Sunday, July 13, 2008

My Personal Battle with Francophobia

OK, so I'm biased. I'm a bit of a Francophile. For all her faults ,France is a bit like an elderly relative - prickly, impoverished( but in denial,) and definitely living in the past, but ancient aunts can be strangely lovable. And when some little ill-informed twit comes along and criticises her it really annoys me. If there's going to be any criticism I will be the one doing it.

Today's' Sunday 'Wail' really got me going. " British motorists face £100 fine for failing to wear fluorescent vests when driving in France".

What? Of course you don't have to wear a flourescent vest while driving ! You put the bloody thing on if you breakdown, for God's sake!

It's at times like this I wonder why on earth I bother to read British newspapers online. And as for buying one at the grossly inflated price that they're on sale for in French newsagents - forget it. I can buy a bottle of wine for less than that and get a good deal more satisfaction from it.

So. back to the article. What a load of Europhobic, badly researched journalism!

This quite acceptable law came in on July 1st, having been enforced in Spain for 2 years already. It's now law to carry a fluorescent vest together with a red triangle (which has been a legal requirement since God-knows-how-long). It's been widely discussed on ex-pat forums, and advertised on French telly for months. And I'm quite sure it's all out there in the UK via the AA or travel insurance where's the problem ?

Fluorescent vests are as cheap as chips (unless you're going to get Stella McCartney or Donatella Versace to design one for you) Go down to Halfords, or even cheaper probably, a garage forecourt, invest a couple of quid in a polyurethane vest in day-glo yellow and if you do have a breakdown and you happen to be on the Autoroute de Sud in driving rain you stand a chance of being seen by that artic that is thundering along a couple of yards from the hard shoulder that you're parked on. The law only requires you to have one per vehicle at the moment (as far as I understand it - but the jury appears to be out on that bit.)

The best way to avoid being stopped by 'le flic' is to display the vest in a prominent position in the car... hanging it from the back of the driver's seat seems to be the most popular choice . After all that's where it needs to be if you do have an accident or a breakdown. Not in the boot where you may have to risk life and limb to access it. If the gendarmes can see it, they're less likely to pull you over. I mean...we all know what that means (in any country). Full check of all your documents and maybe a look in the boot, a keen look at the tyre treads, and and a good deal of teeth sucking before they eventually wave you off. So unless you actually enjoy a bit of a run-in with the traffic police. and find it adds to the holiday excitement, buy a vest, keep it in the car and above all ,drive as if every other driver is a lunatic. Remember, France holds the dubious honour of being rated as having the worst drivers in Europe.

As long as you bear that in mind that lovely, stubbornly cantankerous old auntie can still provide you with a great holiday.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Pets Gallery

Just Lazin' Around

Sheba & Friend

Well, in Sheba's opinion more like an alien invader. She reluctantly shares her bed with a feline refugee, one of 3 kittens we found abandoned in a cardboard box whilst out walking. They were 'adopted' on the understanding they lived in the barn and kept the mice at bay. Unfortunately they didn't keep their side of the bargain, wormed their way into the house and took over. Sheba was not amused.

Rooney the Loony

In his best 'pharaoh dog' pose he looks as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. It does, as has been proved when he nicks a packet from the work top.

The End of an Era

Adieu Sheba

For the first time for decades I have a hair, dust and pet-free house. Our lazy, dimwitted, eating-machine, other wise known to us all as Sheba, our ancient labrador has finally lost the battle with mortallity. Thus ended a long family history of labrador owning stretching back nearly 40 years.

I began to think she would out-live us all . She survived a change of country, three removals and three cats with her usual mixture of stoicism and resignation, and outlived her far more active brother.

One never knew exactly what was going on in her head, except that five o'clock in the evening was the highlight of her day. The hour at which the refrigerator door miraculously opened and her food bowl was transferred from floor to work-top. In the last few years she'd become very deaf and her eyesight was deteriorating but she never missed the sound of a tin opener attacking a tin of dogfood, or the the rattle of a dog lead which preceded an afternoon ramble.

She never was a happy car traveller. I can remember one nightmare journey when she was only a few months old. One of my daughters was desperate for us to bring Sheba when we picked her up from boarding school for half term. Her friends had all heard about Sheba-the-wonder-dog but apart from a photo which was displayed on her bedside locker no one had seen the actual animal. I should have been stronger. Instead I gave in, and lost count of the number of times we had to stop to clean out the car. Having disposed of her own body weight in waste matter on the outward journey, she whimpered piteously all the way home.Who had ever heard of a labrador that didn't like cars? With typically female perverseness, years later she calmly accompanied us to our new life in France, enduring a 700 mile journey crammed into the back of the car alongside all the extra junk we couldn't get into the removal van. And all accomplished without so much as a hiccup. There was a fair amount of flatulence around though!

She wasn't too keen on retrieving either. Throw her a stick and she might consent to run after it. Might even, on a good day, bring it halfway back, but after that it was : 'Oh, forget it ! Who wants to play that boring game anyway?' It has to be said, as a working dog she was a bit of a non-event.

But we miss her presence around the place, particularly when we come in after having gone shopping. She was always at the door, tail wagging, happy to see us back. We are giving ourselves a break from pets for a while. They are a comforting addition to the household, someone to enjoy a walk with, a ever -listening ear when you've had a bad day, but it has to be admitted they are a responsibility(or should be) and as such they are a tie. So regretfully we'll be dog-less for the immediate future, but it means we can take off on a whim without having to find holiday accommodation that accepts pets , and we can return to the UK without the hassle of pet passports, or forking out for boarding kennels.

Our links with labradors are still in place, however, as my aforementioned daughter has had her lab, Archie, for five years, and he has now been joined by a friend. Rooney(yes it is a 'chav' name but he was already saddled with it) was dumped outside a local vets with a front leg so badly mangled that it had to be amputated. A coursing dog with three legs is no use to anyone so poor old Rooney languished in a boarding kennels acting as an overspill for the RSPCA until the owner, who was a friend of my daughter's, recognised in her a sucker when it came to lame dogs(literally!) So Rooney landed on his three legs and is now housed in a new family, has a half share in a second hand settee and a brand new pal. And a beautiful dog he is too. Trouble is he knows it !

After such a bad start in life (he was probably less than a year old at the time) he is remarkably well behaved. Apart from his habit of self -service eating. Archie, like most labs. was an easy dog to train and despite having the legendary hoover-like appetite he has never pinched anything off work surfaces. Not so Rooney. With his long neck and body any edible article left on a kitchen worktop is almost certain to finish up in his stomach. Daughter came home from work the other day to find a box of eggs, un-opened, and miraculously un-broken nestling cosily in his bed. Maybe he had hopes of hatching them out.