Thursday, January 29, 2015

Finding a job in Montpellier

From Vox Europ
As co-Ambassador of the Montpellier branch of InterNations, I often get messages from people wanting information about finding a job in Montpellier. They may have a French boyfriend, or have just finished their studies, or are seeking a new life in the sun.

I'm reticent about giving out this sort of information as
1) I'm not sure people want to hear the truth
2) The truth goes against the rose-tinted glasses outlook
3) I don't want to lull anyone into a false sense of security.

The truth is, and this the case for the whole of France, unemployment has reached epic proportions. Over 6 million people are  unemployed in all categories. Six million! It's a national scandal, but one we don't hear about on the news because the media only ever talk about the unemployed of category A (those with no paid activity) who number 'just' 3.5 million.

Furthermore, if you don't have a French qualification, you will have a hard (if not impossible) time finding a job, especially if you barely speak French.

So which sectors are recruiting? According to INSEE, eight million boomers will be retiring by 2020, so you'd think that this would liberate a whole lot of jobs seeing as this number represents 31% of the active population. Not all of the outgoing staff will be replaced though what with improvements in technology, business restructuring, and the rise of robots in the workplace.

The three main sectors that will be recruiting are:
1) in-home services (childcare, care of the elderly, cleaners, home maintenance) where it's expected there'll be 159,000 new jobs in the next twelve years. These are jobs paid at the minimum wage, but still require state diplomas.
2) computer engineers
3) sales, where it's expected there'll be nearly 300,000 jobs in the next few years. Friends in the business tell me that there is a high turnover of shop sales staff in the region because it's so difficult finding reliable, honest people...

According to one website, there'll also be jobs in the medical sector (mid-wives, nurses), teachers especially science profs (although good luck with getting a CAPES), and specialists in the building industry (bricklayers, roofers, tilers). Hotels continue to search for (qualified) cooks, waiters, and managers, while import-export companies require drivers, warehouse/logistics people.

Unemployment levels for Languedoc-Roussillon 2012, from Midi Libre
It's very positive to read about job possibilities in the future, but what of the here and now in Montpellier? Unemployment here has been steadily rising over the past few years and currently stands at 14%. The region of Languedoc Roussillon is number two for poverty and unemployment, just behind Reunion Island, which results in some mixed impressions of Montpellier by expat workers.

The economic crisis has led to more French people holidaying in France and, whereas the well-off go to the Cote d'Azur, the working classes come to Montpellier (Palavas, Carnon, etc) which means there is at least seasonal work here.

Some people manage to find jobs teaching English, some have technological skills they can use anywhere, others try to start a business in these tricky economic times. It's particularly difficult to start a business in Montpellier (so I've heard) because the business world here is very incestuous and you have to know the right people in order to get on.

So my response to those who ask for advice is to tell them that it's difficult to find a job in Montpellier, that unemployment is high, and there are lots of foreigners just like them looking for work. If they don't have a French qualification and can't speak much French, they'll have to look for low-paid work at best unless they have some personal contacts.

Easily the best way to get a job here is by word-of-mouth. How did I hear about my job? From a friend. How did two of my friends hear about (and get) a job? From me.

There are many websites devoted to starting a business in France if you really want to do that, e.g.:

Plus is a great resource for the Anglophone community in France where there are many entrepreneurs who have lots of experience, and are willing to help answer questions.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Walking off the Christmas cake

When I came back from the UK, I brought back one of my mum's Christmas cakes. She makes four every year: one for her and one for each of her children. You can see why we always travel to the UK by train. The weight of cake plus Christmas presents would bankrupt me on Ryanair! This year, it took until the middle of January before I'd marzipanned and iced it and had it ready for the knife. Sometimes I can't wait that long and eat it as it comes, but it's not the same without the marzipan and icing. Bravely, I resisted the urge to tuck in beforehand, but it was often a tough call after a day's work with the cake beckoning...

Since tucking in, my DB (who unfortunately is very fond of Christmas cake, meaning less for me...) and I have made it a point of getting out and about at the weekend in order to walk off the effects of delicious but calorie-laden cake.

Being in a bit of a January slump, we have not wanted to travel far. Our aim is to get out at the best time of the day and to do roughly 10,000 steps, after which we can stuff our faces with cake happily guilt free.

This month has seen us head half an hour on narrow winding roads north to Domaine du Mas Neuf near Lauret, and forty minutes or so on the main road west to the Forêt Domaniale de la Gardiole just south of Gigean.

Hérault has been inhabited since time immemorial and we saw some of the vestiges of ancient habitations at the top of a rocky spur (éperon) overlooking Lauret. They date from chalcolithic times, 2200 BC.
Vestiges similar to the ones found at Cambous
The view from the top offers a 360°C panorama that, on a clear day, stretches 100 km towards Mont Ventoux to the east, and 47 km north to Mont Aigoual.

Looking north towards Mont Aigoual

Looking west towards Mont Ventoux, Lauret in the foreground
You can also see the sea, and blow away the cobwebs. There are several winds that blow across the region, and they are identified at the top of the viewing point which is the best spot to admire the views. As you can see, we are not short of a wind or two in Hérault!
How's that for a blue sky? 
On our way up and down, we passed a huge pile of rocks that were, in places, used to build dry-stone walls (courtine) and little refuges. The refuge here was long gone but...
Dry-stone wall, or courtine dating back to 6 BC
...funnily enough, we came across a refuge on our walk through the Gardiole forest. There was the same type of dry stone wall construction, and a restored (or original) refuge.

Refuge in dry stone wall
We were on a discovery path which had little stone labels to identify the local flora, so I found out that the annoying, vicious little holly-lookalike bush that is native to the garrigue is actually called Chêne kermès. It grows and is cut back regularly in the pine wood opposite my house with the result that you cannot stroll through the wood in sandals because you get attacked by its nasty ground-level spiky leaves which lodge themselves painfully under your toes until you pick them out. Anyway, I now what the stuff is called.

It was a couple of hundred metres beyond this point, after a slog uphill that I suddenly remembered that I hadn't locked the car. Or had I? Oops. I couldn't remember, so after a bit of humming and hahing I thought I'd better go back and check, and discovered that I hadn't. Nothing unfortunate had occurred, so we set off again along a different path which took us to the top of the hill, a lovely wide path, and some spectacular views.

Lovely wide path suitable for all, with the Causse d'Aumelas wind farm in the distance
I don't know which wind was blowing that day, but it was certainly doing a good job chasing away the clouds and clearing the lovely blue sky.
So chilly there was still ice on the puddle
We enjoyed views west towards the extensive port of Sète, and the town behind, and east over the lagoons to Villeneuve-lès-Maguelone and Palavas-les-Flots. The sea was a stunning azure blue.

Me being blown about with my back to Vic le Gardiole and the sea
The view towards Vic le Gardiole and sea suggested to me how the area might have looked before so much of the land was drained. You can see the swampy wetlands behind me which is how I imagine it must have been like right across Languedoc-Roussillon. The region was certainly mosquito-ridden, and malaria was common right up until the twentieth century.

During a lull in the wind, we managed to find a sheltered spot in the sun to have our lunch, away from the hunters and their fluorescent jackets, dogs, horns and guns. Just as we were finishing, the wind picked up again, so I gave thanks to the wind gods for their kindly respite. Maybe they'd stopped for lunch too.

We had parked the car in the car park serving the ruined Abbaye Saint Félix du Montceau (11-13C) and decided to have a look around upon our return.

Abbaye Saint Félix du Montceau
I'd visited the abbey before, but restoration is under way, so it looked different to the last time I'd been there. The grounds are a pleasant place to stroll; you can see the remnants of the prison, pilgrims' quarters, herb garden, infirmary, and so on. Some replanting of the medicinal herb garden had taken place, with labels to identify the plants.

I seem to remember this is a very popular place in warmer weather, and even on a chilly January day, the car park was half full by the time we came back. This could have been because there was an added attraction of donkey rides for the kiddies. We'd passed a donkey stables on our way up with lovely winter-coat-fluffy donkeys standing peacefully about in the paddock.

My treat upon return was a lovely Yorkshire cuppa with a fat slice of Christmas cake. Thanks mum!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Careful What You Say!

For more of the same pithy humour see Strips Journal
We've had blanket, carpet, wall-to-wall coverage of the Charlie Hebdo+ tragedy in the French news for the past week. It's not that I don't deplore what happened or am not interested. I do and I am, but it's been a week now, and there are other things happening in the world.

Little things probably, like two thousand Nigerians massacred by a young girl suicide bomber sent into the crowds by Boko Haram. That got a five-second slot at the end of the news on Monday. Not important enough for more I suppose only five days after the French tragedy, and not a word more since. Or how about the rise of the Swiss Franc, or indeed the news about Gazprom?

David Pujadas, the France2 news anchor seems to have been relishing all the CH-related items. He's been more alert and intense this week than normal. It has to be said, the tragedy has been a hot subject for news teams, and they have absolutely made the most of it and more. It's not often such a 'gift' is handed to them.

In moving speeches applauded by one and all, Hollande vowed to uphold his commitment to free speech. Unfortunately, it's all just empty words. Free speech has been under attack for decades, modified by one law after another. There are two catch-all phrases used by the hounds of SOS Racisme and their ilk to stamp on free speech: incitation à la haine (incitement to hate, which seems to include offence these days), and apologie de terrorisme (justification for terrorism).

Last weekend, millions of people marched to defend free speech (not sure which one though - the original one or the hobbled one), but this week already, a bunch of some fifty cretins were hauled up before the courts for apologie de terrorisme, and a further 200 'incidents' have been reported in schools. In shocked tones, it was reported that some kids refused the minute of silence to honour the dead, and some even said the cartoonists had it coming. I do wonder on what planet the msm live sometimes. Of course there will be kids saying this. They probably come from households where the parents say it too!

Meanwhile, Manual Valls is determined to take a hard line on terrorism, so the repulsive 'comic' Dieudonné is due to be judged soon for his provocative tweet where he said he felt like he was 'Charlie Coulibaly'. Valls has also mobilised the army, put the intelligence services on red alert and implemented the Plan Vigipirate, but if Christiane Taubira has anything to do with it, people like Coulibaly won't have to worry too much even if they're a hardened recidivist. She wants to:
« aligne le régime des récidivistes sur celui des non-récidivistes en matière de réductions supplémentaires de peines ».
She wants to align the regimes for recidivists and non-recidivists when reducing sentences. A first offender might expect a light sentence for something and get off with a fifty percent reduction. Now, the hardened criminal with eighty condemnations under his belt will be able to expect the same fifty percent reduction. While Valls does his utmost to arrest the terrorists, Taubira orders their release asap.This jaw-dropping directive was published on January 9 in the midst of the hostage situation.

As Littlejohn puts it, you couldn't make it up.

What to do about terrorism in the name of Islam, though? In my very humble opinion, I think it's time Islam caught up with the 21st century. Like Christianity before it, Islam needs to be modernised. Catholics no longer have the Spanish Inquisition to worry about, or witch hunts, or any other such barbarities, and it's time for Islam to grow up too.

The process has started. In Egypt, el-Sisi, the president, is calling on imams to implement reforms so that Islam is no longer seen as a source of 'destruction'. In the UK, people like Sara Khan of Inspire, a counter-extremist Islamic forum, are calling upon the Muslim community to develop a British Islam in harmony with British values rather than perpetuating an unhelpful 'grievance narrative'.

Is there such a group in France?

When I did my degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies, we learned that back in the ninth century, the door to interpretation of the texts was closed by scholars who decided that everything that could be said had been said, and there was nothing more to add to the study of Islamic texts. It is this 'closing of the door of interpretation' that has kept Islam so static. You can imagine how difficult it will be to open it again in order to remove obstacles to modernisation. Hard-line scholars are totally opposed, and behind them, probably, maint vested interests.

Still, I can't see a resolution to the world's terrorist issue without a thorough overhaul of all Islamic texts and reinterpretation of sacred words in the name of Peace.

Such a small word, such huge repercussions.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas!

I hope you enjoy your Christmas, however you spend it. Here, to get you in the mood, is one of my favourite carols, O Holy Night sung beautifully by Kings College choir.

Unfortunately, while the Nine Lessons & Carols is on tomorrow, I'll be in a TGV hot-footing it to the UK to spend Christmas with the family. And looking forward to it. :)

See you on the other side. xx

Friday, December 19, 2014

Have at ye! Menopause!

Back in September I went to see a naturopathe and came out with a list of menopause-defying food supplements to get my teeth into.

So, how's it going? Actually, very well; I'm totally won over. There are two outstanding products which I must tell you about (and Mariella Frostrup could do worse than listen up too...!).

Hydra7 - this gives you the most amazingly soft skin. It's made from the berries and seeds of argousier (sea-buckthorn) and is packed with a bunch of omegas (3,6,7,9). You just need a course of one pot to see the incredible difference it makes, which is good as it's sold at a fairly pricey 29.90 Eur for 60 capsules.

It contributes to the hydration not just of skin but of the body's mucus zones too (eyes, mouth, down below, gastric, nasal). It helps iron out small wrinkles, and replaces totally the need for lotions and potions to moisturise body skin. This stuff is brilliant!

The other outstanding product is pomegranate oil. It's rich in omega 5 which has nifty anti-ageing properties and does wonders for women's dryness issues. Dr Sellman advises dabbing it on the vulva to promote hydration. It's not easy to find pure organic pomegranate oil but this stuff is excellent: Pomegranate oil 14.39 Eur for 100ml. I also use a little on my face instead of cream morning and night.

As I can't get enough of pomegranate oil, I'm taking a course of capsules. They are also pretty pricey, but my libido has returned and my hot flashes are reduced in intensity and number since I started taking these capsules along with the oil above: Pomegranate oil capsules 28.58 Eur for 60 capsules.

I was doing okay with the other supplements (borage, houblon, salsepareille) that the naturopathe prescribed, but the pomegranate oil really took things to a much higher level, so thank you Dr Sellman for that recommendation! I feel just like the old me again before menopausal crustiness took over.

It's all about balancing the hormones again, much like what happens with adolescence. Keeping it all stable is quite tricky what with upsets, stress, dodgy diet and medical drugs (which I'm not on).

I read this week that many menopausal women are lacking in testosterone which is responsible for quite a list of issues. For example, it makes them get upset easily when faced with confrontation, plus:
  • disruption to libido and sexual function
  • temperamental
  • decrease in energy and feelings of well-being
  • anxiety, indecision
  • easily tired during physical activity
Testosterone tones up the muscles and improves the health of bones, and blood vessels by making the blood more fluid; it improves physical performance and psychological well-being, and helps with mental toughness.

Doctors can test for testosterone deficiency, but for those who would like to reap the benefits without too much effort, you just have to drink water, and eat meat and sprouted grains. Avoid alcohol, sodas, sugar and non-sprouted grains including bread. The most enjoyable way though of increasing testosterone levels is to make love at least twice a week with a "très viril" partner. No chance of getting a hairy face, deep booming voice or acne if you stick to a good shag... or two...

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Veggie Wars

Gone are the days when I went to Carrouf, ploughing through the aisles to do my weekly shop. I still buy essentials like loo rolls there, but I go elsewhere for food. One of my suppliers is called La Ruche Qui Dit Oui (The hive which says yes), or RQDO. It's a funny name but the idea is good.

A reine, or queen bee decides to set up a ruche. RQDO is a national organisation bringing together a commercial website and local suppliers. It was set up by a couple of whizzo start-up entrepreneurs and is proving to be extremely successful.

The reine signs up on the website to create a ruche. She waits for people to join, which they do by hearing about RQDO and going onto the website to find their nearest ruche. While she's waiting, she searches for suppliers so that when she has enough members, she can go live.

The idea is that suppliers fix a minimum amount of produce that they want to sell before they will 'say yes' to the overall order. There's not much point using petrol to deliver five hundred grams of carrots. If their minimum order is reached, the sale goes ahead; if it doesn't the supplier cancels the orders.

For the consumer, you can choose exactly what you want from the list of produce. If you don't want anything, you don't have to order. At the ruche I go to, you can choose from organic veg, fish, meat, artisan soap, artisan biscuits, and jars of things like caviar d'aubergine and soup, and so on. You can also buy a box of veg according to season from time to time.

There's been a bit of a hoohar recently between the RQDO and AMAP organisations. AMAPs are a similar concept, but you sign up to buy a box of produce every single week, and pay up front or by trimester. It's brilliant for producers because they know they have a fixed consumer list, and can plan ahead for the year's cultivations. For the consumer, they can be reduced to a diet of turnips and cabbage during winter months.

I don't have an AMAP near me, so the decision about which to go for was taken out of my hands, but I'm pretty happy with the RQDO, and like the fact that I can talk to the producers when I go to the ruche on a Thursday evening, and have a bit of a chat.

Hardcore AMAPs fans have been accusing RQDO of being a dirty capitalist organisation consisting of hard-working reines who earn a pittance and evil entrepreneurs who are raking in the profits from their labours. The RQDO takes 16.7% of total sales, gives 8.35% to the reine and uses the rest to pay for salaries of tekkies and admin staff. The average amount earned by a reine per month is €400 apparently although I'm sure my local lady earns a lot less.

The internet was steaming with accusations flying left right and centre (here, here, here) from AMAPers while RQDO reines wrote in to defend their position, and one of the entrepreneurs replied on the RQDO blog.

"La Ruche qui dit Oui ! est un réseau qui réunit des dizaines de milliers de personnes et de multiples organisations. On y trouve des entreprises, des associations, des bénévoles, des clients. Le service qui permet à tous ces gens de se rencontrer, de travailler, de commercer est développé par une entreprise : La Ruche qui dit Oui – Equanum SAS, 50 salariés, une échelle de salaire de 1 à 3, un agrément d’Entreprise Solidaire d’Utilité Sociale.

It's basically a network that brings together thousands of people and multiple organisations, like associations, volunteers, and clients. These people can meet, work and do business via the RQDO which has 50 employees on an earning scale of 1:3. The company has an official status as a socially responsible business.

No system is perfect, but it suits me. This weekend I decided to try the kilo of fish to make into fish soup. The fisherman gave me a polystyrene box of mostly tiny fish, and the recipe, and I made a start. He told me I had to cook the fish and then remove the flesh from the fish. I don't know if this is actually what you should do, but imagine me standing over a hot pot fishing around for very small bits of body and head, getting spiked by vicious bits of bone, and burnt fingers. It took me over half an hour and I was vowing never again would I make a sodding fish soup.

It tasted delicious though, especially with the rouille that I made to go with it which is a fiery mayonnaise. My DB, who moans when I cook fish, was in heaven.

Having looked it up (belatedly), it seems that I just had to put the whole lot through the blender and then sieve it. Have you ever tried to make your own fish soup?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Just Doing It

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you got in your car, drove off, and kept driving? I was thinking about that on the way to shops yesterday. I usually have that thought when I get on the autoroute because they are designed to take you far and quickly (in Europe at least; in the UK you do tend to come up against the sea fairly quickly unless you're travelling north/south).

My route to the shops was not going to take me far (or quickly), but I could have just kept going until the tank ran out. I didn't of course because the consequences would have been dramatic. I'm too chained to my obligations and duties, but I do envy those who just take off and don't stop (unless they drop their obligations and duties and cause untold misery to their family).

It never occurred to me to do such a thing when I was young and single after university because I had little money and less self-confidence. Instead, I waited until I met my future ex-h to leave home and join him in France, happily shackling myself and throwing away the key.

I must be a confirmed homebody a tad too anxious to confront the unknown. By myself, anyway. I'm rather concerned with my creature-comforts now too. Hopeless.

One of my favourite books when younger was Laurie Lee's "As I walked out one midsummer morning" which gave me material to fantasize with, but no desire to imitate. I convinced myself that things were different then, he was a bloke, and there was no way I was going to walk that far. Also, I realised the reality could entail a lot of hard work and I would probably be uncomfortable. I was a living example of Roosevelt's "The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today".

Part of my problem, I'm sure, is that having lived in Cairo for a year, I'd had a fair amount of adventure, and much of it was not that pleasant. It was uncomfortable, however.

Another favourite book was "The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas. He didn't choose to leave but was thrown in jail, and came to make the most of a bad situation. This is something I can understand - making the most of a situation (eventually, in his case), and, 'there's always a silver lining' (ditto).

Those at Nike tells us to forget our reservations, and just 'Do it'. Unfortunately, doing anything by yourself is getting increasingly difficult here in France. Everything is fraught with rules and regulations, and no one should be ignorant of the law ('nul n'est censé ignorer la loi'), all 3078 pages...

I read about one old lady of 76 - Yvette Bert - recently who was hunted down and dragged through the courts by the Fisc. Why? Because she had the temerity to set up an association which held regular lotteries to raise money for charity. She and her friends in the sheltered accommodation where she lives would get together with others on a Sunday afternoon to play the loto and have a lovely sociable chatty time. "Mamie Loto" took none of the money for herself despite living on a pension of 620 Eur per month.

Her association was official, registered at the prefecture, its aims clearly stated. No one told her it was illegal. So when she was sued by the Fisc, given a 6 months suspended sentence, 6000 Eur fine and a tax bill of 88,000 Eur (on the 460,000 Eur she collected for charity), her life fell apart and her health started failing. Does the word 'bully' spring as violently into your mind as it does mine?

Her cause has been taken up by the Institut pour Justice who have created a petition to support her. It already has over 70,000 signatures. Here's hoping for many more.

Have you ever walked out one midsummer (early spring or late winter) morning?