Monthly Archives: January 2009

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Red lorry, yellow lorry

By | 2009-01-31T15:07:06+00:00 January 31st, 2009|Strasbourg|

I had the good fortune some years back to have the chance to see behind the scenes of a west-end musical in the making. I was in fact making the 'making-of' video of this musical in the making, which never made it to the West End, the reasons for which were clear to all those making it. I digress. The good fortune I speak of was witnessing the warm-up routine for the actors just before their performance. A sweaty musical director plonked away at a piano while he put the cast through their linguistic paces. That is, he gave them exercises to loosen up their voices for the two hour singing session they were about to embark upon. There were scales, of course, and lots of tra-la-la-la's and me-me-me-me's but to my surprise there was also red-lorry-yellow-lorry. At the time I thought getting a room of professional actors to monotonously sing red-lorry-yellow-lorry was quite amusing, and in fact I had a hard job at the time of not bursting out laughing and sneering shamelessly. Since having got over my [...]

The joy of car sharing

By | 2017-01-06T11:16:44+00:00 January 25th, 2009|Strasbourg|

They call it 'car-sharing' - a title that doesn't do justice in my view as really the nature of car sharing is precisely the same as that of car-rental but on a shorter lead-time; but calling it 'short-lead-time-car-rental' isn't as catchy nor does the acronym 'SLTCR' spell anything interesting. Though that said, from now on I think I might refer to it as 'SLuT-CaR', if only for amusement value. SLuT-CaR schemes exist in many cities around the world, but the scheme in Strasbourg is said to have been the first such in France. Initially launched as 'auto'trement', a play on words that makes it sound a bit like 'autrement' (otherwise), the scheme was soon renamed France-Autopartage (France car-sharing) after they discovered that no-one could pronounce it. Some take a view that SLuT-CaR is simply another way to own a car, and is meant for the poor folk who obviously can't afford to have their own gas-guzzling combustion engine, and even those who understand that this is not the case regard the scheme as being so ridiculously expensive, that it [...]

The trouble with working from home 2

By | 2017-01-06T11:16:44+00:00 January 20th, 2009|Strasbourg|

While I have already noted some pros and cons of working à la maison. One thing I forgot to mention was the IT issue. That is to say, if you work from home, you most likely have one a computer of some description, and a broadband service, and an email service, and maybe a wireless network to look after. So if you experience an IT problem - you have to suddenly grow a beard and solve it yourself. Normally this requires little more than a weekly bit of backing up and downloading of regular updates, but sometimes (like today for instance) you can only pull your hair out in frustration as the piece of equipment you have your entire livelihood invested in decides to become as fickle and unpredictable as a toddler on a sugar rush. I have spent the past 48 hours trying to fix a seemingly unfixable bug with my laptop, which first lost it's anti-spyware programme, then a corrupted acrobat document caused it fall fall over, and now it can't find the internet... ARRRRGGGH!!! There's a [...]

The best French sitcom … ever?

By | 2017-01-06T11:16:44+00:00 January 19th, 2009|Strasbourg|

I often hear the phrase 'French TV is rubbish' bandied about, by many British expats in France, as a way of justifying their purchase of expensive satellite systems and subscriptions to SKY plus. However on balance, I think it's fair to say that those who say this, don't actually believe that the dross served up on British screens is any better than that on offer in France, but it's easier to simplify the argument down to a question of quality, rather than simply admit that you miss your weekly dose of Top Gear and Red Dwarf. While there may be many differences between British and French television, quality is not one of them. The main difference is format. This is particularly true for sit-coms. In the UK, one would expect a sit-com to be aired weekly and last somewhere between 25 and 45 minutes an episode; in France however it is more likely to be aired every day and last no longer than 7 minutes. Why this is the case I have no idea, but it certainly makes the [...]

Panic over

By | 2017-01-06T11:16:45+00:00 January 14th, 2009|Strasbourg|

It's been three years in the making, but today I finally learned to stop panicking whenever I discover a bill in the letterbox. Today I almost wet myself when my chosen pension society sent me an annual contribution prediction of 50% of my salary for 2009. "They want how much?!?!????!" After sending a 'confused foreigner here' email to my accountants, I finally calmed down enough to actually read through the paperwork. It seems that since arriving here as tongue-tied beginners in the local language I had taken to glazing-over whenever staring at (rather than 'reading') a French-scribed communication. But today I grew up a little, after all my language level is somewhat improved in recent months; I take pride in now being able to follow most television programmes without the need for subtitles. Furthermore, with the exchange rate ripping a massive hole in my pocket, I knew that every minute I spent asking my charge-by-the-second accountants stupid questions was going to cost me. The fact was then that the reason I was being treated as a pyramid-selling banker on-the-run, [...]

My hair feels so soft!

By | 2009-01-08T13:37:26+00:00 January 8th, 2009|Strasbourg|

Now while many of the locals may disagree, one positive thing that we (my wife and I) noticed immediately about French living was the way in which the local water left our hair so soft, silky smooth and manageable after washing. Oh yes. This was first noted on a mini-break to Avignon in 2003, then again when we visited Strasbourg in 2005, and is now something we take totally for granted ... until we make an excursion back to the UK. My folks inhabit the Mendip hills down in Somerset, where the water is so hard it takes five minutes for a glass of tap water to clear from the milky-limestone colour it arrives in from the tap. Somerset kettles therefore have to be hardier than a Norwegian fisherman's top-lip to survive the mountainous scale that builds up after only a few cups. Just this Christmas I quickly remembered why the locals all leave a few dregs in, rather than finish, their cups of tea - because there's usually a few lumps of chalk down there hiding in amongst [...]

Oh little town of Schengen

By | 2017-01-06T11:16:45+00:00 January 2nd, 2009|Strasbourg|

It's at this time of year many of us like to cast our minds back to that magical moment all those years ago when a very special little baby was born in a little town in Luxembourg. The baby in question was actually an agreement, born primarily for the unfortunate residents of Schengen. Until that moment each inhabitant of the little town were required to carry their passports whenever they left home, as being on the immediate border with France and Germany meant that the likelihood they were going to cross a border that day was going to be pretty high, if not unavoidable. CUSTOMS OFFICIALCould you tell me the nature of your visit to Germany today please sir? SCHENGEN RESIDENTI'm going to buy some potatoes for supper officer CUSTOMS OFFICIALAre you aware that under Luxembourg law 1706/142 it is illegal to import starch-based foodstuffs from the German Reich? SCHENGEN RESIDENTAbsolutely which is why I'll be importing them into France, and then bringing them home across the France-Luxembourg border. Later I'll have to head out again, because I want [...]