Friday, 29 May 2009

When 2 tribes go to war

Last Wednesday morning I was sitting in my French lesson when the phone rang. It was quite a long conversation starting off with Mr S, who said “yes he is here now” and “I’ll pass you to my wife”
I was the only other male there so it didn’t take a genius to work out that it was probably about me. Unfortunately I could not hear most of the conversation as Mrs S was at the other end of the room, and I had my back to her. To paraphrase
S- yes he is studying Bled and at the moment learning vocabulary. Well I think his French has improved since he has been coming here. It’s your job to phone these people, not his, you should be doing more of this…. You should be contacting the Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber des Metiers, not him….

When the call finished, Mrs S came over to me and told me that she had just had a phone call about me, from my Instep advisor (that I was going to be seeing later that morning. I think that my advisor had been casting aspersions on the efficacy of their French teaching. Bearing in mind that the authorities stopped paying them for my attendance ages ago, I think that she has a bit a a bloody cheek.
Mrs S tried phoning the Chambre des Metiers to reach a contact there that she knew and tell him about me and my availability to help companies requiring English tuition and / or help with corresponding with English speaking companies. Unfortunately he was out, so she left a message asking him to contact her. She told me not to tell my advisor that she was contacting the CdM as in her opinion my advisor should be doing it. It was to be a secret.

I went to my Instep appointment and as usual, was kept waiting for 20 minutes. She was not in a good mood. As usual she had no memory of what it was that my tasks had been, so I reported about the cheques service employ and my visit to Elite services.
She still was not happy. Why had I not got information about the cheque service? I explained that I didn’t need to do anything about it as people would give me the cheque and I would pay it into the bank. What about information about the cheques and how they worked to give to my clients if they asked how to do it? I said that I would tell them that they needed to go to their bank and get a book of the cheques. I was not winning. I should have demanded information. She stomped over to her computer, she was going to find the information for me and print it off. The document she found was 58 pages long. Much huffing and puffing that that was too many pages. She eventually found a 2 page summary and printed that off.
Then, she had a go at me about my French progress. She had been speaking to my French teacher, she said. I said Oh? Mrs S had intimated that my French with her was perhaps worse when I was with her, because she was intimidating me and using vocabulary that was not usual, everyday stuff.
I said that it was not a problem for me and that I understood a lot more French than I spoke.
She then told me that she had noticed that my CV had mistakes in it and needed sorting. I was thinking, that it was strange because she never remembered anything about my documents normally, and that if there was a problem with it, she should be prioritising that, instead of sending me off on wild goose chases.
Anyway, I now have 2 more errands to do, both in a nearby town and she happens to be attending one of the events, which is some sort of mini employment fair and that I should turn up there in the afternoon and have a chat with a Mr D.
Next French lesson, Mrs S was interested to know how I had got on with my advisor. She also told me that there was a day long employment fair in a nearby town next Tuesday, that Mr S would be attending, and that I must go to it and Mr S would be able to introduce me to people there. Snap!
I don’t see Mr S being as keen as her. He said that if I turned up and talked to him, I would probably be the only visitor to talk to him all day, as nobody ever had done in the past.
Sounds like a real party! Now if only I had a tip-top CV thanks to my advisor….

Regarding the choir performances. What an avalanche of people wanting to come and see us. Demi Moore was hoping to be here, but has decided to go and see Susan Boyle singing in "Britains got talent" instead.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

That’s Show Business!

It has been a busy couple of weeks and I have found it increasingly difficult to motivate myself to write my blog. The warm weather seems to have begun, albeit with a blip that saw 5 minutes of weather chaos in Toulouse when giant hail stones and flooding struck. Car windscreens and lights were shattered and they are saying that it has created 2 years worth of work to sort out the damage and the insurance claims.
I have a new man in my life. This does not mean that I have decided to start batting for the other team. This is the head of the team of masons i.e. him and hyperactive man, who will be demolishing my garden shed and rebuilding it as well as some other minor structural works. He is keen on motorbikes and is therefore a motard. I shall call him motard man from now on, or even mm to save typing time.
Together we have investigated the air ventilation system in my building. This has resulted in me buying 2 VMC units ( basically two boxes, each with a motor and fan unit inside, which acts like a vacuum cleaner sucking air up the tubes which run between them and the inside wall vents in the apartments.
Before these improvements, only my apartment was being successfully sucked, now, it is still just my apartment that is being sucked, but the suction is similar to that of a vacuum held against the palm of your hand.
I just don’t know why this super system won’t do the same for the other apartments.
MM also knocked / drilled into an inner wall in the stairwell outside my apartment to an astonishing depth with his mighty drill, before realising that the ventilation pipe to bee boy’s apartment did not drop down that way.
Choir practice has continued and we have had two practices which have been attended by the 4 soloists. Oh, dear! People not coming in at the right times, not singing in the right key, words fumbled…… and that’s just the soloists. More specifically the dark haired soprano who likes to wave her right arm about a bit in (her) time to the music, seems to be having a few problems.
We have still to sing just one of the parts which make up the piece through without pretty serious problems.
We have one practice left and I don’t think that the soloists are coming to that. There was a bit of trouble after the practice last night. When the first venue, a church, was booked we were assured that there was no other booking for the day, so we were scheduled to practice there in the afternoon of the performance, have a meal somewhere local, then at 9pm give our amazing performance.
The priest seemingly forgot that he has a wedding there in the afternoon, so now we are buggered. Perhaps a solution will be found before our last, Wednesday practice.
This morning cars were being mobilised to go to outlying villages and nearby towns to put up posters. Even as I write this, an email has come in showing one of the groups at work, so I will include it, with thanks to Florence S. for the photo.
Don't forget to look at the mini poster for the performances. This will enable you all to book flights and accommodation for at least one of our gigs. Don’t forget to pack a cushion though as the piece lasts about one and a half hours.
Look forward to seeing you all there…..

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Dimanche part trois

First a visual test.
What is the difference between the two photos.

Exactly. One picture has snow, a fireman, people etc and the other doesn't. But there is another major difference

Following on from January's crash which demolished most of their wall, another part of the neighbour’s wall has gone, and there is a crashed car resting in their garden. The wall had not even been repaired yet. These things take time over here.
This is a wider view of the scene and is what I saw as I left R and J’s car and walked towards my house.

The very same firemen that I had seen earlier in the morning were now outside my house.
The light was now starting to fade and I watched as someone was loaded into the ambulance on a stretcher, wrapped in a space blanket. I later learned that the accident had happened about an hour and a half before my return home, and that it had been Madame that had called the ambulance. There was a lorry involved which had been travelling at speed round the bend. I don’t know if it hit the car, the driver side door was bucked right in, but the lorry did not stop.
Perhaps now the Mairie will do something to reduce the danger on this stretch of road, and switch from promises to action. There are at least 2 children who live in the house which has become such an accident black spot. Fortunately they have a big garden to play in at the other side of the house.
It started to pour with rain and all the police and firemen huddled under the eaves of the house. Eventually a low loader truck appeared and the car was manhandled to the house entrance gates, winched on board, then everyone disappeared into the night.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Sunday part deux

I ended up being invited along to a choir at Saverdun with them. Before taking off for the evening R and I got invited to a neighbour’s house just round the corner. We inspected their garden which was unexpectedly large, with a big, blooming wisteria bush making a covered area at the side of the house. I had never seen wisteria before, so, learning all the time.
We then went into their house to chat for ten minutes or so, and for me to inspect the youngest daughter’s English work book. She has begun learning English at 8 years old. The system is that they get a worksheet handed out, they complete the blanks etc then glue it into their exercise book.
It was strange to me because it was very American. What 8 year old kid in France needs to know about Mount Rushmore, and the American states for example????? Whatever happened to the good old system of "Brad is a boy, Angelina is a girl, Old Yeller is a dog"? Oh for the good old days.
J turned up to hustle R and I along and I whizzed home to change my shirt and dump my heavy bag before rejoining them for the trip.
R was at the wheel and we headed off into the early evening. I had not been to Saverdun, so it was good to be able to look at the scenery, instead of having to drive. R did a whizzy little manoeuvre to park and we walked to the Temple, where the event was to be held.
The doors were locked, no posters were on display. R put forward the proposition to his wife that perhaps she had got the date wrong….
We walked further into the town and found a bit of a crowd gathered outside another church. It turned out that there was a problem with the Temple roof and that the concert had had to find an alternate home.
I now discovered that two of my choir members were also singing with this choir. My choir director was also performing in a trio with 2 violins and himself on the viol cello. The second fiddle was an Australian woman.
The event was very well attended.

Uniform black with red accessories i.e red tie for men, red bangles, beads, necklaces for the women. Choir director -white suit.

As I got out of the car and headed up the road towards the house I could see that all was not well opposite my house….

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Sunday part 1 The Rallye Bum-pah edition

Welcome to my 200th Rigsby blog.
Up at 715am to get ready for my day out. The car treasure hunt with other members of our canton. I packed my bag with a plate, cutlery and a beaker for the meal. I also took my GPS, English – French dictionary, plastic bags, scotch tape, a stapler, pair of scissors, camera, spare batteries,, Lets just say my rucksack was a bit on the heavy side.
I turned up at the rendezvous point at the allotted hour. i.e. 8.15am. Well, most of the organisers were there. It was quite some time before others started to appear. Then people started having coffee.

"Where's it going to end?"

Eventually there were 9 teams in 9 cars. I was lucky enough to be in the car of two of my belote evening friends. Even better, they had won the previous year. It was overcast, so I was glad I had worn my anorak.
Some people had not returned their slips of paper or payment, but as one lady said, “I knew I was coming, so there was no need to return the paper, or to pay in advance”. So much for trying to calculate for the catering!
Some of the instructions were read out, then the folders containing all the rules, and the clues and a map were placed on a wall.
Normally this would indicate a racing start. Sure enough one person from each car had to run to the wall and pick up a folder when the whistle was blown.

Then however, we were told to read our folders first, and then upon another whistle being blown, we could set off.
Let’s just say that the clues were tough. I would never have guessed that our first stop was going to be the fire station, where there were about 9 questions to be answered.
We arrived and there were quite a few firefighters about. We invaded the station, and soon one of the firemen was helping us with our enquiries. Then the offered to show the children a fire fighting outfit and helmet, then it was a look at one of their ambulances….. I cannot imagine such a friendly welcome in a UK firestation early on a Sunday, or anyother morning. I could be wrong.....

My driver seemed to know one of the firemen and I think that we were the last to leave for the next location by about 5 minutes. Little did I know that I would be seeing more of them later on....
We visited tiny hamlets hidden in the hills, stopped people to ask the name of their postman,

"torn between two worlds, the old and the new"

measured things, found locked churches whose clues therefore had to remain unanswered.There was a meadow full of wild flowers, but no one could find a dandelion (pissenlit in French). plenty of dandelion leaves, but no yellow heads!
Many of the questions were not typical of the things that I would have expected. You had to name the 3rd president of the Republic, put various ancient monarchs into chronological order, say who had said (various quotes), mathematical number sequence puzzles… The people in know, opened their car boots and reference books emerged.
We had to collect named flowers, we also had to produce a collage (hence the sticky tape etc). using things like flowers, twigs etc. Guess what my job was. Yes as the car bounced erratically up narrow lanes at high speed, I was sticking flowers onto cardboard. I felt quite car sick by the time I had finished it. After about an hour, the sun blazed down on us and it was very hot.
At one hamlet location there was a cascade (waterfall), but I did not have time to take a proper look. The recent burst of foliage hid the upper reaches from view.

"The blue remembered hills"

It also had a chateau which I did not see. We had two mimes to solve, before we handed in our first set of questions, and received our next instructions and questions. This is when it all went tits-up (probably an American expression).
We went to the wrong place, followed by two or three other cars who assumed we knew where to go. Everyone had been swopping answers all morning, so I was expecting everyone to have the same number of points by the end anyway. We were now late for our “be back between noon and 12.30pm for the aperitif” instruction. At record speed, with me still bouncing and sticking in the back of the car, we hurtled back to base, arriving at about 1pm.
After sangria and a few nibbles, the winners were announced. Our team came third, so I now have a free ticket to visit the castle and a yellow baseball cap with “La Poste” on it.
The meal was attended by about 50 people. We had cold salad (like the tinned salad) lots of bread, sausages, chips, apple tart, wine, wine, wine, brie, goats’ cheese. Then I had to try some sort of fire water, which was not eau de vie, but something to do with prunes.
During the meal, I sat next to my 86 year old friend R, who was fairly tucking away the food and the red wine. I ended up being invited along to….

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Pilgrim’s progress

It’s been a busy week! So busy, that I find it hard to remember what I have done or who I have seen. Hopefully it will all come back to me as I type. I will spread it out over several days so as not to overtax any readers that I may have left.
I found it difficult to get back into the French language even after only 6 days away.
Of course the day after my return, I had an appointment with my Instep advisor, who always gives me a hard time about the standard of my French.
As usual I was kept waiting for about 25 minutes while she finished off the previous appointment.
I explained my travels from CCI to URSSAF to ANPE and that I had then been on holiday.
So it was my shortest meeting yet. Probably lasting about 20 minutes.
I have to go to my bank to find out how to become someone who can get paid by the cheques service employ system. I have to go to a company that runs a homework help, extra tuition, etc service. Lord knows what I have to talk to them about. My councillor was a bit vague. Sigh!
I have to phone or go and see the medical / hospital centre that I wrote a speculative letter to about giving their staff English lessons. Difficult as my French teacher wouldn’t give me a specific name or title to send it to.
Then next time she is going to try and arrange an appointment for me with another organisation which helps people to set up businesses. I think that the man she wants me to see is on holiday. This will also involve a trip to the next town.
My grass needed cutting so I got my tondeuse out and began. Three strips later it stopped cutting. I think the belt is no longer working, so I have found one on ebay and ordered it from the UK. There, even I fooled myself. The hard part will be trying to dismantle the mower to fit the new belt. I can see part of the old belt, but I can’t see how to get to it. I cannot find the mower instructions, and an internet search has not yielded any results.
Bee-boy has been absent most days and nights. Madame tells me that he is making honey. I don’t think it’s a euphemism, although there seems to be a Bee-girl hovering about him these last few weeks. Yes it is time for him to make the year’s first batch of honey.
Madame’s latest hobby of furniture painting continues apace. She now has an light blue dresser next to her orange/beige bottom half of a dresser. I know this because I was drafted in to help some of her friends to lift the (very heavy blue top onto the blue bottom), She explained that it was heavy because it is real wood.
Two days later one of her friends arrived with a large selection of paints to begin the decoration process. I enquired yesterday if the dresser was now finished and was told Presque (nearly) and that I would have to come and see it.
No wonder I could hardly sleep for excitement last night!

Thursday, 14 May 2009

A bit of French leave

Well if other people can sneak out of the country and visit foreign climes I can too. Some time ago I was invited to a wedding in the UK. I asked my Instep advisor for permission to leave the country for a week and now I have been, gone and just come back.
P and R were getting married at Weston Register office and the bride and her father arrived in a horse-drawn carriage.

After the ceremony there was a brief opportunity to take some photos, before heading off to Banwell Castle for the rest of the festivities, which would culminate with a hog-roast in the evening.

There are a few peacocks living in the castle grounds and they make rather a lot of noise. I managed to get one of them in a few of the photos, and will leave you to guess which picture I have included here. No it's not the best one that I took of the three of them but i'm the blog boss here.
It was good to see former work colleagues and the day was a very relaxed affair.
P and R enjoyed their big day, and are now sunning themselves in the abroad. So, thanks to both of them for inviting me to their celebrations. I wish them all the best for the future.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Well equipped women, but is it art?

The warmer weather is approaching (surely?) and the number of mobile homes on the road continues to increase. More English voices are to be heard at the markets.
Earlier I took this photo of two tourists and their dog. They looked very well equipped and ready for any walking eventuality.

Probably Americans. I thought, but unlikely due to the dog. I increased my pace to show them what real walking was all about, only to overhear their French voices. Parisiennes then, possibly.
There is a little gallery in the medieval part of town. I have never been in and I am not sure if it is even ever open other than by special request. The owners obviously like to have a bit of a laugh, as there are usually nude dummies or bits of rude art to be seen in the grimy window.
In the UK there would probably be a prosecution brought against the owners for indecency or corrupting minors etc but their displays seem to carry on unhindered.

I have heard of someone getting a tap on the head, but this recent display is a new one on me.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

A morning at the races

The target

I had trouble dragging myself out of bed this morning, but I had research to do. The previous Saturday and Sunday, we had had the big brocante sale. What a waste of time and space that was. The weather was not good, but on the Saturday afternoon when I did my research, it had stopped raining. There were only about 15 stalls in the square, and I think that most of them were having a laugh. The stuff that they were hoping to shift was just rubbish. The few items of furniture on show, were overpriced rubbish. RUBBISH!
It was not even worth taking one photo of the event. It was in fact, a minus event.
Back to today and by the time I rolled into town, I had missed the start of all the different categories of race. This was the event’s 20th year. As I neared the big radio lorry parked in the square, next to the Finish line, they were handing out the trophies for the various childrens’ races.

"Wot is going on? What does it all mean?"
There was a crowd of spectators on the other side of the track

Of course everyone got two bises, whether they wanted them or not.

This man decided to give a speech

The winner. .

Next was the raffle. They had lots of prizes to give away, and the gifts ranged from canvas brief cases and games to a boy’s bike and a girl’s bike.
Finally the first of the male runners arrived, but I am not sure that the man that arrived first was counted as participating, I think that he was a seasoned marathon runner and may have just been the pace setter.
I set off to get a photo from further away, looking back to the finish line. Suddenly I spotted movement. A figure in a black anorak (It was very hot), detached himself from one of the benches, and yes, it was hyperactive man and some of his children (just how many has he got?).
It turned out that Madame had not phoned him like she had said she would, to let him know that I had received permission for the replacement garden shed..
He explained his new theories about my building’s ventilation system, and how he would be coming round with the ventilation expert to see me, possibly today, possibly on Tuesday. I have heard this before, but you never know…
Fortunately his little boy, was being wound up by one of his daughters, so the explanations etc were shorter than usual.
Nope. Hyperactive man did not turn up.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Mayday, Mayday! Pandemonium

In France everything stops for May day. Public transport, shops, everything closes. Although I did notice that the English shop was open for business, and of course the restaurants.
The idea is that everyone takes to the streets and marches to show the government how strong the unions are, and how much they hate the government. Unfortunately the weather was not good. It was raining and cold at the time that the marching in town was due to start. Madame had told me that everyone would then go down to the banks of the river Ariege and have a picnic.
I saw setting off (still driving Bee-boy’s loaner car) at about 9.30am, half an hour before the kick off of the marching.
I factored in French timing, and the rain all but stopping before I put an apple into my pocket, donned woolly hat and gloves and raincoat and set off at about quarter to eleven. By the time I
arrived, the marchers had come to a stop.

A few were calling for a National strike, Now!
A sure way to kick start the economy, if ever I heard one.
People milled about a bit, and I discovered that a few of the regular Friday marketers were in the square and even the Halle was once again blessed with dead animals etc for sale.
I walked down to the river, in pursuit of all the happy picnickers, but I could see no evidence of them. On my travels I saw this poster in the Tourist Information Bureau window.

I expect it is a French version of a Punch and Judy puppet show only with a cunning name change.
About a mile along the road out of town I followed a sign which I thought might lead to an open air sports area of some kind. Perhaps there would be some swings a slide and a roundabout?
Wrong! it was just a place to park municipal vehicles.

Peering through a window on my return journey, I stumbled across a place called Pandemonium, which would appear to be an indoor climbing facility. Unfortunately it was closed, but I bet it’s probably what I would be good at.

As I neared home, I saw that Madame’s loaner car, was home before me. So the picnic must have been very short. I then remembered the apple in my pocket. No need to waste it. I’ll save it for next year

Monday, 4 May 2009

Funny Business

By my last meeting with my Instep co-ordinator, I had decided that my chances of breaking in to real French employment were less than zero, especially with firms closing down at a quick rate. I have been completing my TEFl training book 3 over the last few weeks and sent it off to the UK for marking / comment. The only thing that I can realistically do better than the average French person, is speak English.
The previous day my French teacher said that I should write to an organisation that she knew were going to have to ensure their staff’s ability to speak and read English due to new Government policy. So with my councillor’s assistance we spent most of the session writing a suitable “prospecting” letter.
I also asked my advisor how to go about setting myself up as an official person teaching English to people in their homes etc.
This turned into my homework. Go to the Chamber of Commerce and they will advise you on the best course of action, then go to your bank and talk to them about a business account….
The next day I trot along to the Chamber of Commerce (CCI). As in January, I do not get past the reception desk. I have just explained what I wish to do and the receptionist is pondering, when a lady comes in through the front doors. Relief shows on the receptionist’s face and she explains my quest. No, I should not have come here, I should have gone to Oorsaph. This turns out to be URSSAF. This organisation is on the outer edge of town near to the LeClerc supermarket. I say that I know the area as it it where I went in January to register as being unemployed.
The next day I go to URSSAF, which although I have a road number for, cunningly conceals both behind a hedge, hidden from view on a plaque on the wall beside the entrance which is hidden from the road.
I go in, see a door marked Welcome. So like Alice, I knock and open the door. Of course there is a meeting going on, so I close the door and look at the other doors leading off from the foyer.
A lady comes out of the room and I explain my visit. She will phone someone and if they are free they will see me, but if they are not free, they will be able to tell me when they will be free…..
She phones and someone will be right with me.
I follow the man into the main building and into a strange room, with bar type stools. We adjust our stools to suitable heights and I explain myself once again. Man then launches into a torrent of very fast French (Sigh!). He gives me a form to take away, which I can either fill in myself or if / when I return, he will help me fill in. I could also fill in the form online. But first, he says, I must go and speak to my ANPE advisor to discuss what the best type of business would be for me, when would be best time to start up as a business etc. I would not be able to call myself a teacher (Professeur) of English, because only people with teaching qualifications obtained in France can do that.
Today, 4th May, I set off to see if I could get an appointment to see my ANPE advisor only to find that she is once again on holiday, and will not be back until some time next week…
In between all this no progress, there was a sub plot. The newspaper said that the French Government had decreed that free English lessons should be made available to school children / students, over the summer holidays. One of the categories of person was for natural English speakers.
My French teacher wrote me a reference and that evening I sat down at the computer to fill in the multi-page form. This triggered a power-cut for the whole town, which lasted for 20 minutes. I went to bed.
Early next morning I resume my task to fill in the online form. This proves impossible as I cannot possibly fill in the myriad of compulsory, asterisked fields on the form, e.g. I cannot name the French University and the courses that I have completed there for the last 5 years.
At French, I explain my predicament. Mr teacher looks at the website and spends most of the morning on the phone, being passed from one person to the next, being cut off, listening to music etc. He is now a bit pissed off and after 2 hours he decides to ring the local education department to find out if they can explain how I can possibly fill in the form. He finds out that the people that work there have all taken annual leave….
The next day when I arrive at French class. Mr teacher explains that when they wrote Native English speaker living in France, they really meant, existing French language assistants already teaching in schools……
So another door closes.