Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

My thanks to those of you who have enquired about my health. I am receiving the very best of treatment with a course of chemo-therapy, the side effects of which are best described as being like perpetual mal de mer without the benefit of an ocean voyage!
It being that time of year may I wish you all the very best for 2009. In view of the rather depressing economic news from Britain I thought it would be cheering to look a little further ahead to see what the future decade might hold for its citizens.

The news that Zimbabwe has offered financial assistance was welcomed by the man suspected of being in charge of the British government. He said that the nation was well placed to weather the financial crisis and pointed out that Britons had never had it so good. Rarely have so few had to get up and go to work in the morning, a clear indication of the value of a welfare state.
On the other hand, Bangladesh had declined to assist, saying they doubted Britain’s ability to repay a loan and President Obama vetoed the idea of incorporating them within the United States, suggesting however that Cuba might be interested in colonising the islands.

From a military point of view, Britain remained a formidable force. The Royal Navy’s one remaining ship, the former Isle of Wight ferry, was back in service, having had her boilers scraped and was patrolling the narrow seas once more.
Regrettably, the army, last heard of in Afghanistan, must by now assume to have been lost, but the air defence of Great Britain, now in the safe hands of the Southend on Sea Aero Club, was once more taking to the skies. Whenever they could afford the petrol, their Piper Cub could be spotted zooming through the wild blue yonder as the crews honed their skills with practice bombing runs on the whelk stalls on the sea front, evoking memories of the proud days of the Battle of Britain.

On the domestic front, considerable economies have been made. All Job Centres have been closed due to lack of available work and the NHS has been outsourced to a call centre in Mumbai where callers are greeted with an attractive jingle entitled: ‘Take two aspirins and call me in the morning.’ All A and E casualties are now redirected to the Red Cross caravan located near Eastbourne pier.

In place of the old banking system, households have now been issued with a plastic model donkey having a slot for coins in its saddle. The conventional piggy bank was vetoed by the Muslim majority of the population and, on reflection, it was agreed that a donkey was probably a more appropriate symbol to reflect the fiscal policies of government.
The man who is thought to be in charge of the nation’s coffers said that the nation was well placed to weather the financial crisis.

‘Jobsworth’ has now been recognised as a professional qualification with degree status and members are asked to wear their badge with pride. Some 85 per cent of the population are now official ‘Jobsworths.’

CCTV cameras are now in every home to monitor the domestic alcohol consumption and other valuable statistics for government use, and garbage collections are now made on an annual basis. The Immigration Service has been done away with as being of no value and a number of illegal immigrants, apprehended trying to leave the country, have complained that their Human Rights are being breached by making them stay.

The proposed takeover of the rail system by Hornby was rejected in that it would be taking miniaturisation too far but a dramatic improvement for travellers was made when it was discovered that, by removing all the seats from trains, more passengers could be carried. The cost of the removal of the seats was easily covered by an increase in fares.

The police are to be congratulated on their ruthless pursuit of old age pensioners who are assaulting the flower of Britain’s youth. This has had a salutary effect on this dissident section of society and means that youngsters can now roam the streets, safe in the knowledge that their human rights will be protected at all times. To encourage a community spirit amongst the young, knife sharpening classes are being held in the more deprived areas.

The woman who is rumoured to be in charge of home security has stated that the nation is well placed to weather the current crisis. She recommends that flak jackets be made mandatory for those who wish to venture out.

One continuing source of concern is the exchange value of the pound sterling to that of the euro, or for that matter, to the Zimbabwean dollar.
One solution would be to make the smallest denomination, say fifty pounds which would reduce the number of zeros to a manageable amount.

But Britons should take heart. The nation is well placed to weather the current financial crisis. And you know it must be true, for the people who are thought to be running the country all say so.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

National Health

Being diagnosed as having cancer is not going to be the high spot of anybody’s life time but, if it has to happen, it might be as well to have it happen in France.
Having felt under the weather for some time, I went to see my local doctor. He earns about half the salary of a British GP, works longer hours, makes house calls and always seems to be able to fit in a same-day appointment.
After examining me, he says I need to see a specialist and he then calls the local hospital.
“When would I like an appointment? Would tomorrow be OK?”
These are words that I understand are seldom, if ever, heard in the British National Health Service.
So at ten the next morning I am at the hospital. By 10.05 I am being examined by the doctor who says that he will need to perform an endoscopy. When would that be convenient for me?
We consult diaries and pick a date a couple of days off. He then says that I will need to be examined by the anaesthesiologist. When? Oh, right now.
A few minutes later I am given an ECG and a check-up by this gentleman who pronounces me fit enough for his side of the business. I’m out by just after eleven.
On reporting to the hospital at eight in the morning I’m shown to my room, 201. This has two beds, an en-suite bathroom, TV and bedside direct dial telephones (there’s a small charge for these). It looks like a modern motel room with extra plumbing.
Following the operation and a short time in recovery, I’m back in room 201 by eleven. A procession of nurses troop in and out, usually to ask “Ca va?” or to check my blood pressure.
When the consultant appears, unfortunately it is with bad news. I will need to make a return appearance. He arranges the appointment on the spot and it is later confirmed in writing.
My treatment will start immediately.
I understand that UK doctors are being rewarded for not sending patients to hospital.
I wonder how I would be placed had my doctor accepted such a bribe?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

No Colour Baa

In these times, when skin colour, religion and ethnicity seem to be an obsession with humans, it is pleasant to report that in the animal kingdom, (mutton division), no such problem exists.
My somewhat charmingly eccentric neighbour, Jean-Paul, has a varied selection of livestock in his paddocks, to whit: two mountain goats, twelve donkeys, three Cameroon sheep, two Alpacas and a Baker’s dozen of very black sheep.
Amongst this flock there is a rotund and well padded female that goes by the unlikely name, for a French sheep that is, of ‘Sheepy.’ Apparently Sheepy was a domestic pet but she grew too large to get in and out of the family Renault and so was, so to speak, put out to grass among Jean-Paul’s flock.
Rather as do many British matrons, when let loose south of the English Channel, Sheepy revelled in her new found freedom, loosened her stays, unhooked her corsets and forsook her formerly blameless existence for one of hedonistic delights.
The result was that, the other day, she produced a snowy white lamb.
Questions were asked, of course, but she repeatedly responded with a ‘baa’ or occasionally a ‘bah.’ Sheep in this part of the world often still use the old ‘langue d’oc’ making an accurate translation difficult but it is pretty certain that “mind your own business” would be a colloquial interpretation.
But in spite of her offspring standing out like the white sheep of the family, Sheepy is as popular as ever in the flock. No stigma seems to have been attached to the event and the snowy white lamb is gambolling (I understand that this is what lambs do) quite happily with her black friends.
From this we can conclude that either sheep are colour blind or that they are far more tolerant than we humans.
Personally, I prefer the latter explanation.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

I'm Banking on It

It’s time, I feel, for a career change. Not that I am the least bit unhappy in my chosen profession but, on viewing the salaries and bonuses that seems to be the lot of others, I can see that I’m missing out badly.
After all, how often have you heard of a government bailing out an impoverished writer? Not often, I suspect, even though they may have the finest collection of rejection slips known to man.
So I am searching for another means of earning my daily bread. I’ve had one or two other professions and this time I am looking for one that does not have too much accountability. For example, I was an airline pilot, a job that, in the event of you making a serious error, can leave a large hole in the ground and a number of law suits. Much the same applies to bus drivers, train drivers and all those whose daily work demands a degree of competence.
My search has whittled down to the only profession where there is a large reward for failure and little accountability.
I shall become a banker.
Uncertain though I am on how to enter into the industry, I reason that, given the obvious incompetence of those at the top, it can’t be all that hard. Especially now that the rules of the business seem to have been changed.
Formerly a banker was charged with the safekeeping of other people’s monies, which he was then entitled to invest safely and securely to generate a modest profit for himself and his depositor.
Now of course, the money can be used in any frivolous fashion for huge salaries and bonuses to those who act rather more as though they are betting on the 3.30 at Newmarket.
And when it all comes tumbling down, now the government can be relied upon to use taxpayer’s cash to pay you off and provide a nice little pension.
So banking it is.
But hang on a minute.
I’ve just read that an Afghan refugee can get £170,000 worth of benefits per year from the British government without having to lift a finger.
That must be even better than banking.
Wonder what an Afghan passport costs on the street?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

"I'm on the Plane..........."

The announcement by Ryanair that they were going to allow the use of mobile phones on their flights brought out the usual comments from the ‘We hate Ryanair’ crowd with a backing chorus of ‘Down with O’Leary.’
But it makes a lot of commercial sense. At £2 a minute, I doubt there will be many conversations of the “I’m on the plane….” line but many of us would have welcomed such a facility at almost any price when flights have been delayed or diverted. Being able to contact your ground transport in good time is invaluable in such cases.
And if it makes money for O’Leary, I’m all in favour. Thanks to his operation, by booking in advance, I can fly from my home in France to London and back often for less than the price of a one way ticket on the laughably named ‘Stansted Express’ into London.
Mr. O’Leary is unlikely to ever be confused with Mother Teresa and there are many who feel that whatever charm school he may have attended should have their licence revoked forthwith. But he has a way of stating obvious truths which would render him a totally ineffective politician.
Responding to a claim that the phone conversations would disturb fellow passengers, he replied, “All our flights are noisy. If you want a quiet flight, go fly with someone else.”
Overhearing someone’s conversation might be a relief from the normal cacophony of a Ryanair cabin which is run rather on the lines of a Middle Eastern street market.
But it suits me just fine. The aircraft are modern and clean, far cleaner than the aforementioned Stansted Express which I can only conceive was devised to make Eastern Europeans feel at home, as it closely resembles a Bucharest commuter train from the Cold War era. The crews are professional and personally I have always found the cabin staff pleasant.
I board and read my book, oblivious to the cries to make me a millionaire by selling me a scratch card or a mobile telephone system, to say nothing of a gourmet (judging by the price, that is) sandwich.
Economically, Ryanair’s service is invaluable to me.
So go ahead. Please buy a sandwich or two and use the telephone while you’re on board.
I promise I won’t listen.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Palace Coup

Clearly the British government must be disappointed that, owing to the prevailing credit crisis, plans to dismantle the monarchy have had to be put on hold.
In place of the original scheme to turn Buckingham Palace into a super Tesco and to bulldoze Windsor Castle to enable accommodation for the illegal immigrants employed by the Home Office to be built, they have had to content themselves with simply denying Her Majesty the funds to prop up her mouldering palaces.
Yet, in terms of value for money to the taxpayer, Queen Elizabeth the Second must outshine all the muppets in Whitehall, their function, after feathering their own nests, being to dispense the public purse to incompetent bankers and businessmen in return for failing to do their job, and to sink whatever is left into a black hole in Stratford E.15.
The amount required to maintain the royal estate is derisory when put alongside such items as the property portfolio amassed by a former Prime Minister on the backs of his electorate, the bonuses paid by city businessmen to themselves, usually for failing to perform, and the ridiculous salaries earned by soccer players.
When the year 2013 comes around and the taxpayers are remembering the glory of the Olympics and looking at the red ink that resulted, visitors will still be flocking to Buckingham Palace, as A.A. Milne wrote “To press their noses to the rails, and watch from there the changing of the guard.”
I doubt that many will be travelling eastward to view whatever is left of the giant jelly mould that was the Olympic stadium.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Prudent Pierre

“You need a new laptop,” she said. I have to agree. Mine is eight years old and was designed by someone who had an apprenticeship in anchor and anvil design.
Like many old things, it’s a bit slow to start but it handles my mail and word processing stuff well enough.
And a new one is going to set me back 500 euros.
France is not immune to the world financial crisis, it’s tax time (d’habitation and fonciere) and any day now M. Oignon will be showing up with a trailer load of my winter wood and wanting cash.
And unlike the residents of the UK, I can’t just charge it to my credit card and hope to defer the pain, for the French banks have a delightfully old-fashioned approach to money. I have no credit – it’s a debit card and to make it work, the money has to be in the account.
This fiscal backwardness of the French credit industry is one reason that the citizens suffer less at these times than do their counterparts in Britain and America. Food prices are up, there will be some tightening of belts and reduction in embonpoints, but homes are not being repossessed and no more than the usual number of bankruptcies are on the horizon.
Consumerism is as strong here as anywhere but consumer envy is not. Monsieur may buy himself a sporty new car but it will be for his own pleasure, not to impress his neighbour, who will still stick to his trusty ten year old Renault.
And banks do not distribute their largesse without making sure that they are going to get repaid.
As a writer, my income tends to be cyclical. To negotiate a modest overdraft arrangement on my current account, I had to take out a life insurance policy just in case I should hop off the twig and not be in a position to repay it.
And some years ago, a loan of 4000 euros entailed a two hour meeting with my ‘conseiller’ at the bank, who needed to know exactly what the money was to be used for.
Enforced fiscal prudence of this sort may be distasteful to those who are used to living with a free-wheeling economy but it does make for a more contented life.
So the new laptop’s on hold.
And I think I hear M. Oignon’s tractor coming up the driveway.