Author Archives: Bystander

DIY Maintenance at a French Holiday Gite

picnic-table-300x225 We usually plan to do our out-of-season gite maintenance work at the end of each holiday season. Normally it’s a combination of minor replacements (of small electrical equipment, furniture, etc) and buildings maintenance (redecoration, interior or exterior painting, flooring, replacement of fittings and major equipment) and it gets done sometime between Christmas and Easter.

But, in reality, keeping up with the general wear-and-tear maintenance is an ongoing job – it never stops. We had already planned to replace the picnic table on the patio at our seaside gite Sandboys Dune before the start of next year’s letting season, and then, suddenly, the job became more urgent. The old timbers in its benches and table-top began to sag. The rot had finally weakened the most exposed wooden parts beyond repair, and it was no longer capable of seating a family for an outdoor meal.

Initially I thought of simply buying a new picnic table. This one was 8 years old, after all. When I found out how much that was going to cost I began to consider more economical (and ecological) alternatives.

On close inspection it was clear that the base of the table was relatively sound and that it was only the table-top and benches that needed replacement, so I went out and bought 15 euros worth of pine planks. These needed cutting down from 3 metres to 1.5 metres – done in a jiffy with my Bosch PKS 40 Circular Saw. Then these pieces needed cutting down from 22cm wide to 10cm – easy again with the same tool. Some 5 cm wide pieces were needed too – piece of cake! (anyone from Bosch want to sponsor this blog?).

Having cut all the right pieces and stained and varnished them ready to be installed, I took a look at the base section. It was in pretty good shape, but there were some design flaws which gave it a tendancy to wobbliness. With some deft cutting and shaping (VonHaus Mitre Saw, Stanley Surform, Ryobi Electric Sander)– come on you big DIY brands, blog sponsorship is still available!! I installed some bracing that completely eliminated the original instability. More stain and varnish – job done!

One week later, the totally refurbished, sleek and glossy picnic table is back at Dune, ready for another 8 or 10 years.

By then I reckon it will only have cost our gite budget 2 euros a year in capital and maintenance costs – and even then it might only need a couple of cheap pine planks to last 8 more years.


Great Tool Bargains at the Amazon DIY & Tool Store!

Berck Kite Festival 2012 ~ World Championships

This year’s spectacular week of kite flying. Demonstrations, Competitions, Exhibition stands and lots of other attractions –  AND the World Sport Kite Championships. This show is worth a visit!  Just head for the beach!

Here’s a video of the kind of precision flying you’ll see.

New rules for driving in France

A personal breathalyser from Amazon £2.82

A new law aimed at reducing road deaths and injuries takes effect in France this spring. It will require all drivers to carry a breathalyser kit in their car. Kits are reported to be available at under €5 and the penalty for not having one could be a fine of around €17.

The question is whether this measure will have the desired effect. Will it reduce drinking and driving, or will the universal ability to measure blood alcohol content by means of a personal breathalyser lead drivers to try keep drinking right up to the point where they are just a fraction below the legal limit?

Will it, in fact lead to more drink driving rather than less?

The Euro Storm ~ Is France the safest haven?

"Ha! Cameron kaput ist!. Kaffee und Hörnchen für 23, schnell! ... A vos ordres, Chef"

I have long thought that the EU was designed primarily for the benefit of France and the French. Every time treaty changes are made France seems to gain or, at the very least, not lose. France is the only major economy in the EU that makes no net contribution to the EU. Moreover, France’s financial position would be even more advantageous if it no longer had to contribute several billion euros towards the British rebate, negotiated (or handbagged out of Brussels) by Mrs Thatcher.

Under the circumstances it would be surprising if the isolation of Britain from the centre of EU politics, and possibly its eventual exit from the EU, were not a major diplomatic objective for French EU officials.

Here is what Benedict Brogan of the Daily Telegraph has to say about the veto exercised by Mr Cameron in Brussels last night.

“Mr Cameron was right to reject a deal designed by the French, for the French. At the heart of this dispute is France’s desire to see Britain out of the EU, and the City marginalised.That was why they loaded the package with elements Britain could not accept. Downing Street officials are clear about what the French are up to, and why the Prime Minister had no choice but to say non.”

If it has been abundantly clear to someone like me, for many years, that France  created and has moulded the EU to its own benefit, not just financial advantage, but also for greater global influence and consequent worldwide trade advantages, then why has it not been obvious to British politicians and media commentators?

It seems they may be, at last, waking up to smell the croissant.

Those of us who live in France can comfort ourselves, amidst all the storm of global recession, the whirlpools of rising energy costs, the icebergs of banking crises and, above all, the threat of a Euro currency shipwreck, that whatever decisions and sacrifices are made in Brussels, France will emerge with the best lifejacket.

And we might be needing it, for, as Terry Smith of interdealer broker Tullett Prebon, said on BBC Radio 4,

“The UK is as isolated as somebody who refused to join the Titanic just before it sailed.”

At last! The Beginning of the End of the Global Warming Scare

If you have been worried by the constant stream of prediction, over the last 20 years,  of imminent catastrophic man-made climate change, and the dire consequences thereof, you can finally rest easy.

report published by the IPCC (the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) last week  finally admits that scientists can’t say with any reasonable degree of confidence whether the climate will be warming or cooling in the next 20-30 years.

In addition, because the “man-made signal” is negligible relatively to the climate’s natural variability there can be only low or medium confidence in computer model predictions of any rate of change in the frequency of  extreme weather events.

Similarly there can not be a high degree of confidence in conclusions that the tiny proportion of atmospheric CO2 gas which can be described as “man-made” is capable of causing any observable climate change.

This report must surely mark the beginning of the end of the most expensive confidence trick in history.  Politicians, and the BBC of course, will not suddenly abandon all pretense of belief in the scam, since to do so would make them look foolish, and, anyway, many of them are still making plenty of money from it.

Eventually, however, the whole thing will be forgotten and swept away to become a sort of cautionary tale, like the story of the South Sea Bubble.  No doubt some leading British politicians are already planning strategies that will enable them, in the future, to claim to have saved the country from the scam, much as Sir Robert Walpole did back then – not before he had made his own fortune out of it, naturally.

Zut alors! What’s that fish?

French fish shop

Want to know what "Dorade Grise" is?

I’ve always found it difficult to tell one fish from another on the fishmongers slab. I know some varieties because I’ve caught them personally, salmon, brown and rainbow trout, mackerel, pike, bream, and perch, plus a few I’ve bought fresh such as sole and plaice.  Otherwise, I’m an ignoramus when it comes to the game of “Name That Fish!”

And, of course, that makes it doubly difficult to buy fresh fish in France, because if you don’t know the name of the fish in English you’re certainly not going to know it in French.  So there they are, these nice looking freshly caught fish, beautifully arranged on the marble slabs in the fish market in Etaples, and I haven’t got a clue what they are.

What do you do if you have a recipe in English for a fish called wrasse, for instance, but you don’t know the French word, and you don’t know what it looks like either?

Fortunately I’ve discovered a really useful internet resource that lists the French name of every fish you can imagine, and, at a click, gives the name of the same fish in several other languages, including English and the official Latin name.

Thus I can now tell you that Alose Savoureuse or Alosa sapidissima as we pedants call it, is otherwise known in English as American shad, common shad, Connecticut river shad, shad alose or white shad.  In other words I think I can safely say it’s Shad.

Likewise, a lieu jaune is Pollachius pollachius, known in English as green pollack, lythe, or just pollack.

The source of this information is an Icelandic (of course) website.  Fortunately the nice Icelanders have translated their site into English, so go to the Icelandic Marine Research Institute site, click on “French”, and look down the alphabetical list to find the French name of your mystery fish.  Click on it to find its English name (or Latin, Danish, Russian, Spanish, etc.).

Simple – Oh!, except that you have to remember English in Icelandic is “Enska”

You learn something new everyday!

Paris noise remedy – two birds with one stone?

Delanoe's remedy for sleepless nights?

When Paris banned smoking in bars and clubs three years ago, no one foresaw one of the less desirable side-effects: late-night clubbers and party-goers spilling onto the streets in crowds to smoke – and
keeping the neighbours awake with their laughter and chatter.

After a number of lawsuits against bar and club owners, and steps by city authorities to shut down noisy clubs, a group of DJs and club promoters launched a petition warning that the world-famous Parisian night-life would die out if no compromise could be reached.

This week the Mayor of Paris called a conference at which club owners, police, residents’ groups and local authorities would put their point of view, and, together, try to hammer out a solution.

“Partying and culture is part of what makes Paris shine,” Mayor Bertrand Delanoe told the gathering on Friday, admitting, however, that fostering a vibrant night-life while respecting residents’ right to peace and quiet would be a tough challenge.

“We Parisians are demanding, and even contrary,” he said. “On a night you’re staying in, you’d like a curfew at 8 pm. But when you’re in the mood to party, you want the right to make a racket until 8 am.”

Starting this spring, Paris will send out squads of white-faced mimes and red-nosed clowns to nudge punters into keeping the noise down, an alternative to sending in the police. The project is modelled on a successful experiment in Barcelona.

“It’s about getting the message across with a dose of humour,” said Mao Peninou, the deputy mayor in charge of the project.

This time there may be an entirely beneficial side-effect for visitors to Paris to look forward to. Plentiful late-night work for dreadfully un-entertaining mimes might just keep them off the Paris streets in daytime.

  • HK Fat Cats looking to buy in France

    Pierre & Vacances properties at Fort Mahon

    There might be good news today, if you are thinking of selling a house in France – a new tax treaty with Hong Kong has made it more attractive for Hong Kong residents to buy-to-let in France.

    Technically it’s a double taxation treaty between Hong Kong and France and it was signed by John Tsang, Hong Kong’s financial secretary and Christine Lagarde, the French minister of economy, industry and employment, after nearly a decade of negotiations between the two governments. The news has been welcomed by French property agencies, as it makes the purchase of French real estate easier for expats based in Hong Kong.

    Nick Leach, director of Pierre & Vacances property investment arm said: “Hong Kong is one of our most important expat markets alongside Dubai and Singapore. We have plenty of interest from bankers and lawyers based out in Hong Kong, who have a considerable amount of disposable income, and are looking for attractive investment opportunities.

    The Fat Cats from HK like this kind of property!

    “France, in particular, has always attracted the expat investor, with Paris and the Alpine region proving particularly popular with Hong Kong investors. And now that another tax barrier has been removed, we are bracing ourselves for a big rise in interest from the expat investor community in Hong Kong.”

    John Busby, director of, a French mortgage broker, said he was also expecting the treaty to increase interest in French property from expat investors based in Hong Kong. “We experienced a similar spike in interest from buyers and agents in the Channel Islands, when a tax treaty with France was agreed earlier this year,” he said.

    The treaty is expected come into effect in 2011, so, if you’re thinking of buying rather than selling, it might be a good idea to get in now, ahead of the Hong Kong fat cats.

  • French roots

    I’m getting to be a quite familiar with the ceremony of completion of a house purchase or sale in France, now.  Before yesterday I had been present 6 times in the notaire’s office for the “Acte de Vente”.

    Yesterday I was present for a 7th time.  As usual the notaire greeted the buyers and sellers, and we prepared to listen to him reading aloud every word of a contract which ran to 20 or more pages. Naturally the entire procedure is carried out in French, and some of the language is quite technical. But it wasn’t any of the complicated stuff that got me thinking yesterday, it was the personal details of the buyers that I found fascinating and quite revealing about life in France.

    It’s often said that outside of the major cities, France is a peasant country.  By this, I take it people mean that the life of the majority is closely related to the land and to a relatively small local area (pays, paysan).  In other words people often don’t move far from where they started life.

    The buyers yesterday, a pleasant couple from somewhere between Arras and Cambrai, Monsieur about 60 and Madame around 56, were buying a small second home near the seaside.  He told me he was a retired joiner.

    When the notaire began to read the contract aloud, he came first to the section establishing the identity and status of all the parties.  Monsieur was described as having been born in 1951 in the village of Riencourt-Les-Cagnicourt. His wife had been born 3 or 4 years later and about a mile away in the village of Cagnicourt.

    They had been married in Cagnicourt.

    They now lived in Riencourt-Les-Cagnicourt.

    It wasn’t mentioned, but I would bet their children live near the villages where their parents were born.

    I realised, a little surprised, that they might never have lived anywhere outside the 1 mile diameter circle in which they had both been born.  In fact, the possibility occurred to me Continue reading “French roots” »

    France and Spain come out top for quality of life in Europe

    A normal day in the life of French people!

    A new study by examined 16 factors to understand where the UK sits in relation to nine other major European countries. Variables such as net income, VAT and the cost of essential goods, such as fuel, food and energy bills, were examined. In addition, lifestyle factors, such as hours of sunshine, holiday entitlement, working hours and life expectancy were considered, in order to provide a complete picture of the quality of life experienced in each country.

    France and Spain come out top for quality of life while the UK and Ireland are the worst places to live in Europe according to the study. France has taken the top spot for the second year running, despite families earning an annual net income of only £32,766 – £4,406 below that of the UK.

    An everyday scene in a typical British street

    High living costs, below average government spending on health and education, short holidays and late retirement have kept the UK and Ireland at the bottom of the list.

    Significantly, the UK now no longer enjoys the highest net household income in Europe after falling behind Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark. This is a critical blow as people living in the UK were previously able to see a trade off between poor quality of life, but a relatively high net income, the survey says.

    While last year net household income in the UK was £10,000 above the European average, this year it is just £2,314 above average. Last year compared with their European neighbours the British were miserable but rich, this year they are miserable and poor.

    The UK pays the highest prices for food and petrol yet spends below the European average (as a percentage of GDP) on health and education. Moreover, Brits work longer hours, retire later, and receive less annual leave than most of their European counterparts, the study says.

    They also enjoy less sunshine along the way and can expect to die two years younger than their French counterparts.

    Feel happier now?

  • London finally catches up with Montreuil sur Mer

    I see that “Tamara Drewe”, a new British film that is hotly tipped for cinema industry awards this year, has just had its premiere in Leicester Square (where else?), London.

    Presumably last night’s premiere audience had failed to read in Frogsiders that they could have watched the film in considerable comfort and style for only 5€50 each (OAP concession available) at Cinema Montreuil 3 weeks ago.

    For the record, we thought it was very funny with some excellent performances. It’s a story of lust and love in a country village, loosely based, apparently, on Thomas Hardy’s “Far From The Madding Crowd”.

    “Peintres dans la Rue” at Sainte Cecile, and the dimwits at Etaples

    Some of us have to work on Saturdays. Unfortunately I’m one of them – and this Saturday, September 11 looks like being a busy one.

    A pity, because if I could, I would like to go to Sainte Cécile, a little seaside place between Boulogne and Etaples, where I would stroll around watching other people at work. These workers, however, will be doing something far more creative and lasting than I shall on Saturday, because they are les “Peintres dans la Rue”, the artists who paint outdoors in the streets of the town, and at the end of the day hold an exhibition (and sale) of the day’s work.

    If you’re interested you can find out more by phoning 03 21 84 72 18, or just turn up on the day, have a stroll and some lunch and watch people using hand, eye, imagination and talent as they create works of art.

    On the other hand, I would stay well away from Etaples, where there will be a meeting of lots of poorly-endowed, silly, leather-clad males on motor bikes. Apparently the one with the smallest dick – you can tell by the amount of noise and burning rubber smoke he is able to make with his bike – wins the admiration of all the rest. You might think this a strange way to spend the day and an odd and perverse competition, but let’s be charitable to the afflicted and allow them to have their fun – preferably a long way away.

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