Category Archives: Personal

I’m a Londoner

The Londonist, a “website about London”, believes that:

You don’t have to live in London long before you get offered a pair of bargain “high spec” speakers out of the back of a white van. It’s like a coming-of-age ritual…once you’ve been offered some dodgy stereo equipment you can truly call yourself A Londoner.

Well, that’s exactly what happened to me once while I was walking along Holland Park Avenue. I’d no idea it was a scam, let alone such a common one! Of course, I’m far too straight-laced to even consider such an offer, but I also had two pairs of stereo speakers that I wasn’t using, so no harm was done.

Guess I’m a Londoner now though!

Passport update

My daughter’s UK passport arrived yesterday, which was earlier than we expected. So, I can wholeheartedly recommend the UK Passport Service’s online application system.

The entire process took a month and a day from start to finish, including a week to get the application notarized.

That’s a dramatic improvement compared with five years ago, when the process was taking 10 weeks and the government paid compensation for delays and cancellations in travel plans (see BBC News | UK | Passport pile grows higher).

International commuting

Inspired by British Airways’ current seat sale, we booked flights for a holiday in late September — on EasyJet.

Unfortunately for BA, which is already having a bad week (see BA increases fuel cost surcharge and Plane ‘to clear luggage backlog’), it simply came down to price. EasyJet can transport the whole family to and from Nice for the price of a single adult on BA (£69 return including taxes). Of course it won’t be the same level of service, but on a flight lasting less than two hours, who cares?

Airfares just keep getting lower and lower, while house prices just keep getting higher and higher. At this rate, it’ll soon be cheaper to live in France and commute by plane into your London office each day.

New Perspective

bugaboo.gifYou know things have changed when you start coveting other people’s strollers as you walk down the street!

As luck would have it, just yesterday NPR broadcast Poems for Daughters, in which reporter Caitlin Shetterly talks to poets about the poems they’ve written for their daughters. It’s already become one of the “top e-mailed stories” on the NPR web site.

The words of others can be incredibly compelling when they help you to express feelings you would otherwise struggle to convey.

History repeats itself

It’s amazing how some things change and some things remain the same. On the 5th of February 1826 my great, great, great grandfather, the Rev. William Fidler, wrote the following entry in his diary:

“During my absence a kind and bountiful Providence had blest me with a sweet little daughter; Of course, I think her the prettiest creature I have ever beheld. My dear Wife & her infant are both doing well. Praise the Lord for his goodness to us all.”

One hundred seventy-eight years, five months and six days after he wrote those words, I discovered exactly how he felt.

Coleus colours

Solenostemon scutellarioides (aka Coleus)

Solenostemon scutellarioides (aka Coleus)

I’ve decided to experiment with colours for this web page, starting with some naturally occurring schemes. This one consists of brown, pink and light green, and I’m calling it Coleus.

Just in case you don’t believe that it occurs naturally, I’ve included a photograph of its namesake.

New colours

I’ve been thinking about reviewing the design of this site, but a new colour scheme will have to do for the moment. So, it’s green and purple to herald tomorrow’s arrival of summer and Wimbledon.

British Summer Time

British Summer Time came into effect last night, so this morning we conducted the biannual ritual of tracking down all our clocks and advancing them by an hour. These days the average home is so full of electronic gadgets that adjusting for BST is in itself a time-consuming task. A couple of our machines are clever enough to reset themselves (the PCs, the video tape recorder), but most require manual intervention. Here’s a list (largely for my own future reference) of all our devices that require resetting:

Clock at London Underground's Acton Town station

Time was standardised in 1840 to provide reliable railway timetables

  • three wristwatches
  • bedside radio
  • three mobile phones
  • electronic barometer/thermometer
  • television
  • Polar heart rate watch
  • three personal organisers
  • digital camera
  • microwave oven
  • coffee maker
  • hot water/central heating timer
  • five “old-fashioned” analogue clocks

If I’ve forgotten any, I’ll add them to this list when they next surface.

Upgraded to nowhere

The server on which this weblog is stored suffered a fatal disk failure earlier this week, and its replacement wasn’t fully operational for two days. I could live with the inconvenience if that’s all it was, but when replacing the machine my hosting company installed a different (more recent?) and incompatible version of the server’s database software.
Consequently, all my previous posts are no longer in the database, and I must now start from scratch. I have copies of all my previous individual posts, and perhaps I will replace them individually over time, but as of now they could be hard to find.
Sorry, but that’s progress for you!

A French affair

Here in France Christmas Day was a French affair. Like many of the natives, we ate out. Our fabulous Déjeuner de Noël at Langousto was as follows:

Cocktail Maison
(Amaretto, Champagne, Beaume de Venise)

Gâteau de Foies Blonds de Volaille à la Crème de Cèpes
(Pour la Mise en Bouche)

Le Foie Gras de Canard aux Truffes du Haut-Var

Rosace de Coquilles Saint-Jacques au Beurre d’Oursins

Croustillant de Loup à la Décoction de Cardamome Verte

Pigeonneau en Croûte Farcie de Trompettes des Bois

Moelleux au Chocolat Servi Tiède et Glace Vanille
Sorbet Mandarine Caramélisé dans une Emincée de Pommes

Petits Fours et Chocolats

The French theme continued once we returned home, thanks strangely to the English television networks (relayed to the south of France by satellite). First BBC 2 broadcast this year’s animated French hit Belleville Rendez-vous and Channel 4 joined in later with the popular movie from 2001 Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (aka Amélie).

Grand-mère comforts her long-suffering hound in Belleville Rendez-vous.

Grand-mère comforts her long-suffering hound in Belleville Rendez-vous.

We’d seen Belleville Rendez-vous in London last October, but for some reason its commentary on Anglo-French relations seemed more obvious this time. It tells the story of a French Tour de France champion who is kidnapped by the mafia, smuggled into the US and forced to cycle in secret for the benefit of the mob’s illegal gambling business. In typical French style, his grand-mère comes to the rescue. The title comes from a song made popular by a trio of swinging sisters, contemporaries of grand-mère with a penchant for grenouille, who live in New York City and help to save the day. So the criminal activity is all based in the US, where the heroines live on an exclusive diet of frogs. Make of that what you will.

Amélie film poster

Amélie film poster.

Helping the blind and infirm cross the road must be something of a French cliché because such a scene appears in both Belleville Rendez-vous and Amélie. In Belleville Rendez-vous an American boy-scout attempts to help grand-mère cross the road, but she wants none of it and discourages him by repeatedly beating him with her cane. In the eponymous Amélie, our frenetic heroine doesn’t just help an old man across the street, she takes him halfway across Paris unnecessarily. Could these scenes be metaphors for the perils of unwanted assistance from well-meaning strangers?

All we can say with certainty is that these days eccentric women seem to get what they want — at least they do in French films.

Meanwhile an article in this month’s Prospect magazine attempts to deconstruct another cultural difference between the anglo-saxon and French worlds. In French favours author Tim King wonders about the roots of French corruption:

Corruption exists in all countries, rich and poor. Does it have distinctive roots in France? According to the writer Edmonde Charles Roux, “the Mediterranean people have a conception of honesty which is peculiar to them.” In the case of France there are two aspects of all this which seem to be fundamentally different from life in Britain.

The first is the attitude to money. The British have a fairly clear view (which has been called Protestant) that money is a tool. There is nothing wrong with it in itself, but there is good money, earned by hard work, and bad money gained through greed or dishonesty. At the root of the French attitude is the Catholic view that money is tainted by sin. Yet money is necessary and since corruption is only an abuse of something already sinful, it doesn’t matter too much.

That historical, Catholic view, is overlaid by the Republican rejection of all things Catholic (partly because the Catholic church itself was seen as corrupt). According to Republican logic, the term “morality” smacks of the church, so calling a politician immoral is off limits because it mixes state with church, which is forbidden by law. Republicanism has also led to a conviction that the state will foot the bill – for anything. The result in France is a confused way of thinking about money, marked by suspicion and reticence when talking about it.

The second basic difference concerns the French attitude towards politicians. In France, politics is about strength and l’art de paraître. The French don’t condemn their leaders’ immoral actions if they are for the common good. At one of his trials former minister Bernard Tapie admitted he had committed perjury. “But I lied in good faith,” he added. “Better the dishonest minister than the stupid one,” says barrister Jean-Pierre Versini-Campinchi, who is defending François Mitterrand’s son in an arms trafficking case. The French do not share the notion that a politician should, personally, set a good example.

So avoid following French politicians, but attend to determined French women whenever possible. That seems to be the message from two different perspectives on French culture this month.