Monday, April 21, 2014

Sourdough Studies

Bread and Nutella is one of my eldest's favourite snacks, and he eats a couple of large sarnies every day for lunch. Luckily for him he has an extremely efficient digestive system and is pretty active because he should be nothing but wobbly bits the amount of Nutella he eats. I stopped buying it for a time to try and wean him off it, even tried making my own raw version which was a disaster.

I try to offset some of the damage by baking almost whole-wheat bread or wheat and spelt, which he devours. Then, in January I decided I'd start a sourdough starter to make sourdough bread. Sourdough bread is available here and goes by the name pain au levain. Unfortunately, it's quite costly and I really wanted to suss out the technique.

Why bother? Well, there are numerous health benefits to eating sourdough bread over normal bread. It increases beneficial lactic acid which helps break down phytates which inhibit absorption of the vitamins and minerals in the flour. It is easier to digest because the fermentation of the dough predigests the starches in the flour. It breaks down the protein gluten into amino acids, making it more digestible. It stays fresh longer because it produces its own acetic acid - no need for chemical preservatives, and has a low GI index so doesn't cause undesirable spikes in insulin.

All good reasons to make my own bread. The only problem is that it takes time, and trying to fit bread-making into working full time has been causing me a bit of a headache.

I made my first attempt last weekend. I took the sourdough starter out of the fridge let it come to room temperature, then added it to flour, water and salt. I kneaded for about 5 minutes, let it rise for 24 hours in the bowl, then emptied it onto the baking sheet and baked it for 45 minutes. This is what I got:
First ever sourdough loaf... destined for the blender...
It was a few centimetres high, dense, and as hard as nails. After fighting it with the bread-knife, I gave up and put it in the blender to make tasty breadcrumbs.

It should have looked something like this:
I have a long way to go to make this...
Undeterred, because there's an art to making sourdough and getting it right takes time and experimentation, I tried again this weekend. First though, I emailed the experts at because I wanted to know where I'd gone wrong. I got a reply the next day and found out that I had probably not kneaded the dough for long enough, and my sourdough starter needed pre-feeding if it had come out of the fridge.

I watched a video on their site and discovered that:
1. I needed to feed the starter three times over a period of 18 hours if it had come out of the fridge.
2. I had to knead the dough for 20 minutes.
3. I needed a thermometer to know when the bread was baked - 98°C or 210°F (cue trip to Carrouf).

Armed with this information, I fed my starter three times, made the dough and kneaded it for 20 minutes. Then I cut the dough in two and place each loaf on a baking tray to rise free-style. Mine rose horizontally.

I left it overnight which was too long because the next morning, it had spread so far, it had cracked and split. No need to make extra cuts, then... Into the oven they went, and barely rose any more so came out after half an hour (and 98°C) almost the same height as when they went in.

They looked better though:

Second attempt - still on the flat side

They tasted very good too. I made a horizontal open sandwich with olive oil, garlic rubbed on the cut side and tomatoes. My son also made a horizontal sarnie, with ham and salad and said it was okay but he preferred the normal bread. My quest is not over yet. He had really liked the pain au levain I got from the baker's down the road, so I'm determined to keep trying... I bought a silicon bread tin yesterday to make a more loaf-shaped loaf. No room to spread in one those, that'll show it...

You can do a number of things with flat sourdough bread - sarnies, panini, and this, which I'm making tonight - stuffed sourdough bread. You make cuts across the bread making sure not to cut all the way through, then stuff the cuts with cheese - I bought a large goats' cheese pelardon from the market yesterday. Combine butter (or olive oil), green onion (or normal), garlic and poppy seeds together and pour over the bread. Sprinkle with grated cheese (like gruyère) and bake wrapped in foil for 15 mins. Uncover and bake for another 10 mins.

We'll need those sourdough digestive capabilities after that!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Motorbiking to Italy - the French Riviera

Better late than never, I have finally got round to Italy. With my sieve-like memory there's no way I could remember most of what we did or what happened, apart from the couple of "misunderstandings" which took the shine off a couple of days, but at the time I wrote a trip report, so I can just dip in and pick out the highlights.

Plan A was to ride from Montpellier to Cassis and spend the night, then Cassis to Nice along the coast and spend the night, then on to Italy. As it happened, it pissed down all day in Nice so we abandoned the idea of getting soaked and staying wettish all day, in favour of a much-needed day of relaxation chez his (absent) mate in Villeneuve-Loubet. So Plan B it was.

It's a long way to Nice from Montpellier. On the autoroute it takes four and a half hours. By the road it takes all day which is why we split it up into two. We took the dearest little ferry across the Rhone at Barcarin near Port Saint Louis, which has been in operation since long before WWII. On the other side we should have turned left, but turned right by mistake, which took us to a dead end at the sea 7 km later and a huge packed-sand car-park where a sand-yacht was being hurtled along in the strong wind. There were only a couple of cars of visitors braving the wild woolliness of the weather, one of which was having fun doing hand-brake turns.
Port Louis car-park
I've done the same in the car-park at Espiguette which is also made up of packed sand, but that was years ago when I had old cars I didn't mind throwing about... Fortunately, my DB didn't have any desire to muck about with his heavily-packed bike with me behind, so we turned around and rode the 7 km back.

Crossing Marseille was fun. They've instigated a one-way system along the Vieux Port so you can't drive along it going west to east which means going round the houses, getting lost and almost losing one's temper as one tries to get back to the corniche and the Prado. The last time we were there was when we took the ferry to Corsica/Sardinia and back. Happy days.

Having negotiated our way out of Marseille successfully, we managed to find the route de la Ginèste, which is the lovely scenic road between Marseille and Cassis. It goes over the cliffs and is a much more exciting ride than the normal road. It's also the scene of an annual run apparently too. Bet that's knackering!

Cassis was disappointing. It was as cute as ever, but our hotel was over-priced especially out of season, and the best restaurant on Trip Advisor that we found was just average. The red Château Minuty that we had because it was a tad chilly was nothing like as good as the rosé which is excellent.

The route des Crètes, however, from Cassis to La Ciotat was anything but average.

Fantastic road, glorious views of the coast, cliffs and blue sea, glimpses of coves and calanques, and the dramatic Cap Canaille.
Winding road and a glimpse of the sea along the route des Crètes

Winding road along the route des Crètes
I believe that the seafront road of La Ciotat is very pleasant to ride or walk along, but I couldn't tell you precisely because it was Sunday which meant it was closed off to make way for a market, pedestrian traffic only. What with that plus other roads closed for works, it was a miracle that we found our way out.

And it wasn't just La Ciotat either. Every single seaside town had closed its most attractive road. It meant that we missed the best parts of the towns with the views over the ports and marinas, and had to be content with back streets and unattractive neighbourhoods. As this was one of the days we had a misunderstanding, riding along in stony silence... it didn't exactly lighten the ambiance... We were not 48 hours into our holiday either. That has to be a record!

It was only as we reached the Cote d'Azur at Bormes les Mimosas that the road became enjoyable again what with the flowering mimosas on either side followed by the craggy red Esterel mountains.
We rode along the coast through Saint Tropez, Sainte Maxime, and Fréjus but decided not to join the crawling vehicles as they stopped and started their way through Cannes. We took the autoroute to Villeneuve-Loubet just outside Nice and stopped chez my DB's best buddy. There's an amazing marina resort there with a stunning curving apartment complex and shops/restaurants at the bottom. We got our sensible hats on, talked out our differences and had a lovely evening which included dinner in an Italian restaurant at the marina.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Would you live in Montpellier?

I keep meaning to write about our bike trip to Italy but I haven't got round to sorting out the photos yet (yeah yeah I know...) so it'll have to wait.

Instead I'll tell you about our bike trip around Montpellier looking at the different quartiers. My DB is half-heartedly thinking about buying an apartment to live in but, despite living here for about six years, knows nothing about the city.
La Paillade (a priority security zone...)
Montpellier has been a Socialist city for the last forty years, and the Socialists have managed to wreck what used to be an attractive place. They've implemented social mixing with such zealousness that it is impossible to find a quartier that does not have its share of dreary 70s flats, cheap rugs and sheets airing out of windows and car carcasses in parking lots.

When I first came to Montpellier, there were hardly any gated apartment communities. Now, most are; the only ones not are the tattier blocks of social housing (HLM). Obviously all this wonderful social mixing has led to an increase in feelings of insecurity, backed by statistics of increasing crime (especially burglary and vols à l'arraché -'grab theft'), and every man and his dog is locking himself away. Some of the remaining houses even have bars on every window, top and bottom. Must be peaceful living in prison...

One estate agent told us that a whopping 80% of apartments are rented (lots of students) and only 20% are owner-occupied. Is this the result of all those enticing tax-deductible programmes that various governments have implemented over the years to encourage the buy-to-let market? Yet, there is a shortage of housing, especially social housing.

I read that ten people arrive in Montpellier every day. However, new building programmes are collapsing and 55% of those that have planning permission are on hold because of the crisis. When building promoters start a building project, the government imposes 20% social housing into the total number of residences. So, if they build a block of 100 flats, 20 of them have to be HLM. In Montpellier, the number of HLM is 30.

So who pays?  During the elections, I learned that it is private buyers who finance the HLM. They pay more for their square metres to cover the cost of the HLM. It may not be a coincidence, in that case, that buying a place to live is more expensive in Montpellier than elsewhere. You get fewer square metres for your money on average (35.3m² to 38.2m² in new-builds) than in the top ten French towns.

After visiting Celleneuve, La Chamberte, Mas Drevon, Croix d'Argent, Estanove, Alco and La Martelle, my DB decided that he does not want to live in Montpellier itself. High prices, high insecurity, noise and traffic don't make it an appealing idea.

Where I live, outside the city, we do not lock ourselves away behind solid metal barriers, the population is homogeneous and it's a little corner of peaceful paradise. But I also pay an arm and a leg on rent, and will continue to do so until my boys leave home. Peace and quiet comes at a price unfortunately.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

What's your breast cancer risk?

I thought I'd share with you some information I got from a French newsletter called La Lettre du Professeur Joyeux on breast cancer. He's an oncologist and professor at the University Hospital here in Montpellier so presumably he knows a thing or two. He's also a specialist in nutrition. Sixty thousand women are affected by breast cancer in France, 11,500 of whom die of it each year, so prevention is a life or death issue!

Here's what the newsletter described as the main risks for breast cancer:
1. Genetic 
Only 5-8% of women carry the two genes responsible for increasing the risk of cancer - BRCA1 and BRCA 2 but they increase the risk by 80-50%.

2. Artificial hormones
Contraceptive pills and menopause treatments are officially recognised as being cancerous. Despite the fact that women are told that the pill is without risk, this is not true, as it certainly doesn't protect you against cancer. False information as to the safety of the pill is wide-spread because it suits doctors, nurses, school health centres and of course pharmaceutical manufacturers that women take the pill, and the younger the better - from age 13 in schools these days. Unwanted pregnancies and abortions are considered a greater evil, and cancer is probably not for the here and now... Plus the pill is so much easier...

There was a scandal recently concerning the pill (and anti-acne pill) Diane 35 which was banned because of the risk of deep-vein thrombosis. The ban lasted a mere nine months before it came back on the market!

HRT pills also increase the risk of cancer, by 30% if you take them until sixty! They also do not protect women against breast cancer, on the contrary.

3. Eating too much
Excess fat is stocked in the mammary glands and becomes cancerous, the result of eating too much sugar, animal fat, and dairy products which contain too many hormones.

4. Tobacco and drugs
This risk is directly linked to the cigarettes and drugs taken by ever younger girls at school. Smoking is catastrophic for girls because they have 30-50% less lung capacity than boys, but smoke as much. Weed is much stronger than when I was young, and the toxic THC is 20-30% more concentrated to increase the likelihood of addiction.

5. Chronic stress
This risk is important, but is just one amongst the others, and is not as important as we are led to believe. Pharmaceutical companies often repeat that chronic stress is a major risk factor for breast cancer, but is this not just a technique for deflecting responsibility from them to their target customers?

6. Other risks
  - absence of physical activity
  - atmospheric pollution, insecticides, pesticides... social vulnerability, lack of medical attention.

Professor Joyeux has a website where there is an online questionnaire (in French) to find out what your risk of breast cancer is. Of course it should not replace a doctor's consultation, but it will give you an indication of the risk you encounter due to your lifestyle. I filled it in (as best I could) and came out with a low to middling risk despite family antecedents and thanks, probably, to my new diet rich in fruit and veg and low in dairy and meat, plus zumba.

Here is the whole letter in French:
La Lettre du Professeur Joyeux est un service d'information indépendant sur la santé, spécialisé dans la prévention des maladies auprès du grand public et des familles. Rendez-vous ici pour vous inscrire gratuitement (vous pouvez vous désinscrire en vous rendant ici). 

Voici comment prévenir le cancer du sein

Chère lectrice, cher lecteur, 

Prévenir n’importe quelle localisation cancéreuse n’est possible que si on en connaît toutes les causes. C’est vrai pour le cancer du sein. Cette localisation cancéreuse touchera en France, rien que cette année, près de 60 000 femmes en plus – malheureusement de plus en plus jeunes. Le cancer du sein est responsable de 11 500 décès par an. 

Même si nous savons bien traiter et guérir le cancer du sein, mieux vaut l’éviter, car les traitements sont lourds. Il s’agit de la chirurgie totalement ou partiellement mutilante au niveau du sein, de la radiothérapie sur la paroi thoracique et souvent l’aisselle. Il y a aussi des chimiothérapies de première, puis deuxième, troisième et « énième » ligne, responsables d’alopécie (perte de cheveux) et de nombreuses autres complications : problèmes cutanés (peau) ou perte de sensibilité aux extrémités des membres. Ces complications peuvent persister définitivement, sans parler de la stérilité souvent irréversible même chez des femmes jeunes. 

En plus, ce qu’on ne dit pas aux femmes, c’est que la guérison définitive du cancer du sein ne peut être signée que 27 ans après les premiers traitements. Entre temps, une récidive est toujours possible, mais elle est évitable si l’on élimine les causes premières, qu’il est donc capital d’identifier. Pour cela il faut bien les connaître, les reconnaître et les faire découvrir à chaque femme atteinte afin qu’elle en tienne le plus grand compte pour éviter au maximum une récidive. 

Les causes du cancer du sein sont multiples et parfaitement identifiées. Elles se surajoutent et leur importance varie d’une femme à l’autre selon la durée d’exposition à telle ou telle cause. 

Voici les principaux risques : 

1. Risque génétique

Le risque génétique n’est présent que chez 5 à maximum 8 % des femmes atteintes de cancer du sein. 

Deux gènes sont en cause : BRCA 1 et BRCA 2. 

BR est le sigle qui signifie BREAST, en anglais SEIN ; CA est le sigle du mot CANCER. Le premier gène, BRCA 1, augmente de 80 % les risques d’avoir un cancer du sein entre 20 et 80 ans, d’autant plus que les autres risques sont associés, d’où l’importance de les connaître. BRCA 2 augmente les risques de cancer du sein de moitié par rapport au précédent et en plus augmente les risques de cancer des ovaires de façon significative [1]. 

2. Risque causé par les hormones artificielles

Le deuxième facteur de risque concerne la consommation d’hormones artificielles, parfois faussement dites « naturelles ». Ce facteur de risque concerne pratiquement toutes les femmes aujourd’hui. Les seules hormones naturelles sont celles fabriquées par les glandes hormonales, c'est-à-dire l’hypophyse, les ovaires, les surrénales, la thyroïde… 

Les hormones de la pilule contraceptive, quelle que soit leur génération, comme les hormones des traitements hormonaux de la ménopause, qu'ils associent ou non des estrogènes et des progestatifs, sont reconnues officiellement comme cancérigènes. Mais les laboratoires pharmaceutiques – qui ont trop à y gagner – ne le disent pas et formatent les médecins, spécialistes comme généralistes, dans le but de les tranquilliser. Les risques sont minimes, leur disent-ils, comparés aux avantages. C’est faux, et cela d’autant plus qu’existent des alternatives à ces prises hormonales qui évidemment rapportent moins d’argent et sont de ce fait le plus souvent ridiculisées ou considérées comme inefficaces. 

Les informations diffusées auprès du grand public sont encore plus mensongères. On lui dit et on lui répète sans cesse que la pilule contraceptive est sans danger. On lui parle même – suprême mensonge – de protection contre le cancer que craignent de plus en plus et à juste raison toutes les femmes. Plus les femmes ont peur, plus on les tranquillise en passant très largement par les journaux spécialisés, relayés fortement par les journaux pour le grand public. 

Ces informations fausses atteignent le milieu scolaire. Les livres de Science de la Vie et de la Terre en sont remplis et ceux qui enseignent cette discipline, ainsi que les infirmières scolaires, répètent ce qu’on leur inculque en plus dans toutes les publicités en ville ou dans les magazines féminins. Professeurs, éducateurs, infirmières et même les parents – les mères évidemment – ne savent la vérité que lorsqu’elles ont été touchées elles-mêmes par cette localisation cancéreuse. Trop tard ! 

Ces informations fausses sont aussi largement diffusées dans les magazines people, ceux des jeunes, comme dans les centres de planning familial qui reçoivent en échantillons des laboratoires les boîtes de pilules qu’ils délivrent à la demande, sans le moindre questionnement, hors de tout avis parental, dès l’âge de 13 ans. L’objectif des laboratoires pharmaceutiques est que les jeunes filles commencent tôt et consomment longtemps. Leurs campagnes publicitaires marchent très bien, et sont reprises par les agences de l’Etat indirectement sponsorisées. 

L’Education nationale ne se doute pas de ce qui lui tombera sur la tête quand des familles l’accuseront, à juste titre, d’être responsable de cancer du sein chez des jeunes filles à peine sorties du système scolaire. Il est à parier que les distributions de pilules ne sont pas notées dans les établissements scolaires, je parle du jour de délivrance, de la marque de pilule et du nom de la personne (jeune élève) qui la reçoit. Ces lacunes d'information seront évidemment utilisées pour débouter les plaignants, et garantir l'impunité aux coupables, le jour où éclatera le scandale. Les associations de parents d’élèves sont aveuglées sur ces sujets. Elles savent surtout que leurs filles sont ainsi protégées des grossesses précoces et donc des IVG qui s’ensuivent. Là est l’essentiel, on ne veut pas voir plus loin. 

Les informations scientifiques sur ce sujet sont intégralement présentes dans notre livre « La pilule contraceptive – Dangers et Alternatives » écrit avec Dominique Vialard, journaliste scientifique de haut niveau. Il est à noter qu'aucun journal scientifique ou grand public à vocation médicale et de santé n’a osé parler de ce livre. Le sujet est trop dangereux. Ces journaux risqueraient de perdre de nombreuses pages de publicité, celles des laboratoires pharmaceutiques qui les font vivre, sans lesquelles ils mettraient la clé sous la porte. Avez-vous remarqué que la pilule Diane 35 a été d’abord retirée en France, face au scandale de santé et, quelques mois plus tard, elle revient avec l’accord de l’Europe ?! 

Soulignons qu’autour et après la ménopause, ce sont les THS (Traitement Hormonal Substitutif) ou THM (Traitement Hormonal de la Ménopause) qui augmentent le plus les risques de cancer du sein – jusqu’à 30 % , surtout quand ils sont prescrits jusqu’à 60 ans. Au moins pendant 10 ans, dit la publicité et répètent certains confrères médecins, très liés directement ou plus astucieusement indirectement aux labos. Ils font croire à un rajeunissement rêvé par toutes les femmes et même à la protection ou à la détection précoce du cancer du sein pour un meilleur pronostic. L’argumentaire est très bien monté, mais il est faux. 

Ces THS et/ou THM pourraient être remplacés, sans aggraver le trou gigantesque de la Sécurité sociale, par le changement des habitudes alimentaires et une simple phytothérapie bien adaptée au cas par cas. 

3. Risque causé par les excès alimentaires

Le troisième facteur de risques concerne les excès alimentaires, responsables de surpoids et de gras qui se stocke dans les glandes mammaires. Le gras dans les seins est en effet authentiquement cancérigène. Ce gras provient des sucres en excès, du gras caché dans les viandes animales et les produits laitiers qui contiennent encore trop de facteurs de croissance [2].

4. Risque causé par le tabac et les drogues

Le quatrième facteur est lié directement au tabagisme et à toutes les drogues, de plus en plus consommées par les jeunes filles à l’âge scolaire. 

Le tabagisme est catastrophique chez les femmes, qui ont une capacité respiratoire de 30 à 50 % inférieure à celle des hommes et fument autant qu’eux. 

Le haschich qui se répand partout dans les lycées et jusque dans les collèges fait des ravages. Pas question de dire aux jeunes que la teneur en THC (TétraHydroCannabinol, la molécule toxique) est concentrée jusqu’à 20 à 30 % pour les rendre addicts plus vite. On leur laisse croire qu’il faut faire ses expériences et qu’il s’agit d’une plante verte, donc très écologique. Tabac et drogues ont toutes sans exception des effets immuno-dépresseurs qui ne peuvent que préparer le corps à des catastrophes ultérieures, quand elles vont s’associer aux autres facteurs de risques. 

5. Risque causé par le stress chronique

Le cinquième concerne les stress chroniques, beaucoup plus importants à prendre en considération que les chocs psychologiques auxquels nous sommes tous plus ou moins soumis : perte d’un être cher, éclatement familial, traumatismes de toute nature, burn-out… 

C'est un risque important, mais un risque parmi d'autres (le cinquième). Je le précise car nombre de psychologues peu compétents en cancérologie diffusent l’idée que les stress chroniques ou aigus sont quasiment seuls responsables des cancers du sein. Ces informations sont d’ailleurs régulièrement reprises, plutôt de manière indirecte, par les laboratoires pharmaceutiques, ce qui leur permet de se déculpabiliser à bon compte et de continuer d’inonder la planète de leur contraception chimique cancérigène. Si les femmes savaient [3] !

6. Autres risques

Les autres risques sont : 

  • l’absence d’activité physique souvent associée au surpoids. La femme dit qu’elle marche pour aller au travail et aller chercher enfants ou petits-enfants à l’école, mais il ne s’agit en aucun cas d’une activité physique qui soit réductrice des risques de cancer du sein ;
  • la pollution atmosphérique, les pesticides, insecticides…, les souffrances sociales en tout genre : précarité, monoparentalité des femmes ne profitant pas des dépistages et suivis… [4]

Un test en ligne gratuit pour évaluer votre risque

Pour vous permettre d'évaluer précisément votre propre risque de cancer du sein, vous pouvez vous rendre sur la rubrique « Cancer-Risks » de notre blog Vous pourrez, gratuitement, sans publicité, et sans être poussée à acheter quoi que ce soit, y évaluer votre risque. Ce test est conçu pour déterminer les risques de cancer du sein de n’importe quelle femme, quel que soit son âge. Nous avons présenté tous les risques les affectant d’un coefficient positif d’augmentation ou négatif de réduction de risques. 

Remplir ce questionnaire demande moins de 10 minutes et permet à toute femme de savoir où elle en est et quels sont les efforts qu’elle doit réaliser pour réduire sans tarder ses propres risques. Ce test est évidemment renouvelable autant de fois que nécessaire et toujours gratuitement.

Faites profiter votre entourage de ce message

Vous avez lu, n’hésitez pas à relire, à diffuser à toutes vos amies. Vous pouvez aussi offrir cette lettre à votre gynécologue et à votre généraliste, même si je sais bien qu'elle a de grandes chances de finir rapidement à la poubelle, – avec une moue ou une explication du style « il est contre, ce n’est pas démontré » – sauf si votre gynécologue ou généraliste est homéopathe, ou si malheureusement elle sait elle-même en son corps de quoi il s’agit. 

Mais elle contient tout ce que les femmes jeunes ou moins jeunes, toutes les mères de famille devraient savoir.

Bien à vous, 

Professeur Henri Joyeux 

PS : À noter que nous avons aussi publié un gros travail au CESE (Conseil Economique Social et Environnemental, dont je suis membre), en 2013, « Femmes et précarité » à la Délégation aux droits des femmes et à l’égalité, réalisé avec notre collègue Evelyne Duhamel, où les risques santé sont analysés et même chiffrés. Ce rapport est disponible ici

Si vous n'êtes pas encore abonné à La Lettre du Professeur Joyeux et que vous souhaitez vous aussi la recevoir gratuitement, inscrivez-vous ici 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

We have a result!

Our voters don't like change either...
... which did not go our way unfortunately. After an exciting election campaign and an exhausting election day, I'm still too knackered to go to zumba!

Thus the peuple voteth, spurred by Fear that the Agglo Cometh, and reminded at every opportunity by the outgoing maire of the Dangers of Change. In fact, the Agglo cometh not and there'll be change whoever's in charge because of national social housing regulations and building contracts already signed, but let's not nitpick...

The run-up to the election was mad. We dashed around delivering tracts, going door-to-door, having meetings, and culminating in a public meeting in the sports hall. After a tentative start, the questions started and one guy provided endless entertainment and ambiance by keeping on and on with his question oblivious to the fact that he hadn't understood one word of the explanation presented previously.

There were members of the other team there too who did their best to rabble rouse, but all it did was encourage gales of laughter and much noise from the partisan members of the audience. I never knew politics could be such fun!

I did two runs of delivering pamphlets (tracts) on Wednesday and Friday, hurrying up and down the hilly roads to post them all between working hours. I didn't need the zumba that week!

Sunday was Election Day. I spent four hours collecting signatures from voters after they'd voted, in the official register aide by a nifty ruler than had a window the exact size of the box to be signed. The person next to me read out the page number and voter number and name so I really couldn't get it wrong! At the end of four hours though, my head was reeling with a jumble of figures.

We had been told not to leave the table to partake of the buffet laid on by the mairie. You never know what might happen... So I ate before my stint and waited until I'd finished to grab a coffee and slice of apple tart. A peek in the fridge showed a tray of charcuterie and another of cheeses which looked really good. Had I been alone in the room I might have grabbed a doggy bag (as I paid for it out of my taxes!), but I was not, so sadly shut the fridge door.

When 6pm arrived, I was on duty to count the votes! First the number of signatures had to correspond to the number of envelopes before we could get our hands on them. Then the envelopes were gathered into bigger envelopes in groups of ten. With nothing missing or added, we set up tables of four to count the votes. The room was teaming with members of the voting public who were monitoring closely what was going on. They made quite a noise too.

I was ticking off the votes as they were called out by the woman on the other side of the table. The woman next to her was opening the envelopes, and the woman next to me was also ticking things off. We got to the end and already had an inkling of the final result but were not allowed to say anything to anyone outside the room - no text messages, no calls giving an indication of the result. Serious stuff!

The final result was revealed back in the sports hall. We didn't do too badly in the end, getting just over 42% of the votes. The turnout was much better than average. The fact that there were two lists motivated people to brave the biting wind. As a new team, we did well. My DB reminded me that politics is a long-term game and we had only been really active for a couple of months. Five of our team are on the local council, and the rest of us will be following progress and providing a robust opposition - critical in a democracy even if it annoys the hell out of the new maire.

I know of one maire who decided to step down after two mandates because he said he had come to the point where he knew the files so well, he couldn't stand being criticised or opposed. Better leave while the going is good than cling on and get increasingly tyrannical. More maires should follow his example. In fact, there ought to be a limit to the number of consecutive mandates permitted.

So I will not be on the council this year, but I have really enjoyed the whole process, and made some really good friends who I'll be seeing on a regular basis as we develop into a viable opposition. As our candidate said in his final speech: we won everything except the election.

We'll be back...

Friday, March 14, 2014

NutriNet-Santé Study - Sign up Sign up

You know how I've been banging on recently about my interest in eating organic? Well, to my joy, there's a massive study that's just been set up to compare the effects of nutrition and various other factors such as genetics, environment, biology and family upon health.

I've signed up to be accepted. Anyone in France can sign up. You don't have to be an organic nazi (as my DB calls me... jokingly). They want half a million people to take part over five years so it will be an important study that hopes to identify the risk factors linked to nutrition of many of today's major health problems such as cancer, cardiovascular illnesses, obesity, diabetes 2, high blood pressure, etc.

The NutriNet-Santé study is not some flippant webside story, but is being coordinated by a nutritional epidemiology team from University Paris 13 at the Centre de Recherche en Epidémiologies et Biostatistiques Sorbonne Paris Cité.

You can sign up on the website here, to receive a login and temporary password. Then you log in, and go through a series of 3 questionnaires about your personal circumstances and health. You also get a random set of three days over a couple of weeks assigned to you. On these days you have to note what you eat and enter it into the website within a few days. It doesn't seem to be too onerous!

I really hope that the study will show that nutrition has an effect upon health. It must do really mustn't it? My eldest has just spent the week buying rubbish food with his pocket money instead of eating at home, and last night puked it all up as a result of eating something dodgy. As he said, it hurts most to think that his precious pocket money ended up down the loo.

Me? I laughed.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Just back from whizzing about Italy on a motorbike, and I find it's all happening in Municipopolis with just ten days to go before the VOTE.

Yesterday I was out with another member of the list doing door-to-door visits. This is a good way of really getting to the heart of local issues because people will talk face-to-face much more than they will in a general meeting. The personal touch is appreciated too. By most.

One guy didn't want to talk to us. Either he is a staunch opposer of our (obviously terrifying) team, or he thought we were aliens come to abduct him. Or he didn't want to be bothered by all that politics malarkey. Everyone else was absent, it being half term.

Well, not quite. We did have a good chat with one guy who lives in an idyllic spot at the end of a lane with fields on one side and one other house in the neighbourhood. He is very happy with his lot as well he might be.

Following the door-to-door, I attended the public part of a local council meeting, but not for long. About five minutes in fact, just the time to hear the resignations of three members of the council who are on our list (including the mayoral candidate) and we were out.

We - the other listers - were there to give The Three moral support, and we were so numerous extra chairs had to be brought in. We created quite a rumpus.

Then it was down to the election office for a bit of knees-up. Well, we were all present, things had gone as they should, and it seemed a shame to drift off back home. So we got out the wine and snacks and made the most of the rest of the evening. That's what I like about this team - they are very merry and up for an apero at every opportunity.

I'm finding that being on the team is a great way to meet other people in the village. Even if we don't win the election, it'll be a personal win for me as I'm having a very entertaining time and meeting some interesting, friendly neighbours.