Friday, April 28, 2006

Buying a car noooveauties

I have bought cars in France for a number of years, very rarely selling them, however, as I usually wear them into the breakers. I must have sold just one, my dear little red Corsa which was bought to replace a decrepit old Renault 5.

The brave little Renault had done stirling service being taken, overloaded to university in Bristol for a year, suffering Bristol rain, and very little usage during that time. Bristol is a car-unfriendly city, or rather, a public-transport-friendly city so basically you have to take the bus into the centre or take out a second mortgage to pay the parking.

However, at the end of its days it was leaking, had no heating and the engine kept overheating. I was pregnant with my eldest and so it had to go. I chose the car, the colour and the number of doors. I had to fight to have 5 doors as my ex thought it looked better with three. I insisted that 5 were better for transporting a baby about and, as he would not be doing any transporting of babies, he came round to agreeing. The car was sold when we went to the US, for the Argus price.

Argus is the nationally-recognised table of car values so if you see a car on sale for the 'prix Argus' you know they are referring to that table. You can look it up on the internet, natch, but not on the Argus website as you have to pay for their estimations. Instead, go to La Centrale where it's all free. You can even personalise your quote putting in the number of previous owners and kilometrage. Handy stuff.

I've been using it a lot to suss out Peugeot 406 break prices. For some obscure reason, most of them seem to be for sale up north. Most inconvenient.

Anyway, once you have found a car, you have to make sure it has a valid 'controle technique', less than 4 months old. It seems that some people don't know that it is up to the seller to get this, and try to palm the obligation off onto the unsuspecting buyer. This is illegal and results in an annulation of the sale, with all costs paid by the seller. You have to know whether the car you are buying is in a legal state of working order. Normal really. Legal obligations can be sensible when they put their minds to it!

The seller also needs to give you a 'certificat de non-gage'. This is a handy piece of paper which tells you that the car does not really belong to a credit company, or have hundreds of euros worth of parking tickets outstanding. You can obtain this now on the internet instead of traipsing along to the Prefecture. When I say 'need' of course, I mean he has to give it to you. Along with the form 'Certificat de Cession' which has to be filled in in triplicate (or photocopied??). Just for the fun, you also have to fill in the 'Declaration d'achat d'un vehicule d'occasion' because I'm sure you thought you were getting off lightly with all this form-filling business. Don't forget, this is France. Forms are an essential part of their cultural identity...

Get along to the Prefecture with all your bits of paper, including the old carte grise, barred and signed 'vendu le' with date and hour, and signed by everyone and his granny. I think you have max of a month to do that, or you're in BIG trouble.

I have all this to look forward to when I finally find the little 406 of my dreams. Hopefully locally!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Childless pursuits

In that happy state of being a mother without her children for a week - definitely one of the better advantages to being divorced - one is able to consider such wildly unkid-friendly pursuits such as a book launch. I am all of a tither at the prospect of attending an adult event in the centre of Montpellier.

Quite by chance I got an email at work today from Peter Schafer from the British Cultural Association telling me about Christopher Campbell-Howes who is an author living in Languedoc Roussillon and has written a book about his life here. The event is being held at the Hôtel de Sully - Maison des relations internationales de Montpellier at 6.30pm. There are nibbles and drinkies and it's all free, but if you want him to sign a book you'll have to buy one and bring it along. I've never heard of him but who cares, it's all in English and gives me a chance to pretend I'm in with the literary crowd.

I'm hoping to attend a concert one of these days too. Talk about living on the edge...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Green-tinged thumbs

I have a rapacious killer in my garden. I'm calling him Rory; Mr Rory R Killer. I love him dearly. He is a devourer of bugs - nasty white bugs that produce a sweet dew which attracts ants who lap it up and then go stomping off back to their nest. My rosebuds have been saved thanks to Rory. I was contemplating dashing off to Botanic to buy some poison to kill the evil little buglets who were starting to munch into my tender young shoots, when lo and behold, the very next day, my saviour arrived and started to clean up.

Who is he? Well, he's a kind of fly maggot - not the housefly nasty white one you see crawling out of decaying skulls on tele, or undulating en masse in a dish of old catfood, no, this is a nice clean, greenish, smooth caterpillar-type fly larvae. He's growing at a rate of knots too. I had many bugs on my bush, but Rory's size is a tribute to his appetite and my bug-less bush. Hurrah for biological control!

I am inspecting, daily, my latest pottings: mixed herbs, chives, tomatoes. The parsley planted a couple of weeks ago is coming along well already and has, for the moment, not attracted the attention of slugs. Both my raspberry and gooseberry bushes have sprouted nicely so I'm hopeful for raspberries and cream, and gooseberry fool this summer. I might just buy some strawberry plants too to avoid paying through the nose for strawbs with taste.

Tidy women have boring lives

Apparently, the average British woman spends more than 16hrs a week doing housework and devotes nearly 2.5hrs to it per day, compared to just under an hour on her personal appearance.

Not me. On either count. My house is clean, but not spotless and does not in any way resemble the pages of 'Living' magazine. If you want to sit down on a comfy chair, the chances are, you'll have to remove either toys or clean washing or a cat before you can be sure of full possession. Men also remove the cushion. My boys remove the cushion to the floor which they feel is the appropriate place for it, sitting on it to watch tele. And then leave it there. Generally, the place gets a good clean and tidy before impending visitors which is how many of my friends operate too judging by the state of their houses when I have popped round unannounced.

The women in the survey said that cleaning made them feel in control of their lives. Poor things. How sad is that? They should be out there getting a life, not prevaricating by spending it cleaning! A third also said they preferred cleaning to having sex. What does that say about their partners? Would I agree with that statement? Um, *thinking* (but not too hard), no, I think I can safely say that at no time do I ever prefer housework to sex. Makes you realise that there's an awful lot of sexual incompatibility out there.

As for my personal appearance, if I wished to spend an hour on it, I'd have to get up at 6.15am so you can forget that. Anyway, I'm not THAT in need of artifice...

How would French women compare? Good question. Many of them are obsessive about having immaculate homes, such as my ex-mother-in-law. I also remember asking a class of adults taking English classes some 'how many' questions, and one was 'How many times do you sweep the floor per day?' and one woman said 5. She worked full-time too. I was flabbergasted. You may think this is an odd question to ask in an English class, but I was trying to keep myself interested by finding out about their lives instead of sticking to bog-standard textbook subjects. Anything to keep boredom at bay.

At a wild guess, I'd suppose the numbers are similar in Britain and France, except for the one about sex which I really can't believe. I mean, who could honestly prefer doing a 'shake and vac' to having a good shag (that dates me dunnit)? Talk about depressing!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Cherche Peugeot 406 Break!

For anyone out there wishing to sell me a car, this is the one I'm looking for at the moment:

Peugeot 406 Break in good working order not needing any work done to it, with less than 150,000km on the clock, where the courroie de distribution has been changed, and tyres are not in imminent need of changing.

There are suprisingly few out there on the net if you want to pay around 7000Eur like I do. I would prefer the car to be available at less than 100km from Montpellier, too, just to make things complicated.

Waiting with bated breath...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Cegetel de crap

Following my ongoing saga with Cegetel, I get a 'mise en demeure' today to pay the 59.80Eur before access to the service is suspended.

I ring Cegetel to ask, quite nicely, how they can possibly suspend a service which doesn't exist. I ask to be put into contact with Ms Camille Delors, who sent me the request for money. The Cegetel girl tells me that I'm at the wrong number because I called the payment number. I ask, still nicely, if she can put me through to the right number, even though the number I called is identified as 'Service Client'. Of course she can't. I have to ring off and call again, and in any case, I will not be able to talk to Ms Delors. I am surprised at this. Is Ms Delors too high and mighty to placate irate customers, despite being, according to her letter, a 'Directeur Service Client'? It would seem so.

The girl tells me that I'll never be able to talk to the person who signed my letter, so I will never be able to ask her how she supposes one can suspend something which does not exist. This is a shame, as I enjoy existential discussions, and this one looks quite juicy.

I still have not heard from Mr Nicolas Maguin, the Director of Service Clients directors to whom I wrote a charming letter asking him to do his job.

I am led to the conclusion that Cegetel, like so many other businesses, does not like customers. Customers are messy and get in the way. Hospitals don't like either doctors or patients. They disrupt cosy administrative order. Doctors keep asking for things, like new material, and get stroppy when they don't get them, and patients turn up ill and require costly treatment. It really isn't good enough.

For Cegetel, however, their joy is to have a 'customer' like me, who makes no demands on their services, but from whom they debit a monthly sum. Even when I realise that they are syphoning off money whilst providing no visible service, and draw this little issue to their attention, I am still in the wrong and am required to pay the outstanding 59.80Eur.

Dear reader, do not, under any circumstances have anything to do with Cegetel. Tell them to piss off when they call trying to sell you broadband or phone connections. Tell them, that they cannot even transfer from one in-house service to another, so how can they possibly expect the public to have confidence in their providing a national and international phone connection? Tell them, that you do not wish to be paying for a non-existent service after your death and that your children do not wish to be hounded upon your deathbed.

M Maguin, or indeed, the elusive Ms Delors, if you are reading this, please ensure that no one from Cegetel ever rings me again to sell me something. The name of Cegetel will never darken my doorstep ever again. You have lost a customer forever. You may have to communicate this information to several different departments, seeing as you have no lateral communication within your company. Do this.

Cegetel is dead to me.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Trailer Trash

Camping. What does this conjure up? Happy holidays spent doing hearty activities with only a thin strip of canvas between you and twinkling celestial bodies? Miserable days spent perpetually damp, sleeping on an airbed that deflated nightly, and cooking a daily struggle?

Or how about camping for softies? A cosy mobile home with shower, hot water, toilet and fridge, and best of all, a huge window through which to observe your fellow campers. Oh bliss!

Childless, this Easter weekend had to be relaxing, quiet and comfortable. Having rummaged on the internet, the most attractive solution presented itself at the Camping les Cascades at La Roque-sur-Ceze renting this super snug mobile home for 90Euros. It took just an hour and a half to wend our way up, through Uzes which was bursting at the seams with visitors, and up into the Ardeche region west of Bagnols-sur-Ceze. The village of La Roque-sur-Ceze is classed as an historic site, having sat prettily on the side of a hill since the Middle Ages. To cross the river you have traverse a dramatic-looking single-lane bridge, the barriers of which have fallen off, and have yet to be repaired.

Downstream are the Cascades de Sautadet which give the campsite its name as it is located on its banks. They are stupendous. I have to admit I am rather a fan of natural sites of particular interest. The cascades roar through boulders of limestone worn into fantastic shapes by the pounding of the water.

You can walk along the banks marvelling at the terrifying swirling of the water where it is absolutely forbidden to swim for obvious reasons. It makes for a good stroll in the early evening as the shadows lengthen making the tortured shapes more sinister and threatening.

Back at the campsite, however, with a refreshing gin&tonic, one could observe with voyeuristic pleasure the comings and goings of people with very small tents thus obliged to carry on their everyday activities under the watchful of eye of anyone who happened to be watching. One guy, for example, wandered passed clutching a bagged-up tent looking for the ideal spot. He found one just far enough away so we could watch him discreetly, but not so far that we had to dig out the binoculars. We thus were able to sip our aperitif to the pleasurable sight of a man at work. It was a mightily small tent, though. It looked like it might have belonged to one of his kids and I wonder even now whether he was able to lie full length in it. What was odd was that he later went to fetch his car, so could have carried a more opulently-sized tent with no trouble at all.

Easter Sunday arose with glorious sunshine, a baguette delivered to our door, and a breakfast of fresh bread, jam and tea, all whilst admiring absolutely nothing except trees and grass in front of our generously proportioned window. We just about made it out in time for coffee at the shadey 'place' de Goudargues which was having an Easter market. Lots of flowers, herbs, spices, olive wood, wine, pottery, knick knacks and hunky cyclists returning from a rally. Refreshed with an adequate amount of caffeine, our thoughts turned to lunch, and we found a nice table by some water and idled away 3 hours eating and waiting to eat. An extended family at the next table gave up halfway through and stalked off just as the main course arrived. We then exchanged happy comments with our other neighbours about how pleasant it was not having kids around to hurry you up and that, being on holiday, we had all the time in the world to do nothing except eat and drink.

We left the town via a quick visit to the communal laverie. Running water from the source ensured that clothes could be washed and rinsed in clean water. Back-breaking work, however. For slaves only, I would imagine. The town dates back to Roman times and is a refreshing spot to take refuge from the heat of the day.

We had been advised by the campsite owner (whose name I didn't catch) to visit the Concluses near the village of Verfeuil. Another site of spectacular beauty, you drive up to it along wooded lanes, seemingly heading into the back of beyond. Then, you come to the carpark which is full. Lots of other people find the back of beyond too, which is an amazing discovery. There you were, thinking you were having an adventure, when all along you were trundling well-worn tracks with crowds of hearty types, OAPs, families with small kids, and anyone else you care to imagine.
It's best to go at this time of year when there is ample water to admire the pools of inviting, translucent water. Later, the pools dry up and you can only stare in wonder at the natural dugouts worked into the limestone by thousands of years of water erosion.

We did not venture down into the gorge. Time was getting on, we needed tea, and I wished to work on my book, as promised... Next time, though!

Comfortably ensconced outside the mobile home, I was able to work, followed by observation of a group of 3 cyclists - two women and a man - put up one tent. Much speculation as to their relationships was made over G&T, and the idea that they could team up with Mr MiniTent to tidy up the numbers. The next morning they rummaged endlessly in their bike paniers, having rummaged extensively the previous evening. That's all they seemed to do, actually, although the rummaging did eventually pay off and they packed up and headed off for another day's exhausting effort. It's a very hilly place!

Our last day was spent meandering along the Gorges de l'Ardeche and agreeing that it was only worth really seeing from a canoe, and then back to reality, disgorging bags, a cross cat and the inevitable wait for returning boys.

We'll be back!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Sort of book progress

Trade descriptions being what they are, and my subtitle announcing that this blog is partly about reporting progress on my book, I hasten to give this update and thus avoid being hung drawn and quartered for not abiding by my own declarations.

The exciting news is that I'm investigating creating a podcast of the first chapter. Little steps... If this is a success, ie., it works, I may try more chapters. I'll set up a sign me up Scottie form. Actually, when I say 'I', I probably mean 'one' as my website design talents have yet to be discovered, let alone applied.

More standard issue progress can be declared in the printing out of the first 113 pages to be read through this weekend so I can move on to the next section. I've come to an impasse having added a whole month to the beginning of the story, and now have to adapt what follows. It was all going swimmingly, but has come to a halt, and needs some dramatic modification. I'll only be able to do this once I've properly read what precedes this part so I can get a feel of what I should be doing next.

It's at times like this, when I'll be away from home that I wish I had a laptop. Never mind. I can always resort to a pen and paper!

So, for the record, there are now 358 pages, of which I'm just about happy with the first 113 and it would be 114 except I have to add some steamy stuff to the end of the chapter. For that I have to be in the mood, as it were, and not overly tested by the various testing elements in my life who will remain nameless but used to be married to me... Mind you, even when I'm in the mood, what I write is a far cry from the super hot octopugnally X-rated mind-bogglingly kinky stuff I've seen elsewhere (on the internet). When I was writing the book at the beginning, I was doing these scenes and they started off quite explicit, then, as I had to write more, I got bored and they ended up as a one-sentence allusion to nooky. The friend who was my first editor-of-crap told me I should write more scenes of an explicit nature, so that is another of my tasks in this latest round of modifications.

I keep wanting to make them funny, too, which can work in specific circumstances but gets to look flippant and silly if over-used. Ah well, I'd never make a living as a writer for Playboy. (Not that that was ever an ambition...)

I think I've just convinced myself I'm making progress.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Les Intrus

Which is the odd one out from items in my bedroom: bed, pillow, wooden domino race? Or here: bedside lamp, book on dealing with teenage boys, carpet car circuit?

It's strange just how much the boys encroach their toys all over the house. My bathroom has two WWII model aeroplanes lurking on the floor under the radiator. I found a plastic machine gun in my bed this weekend; in case of burglers? There is a toy Porsche on the floor in my room, CDRoms on my computer desk, and a ballon on my bed. There's another metal plane on my bedside table, with a Slinky box and rubber crocodile.

If I tidy it all up, within a couple of days it's back. I am at constant war against the rising tide of toys turning up in unexpected places. Even the loos have bits of construction materials.

Ah well, there's boys for you. At least they make their presence felt.

This evening we have been trying to make the Nintendo 64 machine work with my all-singing and dancing tele. It was my youngest's birthday present (thank you, Ebay) and has just arrived, late, via La Poste. My tele is not sure about showing it, however. The boys had a couple of goes and now there is no connection from the box to the tele. Why am I the one who has a tele with attitude?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Perilously close to anarchy

It's funny how French kids are not used either to home-made cakes or organised party games. The quizzical way they consider my attempts at games is really funny. I have done the MacDo thing paying for someone else to go to the trouble of entertaining the kids, and cleaning up afterwards (possibly the most important aspect), and taken kids to Accrobranch to climb along pathways high up in the trees followed by a picnic tea. This year though, my eldest had a party at home, and thoroughly enjoyed it, so, flushed with the memory of that, I bravely ventured into unknown territory - birthday invitations for 5-yr olds.

My son had a list of 9. No girls, no, bleh! They keep wanting to kiss and chase after him and he's not yet interested in that sort of activity. I printed off some invitations with the Mallard (fastest steam train in the world, British, natch) on them, which is his favourite train at the moment, and, thanks to Brio, will be able to whoosh it around his track too. He'll have to make the noises though. Boys seem to like making noises, have you noticed? My youngest makes an incredibly realistic machine gun noise, amongst others. They never grow out of it, either. It's a boy thing.

We have a tradition in our house of orange cake for birthdays. Actually, this tradition will cease to exist from this year, for my youngest at least, as he turned his nose up at it at his party. Talk about non-plussed. Anyway, Saturday afternoon had been exhaustingly spent shopping and baking his ruddy cake, plus a biscuit cake from my Pooh Bear book of teatime recipes given to me by my aunt in 1971. Ooh, it takes yer back, it does! I had also been onto my favourite party games site and printed off a number of fun activities. What would I do without that site? Not hold parties in my house, that's for sure! Can you remember the games you played when you were young? I can't, beyond pass the parcel and blind man's buff. Certainly not enough to keep 9 active little boys occupied for 3 hours.

His birthday had started with a depleted pile of pressies thanks to the workings of the Post Office strikes, but he had enough to keep him happy. Then came the clearing the decks phase so that, as it was raining, we could have stampeding inside without the whole house coming to grief. I dug out their pop-up house and we inflated 30 balloons. By 3pm we had a house full.

They were all expecting to do their own thing all afternoon, playing with my son's toys and beating each other up. The fact that I had other ideas was peculiar in their eyes, and indeed, some kids chose not to participate in some of the games. I also had to contend with one boy who arrived sleepy and didn't want to stay. He started wailing and I told the parents to just leave. I barred his exit and they scurried out of the house, whereupon I locked the door and the kid threw himself upon it desperate to make a bid for freedom. Within 5 minutes he was happily joining in the treasure hunt, however, as I was able to tell the parents when they called 15mins later.

A window in the rain enabled us to throw the boys outside for an Easter egg hunt and they ran up and down the very steep road outside. As they were divided into two teams, they had to fill up the captains' bags with their loot, rather than every man for himself with greedy pushing and shoving. My eldest and a friend from over the road whose little brother was there were the captains and generally helped organise the little ones. They also helped keep anarchy at bay, rounding up boys for games and maintaining order before fights broke out. I felt there were a couple of occasions when we could have lost it and the whole start on a rampage around the house. Scary stuff.

Luckily we had balloon games and enough things to entice them to play along, and thus kept trouble at bay. I didn't bother with a table and chairs for tea. Boys are not renowned for sitting still longer than 2 mins at a time, and it was original for them having to sit on the floor to eat.

At last we made it to 6pm when mummies arrived and carted off their little darlings. I lay prostrate on the sofa with a strong G&T, but my son did tell me he'd had a lovely party.

So, it was worth it...

Carnival 2

I ended this weekend practically on my knees. Following a busy social week, I had to contend with my youngest's carnival and his 5th birthday party, given at home. On Friday afternoon, about an hour before we were due to go out for the evening, his teacher tells me that the mamans could come to the carnival in costume too. My brain did a quick mental check of vaguely suitable options from the garage to the cupboards and decided then and there that no way was I going to spend the night concocting something wacky out of egg boxes and washing up bottles just so I could fully participate in the carnival. I'd just have to be a party pooper.

My youngest goes to a Maternelle run by men. Of the 5 teachers, 4 are guys. They are a jolly bunch despite a tendency to go on strike, and once a year, the director indulges his fetish of dressing up as a pantomine dame. I'm not sure he realises that this is what he looks like, but as he is big and burly, wears outlandish costumes and hams it up totally, this is indeed what he resembles. I should tell him one day.

This year, the theme was a wedding party. My son's teacher was the groom to the director's bride. The female class helpers were harmoniously dressed in flowery bonnets as the bridesmaids. There was even a faux Mayor in her sash. The kids had no restrictions and were told to come as they wished. My youngest wore his brother's Spiderman outfit which was way too big, but there was no stopping him. Had I been an assiduous mummy, I may have been able to rustle up a little something so amazing people would have pointed in wonder. As it was, I didn't, and neither did anyone else either. No competitive mummying going on here, thankfully.

We joined the junior school with their papier mache dragon and set off, with a jazz band to amble along the streets of the village. The band was not your average um pah pah splat splat group of 'traditional' carnival 'musicians' dragged out of mothballs and revived for the annual merriment. No, this was a band fit for a wedding party, complete with underpants headgear and sheet music on sticks.

Parents were obliged to participate to keep their kids in check, take photos, videos and swell the cortege to respectable numbers. Enough to piss off any passing motorists caught in the backlog of traffic waiting to pass as we unhurriedly dawdled across the road. Up the hill and under the arch into the medieval part of the village with the road no more than a couple of metres wide, we came to the castle and then to the church.

At the church, the 'bride and groom' stood on the steps for photos while the band struck up suitably celebratory music. The groom presented the bride with a ring and he got a 'kiss' for his trouble.

It was all hysterical. The atmosphere was truly one of carnival, with the organisers behaving the silliest and thus setting the tone of the whole event. The kids, of course, loved it and the elder ones rampaged around with their Starwars costumes holding intergalactic battles on the ramparts and stone ballustrade outside the church. Everyone threw confetti over everyone else, except my youngest who wanted to keep his, and in fact, collect as much as possible along the way to fill up his confetti pot. We must have been the only ones who went home with more confetti than we started with, and this from a boy!

After a leisurely pause at the church, we made our way back down the hill to the schools where an aperitif had been laid on, in typical French village style. Having had a late night the night before, however, I was feeling buggered and had no desire standing around even more, after standing all morning so far, talking to nice enough people, but no one I desperately wanted to say anything to that I hadn't already said during the carnival. My youngest was also passing out from want of food, he said, and so we abandoned ship and went home to coffee and biscuits.

The rest of the day stretched ahead, of planning and preparing for his birthday party - shopping, baking, organising games. Yes, I was inviting 9 five year old boys to my house the next afternoon, and hoping to live to tell the tale...

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Avoid Cegetel!

Phone companies are notoriously bad in France. Their customer services are terrible, they make you pay through the nose while speaking to them to sort out problems, often of their making, and are as stingy as hell with compensation.

In 2004 I spent a fortune on calls to Wanadoo trying to sort out my broadband line. I had no connection in my new house and their system refused to work. They accused France Telecom's lines of being defective. France Telecom replied the problem came from Wanadoo. What was really weird was that the whole thing worked perfectly for 5 whole days, then stopped working completely. No one could explain that, or cared. I got irate and the ladies at France Telecom hung up on me. I sent the whole thing back.

Last year I tried Cegetel. I had to wait months before I got the system as they kept getting the order wrong. I was conned into signing up with them in the December, assured of a super fast connection and told I would be connected by Christmas.

Just before Christmas I was told my phone line was, in fact, not eligible for the loadsa megas line, but a measily 256k or whatever it is. They also got the price wrong. I got the system early February, 2 months after ordering it. Guess what? It didn't work.

I then spent over 100€ on calls to their technical centre trying to fix the problem. Level one technicians couldn't fix it, so I was told I needed to go to level two, but each time, my 30mins ran out as they count the time you are hanging on waiting for someone to answer the call as part of your total call time restriction. So, I never got to level two. Either I ran out of time, or the computers were down, or there were no technicians available. Over 100€ on crap service.

Livid, I sent the whole thing back and thought that was the end of that.

In fact, it wasn't. Although I had told them the system didn't work and I wanted to stop the contract, apparently I didn't send a letter to the right place. I sent it with the modem. Mistake! I should have sent it to an entirely different address probably somewhere in Inner Mongolia. I also requested that they reimburse me the 100€ I spent on a service that didn't work because of their equipment/line. I think they made a commercial gesture of 10€. When I heard that, having rung them to find out what had happened to the reimbursement, I burst out laughing and asked if the Cegetel girl was really serious. She was!

Despite this being the age of computers where the whole world is connected up via the internet, Cegetel, that phone and internet company ARE NOT CONNECTED between services. You have to send the modem back to one place Accuse de Reception and the letter to a different place A/R. Does that sound ridiculous? It certainly does to me. Do I want to deal with a ridiculous company? Absolutely not.

It gets worse. Divorcing, not all my mail arrived to me. Cegetel apparently was sending me invoices by email, but they looked like junk and went straight to my junk mail. When I tried to open them, I couldn't because I didn't have a customer number. It didn't occur to me that I was still paying for a service I was not using.

Then I moved house and the old phone line was cancelled. I was still paying for the service I was not using on a line which no longer existed.

Eventually, I get some bank statements and discover that the money being taken out of the account is not for my ex-h at his new place, but for a service I have never ever used.

I ring up and am told I need to write a letter Accuse de Reception to request a cancellation and to explain the situation. This I do and ask to be reimbursed for the money I've been paying for a year for a service I haven't been using on a line that doesn't exist.

Recently I get a reminder for the bill for Feburary because the bank had refused to pay the direct debit. I ring up and explain. Cegetel says tough shit, mate, we are cancelling your line from March only, you have to cough up the dosh. I explain the situation again, and say I was expecting to be reimbursed money, not paying it. Not a chance.

I get, justifiably I believe, irate and the customer service girl hangs up on me. I've just taken the bill and scrawled in red all over it that the line is cancelled since March 2005.

So, a word to the wise. If you are thinking of subscribing to an internet or phone company, AVOID CEGETEL LIKE THE PLAGUE. Their customer service does not care about you, their system is user-unfriendly, and likely to cost you a lot of money.

Spread the word, it's the only way to make them change their behaviour - mass exodus from their 'services'.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Euphoria and irritation

I am euphoric. I have access to British tele. Dean, a true Blue White Van Man came over yesterday to set up my smart black mesh satellite dish and install my Skybox. It works stunningly well with a vast array of channels in English. When I say vast, I mean in relative terms to my usual selection of TF1 to M6 not including Canal+ to which I wouldn't subscribe if you put a gun to my head. It's an overpriced service with maybe one film per month I'd consider watching if there was nothing else on the horizon although a good book would be a serious contender for my attention.

However, last night I enjoyed Fifth Gear with races between a Formula One racing car and BMW M3 - guess who won..., a Porsche and a helicopter, and a 4x4 contest between a Range Rover and a Panda. Exciting stuff! I watched the news too on the Beeb. Such a relief to see news news, not 'fait divers' on camping cars for pensioners or other merry though hardly newslike items. I tell you, French news is soooo odd!

Anyway, today I am AT HOME. Why? Well, guess what, the teachers are on strike again. Ooooh, I hear you say unbelievingly... Yes really! I am irritated at having to take another day's leave, especially as I didn't know until this morning that two teachers at my youngest's school were absent, so as he refused to be put with the babies (and who can blame him?!), I felt obliged to take him home, and thus go and fetch the eldest too whose teacher is always on for a good strike.

There are, of course always things to do about the house. A mountain of ironing has been beckoning for a few days now, watering my pots, weeding, cleaning and trying to work on my web page and book. Needless to say, any attempt at concentrating on something serious is quickly interrupted by a child on urgent business, so I had to content myself with banal tasks during which I was left to get on with it. Strange that. Kids have antenna which home in on mummy at work, and an interrupting-mummy-when-she's-busy gene which kicks in whenever they see me trying to think. No wonder mothers complain of brain-atrophy.

My today's temporary brain atrophy affected ideas for lunch, so I gave up the struggle and took them to Jackson Burger. This is a rare event. I suppose we go roughly once every couple of months. It's thus a treat for them which is how it should be, and they had a great time on the outdoor play area.

Having retrieved the volcano from depths of the sofa, we did get around to recreating Mt Vesuvius with bicarb of soda, red food colouring and malt vinegar. It gave a most dramatic effect, was tested by both boys, and ended up being gloriously messy. Conclusion: a roaring success.

I am just about to put the kettle on for a cuppa, having come back from a cycle ride to the cycle circuit down in the village. My youngest loves following the road layout and tried out every permutation of alternative directions. We were entertained by music booming out of the sound system from a group of cars belonging to local teenagers (or their mothers) who were harmlessly gathered to chat, smoke and kick a ball about without being interrupted by annoying calls to help around the house from their mums. I suppose their teachers were on strike too.

I hope this strike situation is not going to drag on. One day I can accept without too much annoyance. Two, and I'm getting irritated. Any more and I'll be really pissed off because their reasons for striking are spurious seeing as Chirac has passed the CPE law and effectively killed it at the same time. They should not now, therefore, be on strike. My only consolation is the 100€ that is docked off their salary. Maybe they should double that amount with every subsequent day on strike. That would get them back to work.

Hmm, maybe I should write to the Education National...

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Picnic Spot

Having left the Ravin des Arcs carpark, we headed north and turned left along the presumably ancient D1 towards the River Hérault. It is one of those green-marked roads in Michelin maps, and once past the quarry with over-sized Tonka trucks in perfect view, it did indeed become very pretty and well worth its green appellation.

Up and over the escarpment, we came down to the river and noticed we were not alone... It is a favourite spot for picnickers, with its wide banks of grassy meadows, and rocky beaches. We drove on, not wanting too much cheek-by-jowlness with our fellow man, and came to the Pont St Etienne d'Issensac.

It is an ancient stone bridge, so narrow, you have to negotiate two stone posts to ensure your car will not get stuck half-way across. Some idiot has adorned them with graffiti which is a shame, but typical.

On the other side, we found the perfect spot, with inbuilt seating! It was perfect because it afforded us with the ideal view of the bridge, was isolated and surrounded by water.

Our spot was an island in the river handily eroded by the water thus providing us with seating on the rocks.

We even had inhouse entertainment from some students on a rallye who kept swimming across the river under the bridge obviously having a great time from the shouts and whoops that floated over to us. They were interestingly dressed in knight costumes made out of potato sacking, and one guy was decked out in a rather nice marroon jersey skirt.

We observed all this from a safe distance, listening to more bullfrog serenading, supping rosé wine with our jambon cru sandwiches, salt&vinegar crisps, chorizo and cherry tomatoes. Having arrived for an early lunch, by the time the rest of the hoards were out and about, we were ready to leave. A large party of families turned up to disturb the peace, and we left them to it, happily replete.

Ravin des Arcs

There are different ways of spending a childless Sunday morning, from engaging in extensive undercover maneuvres to sleeping, going to church, or... going for a hike.

This morning was a day for a hike. The season doesn't last long in the South of France since it soon gets too hot for much exercise during the middle of the day so everything has to be squeezed into the hours before 11am or after 5pm. Spring, however, is perfectly gauged for walks, picnics and exercise.

Just north of St Martin de Londres there is a carpark at the beginning of a path to the Ravin des Arcs. It's a 5km circular walk leading to a spectacular ravine. The path takes you across a range of terrains, from a gentle stroll in the garrigue through woods where you clamber over jutting stones, and down a steep stony track with increasingy dramatic views which enfold of the ravine before you.

Once at the bottom, you are welcomed with limpid pools and giant rocks, waterfalls, and caves. The amount of water in the river depends on the time of year. As you can see, the water was deep and would have been inviting had it been warmer. The river flows lazily between giant rocks which force it through waterfalls as it makes its way downstream.

In places, dramatic evidence of the power of water can be spied in orifices of worn out rock where years of turbulence has created little hollows.

The river banks provide smoothed rocks which offer perfect seating for a little refreshment. After a good 2.5km walk, this is a welcome opportunity. We found this linear frogspawn tucked into a protected niche of a rock, and heard bullfrogs croaking their amours which echoed around the ravine.

At this point, you can either turn back the way you came, or continue to complete the circular walk, following the GR 60 (Grande Randonée) back towards St Martin de Londres. For this, you have to cross the river where indicated, skipping across inviting-looking boulders and on to the other bank to attack the aerobic path which climbs the hillside in oakwood so it's lovely and shadey. Once at the top there is an agreeable walk downhill back to the car.

The whole walk took us just over 1 1/2hrs, although its recommended time is 2-3hrs, so giving you time to dawdle with kids and aged parents... We had intended on having a picnic there, but it was only 11.45am when we hit base, so decided to push on to find the perfect spot...

Saturday, April 01, 2006

It's Carnival Time

It's the school carnival season. Why go to Rio or Venice when you can enjoy all the 'fun' on your own doorstep? So it might not be so sophisticated, granted, or drunken, or decadent... but it is at home! Mind you, now I come to think of it, drunken, decadent sophistication is also quite appealing.

However, a lovely spring morning spread its generous douceur over the village where my eldest goes to school, and off he set in his 'costume' - an orange tee-shirt and black jeans. The tee-shirt had been hurriedly ordered from La Redoute on Thursday, for a next-day delivery, and we picked it up last night at the flower shop depot. I had quite forgotten about the pressing need for the right coloured shirt and it was only when I caught sight of a scrap of paper handed to me some weeks ago that I realised the imminence of the event. For once, La Redoute had the right garment in the right size and saved the day, and I took advantage of the fact I was ordering to add in his summer's shorts and additional tee-shirts too. A whole delivery just for him. My youngest is, for the moment, doomed to wear his brother's cast-offs although this will not last for much longer as trousers never survive beyond the age of 5. He is still the right age for Natural Childbirth Trust gear though which my mother attends avidly twice a year to stock me up on essentials. Were I not to rely on charity, my boys would be dressed in rags...! (well, I may be exaggerating a little...).

Having dropped off my eldest, we hurried over to Norma to do a quick shop and then made our way to the Mairie park. The theme of the carnival was Latin America, and had I known this may have made an effort to conjure up a poncho in orange together with a nifty Peruvian hat. There again, I may not. All my son was interested in was having that ribbon-type stuff squirted from a canister.

In the park, an area was fenced off, and at one end a band called 'Guacamole' was setting up their gear. They were made up of two guys and a woman dressed in a long tutu, pink underskirt, sparkly waistcoat and extremely high pink sandals. She didn't strike me instantly as being from Latin America despite the Peruvian landscape naively painted onto the backdrop. However, she did put on a dramatically Portuguese accent when she spoke, and the music was good, so it was all good fun.

The kids marched in, to Latin American music, from their different schools; each year dressed in a different colour. Even the Maternelle kiddies were there with their multi-coloured ponchos and 'Peruvian' headgear. Each colour had its zone, and once everyone was in place it looked terrifically festive. Some classes had made headgear, and some mummies, more assiduous (and well-informed) than I, had concocted ponchos in the right colours. Snakes of children wound their way around the fenced in area, with increasing silliness leading to breaking lines, shrieks and charging about trying to get back in place.

My youngest wiled away the time eating biscuits and doing acrobatics on the fences hanging upsidedown and giving me the willies that he'd fall off and then there'd be trouble. He didn't though, clever lad.

Eventually, at 11am it was getting a bit boring and I was dying to get to Intermarche to do my second series of shopping. Thankfully, the music and snaking stopped and the kids made ready to parade around the village. This was our chance! I've done the village thing before, and while it's fun, it's not like I would never forgive myself if I missed it, and I needed to buy lunch. Feeling a little like I was bunking off, I skipped off to the car and lunch was saved.

I've got to go through all this again next Saturday when it's the turn of my youngest's school, in a different village, to have their carnival. Hopefully, next week I'll be able to take some pictures as my camera batteries were found to be dead, and the spares were snugly tucked in my eldest's Gameboy... at home.

It might have been a two-gin day except that time was getting on, so, I consoled myself with a nice glass of my favourite Norma wine (2€59/bottle) over lunch on the terrace, in the sun. Ahhhh.