Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Never mind the blocks

Saturday was another busy day. During the week I had taken delivery of concrete blocks, timber, cement etc ready for the building of my replacement garden shed.
I waited all day for hyperactive man to come and demolish the old wooden shed. I had been invited to the official opening of the Town’s camera club exhibition at 5.30pmm so I was getting ready to go out when I heard the thump, thump, thump of someone hitting something very hard, with something very heavy. It was hyperactive man and his sledge hammer. I helped him for a bit and then had to leave him to it, with the shed proving reluctant to fall, even with most of its support gone.

The photo exhibition was very interesting, with guest photos from someone who had taken black and white photos of farm life and the heavily lined faces of the people who had worked the land.
The club members’ photos were all well printed and framed uniformly. This is what you can do in a French Association, as the Marie gives them money every year towards costs.
In Glasgow we used to print our own photos and mount them on card using 3M glue spray. The quality and size of the resultant photos was variable.
I discovered that the club had submitted prints to the World Championships and had come 3rd in the 2008 competition. I may become a member when it starts up again after the summer break. I will see.
Speeches over, the alcohol and nibbles were consumed. It was time to rush back for my local area association’s communal meal.
It was not as well attended as the rally earlier in the year, but there were still 40 to 50 people sitting at trestle tables eating and drinking and talking French.
I was sitting next to my friend Rene who is now 87, so we chatted in a mixture of French, English and Spanish. (Not that I can speak Spanish).
By the time we had had coffee and cleared everything away, it was nearly 11.30pm.
I got up early as usual as I was going to the Abbey to listen to a free concert. Both the big and the little organ were to be played.
When I arrived at the abbey, the pavement was thronged with people. Many were wearing white. I was a bit late for the start of the concert. The entrance was completely blocked. I eventually got inside and was able to see that there were still people inside.
Coming out with his eldest daughter was, of course, hyperactive man. It was his daughter’s communion day.
The congregation were in no hurry to leave and finally the priest had to make an announcement asking them to go outside so that the organ concert could start.
The concert was okay, and for the first time, the church did not require the heating to be on.I headed home to literally recharge my batteries, ready for the music festival in the evening.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Fête accompli

In case anyone has noticed, I have been having a blog rest. This is partially due to being blogged out after the concerts, but also the weather has been very hot and I have been an apprentice mason for 6 or 7 hours a day and have been knackered as a result. Yes in weather where many people might decide to put on their bikinis and loll about on sunbeds all day I and my fellow masons have been toiling and broiling.
But first of all there was the town’s music festival which ran for most of Sunday and into the night. There was a chance to see various types of music, from traditional Occitan music, African, heep-hop, jazz, brass bands to rock.
I think one of the rock bands (the average white age 59 band?) must have been from Wales as they were singing about someone knock, knock, knocking on Evan’s door!
The choir were due to sing for an hour at 8.30pm outside the cinema. We had had a rehearsal during some of the new songs had been gone through twice at most! The only English song on the list “he lor blez you an key u” was dropped. No doubt because it was one of the few songs on the list that we had practiced once or twice over the year.

In protest at the paucity (good word) of the preparation and not knowing the music or the words to any of the 11 songs that made the cut, I decided that it was pointless to stand and pretend to sing. (Surely no one would do that even if the event was free?), which incidentally brings me to my Michael Jackson moment. I remember being at a disco in the Eight Acres Hotel in Elgin with my sister. It might even have been at the wedding reception of sprog 3. I had been dancing along to the music, doing my moves (This was the early eighties) with my sister (sprog 2). When the music finished, she said that she would not be dancing with me ever again, as it was like dancing with the Jackson Five. I hung up my disco dancing boots for ever after that.
Anyway, back to the choir. I took my camera and video camera along to record their performance and stood on a chair at the back, propping myself against the wall for stability.
I can only say that my expectations were met. Not even them chanting my name when they did an encore was enough to make me budge from my spot.
I put my photos and some of the songs onto a website so that they would be able to relive the magic of the moment. There are also all the photos from all the Rossini concerts there too. They seem happy with the results.
After the concert, I melted into the night (okay it was still light, but melting into the light just does not work so well).
The quality of the bands on view was very variable. Often the bands were a few hundred feet away from eachother, which made for disturbing listening. Does music nausea and disorientation exist, or have I just invented a new illness? If so, I wish it to be called Rigsbyitis.
I seem to recall that I had had a tiring Saturday, but I have not recollection what happened.
It is coming back to me now that I have typed that. But I am not going to untype it as this is free-form prose. It will have to be in my next post.

I was going to include photos and perhaps video but my default email is hotmail and it has refused to let me

Friday, 19 June 2009

Mirepoix Cathedral and a bit of a card

Mirepoix is a quaint medieval town where the English have settled in alarming numbers to see out the rest of their days.
I was expecting a Sunday afternoon to be quiet, with abundant parking available.
Wrong! There was a conference on sustainability etc going on. I finally got parked in a side street and dressed up like a posh waiter, I strolled around to the Cathedral. There was someone talking on a microphone to a sparce audience under the Halle. Stands were everywhere. The rastas/ hippies were in town. Against one wall of the Cathedral were several examples of hand built wooden toilet cubicles, painted up in various patterns and colours. Their USP (unique selling point) was that they did not require any water to flush them. They were dry toilets. I did not investigate further, but the individual cubicle units economised in the wood used for some of the walls.
A man was chopping slices off a log to make wooden roof shingles.
Some others were making bricks with straw, and what could have been mud or horse shit.
Someone else was selling wooden bricks presumably to make wooden houses? There was a big horse in a harness who seemed to serve no purpose, but could have been the engine to drive someone’s cart. There were the usual incense, soap, honey, bio-wine sellers.
There was also a tea tent, but not as we know it. It was a tea Tee-pee, with the bottom half missing. Here the great unwashed were winding down further (if that was possible) lolling about on the groundsheet and drinking tea?
I left them all to it and went into the cool of the Cathedral. This is a very wide church, so it is a bit like standing in a whale’s mouth.

Minimal setting up needed except for the lights and the harmonium. There were steps complete with red carpeting already in situ.
This was the last performance and so was to be followed by an American supper, or Auberge Espagnole as it is called over here. This was to be located in the parish rooms, which again doubled as the changing room.

The usual routine of warm up, admire the way our harmonium seems has slightly detuned, get changed, float about a bit, then it was time to file onto the “stage for the last time”.
All I can say is that it we got to the end, missing out some bits along the way.

The usual applause, bows from the soloists etc and we had to do an encore by singing the last piece again.

The acoustics were not good for us, but were ok for the audience. The turn out was reasonably good. One interesting thing was that during the performance some people from the audience would march up to the front and take a flash photograph whilst the soloists were in full flow. I suspect that in the UK the tutts of shame or annoyance from the rest of the audience which would surely have accompanied such a manoeuvre would have driven these moneylenders from the Temple.
Eventually we filed back to the parish rooms, changed and got tucked in to the food and drink.
Once a French man or woman has secured a position around the table from which they can reach food, they stay put. Not like me who takes some and moves away to let others have a chance, and then never gets a chance to reach the table again.
One of the choir members is always banging on about his vin noir. Black wine.
He had been sitting near me during the Toulouse orchestra concert and I had asked him if he would be bringing along his vin noir. Turnd out of course it is not vin noir, but vin noix. Nut wine. We live and learn.
I took a little bit in my plastic cup, but at around 18% proof, and as I would be driving, I just had a little bit.
A lot of the women disapproved of the vin noix, and were tut-tutting. This was of course the cue for the men to launch into their Ariegeois drinking songs.
I moved outside to chat to one of the smokers. A bit later one of the ladies in the choir brought out the bass soloist to chat to me. He turned out to be Scottish, from Edinburgh. He had sung in the St Giles Cathedral choir there for 30 years. I asked him how he made a living. He told me that he had owned a shop on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, but had moved to France 7 years previously, He has set himself up in business as a dealer in antique playing cards, and carries out his business over the internet.
I did not ask him if there was a living to be made from it.
Soon afterwards I headed back home, leaving the noise, heat and the empty plates and bottles behind me.

Oh, I forgot to update you on the Miss France situation. She has been allowed to keep her title. You can now resume normal sleep patterns.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

St-Lizier Concert 3

It is a hard life being on tour. Satnav programmed I travelled in top half civvies to save wear on the shirt as it was 33 degrees in the shade. This time I forgot to take any water along, but only one return to the apartment was required before I set off.
It was a lovely drive with the Pyrenees on my left. I had visited St-Lizier earlier in the year, so I knew the wayish. As you will remember, it is listed as one of France's 100 most beautiful villages. (yes that is a link to more information)

I was the first to arrive at 5-30pm. Set up time was needed and rehearsal was scheduled for 6.30pm. An email edict had indicated that we were still having problems……. With our entrance and exit procedures.
The village has a huge bishop’s palace (specially built for huge bishops) which re-opens to the public next year and which is a world heritage site. The church is very old too.
It was much smaller than our previous churches and I estimated that if full, it would hold about 230 people.

That was before the first 2 or 3 rows of pews were manhandled into side chapels to make room for the piano, harmonium, conductor and soloists.
I should know better, but the warm-up and rehearsal did not take place until 7.30pm. We ate our sandwiches in the cloisters attached to the church and this was also our changing room.

Some people even found time to play "Pass the sausage"

With the concert due to start at 9pm we eventually trickled on to the “stage” at 9.15pm. During the brief rehearsal, we learned that this was the tenor soloist’s home village. Aaah!
As far as I could tell, this was our best performance to date and for once it was not like singing in a huge, echoey, stone barn.
Thankfully there was no after-show aperitif, so I did not hang around for too long after the gig.
One little girl who was sitting at the front, lasted for about 15 minutes before starting to droop, eventually ending up almost horizontal on her chair and her mother. Still the church was possibly three quarters full? Another long, hot, sunny day in France.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Banks, bongos and a missed step

My bank account managers wanted to see me about health insurance, so I made an appointment and in due course turned up at the bank. We discussed my santé mutuelle top up policy and I now know that if I want to get glasses or lenses, I will have about 6 months to wait for an appointment at the eye doctor’s practice. There is one practice in my town and one in the nearest town. You cannot get prescriptions filled at the numerous opticians shops until you have a lens prescription from the eye doctor. How different from the UK where seemingly any spotty Herbert optician can do both jobs with minimal waiting for appointments.
She would also like to look at my house contents, building and personal indemnity insurance policy to see if the bank can do the same or more for less.
I remembered receiving some post from the bank, banging on about some new savings account with a super rate of interest (not really, but heaps better than the UK) so I asked about that. An hour and many signatures later I emerged blinking into the sunlight secure in the knowledge that by the next day I would have another operational bank account. Now all I need is money to keep them all topped up! HELLO, IS THERE ANYBODY THERE?????

In the evening I went to the local cultural complex to see the Orchestre National du capitole de Toulouse conducted by Tugan Sokhiev. A large number of the choir were also going so we got a group rate, down from 25 euros per person to 16 euros.
The concert was sold out, and people were being turned away at the door.
I was there early and had to wait for at least half an hour before they opened the doors of the theatre.
I chose the right hand side aisle seat, fourth row back and eventually had a good view of the violinists (not the lead squeaky ones, but I had an excellent view of the lead fiddle). I could also see the double basses all with big carved heads (the instruments not the players) of lions etc.
I cannot remember going to see an orchestra before, except for the school orchestra, so it was very interesting. 2 of my French family were also there, front row and therefore very near the little conductor. They report that the conductor grunted a lot, and that sweat was flying off his head and face in all directions. No ice-creams etc were sold at half time.

Missing Instep

I went to my French lesson as per normal, but unusually I did not look in my diary. I returned home and was feeling a bit yucky so I went back to bed for a few hours. Upon getting up, I checked my land line and found that I had missed a call. I checked the messages and found that I had not turned up for my 10am appointment that morning. Zut (probably French for Doh!).
I therefore made a new appointment . I cannot remember ever missing an appointment in my life before. I must really be turning into a Frenchman.
Perhaps I should start wearing the beret that H&D gave me last year, around town. If I could find someone to make me a fake baguette, I could stroll around town purposefully every day leaving no crumbs. Ignoring the admiring glances and whispered comments “Ow duz e doeet? Ees bred eet ees not bended, or neebelld”

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Voting and Concert 2 (getting the Abbey habit)

After a sleepless night it was a struggle to get out of bed, but it had to be done. My French family were coming to get me at 11:30 to go and vote in the European elections. At 11am the door bell goes. J’arrive! Brush teeth, grab voting card and passport and off we stroll into town, with two of the children in tow. C explains that I have to put one of the small notices that I received in the post, into a small envelope. Then into an urn. The envelope stuffing is done in a curtained off cubicle. We were all due to attend section 6. Envelope duly stuffed (with this one piece of paper you are voting for a political party with a team of 20 people), I approached the table behind which the 3 officials were sitting.
I hand over my voting card and passport. Lady one looks at them and passes them to man. “There is no number on it” he says, I have to go and see lady 4 at separate table. I am given a number and rejoin the main table queue.
My number is scrutinised, passed to lady 2 who writes it next to my name on her list, and I sign my name in the appropriate box.
Man now lets me put my envelope into the glass box, he pulls a lever and the box makes a “Ping” sound. Presumably announcing that another patriot has cast their democratic right to vote., or that as the Angel Clarence said in his biopic “It’s a wonderful life”, that every time a bell rings it means that another angel has got his wings; (Ok so I’m paraphrasing)
I am invited to lunch at the family’s house, so we sit in the garden. After lunch I go for a 30 minute snooze and it is time to get the suit and bow tie on and head off into town and the Abbey. It is setting up time, and the little folding benches and the red cloth coverings are put in place.

Whilst we set up, the Abbey is still open to the public and at one point a coach tour is wandering around. We have a half hour to practice, between 5 and 5.30 when the doors open to the audience, so naturally we start at 5.15pm and choir members continue to arrive. Once again people changed into their choir togs in the vestry. Here is a behind the scenes look at part of the vestry plumbing.

It was in this room that the ladies got changed. The men had to travel through this room to get to their changing room. I enquired if it might not have been better if the arrangements had been the other way round. Oh, they said you mean the ladies undressing? We don’t see that, it does not exist, they said with big smiles.
My 86 year old friend R, is there on the door, turning away people with valid tickets from time to time. The other door keeper lets them in. The Abbey begins to fill up.

By the time we take to the stage, the Abbey is at least three quarters full.
We sing and the choir president’s husband take some photos of us, the audience and perhaps even the soloists’ cleavages for research purposes?
Again I can hear only the same 2 people. Is any one singing the quieter bits except me?
This time there is applause after the various pieces. This starts after the Tenor solo. As the mezzo soprano moves past him to take up position, she looks him up and down in mock surprise. The soprano is apt to wink at us as she travels to and fro like a galleon.
I forgot to mention that she has had an accident and was hobbling on crutches yesterday, except during the performance. A lady member of the choir had also injured herself and didn’t sing yesterday or today. Two sopranos have also missed the performances. An alto sat out this performance due to a sore throat.
During the Credo second half, the tenors definitely lost it for quite a period. I stopped singing too. There was nothing much for me to go on. We picked up again though and battled through. The rows were a bit close together so it was not possible to hold the score far enough away to see the bottom half of the page. That’s my excuse anyway!
This time the audience applauded for ages and most of them stood up. Audience feedback was good from the many comments that I overheard. One woman thanked the choir director for a very moving evening. She probably meant that she had seen us wobbling about on our planks, but I like to think that she was a truly knowledgeable music lover.
After staging etc was packed up, we headed to the parish rooms where there was a bit of a spread laid on, with foodstuffs brought in by choir members.
2 down, 2 to go! The Depeche newspaper gave us a good review later that week. I have since found out that there were 80 paying attendees at the first concert and 250 at this one. This does not count the invited dignitaries who attended nor all the children. If you want to get your children off to sleep, bring them along, our singing works a treat.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Concerted effort no.1 in C mynah

I arrive at my destination, no thanks to any information found on the internet, which shows the church as being somewhere else, again no road name.
A few other people have arrived at 4.15pm. Church is locked and the parish rooms where we are to leave our stuff is also locked.

We wander about a bit like in a Spike Milligan sketch. We should be saying “Qu’est-ce que nous allons faire maintenant” (What are we going to do now) repeatedly whilst moving sideways in time to the words, one step per phrase.
Where is the wedding? I ask. Remembering that our afternoon rehearsal on site was cancelled due to a wedding. Oh, the wedding is at a church in another village, they tell me………
We eventually gain access to all areas and the three line whip, 5pm rehearsal starts at 5.15pm……. After all it isn’t as though we need the practice…
The acoustics are shockingly bad. I can hear the piano and harmonium, one of the tenors and one of the sopranos. It is like singing all on my own.
The men are standing on little wobbly, plank platforms, covered in loose, red material. Health and safety regulations do not apply here. We rehearse for at least an hour and then disperse, whilst the soloists do some practicing.

I go up into the organ loft and see inside the famous organ and the organ itself.
I eat my sandwich in the sunshine and wander about taking some photos of the locale and choir members. Finding an old well, a replica church complete with clock stuck to the front of a house, and, of course there is a windmill hidden behind a hill at the back of the church.

People start getting changed into their togs. Soloists have one room, the men another and the women get changed in the room which has the food in.
Members of the public start to arrive and by the time we carry out our rehearsed entrance from the back of the church and onto the staging, the church is about half full. Of course we get applauded on our journey.
I don’t know if any of you have ever listened to Rossini’s Petit messe solennellle but. The choir sings a bit, The soloists sing for about 20 minutes, the choir sings for a bit, soloists, piano, harmonium, choir sings a bit etc.
The choir sings for about 40 minutes in total, while the others sing or play for about 50 minutes.
I suggest that you rig yourself up a wobbly plank on two blocks of stone and stand on it for 90 minutes without moving about or getting off it, while the music plays in the background.
It is murder on the legs. One of the younger (in late 40’s probably) ladies in the choir left the stage and disappeared out of the church about half way through. Some others swayed alarmingly.
We got through it, is all I’m saying. The audience seemed happy, so that’s the main thing.
We dismantle the staging and the harmonium and load everything into a van.
Then it is back to the parish rooms to change, eat and drink etc. Being a lightweight, I left at about midnight for the drive home.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Life goes on...The United States of Canada

Bonus post!
My parents have been over in Canada visiting one of my sisters for a few weeks to soak up the cool, clean air. The middle week included a trip to Canada’s 2nd State, i.e. America. Vermont to be exact. I don’t know the details of the trip, but no doubt they will return talking of backyards, sidewalks, Mount Rushmore etc. (Tee-hee it’s my blog so I can write what I want. It’s my geography lesson now!)
Anyway they have been visiting historical sites and landmarks. Amongst the sites was Lake Placid.
My mother reports that although they did see some lakes, they did not actually see Lake placid. Perhaps someone pulled the plug on it, or it is not as big as it used to be? Yan sent me some photos of their trip.

As you can see, quite a culture-fest. My family know how to get right to the centre of “where it’s at”
The props look suspiciously home-made to me. These were probably shot in my sister's back yard. Doh!!!

last chants and demolition day

This wednesday was our last choir practice before the first date of our tour.
The pianist ambled in after our callisthenics and vocal exercises were completed and some of the soloists too.
The official line is that we are improving, but I am not convinced.
Due to my school choir career, where we practiced for competitions, I expect timings to be spot on, singing as a choir rather than as 4 separate sections, words clearly enunciated, and the conductor’s direction and timing to be perfect…….

Things are about to get moving? Friday afternoon just after 4pm Hyperactive man was due to arrive to start demolishing the garden shed. Madame and I waited in the garden. Some time after 8pm the boss, motorcycle man arrived?
Is HM not here? He asked.
No, we said. Madame offered him a drink of fruit juice. Now motorcycle man had been scheduled to arrive in a lorry to take away the shed rubble and various other items. He had hobbled up from his car.
He has an abscess at the bottom of his back and has spent the whole day at the hospital emergency department. The abscess is too small to operate on, so he has to return there on Monday. He has therefore not been to work, so could not turn up in a lorry. Hyperactive man has not turned up, so he leaves instructions for him to leave the shed and fix my stairs instead.
He leaves and about a minute later Hyperactive man appears. We explain the situation and his new instructions. He does not have any of the necessary tools with him, but will return early Saturday morning, not only with the tools to fix the stairs, but also demolish the wall round the flowerbed. Am I up at 7.30am?
I say that I usually get up at 7.15am. He revises his arrival time to 8am then 9.30am…… Rain starts to fall and the promised heavy rainfall begins.

Saturday dawn in all its greyness I had asked Madame if it ever hails here. She replies not at this time of year. I mention the Toulouse hailstorm with the 50,000 motorist damage claims. That was an unusual occurrence she says.
8am….9am…..10am….. Hyperactive man is obviously not coming.
There is a brown dog which I may have mentioned before. It stands in my parking area and watches the house. This is because Madame’s dog is a bitch. Several times I have tipped water onto it from my second floor window when it has ventured near enough. Other times, Madame’s younger cat chases it off the premises if she sees it.
Today I saw it in the parking area and I got a bucket of water ready just in case it came within range.
A while later, I saw it and Madame’s dog across the other side of the road. He jumped on her back and started banging away. I swear he is looking at me and grinning. Job done, they headed off up the road together.
I begin getting my stuff together for tonight’s concert at St Cintegabelle Church. I top up my redundant bucket of water and head down to the car to wash the windows and apply some anti- rain juice. I am just about to apply the juice when spots of rain start to fall. I quicken my movements, finish the task and head back upstairs.
What a noise! Someone is throwing bucketfuls of peas onto my roof. I look out of the window and hail is hammering down. Fortunately not the golf ball sized hail stones. Madame would make a crap weather girl.

The storm passes as quickly as it came.
It is time to leave the house for the concert. I put on my choir togs, gather my music, snack, water etc lock up, get into car, programme sat-nav.
Return to house for hairbrush. Return to car. Return to house for something else. All set. Drive off. Realise I have left my official car driving documents and ID which must be carried at all times when driving. Round roundabout, back home, into house……
It is going to be a long day.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Springtime in my step of employment

I was hot, thirsty and hungry, so I took my life in my hands and used the crossings to reach Carrefour (A big sell almost everything for the home shop).
I bought some victuals and returned to my car to munch lunch.
My next appointment was at 13:30 hrs at the “”Springtime of Employment event, which the sharpest of you will remember is one of my Instep advisor’s trials for me.
Research on the internet had given me the road name, but not unusually for France (yeah right!), the number of the road. Firing up my trusty GPS, I punch in a road which has the train station on it, and is a known location to me. On the map my destination road does not look to far away……
Easy-peasy. Park under the shade of 2 trees lock up gps and car and walk.
It is still baking hot and I pass the cemetery, descend some steps, and, heaven there is a public toilet. After the briefest of stops, I traverse a huge non surfaced carpark, noting the petanque club rink and the childrens’ play area as markers.
In the centre of the car park is one of the travelling household gizmo and gadget vans whose catalogue I bought my solar powered outside light from earlier this year.
Not a customer in site.
I continue on. Oh there is the garage that I returned my Europcar hire car to last August. Consult map, cross road, see scrappy piece of cardboard high up on lamp post with arrow, employment fair.
Of bloody course my destination turns out to be at the farthest end of a very long road. I am glad that I do not live in the road as for a distance of a few hundred metres there is a truly awful stench, just like when they used to open the abattoir doors in summer back in Elgin.
I arrive
10 minutes early for the afternoon session, so more waiting under a tree.
And we’re off. Through the gate and a young lady gives me a leaflet with a slip of paper in it, showing the location of the organisations attending.
Enter building. Layout is confusing, but I cope. The hiring firms are in place, but the half which has the ANPE stands, is actually on the stage, there appear to be a few tables, a computer or two. Where is the CV workshop and all the other exciting options.
I do two circuits. Buffalo Grill, Carrefour, MacDonalds are the only names I know, apart from the police.
My target is nowhere to be seen. I go out of a side door and see a big tent. It has an A4 notice with more rectangles on it. This is Infomatique.
There on the list is Futurescop also my French teacher’s “organisation”
I enter the big tent. Lots of tables in a horseshoe formation. Most of them with the firm’s staff still out to lunch.
I go and speak to Mr S and I spot my target two tables away.
He is expecting me. So we have a chat and go round and round in circles. He is a nice enough chap (shockingly bad teeth) but too laid back and pleased at his own cleverness. We can even conduct the whole meeting in English if I prefer. I choose French. He has a younger female colleague at the desk with him and I am the only punter in the tent. The next table are also listening in.
I notionally sign up the lady as a client, he suggests a fee of 1000 euros, which I think is reasonable. She starts to look worried.
Eet all comes back to ze question, Do you ave any customerz?
I say Non
Zen you cannot ask ze qwestion what should I do? (this is the loop we are stuck in for some time)
I suggest that he imagine that I did have a client, what should I do then? …..
And so we go on, I laugh, they laugh, the people at the next table laugh. Perhaps a stand up routine is the way to go.
I pass my ANPE lady who signed my up as unemployed. She is tiny. No wonder she stays behind her desk normally. I talk to her. Moment of panic until she places me. Has she seen my Instep advisor? No, but she has never met her. She takes me back into the tent, and there is an Instep table, now with some ladies behind it. They know nothing, but my advisor is not and has not been there. Strange that she told me she would be there.
Next stop is to find the location of the Medical staff training centre that I wrote to about a month ago.
Walk back to the car, take on water, then head off walking with map.
I find it in temporary wooden huts, one of which is the reception.
I talk to a lady and explain my business and that I had written a letter. Would I like to meet Mr B? she will arrange an appointment.
I get a message on my answerphone the next day. The meeting is the same date and time as my Point.P delivery.
I phone repeatedly but it is always an answerphone. I find a different phone number on the internet and try that. I explain that I cannot make that date/time. She will get back to me. I get a phone message confirming my meeting on the same date and time as before. I phone and explain. As Mr B is very busy, the meeting might have to be in July, she will take charge of matters and get back to me……. I’m still waiting.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Speedy Gonzalez .P and a bit of Bricomanship

Motorbike man arrived with 2 pieces of paper for me to look at. I was expecting the long awaited detailed statement of work to be carried out including itemised billing details). One was a Bricomarche quote for 2 windows and a metal door, the other was a list of materials for the replacement garden shed.
He went through the list with me. Hyperactive man had done the research for the first at Bricomarche and no one knew if he had specified opaque glass for the bathroom window, so when I went to place the orders…. Yes folks. I was going to have to go to the firms and do the necessary ordering.
Tuesday was a busy day. First stop was Point.P (what a catchy name!). After waiting in a cue, I had to see the lady huddled over her computer, as she had done the initial quote. I had to explain that the name and the address on the order had to be changed to mine, and that the crossed out items on the list were no longer required. Some of the wood was not in stock and would have to be ordered specially? I said that that was fine. We settled on a delivery date of 17 June between 8 and 10am.
Next stop was a nearby town where I parked at Mr Bricolage. Inside the big DIY store I found some windows, and a counter with wood. There was a queue. Two smart ass Dutch, a French woman and me. I asked one of the men in French if this was the correct place to be to order windows. He replied in English (obviously I need to work on my French accent) that he didn’t know.
Him and his mate had been WAITING OVER 10 MINUTES!!!!
No one was behind the desk, but they could see someone sitting at a desk, somewhere behind the scenes and to their right.
They kept shouting at the hidden person. There are 7 people waiting to be served! Hey! You have customers here! (they did not bother speaking in French much).
A young female assistant hove into view behind the barrier, but this was not her department. This was toooooo much. One of the Dutchmen lifted the chain and started off into the staff only area. The girl looked very alarmed, and stood stock still like a petrified rabbit. Their training hadn’t included dealing with angry Dutchmen in staff areas.
He disappeared and we could hear him shouting at someone, who presumably told him that it was not his department and that he would have to wait for the correct person, who was currently busy to reappear.
Dutchman stomped back into view, and him and his mate stomped off, complaining loudly of shocking service etc etc.
30 seconds later the correct man appeared with lots of pieces of MDF board cut to various sizes resting on a flatbed trolley.
French woman gave her order for a piece of (she picked up a piece from the wood sample display stand on the counter)
I knew that I was in the wrong place but hung on to ask the man upon his return.
I had to go out of the building and to my left.
I found the correct part. It was like a drive-through restaurant, only with building supplies.
Enter the office and join cue of one.
I admire the strange and wonderful items on the shelves.
My turn. Show list. Explain about frosted glass.
Lady looks up computer, but finds that it is impossible to answer the frosted glass question. Perhaps it will be dearer with frosted glass, I say. She thinks that it might be dearer. I say that I will buy some opaque plastic to stick on the glass if that is the case. She starts to get enthusiastic about the range of such material that they currently have in stock in the main store.
Time is ticking on as it is now about 11.30am and everything will shut at 12noon for a couple of hours.
More people are waiting now. This is an excellent opportunity for her to go and find the man who made the quote to see if he remembers if the quote is for opaque glass.
She returns. The man is very busy, but he will come down to see me soon.
She starts serving the queue.
Man appears. She explains my order to him again, and he looks at the computer.
No it not possible to tell if the quote is for plain or opaque glass as the item stock number is the same. He will have to look up the price of that size and type of window on the list. Recklessly I suggest that perhaps it will be cheaper I venture as being non see through, it is actually less useful and you don’t get the same benefits. Now this could go two ways, but he thinks about it for about 10 seconds and says that one could always open the window it one wanted to see through it.
He continues his research and discovers that opaque and plain glass are the same price.
Meanwhile a woman (English, I think) has been trying to order 4 velux windows and an ordinary window. Two of the velux windows have to open in a certain way to comply with health and safety regulations. She draws a diagram in her diary. Lady staff interrupts my expert. He is very busy (It is now about 10 to 12 and lunch shut down is looming) and cannot possibly sort out such an order today. She will have to come back another time. Lady says that another assistant in the shop had told her that if she came here, they would be able to fill her order today. Etc etc etc
She is able to place the velux order with the assistant, but the window will have to be ordered another time when he is less busy. If she leaves her contact details he will contact her. This is the best she is going to get, so that is what she has to do.
The man finishes typing in my order and prints it off. They will contact me when my order is ready to collect. I explain that my car is very small and will not hold a metal door and two windows, one of which is very large.
Delivery charges are added.
What is my account number? I say that I do not have an account. He says that without an account I cannot make an order. I am stumped. I whisk out my bank card and say, do you mean to say that even if I give you the money, I cannot make an order?
I use my card to make a 200 euro deposit, the rest to be paid upon receipt of the goods at the shop.
At one minute to noon, I burst out into the blazing sun. No I don’t turn to look back to see what happens to the unlucky people in the queue. They should have given themselves more time to complete their transactions.

And that is just the first half of the day, with my original reason for visiting the town still to complete….. but you have suffered enough for today.

Computer problem

Last Sunday I travelled over to a fellow choir member’s house to see if I could figure out a problem he was having with the choir’s web site. The problem is that although he can upload text files to the site, any images that he tries to ftp across arrive with a 0kb size and result in a blank rectangle with a little red x appearing on the site.
Unfortunately I was unable to figure out the problem either, so I sent an email in English to the host site. A week later, there has been no response. So if anyone out there in la la land knows the answer, please let me know. Previously uploading images had not been a problem.
My friend C, had ordered Web Creator 4 (which he uses to create the site) and the company had sent him 2 copies. They then told him that they wanted one back at his own expense. He told them to naff off and has not heard any more about it. So I now have an unopened software box to play with, if I ever have the time to do so.
Did I like cherries? He asked. I said that I did like cherries. I ended up climbing one ladder clutching a wire egg basket, while he climbed another holding a huge wicker basket. Time passed and I wondered what he was going to do with all the cherries we were picking. Are you going to make jam? I asked. He replied that he was not going to make jam as he had already done so a week ago.
You guessed it. I went away with a huge wicker basket half full of cherries.
So I found a glass bowl and left Madame a bowlful, I took a bowlful for myself, then I took the still half-full basket to my new French family.
It was about 9pm by now and I had still not eaten. Would I like an aperitif? So I had a pastis and water, with a couple of glaçons (that’s ice cubes to you)
Eventually I got home, made a hasty meal, and straight to bed.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Seconac, Chapelle Saint-D’Arnave, black magic and Penelope Cruz

I think that I have mentioned the nice, friendly family that I met at the recent Rallye and that R and I visited their house briefly. Last Thursday it was a bank holiday and the children were not at school. Mother and youngest daughter turned up early in the afternoon to ask if I wanted to come and play petanque in their garden with them. I forced myself to cancel my string of other engagements and I went round. There was me, C and the three daughters (youngest 8 and the oldest probably 12). There followed a game of boules which lasted at least 2 hours. It was very warm, but fortunately I am young, fit and healthy (well 2 out of 3 ain’t bad, Meatloaf says so). The good news is that I won! Sometimes I insisted that they speak only English for a round. The youngest is not afraid to have a go, but the older daughter is shyer.
On Thursday evening, the wife of the house, C came to the house to see if I would like to go on a picnic with them on Saturday. Once again I cancelled all engagements. One of the daughters had flown off to Nantes to visit her godmother as a birthday treat. 1st time flying , and travelling all by herself at 12 years old. Very brave. This meant that there was room for me in the car, so I didn’t need to jog along behind.
The main reason for the trip was to collect spring water. The French and probably most Europeans have a thing about natural spring water. They can be seen filling up empty plastic bottles at many a natural “source” . My family had come prepared. The boot (trunk) was full of 5 litre containers as well as much huger receptacles. There was also a selection of normal sized bottles.
The first stop was therefore in a very small hamlet called Seconac.

This is the building which houses the outflows of the spring. It was also the old wash house in days gone by. Now it also has the village notice boards, the public telephone and the post box. Recycling bins and the Mairie were further down the road. It was very peaceful except for those pesky birds which had escaped the hunters. Lots of scenery, wild flowers etc but no shop.
C told me that the water had no calcium in it so it was excellent for making tea.
Once the bottles were all filled, we set off on part two of the journey.
Don’t ask me what the name of the village was that we stopped at as the starting point for the leisurely stroll to see an old chapel.
It had a river running through it, so it could have been any one of a number of places. Rucksacks on backs, hats on, suncream on and we were off.
First stop after the dog that the youngest went to stroke nearly took her hand off, was the river to dip hats in the water to keep them cool. Being British, and therefore reserved (and not wanting to get Limes disease, or Graves disease?) I did not doff my hat.

We set off at a steady pace, then the road became a twisty, narrow, rubble-strewn path which headed steeply in an upward direction. We were soon down to a crawl pace in the heat. C kept apologising for the steepness of the climb adding “M (her husband) never told me it was steep”. She had never been there before.
Eventually we caught a glimpse of the church and voila we arrived and rested in the shade for a bit.
The church is 11th and 12 century and next to it is a small building which houses a not very black stone which has been cemented into the floor. This is a sacred stone which people come on pilgrimages to touch, as it cures epilepsy. No wonder they cemented that little beauty into the floor up a steep hill with poor accessibility.

We explored, had our picnic, took photographs etc. On the chapel door there was a poster advertising a musical event in the evening. The advert for the event also happened to be on the paper that some of our food was wrapped in. There was no mention of the steep climb and the difficult terrain though.
I hope they have the equivalent of a red cross team standing by with stretchers on the night. Coming back down again in the dark will be particularly dangerous as the stones slip from under your feet.
We stayed for an hour or so, before making our weary way to the car then home.
Before leaving their house we had a game of boules for about an hour. The 8 year old started to wilt a bit though. What a lightweight! J
I lay on my bed for half an hour, and woke up 2 hours later with a jump. I was going to go to the cinema to see Penelope Cruz in “Entreints Brisees”. This was to be a new challenge. A film in Spanish, with French subtitles.
My legs were no longer working, but as I had quarter of an hour to eat something and leave the house, they rallied round and I set off once more.
And people think I do nothing over here!