellectual featherweight, gets education (a match made in heaven). Given that Fabius is an old enemy of Jospin's, and that Lang is unpredictable and extremely ambitious, and that both are potential rivals, it's probably rather a clever move. Neither of the pair will actually do much harm - Fabius might actually do some good - and as Truman (I think) once said of Hoover, "better inside the tent pissing out than outside ..."

And Martine Aubry, daughter of Jacques Delor and architect of the 35-hour working-week in France, is standing for mayor of Lille. (Which is a rather grimy and exceedingly depressing industrial city in the north of France, been controlled by the Socialists for years and is consequently rather a black hole in whatever standard of quality of life you choose to apply.) Much to my surprise, she has declared that if elected, she will resign from her government post (reasonable, but unusual). If at all possible, I'd move to Lille and vote for her. It might be bad for Lille, but could only be good for France.

All of which reminds me of Renaud's disgust last Friday when he tried to ring a supplier on an urgent matter - possible replacement of a touch-screen - to be greeted by a charming taped message along the lines of "Due to current French legislation on the 35-hour working week, we now close at mid-day on Fridays. Thank you for calling, please try again Monday. We value your custom." Had to laugh, personally, but he didn't see the funny side of it. Sourpuss.

It's now Saturday, April 1, and Margo's closed up the shop. Last day yesterday, and a quick swoop in this morning to pick up various bits and tidy up some loose ends, but the key is now under the mat. Well, not quite, they still have to appear before the Tribunal de Commerce on Monday to make it official, but that's more or less a formality. Tomorrow I head off at some ungodly hour in the morning to pick up Neil Potter from Satolas airport before shoving him on a train to Montpellier - I am NOT looking forward to that, as I do like my weekly lie-in.

Sunday 9/4

That wasn't a very long addition, was it? Try to do better this time. Got Potter safely picked up on Sunday - almost didn't, mind you, as he'd neglected to send over his flight number and according to the arrivals board no flights were scheduled to come in at the time he'd specified. I spent a while wandering around Satolas before phoning Gill and getting the flight number from her, when I found that the flight had arrived, but not at 8:45, and that it dumped its cargo into one of the two downstairs arrival zones, when I was hunting around upstairs. On top of that they managed to lose his suitcase. Which was - give them credit where it's due - delivered to our doorstep that afternoon.

A bit too late, unfortunately, for him to take it with him to Montpellier. Luckily he was turning up back here on Tuesday (and duly did, late again - problem with the train this time) and so didn't have to re-kit himself.

The liquidation went according to plan and the court-appointed liquidator wants to speed up the disposal of assets as much as possible. Given that said assets are currently sitting in an uninsured shop with no alarm system in what the French euphemistically call a "quartier populaire", this is probably a good idea. On the other hand, we got registered letters yesterday from the bank: as we personally guaranteed the loans that the company took out, the bank now wants its money back. With any luck the insurance company will advance them that much - in any case it's all in the hands of the lawyer now, so I'm not going to lose any sleep over the matter.

Been income tax time again - probably why the sods went on strike. Ostensibly it was over Sautter's proposed reform of finally bundling the tax assessors in with the tax collectors: the current Byzantine system, whereby the Finance Ministry decides who owes what and the various local Public Treasuries are responsible for collecting it, dates back to Napoleonic days and was originally intended, I think, to combat corruption. This no longer being the problem it was, it seems logical to combine the two functions, but the civil servants swear blue that the public actually LIKE having to deal with two different services, in different buildings at opposite ends of the town. Anyway. Most people were probably cheering the strikers on, happy in the knowledge that it'd put off the evil day when they have to pay, but as I'm owed money I'd rather that my return got looked at ASAP. I suppose I really ought to sit down and calculate just how much they should be paying me, but at the moment I can't be bothered.

Yesterday was lovely and fine, so I finally gritted my teeth as firmly as possible and hauled the lawnmower out from its lurking-place in cellar n° 3. The grass was very lush and must have been up to 20 cm in places, so the poor little mower was labouring a bit and I had to go over twice, but it's now looking a bit more civilised down there. One of those faithful weekend chores has just come out of retirement, and for the next five or six months the buzz of the lawnmower will be loud in the land every Saturday. (And Sunday, in St Pierre. Everyone else mows their lawns on a Saturday, but I do it on Sunday morning 'cos that's when I have time and it's not too hot. It's probably against some municipal bylaw or other.) The leaves are out on the old apple tree, the plum trees have burst into flower and the lime tree has its first buds showing: there's just the acacias to get some leaves on them now.

Come to that, the wood strawberries have their first flowers out, which means that sometime in June I should be able to flop my head over the bank and fill my face with the little darlings.

All this foliage means that next weekend we should be able to napalm the brambles and the ex-vegetable garden with systemic herbicide, which will hopefully bio-degrade in time for us to look at planting in Autumn.

Anyway - I threw Neil out of the car onto the footpath at Satolas this morning, from whence he flies north to Amsterdam and thence south to Madrid. On a return ticket, of which he's using only only one leg. Why? Because it's significantly cheaper than a one-way ticket from Toulouse to Madrid. And why is that? Buggered if I know.

Anne-Laure (remember her? We brought her to NZ with us last time we came over) popped around this evening to give Jeremy a cuddle and talk over career choices with us. She's decided that teaching is perhaps not her real vocation and wants to switch to computer science, specialising in website design. What she'd like to do is a course in Pariswhich specialises in 3-D imaging - she hopes to get an interview in the next few weeks. While her parents are off on holiday in the Middle East. She just thought it'd be a good idea to run the idea by us once before letting Claude & Maryse in on it - preferably at the fait accompli stage. Feels funny, being considered old enough to be acceptable parent substitutes.

I still have work to do and the birds are going to start singing at some ungodly hour tomorrow, so I'll get this off now. Goodnight, all!

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