All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Friday, 25 March 2011

I shall say this only once! Legs eleven!

A sheet of bingo cards.Image via Wikipedia
I was living in France when, to the horror of everyone except supporters of the right wing Front National, the PS (so called socialist) candidate Lionel Jospin threw away his party's chances by not campaigning in the first round of the Presidential elections.

I remember the newspaper photographs....a jaunty Jospin in black overcoat and red scarf posing in front of his campaign headquarters, christened 'L'Atelier'...the workshop.
I can remember thinking that it would have been a long time since any of the PS politicians had seen a real workshop.....which might have been one factor accounting for the fact that many voters who were more nearly acquainted with them voted for the FN candidate, Monsieur Le Pen.

In the resulting run off between Chirac (candidate of the not quite so right wing party) and Le Pen, left wing voters felt themselves obliged to vote for the former, indicating their disgust at being so obliged by walking into polling stations holding their noses and, in one case, wearing a deep sea diver's suit and helmet.

Now we are in the build up to the 2012 presidential elections and this year's cantonals (local elections) are receiving a great deal more attention than usual, when they pass with a yawn only slightly smaller than the yawn that greets the elections for the European Parliament.
Because the Front National are doing rather well, under the leadership of Le Pen II - Marine, daughter of Le Pen I.
Dust off the diving suits, history could be repeating itself.

Not because the PS won't be contesting the first round of the Presidentials.....once the potential candidates have finished mauling and denigrating each other in the process of putting up the last man standing....but because people are just fed up.

All the mainstream parties are tarred with the same brush, their leaders seen as more interested in the spoils than in the welfare of the mass of the French people....

The UMP (ruling right wing party) have not only shot down their leader, Sarkozy, on discovering that he wanted to reform a system that had long reserved the good things of life for the very few to allow a very few more to get their hands on the dibs, but have also managed to shoot themselves in the foot with the same bullet, as having nothing to offer the voters but the discredited system they wish to preserve.
With such talent with a firearm, you feel they must all be dedicated members of la chasse.

One paper...I think Le Point...reports that levels of 'fed upness' are such that people are claiming that they will vote FN because they have been fined for allowing their dog to foul a public footpath!
Given all the wails in blogs about dog turds in Paris I imagine that the Front National stand to win handsomely in every Parisian  arrondissement if that's the case.

So it's not really the moment to alienate a large sector of the rural population....the members of the many and varied associations which adorn the pages of the local rags...the chess clubs, the old car clubs, the photography clubs, the sewing bees, the palets players, the ball trappers, the knitting circles, the local history groups...and  for all I know, pole dancing associations.
Membership of these groups alleviates the tedium of rural life, and 'la vie associative' is always hailed as one of the positive features of French why would someone want to undermine this institution?

Well, one taxman is trying to do so.
His motives are unknown to he a member of the FN anxious to make the gesture that might just tip the scales in his party's favour or is he just doing his job, obeying orders from Paris to rake in every last euro in order to pay for the the Prime Minister to take a private plane between Paris and his home in the Sarthe to avoid the hurly burly of an hour on the TGV?

What is this taxman doing?

These groups frequently support their activities by organising a bingo...a 'loto'. Some organise these themselves, but in the case currently in court, it is clear that some use the services of a bingo organiser...who has a few rounds for his own profit while he is at it.
The taxman claims that this breaks the law.
But if he wins, it won't only be the organiser that will be coughing will be any organisation holding a bingo session that will be in danger.

This is why.

A bingo..or any game of chance....can only escape tax if it is a session confined to a defined group.... and for social, cultural, educational, scientific or what is described as 'animation social' purposes.
Well, I reckon any rural bingo qualifies under any of those latter headings.
It is the defined circle bit that will cause problems.

A village bingo brings in the group organising it and their families, people who just happen to see the notice outside the mairie and the dedicated bingo addicts who will travel distances to take part.
How can this motley assembly ever be described as a 'defined circle'?

Still, as we all know, there is a great French tradition of resistance to oppression and I am sure that the local groups will be organising to meet the threat.

Undercover bingo.

Let us listen in on the secret planning group of the ball trappers.....probably by using the listening devices the gendarmerie have illegally placed on the premises under the pretence that the ball trappers are potential terrorists, on the lines of the Tarnac Nine.

Jules, have you organised the bingo cards?

Yes, no problem...I've printed them off on my son's computer....

And the notices?

Yes, those too....with instructions to bring a torch, a folding chair and a tray to write on.

Right, Didier....have you organised the distribution?

Yes....the postmen are taking them out with the letters the day before. They know which houses to avoid...
I'm meeting them round behind the church so the postmaster doesn't see anything.

What about the venue? Isn't it going to be a bit noticeable, all these people collecting? Suppose we are denounced?

That's exactly why we chose the field behind where the travelling still used to stand before they made it stay in one place.....there are all those lanes through the vines and at least three roads for access to the area...and we'll have sentries with mobile 'phones.

Yes, but getting all these people away safely will be a problem all the same if the gendarmerie make a raid...look at the job we have in the salle de fetes as it is....

Alfred's organising the parking in the fields behind the vines....and at least we won't have anyone trapped in the lavatory...I keep asking for that door to be fixed but they do nothing....They can find money to replace the secretary's typing chair but when it comes to something vital like a lavatory door.....

O.K. Clement....calm down....

Yes, you're right. Have to keep a clear head...
Look, Jean-Pierre, even if the worst comes to the worst and they catch some of us there won't be a problem.

What do you mean, 'won't be a problem'?

Well, I'll just tell them that we're having a rave party for the notaire's son.....and I should know, I'm his clerk.
You watch them slink away......

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Monday, 14 March 2011

Farewell, the animal....

Italy beat France 22 - 21 at the Stadio Flaminio on Saturday in the rugby union Six Nations tournament. They've been underdogs in the Six Nations so long that it is a real pleasure to see them win....especially after the dramatic improvements this season under the guidance of their South African coach.

And particularly nice to see them defeat the French, whose press has been very scathing of the Italian team's right to compete with the old Five Nations teams on performance grounds. (Only the Auld Alliance can explain why there was no mention of Scotland in this respect.)

The whole shebang started well, from the formalities onward....

The Italian national anthem is something else....full of references to the Austrian eagle losing its feathers, Scipio's helmet, and, to anyone brought up on the description of the Italian army as having sunburned armpits (thank you, father), the request made of the brothers of Italy as to the whereabouts of victory does tend to raise a smile.

Still, as it was originally a poem written in the period of Italian reunion and the fight against occupying powers one must expect a bit of floweriness and it makes a change from the Marseillaise, with foreign blood running in the furrows and that sad dirge 'Flower of Scotland'.

France dominated early, but fell to pieces in the second half as the brothers of Italy not only resisted but fought.....and found victory.
The French coach later accused his men of cowardice and incompetence and it's just as well that, unlike the armies of the early years of the French republic, he had not brought a travelling guillotine with him as a means of inducing fervour in the ranks as otherwise heads might have literally been rolling.

Which brings us to the animal.
Rugby Worldcup 2007.Image by abac077 via Flickr

No, not the fox that was loose at Twickenham for the Calcutta Cup match, but the real animal, the cave man,

Sebastien Chabal.

Not a pretty sight, it has to be said, but one which has reassured French rugby fans for years as the bearded, long haired figure came off the bench to spread mayhem among the opponents by the speed and aggression of his tackling.

I remember him tearing into England in the preliminary rounds of the 2007 World Cup, held in France, where the night skies around me in the depths of rural France resounded to raucous, triumphant renderings of the Marseillaise, foreign blood having been flowing well in the furrow on that occasion.

Even then his wind seemed to be going....he was finding it hard to get through a whole match...but when he came on, both team and crowd picked up their spirits....the cave man had arrived and the tide would turn for France.

While I am sure he is a model family man and probably, being a French professional sportsman, reads philosophy and writes poetry in what time he can spare between tearing carcasses apart and throwing tractors, it has to be said that I don't think I'd appreciate him galloping toward me like a human version of the juggernaut on the field of play....and a number of rugby union players have clearly been of the same opinion.
Thus his value to France.

But I think he lost his magic in that World Cup series of 2007.
First, France lost to England in the semi finals....and his shock and disbelief was palpable.
Night skies around me in rural France decidedly quiet.

Then Argentina beat France in the play off for third place...and showed the rugby world how to counter Chabal.
He had come off the bench, and the crowd roared its approval. His colleagues picked themselves up...their morale was boosted...the wonder worker was there.
Then Argentina made a substitution too....and onto the field trotted a mammoth, the personification of a brick shithouse. An ambulatory one.
Play restarted. Chabal had the ball and the brick shithouse went straight for him, picked him up as though he were featherlight and slammed him into the ground.
The brick shithouse was sent off.....but his purpose had been accomplished. Chabal was a spent force, unable to prevent his team going down to a mighty defeat.
I don't think he has ever been the same player since.

However, he has been a good servant to French rugby and it is sad to see him in the tumbril with the other five players dropped by the French coach for the last match in the tournament....and perhaps for good.

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Saturday, 12 March 2011

The French financial miracle.....

A 2 Euro coin (Vatican design)Image via Wikipedia
Or how to turn 26,700 Euros into 2,000,000 Euros in nine years, by completely legal methods.

It has to be said that this is not available to everyone.....but it would get the imprimatur of all those who believe in the French national preference (French come first, the rest get the leavings) as it has no tinge of what are disdainfully referred to as Anglo Saxon financial practices...which for me  conjures up visions of Grendel's mother emerging from the lake, briefcase in hand, followed by a troop of bankers in cross gartering and horned helmets, but then I'm not French and do not share the national cultural vision.

To activate this miracle, the person concerned has to be qualified to attract an investigation into their financial affairs by the French taxman.....a privilege not open to all, even in the land of  liberty, equality and fraternity.

It excludes the super rich...the ones who hand out the folding stuff in doggy bags to politicians who come to tea..
It excludes it would be regarded as indelicate to enquire into the origin of the contents of the doggy bags for fear of inclusion of the super rich in the miracle which is about to be vouchsafed unto you and it would be equally indelicate to enquire into the uses made of the contents of the doggy bags for fear of involving a third group who suffer a like discrimination...
Local notables.....the sub prefect, assorted maires, political fixers and the ladies with whom they spend the hours from five o'clock until seven in the early evening.

There is a further requirement, just to complicate matters...but then, if it looks too good to be true, that's just what it is and this is no Madoff scheme.

There has to be a 'denunciation' to the tax authorities to enable them to start the process.

Now, in France, denunciation can be regarded as a civic obligation...and the German occupying forces were astonished at the readiness of the French to carry out their civic obligations.
Nothing much has changed since.
But you need to carry out your civic obligations with a bit of circumspection.

A denunciation is the provision of information to an appropriate body that alerts the said body to the existence of something nasty in its someone fiddling their tax returns or underpaying their workers' social security payments.
However, a denunciation has to be signed and an address given...which is where the circumspection comes in.

Careful enquiry needs to be made as to the social milieu of the person to be denounced.

Denunciation of anyone in the three social sectors excluded from the operations of the miracle tends to result in the denunciator being investigated instead, which rather defeats the purpose, although discouraging other would-be denunciators from wasting the time of hard pressed bureaucrats.
A quick flip through the family tree of the local taxman is not a bad idea either...on the same grounds.
But without a signature, no enquiry can be made...according to President Sarkozy.
A potential dilemma for the denunciator.

But help is at hand.
In a judgement of 1998, the Cour de Cassation decided that the taxman could proceed to seize property and goods on the strength of an anonymous tip off......a 'delation'.
And the judgement stands.

So an anonymous letter will do the trick.
However, even if avoiding the risk of investigation, the we must now call him or her....knows that no one from the four sectors outlined above will be investigated, so has to aim the barbs at someone deemed appropriate prey.

Someone who has, to general astonishment, made his own way without the help of powerful local family or connections to a point where he is wealthy - by local standards - and thus attracts jealousy, that curse of French life which animates the spirits behind the formal courtesies and rituals of everyday routine.
His money will evidently be of suspect origin as not being collected in doggy bags.

The financial miracle can begin!

The taxman starts an investigation into Monsieur  Goupil's affairs. He finds that Monsieur Goupil has understated his financial position and owes the taxman 294,000 Euros.

Monsieur Goupil responds by hiring a fiscal specialist who, after four years, brings the taxman to agree that Monsieur Goupil only owes  26,700 Euros.

However, before Monsieur Goupil can settle his agreed debt of 26,700 Euros, he first has to pay up the 294,000 Euros to clear the original claim, at which point the taxman will initiate the somewhat lengthy process of refunding it to him.

Now, if at this point Monsieur Goupil agrees to pay up, the miracle does not work, but those who have earned their money the hard way tend to have a sense of injustice being done and should he consider this a distinctly unjust procedure, the miracle can proceed.
Monsieur Goupil will place all his assets into voluntary receivership to avoid the taxman getting his hands on the loot while safeguarding the jobs of his employees.

The administrator appointed will then start selling off the assets at knock down values at auction...incidentally destroying the jobs of the employees.
Monsieur Goupil, realising too late that in his case the age of miracles is over, John Paul II notwithstanding, tries to raise the 294,000 from the assets in receivership.
But they are no longer his assets.
He is hauled into court, given a six month suspended sentence, made officially bankrupt...and has to pay the administrator 56,000 Euros.

By this time his various obligations, debts, fees and costs amount to 2,000,000 million Euros..
The miracle has happened!

The state has turned a debt of 26,700 Euros into one of 2,000,000 Euros.....

Monsieur Goupil is living in a caravan dependent on friends for food.....

And somewhere a delator is cursing his or her pusillanimity in not signing the letter, which means that the taxman has no way of expressing the gratitude of the state by a donation of the folding stuff in a doggy bag.

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Friday, 4 March 2011

Umshini wami

Airbus A380 taking off during Paris Air Show 2007Image via Wikipedia
South Africa's President, Jacob Zuma, has just completed a state visit to France where, among other matters, he was due to discuss French involvement in the supply of nuclear power to his country - though why anyone would want the leaky products of Areva when South Africa had its own super Pebble Mill nuclear project is beyond me.

Well, it isn't really beyond me. I just wish it were.

Why develop your own projects, encouraging your own R and D talent and resources when more people (people who matter, you understand, not ordinary people) can get their hands in the till by encouraging international commercial cooperation.
What has efficiency, safety and value for money to do with it?

This is part of the Alice Through the Looking Glass world of the financial and political nexus model which has superseded democracy as the mode of government in first world countries.

Still to return to the visit.
It is devoutly to be hoped that the French head of protocol managed a better job of rendering that stately and haunting South African national anthem 'Nkosi sikelel' iAfrica' than did his counterparts of the French Rugby Union when France played South Africa at home in 2009.

He probably did, while as the FRU's aim was, as ever when France organises a tournament, to disrupt the opposition, the aim of Sarkozy is to keep Zuma happy.

He'll be happy with the dosh dished out by France, to be sure....but he is looking for more.

South Africa ordered six of the new Airbus 380s...but thanks to technical cutting the wiring too short...and financial shenanigans...there were delays.
The delays were such that South Africa cancelled its order.
But Airbus kept the deposit, and South Africa would like it back.

Now, anyone who has lived for sometime in France and has had a problem with white goods will know that Zuma is on a hiding to nothing here.....and even more so because the sums involved are large.
As are the white goods at issue.

merewoman will confirm this after her epic batttle over the Philips Senseo coffee maker which didn't..make coffee, that is. She had to threaten to bring in the heavy mob.

I too have experience of the delights of French customer relations, from the woman who upped the price of the embroidered sheets at a vide grenier while I was still buying them on the grounds that I liked them and that I was English......the shock and insult to Scots blood was such that she made no sale that commerce proper.

The first was when I was new to France, in the days when bricolage - DIY - was a serious affair of men dressing in special overalls to hide in their sheds and take six months to make a bread board.
None of the big chains, the Bricodepots and Bricomans, existed and the smaller ones, like Mr. Bricolage, catered only for the six months bread board makers.

So, needing paint, I went to town and found a shop which not only sold paint but mixed it as well...which was handy as the colours on offer ready to go as it were were less than inspiring.
There seemed to be vast quantities of eau de nil, which had featured largely in the houses of my youth to the extent that I never wished to see it again and certainly not on the shutters which I had taken from their hinges and brought to the barn to work on.

There are moments when you find yourself on a ladder at a first floor window heaving an oak shutter as tall as yourself off two sets of iron hinges when you wonder if there is some sort of mathematical formula for how far backward you can lean with the shutter in your hands before the ladder decides to follow your general direction.
If there is, I don't want to know about it. Making fear concrete would be more than I could bear.
Especially when you have to do it another eleven times or risk leaving the house look uneven.

I had decided on a sort of drab olive colour and found something approximating to it on the chart offered by the lady with the mixing machine.
I decided how much I wanted and she duly mixed paint and banged down paint pot lids...those special French ones which prevent you from closing the tin properly after use in the fond hope that the paint will dry out and you will be forced to buy a new tin when touching up your paintwork a year later.
She wrote the mix number on the bill...thus confirming my suspicions that I would be needing more the next year and I paid up, wondering how it was that I was funding the French national debt singlehanded while just seeking to paint my shutters and went on my way.

That oak soaked up paint the way traditional fast bowlers supped ale.
It swallowed the primer....equivalent in cost to buying France a new nuclear submarine.
It slurped the undercoat.....enough to fund half an Ariane missile.
It turned its attentions to the olive clearly liked it - a cheeky little number with turpentine overtones and a long finish.

I returned to the paint shop.

I handed over the bill with the mix number and Madame got on with mixing. She seemed in an awful hurry to bang on the lids when she had finished and I could see why.
The colour was nothing like the olive drab...more like a matt black.

That's not the right colour!

Yes it is.

It's not. Look at this paint stain on my hand.

It is. It has to be. This is the colour for that number.

Then the number must be wrong. I had olive green paint and this is nearly black.

It will settle when you stir it.

No it won't. I'm not taking that.

But I've mixed it. You have to. Anyway, you can use it for undercoat.

I don't want black paint. The whole point of putting the mix number on the bill was to avoid this.

You must have written it yourself and made a mistake...being a foreigner, you didn't understand French.

The handwriting for the number and the rest of the bill are the same....

As I left the shop I saw something I had previously overlooked......the notice on the door for the chamber of commerce publicity drive.

The customer is king.

So now we know why Louis XVI ended up under the blade of the guillotine....he must have kicked up about the paintwork at Versailles.

Given that persistence at tin of paint level...what chance does President Zuma have when it comes to millions of euros worth of white goods?

There is a chance that they might try to divert him with a bunga bunga which he is as partial as Signor Berlusconi...but as it is unimaginable that an African President could be bribed by anything so trivial I suspect that he will have to invite those concerned to an evening at the South African embassy in Paris to explain the realities of the case. I am sure that once EADS directors and French government ministers hear him singing his favourite song, the advisability of coughing up will become apparent.

He will entertain them with his rendering of 'Umshini wami'...

Loosely translated as 'Hand me down my machine gun'.

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