Monday, 29 March 2010

Up the pole

A week later and it was my time of the month to see my unemployment advisor. We had our usual discussion and I explained that I had had an interview the previous week.

He disappeared and made a phone call. Ten minutes later he returned. The panel had decided upon the town post, but had not made any decisions yet about the other posts available.

We continued our chat, and I explained about my lack of medical / social charge cover. I also said that the only solution that I could think of, other than paying loadsa medical insurance money, was to become set myself up as an autoentreprenneur.

He disappeared again, reappearing another 10 minutes later with a phone number of an organisation to contact. They would have a chat with me about my business idea and if they thought that it was a goer, there would be training available and help with the various steps of setting up a business, e.g. publicity materials etc.

He typed up my progress report and said that he would not make an appointment for a next meeting. After I had met with the business people, I could contact him to keep him up to date with my progress.

So, cast adrift once more, I wended my weary way homeward.

I was mid siesta at 1.30 pm when a trumpet fanfare dragged me from the land of nod. It was a few seconds before I realised that it was my mobile phone, which of course I had left in the other room.

I staggered from the bedroom, picked it up and said hello. The line went dead, so I went back to bed.

The phone beeped. I had a message. So I tapped in 123 and waited for the voice to tell me that I had a message on my repondeur and that I had to tapper 1 to listen to it.

This I duly did, but as usual the voice spoke very quickly. The lady was obviously making the call while eating her lunch. I decided that it was too difficult.

Quarter of an hour later, I listened to the message another 4 times, trying to make out what it was all about. French people always assume that you know who is calling and why, so it’s not so much what they say, but what they don’t day that is the important bit.

It seemed to be about the interviews the previous week, but none of the words rang any useful bells. However the lady had left her phone number and said that I should contact her as soon as possible.

I phoned up C from my French family and took my mobile round for her to listen to, and see if she could pick up anything that I had missed.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Interview with a damp sire

The ibuprophen tablets were not doing their job, and I felt like shit. The panel of three ladies were seated on the other side of 2 rows of tables. I had a choice of 3 seats to sit in. They did not rise, but told me to sit down.

I took my coat off and complied.

You will have heard of the horse whisperer. These were the interview whisperers. They introduced themselves. Normal names, but long job titles, with the last lady, who was in charge of the proceeding, having a job title about 12 words long. It was a good job that my brain was closing down, otherwise I would have made a tit of myself by saying something like “You must have to wear an enormous badge to fit all that in.”

They asked me some questions. Some questions I even heard, some I had to guess at.

I explained that I had had flu and that I could not hear anything out of my right ear. These are the experts in dealing with children with disabilities, but there was no discernible rise in voice levels.

I’m sitting there thinking it’s bloody hot in here, tuning in and out. Now they are telling me that there are currently 3 posts with more in the pipe line. They will keep the names of successful candidates on file for future posts.

Would I prefer a post in town or in the country? Would my level of French enable me to help a child with their reading and enable me to put something that the child didn’t understand into alternative French?

Would I be able to organise events? Why would a disabled child not be able to attend school? What experience did I have of children with disabilities?

Many of the posts also involve a combination of child care and school admin work. They would keep me informed of their decision.
"Oh well, that was that" I thought.

Eventually the interview was over and I was able to wobble off into the clear, white light and straight home to bed.
"Atchoo! - one size fits everyone!".  (Sparks)

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The ante- interview

Thursday arrived and it was looking doubtful that I would be able to attend any interview the following day. So I stayed in bed and no preparatory work was done for the morrow.

Friday, I felt a bit better, but the top of my head still felt like it wanted to part company with the rest of me. More ibuprophen and I was out of bed and having my first shower for a few days.

Still mobile, so I switched on the computer and tried to find out more information about what the post involved. It looked very complicated and you could do months, or was it years of training to become one.

The job “advert” had a description of about 15 words to go on.

I looked for similar posts in the UK, to see what their duties involved.

I looked on Googlemap to see exactly where I had to go for the interview. That part of the street was of course covered in scaffolding and green material.

I printed off a few pages, got dressed semi smartish, had some more pills and set off into the sunshine, which had arrived just to hurt my eyes.

Okay here was the street. I was looking for Number 1.

I find Number 1 ter, so I go in the door and up a tiny windy staircase. None to fhe office doors look promising and right on the top floor there is an honour guard of large garden gnomes on each side of the staircase, a large nautical themed mirror and a big sign on the door which said something like “Welcome aboard”. Of course I hadn’t got a camera with me, so I may have been hallucinating.

Back down the steps and into that bright sunshine. The next building was 1 bis, and did not look promising. I carried on up the road and there it was, a proper Number 1.

Of course it has a box of buttons to press to gain access. None of the descriptions matched anything that I was looking for.

Fortunately I was here 10 minutes early. A lady came along the pavement towards me as I gazed glassily at the buttons. There were pieces of paper stuck inside the glass door, one of which said that interviews for something or other were being held on floor 1 for town posts and floor 2 for other areas.

Could she help me?

I explained that I had come for an interview and she suggested a route that might take me to the first floor one. The post that I had applied for was 5 miles or so out of town.

Up more stairs and she spotted a list of names stuck on a door leading to a long corridor. My name was on the top of the list of 6 or 7 names.

It was very hot, not just me overheating. This building had its own global warming situation going on.

I walked to the end of the corridor and through an half open door I could hear voices. It was about 2 minutes to my interview time, so I popped my head round the door to tell them that I had arrived.

They told me that the third member of the panel had not arrived yet, so could I please take a seat in the corridor.

I took a seat and the clock ticked on. Another interviewee arrived and sat next to me. She started talking. Was I there for the interview? I said that I was. But you are English! she said in French. I confirmed that I was indeed English and explained that the interview panel were waiting for their colleague to arrive before starting. Her interview time was 14:00.

Another interviewee arrived.... Eventually, about 20 minutes late, I was called into the interview room.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Pulling a sickie

It can be hard to get motivated to blog at the best of times, but I have had another bout of flu which laid me up in bed for a week, so that meant phoning in sick and not teaching any classes. 2 choir practices have also been missed. This is not good as the performances of le pecheur et sa femme begin in a couple of months and there aren't many practice sessions left.

I don’t follow many blogs, but two of the three France located writers of blogs that I peruse, have also been struck down with the dreaded lurgie. Being the only man however, I have borne my suffering with fortitude...

It all started on a Friday evening after I came out of the cinema having watched “The silent man” in its original language. At last a chance to understand everything that was going on, all the witty banter. Wrong! The first 10 minutes of the film were in Yiddish or Hebrew with French subtitles on the screen. A double whammy.

It was a bloody depressing film.

I left the cinema, well wrapped up complete with hat. Te outside temperature was 2 degrees above freezing, As I walked homewards, I started shivering violently and hyperventilating. Not normal at all. I managed to make it home, and into bed.

The next day, I felt relatively normal and went off in the car to buy a piece of worktop.

In Brico Depot I felt a bit dizzy so I completed my purchase quickly, and returned home and straight to bed.

I emerged briefly on the Wednesday to buy some food and then back to bed.

Friday was interesting.

I recently found out that my health cover from the UK Government had lapsed. I got a letter from CPAM inviting me to contact the UK to see if they would renew my cover, and also something about returning my carte vitale so that it could be updated.

I had gone to CPAM clutching the letter and payslips etc from my 2 little jobs.

I found out that unless you work a minimum of 60 hours per month, you do not qualify for the State social security/health cover, which covers 70 percent of most medical costs. I also have a top up Mutuel policy to cover the remaining 30 percent of costs.

The lady wanted me to contact the UK to get a letter stating that my cover had ended and would not be extended (Which I did and they said that they would send me out a letter in English and a copy in French, but three weeks on, nothing has arrived). She also wants me to get my two employers to write a letter saying how many hours I worked for them for December, January and February. The pay slip did not state the number of hours worked and even the contract paperwork did not interest her.

As this would have worked out at best at around 20 hours per month, both of us knew that I would be 40 hours short, but the dance must be danced.

The most likely outcome would be that I would have to take out total health insurance. I don’t know what that would cost, but I suspect that it would be thousands of euros per year.

Back to the Friday. In January I had applied for 2 jobs via Pole Emploi. One to teach business people English for 4 hours per week for 8 months and the other for a 20 hour per week post in a primary school, as an assistant medico psychologique. Basically helping a child with a disability during their school day.

On the afternoon of my last trip to the cinema, I received a phone call. Could I come to an interview on the following Friday at 13:45? I said that I could. She was unable to answer any of my questions except to tell me in a roundabout way the address where the interviews were being held, and that I was not the only candidate.....

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Deco and demons

Bee boy having vacated his studio, meant that I could give it a good clean. This meant that I ended up stripping the walls, repapering, painting ceilings etc.

As the electric hot plates were shorting out the electrics, I went out and bought an electric cooker, which was duly delivered a week later. I also phoned up Conforama as they will send out a technician to wire such things into the wall for you.

Now all I need is a new tenant. I do not want a tenant like the ones who have moved next door but one recently. They are possibly students and during the week everything is quite quiet. However for the last 3 Saturday evenings, 7 cars full of their mates have arrived. They make lots of noise and park anywhere they like, blocking in the driveway to the garages which belong to the flats opposite, taking up the flat’s parking spaces etc.

They also think that it is okay to park in my car park, despite the 6 private property, No parking signs. So it is a full time job asking them to remove their cars to elsewhere. I will have to investigate some kind of chain barrier to keep them out. This will be a bloody nuisance and of course will cost.....

God knows what it will be like in the summer. They like to hang out in the street in clumps of various sizes. The young men relieve themselves against any convenient wall or bin.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Pas de la Casa

“We are going to Andorre to do some duty-free shopping, would you like to come too?”

I said yes. “ We will be setting off early....”

Well I can do early, and I imagined us setting off at 6.30am or something similar.

“Meet us outside our house at 8am”

French early is not the same as my early.

The weather was looking a bit uncertain, but we set off in good spirits, armed with shopping bags.

The road south was quite quiet and we made good time until meeting up with a big lorry. We wound ever upwards passing patches of snow and then entering a landscape of snow. In fact one of the road signs said that we were entering an avalanche pass.

We drove past the customs post on the France / Spain border winding on up into the snow covered mountains along a road which, although cleared and well gritted, had a continuous, high bank of snow at each side of the road.

We reached Pas de la Casa which was to be the location of our shopping experience. It is not far across the border. On the road up, we passed big lay-byes for vehicles to pull in and fit their snow chains to their wheels.

Indeed as we progressed, a large overhead electronic sign told us that if we were going onward to X to fit our snow chains now.

I asked M if he had snow chains. No, he hadn’t.

The first stop was a massive petrol station situated above the town. Petrol is cheaper here and on the day diesel was about 18 cents per litre cheaper. Those professional shoppers who come here, aim to arrive with an almost empty tank and fill up.

I don’t know how many pumps there were, perhaps 20 or more. You cannot pay by credit card, it is strictly a cash transaction. There are auto banks dotted around the service station where you can withdraw money.

The petrol attendants take your money and put it into their leather shoulder bags. We were lucky to arrive early. During the day the queue for petrol stretches back past the entrance to the town.

We managed to park in one of the streets and spent about an hour and a half crossing and recrossing the road as we compared prices of items.

C and M were looking for beer, butter, chocolate (no bargains to be had), sugar, spirits, olives etc.

I bought a 70cl bottle of Drambuie (a whisky liquer) which I thought was cheap at 9 .75 euros. Across the road I found the same item on sale for 19.99 euros. So it does pay to shop around.

There are also perfume shops, lots of cigarettes, electrical goods etc but we were on a tight time scale.

The snow started falling, and it was disconcerting to see people in skiing gear and bobbly hats, walking through a shopping centre clutching their skis.

Once the shopping had been completed we headed back towards France. There was bumper to bumper traffic heading towards us.

We stopped at Ax-les-Thermes. C wanted to buy some bread and to show me the location of the famous open air basin which fills with naturally hot spring water. S and I missed this when we came here in 2008, mainly because we didn’t know that it existed.

The loaf turned out to be a huge, circular, heavy loaf, which cost about 3 and a half euros. They cut it into quarters and freeze it. It makes good toast, with one slice being about 8 or 9 inches long, by 4 inches.

There were two alcoves from which the hot, sulphurous water flowed, and steam rose from the grating into which it splashed.

The basin was a large rectangular afflair. The custom is that the weary pilgrim removes shoes and socks, and sits soaking their feet in the warm waters.

Maybe I will do so the next time I’m in town, the basin did not look very clean