Now what? Life in rural Ariege

Burblings about adjusting to life in the deep south west of France or "la France profonde" as they call it here and the challenges of restoring a ramshackle collection of tumbledown buildings. I mainly write about local festivals, events and celebrations and, most of all, the weekly ritual of combing vide greniers and brocantes for pre-loved vintage treasures.

15 March 2012

It's not like that in Britain

We have thought and uttered this phrase aloud many times over the 2 years we have been living in Ariege. There have been times when la vie Francaise has been extremely frustrating. The banking system is convoluted. Internet shopping is made unnecessarily difficult by the lack of pricing, product information and an apparent necessity to have your order confirmed by phone instead of merely completing your transaction on line. We have been caught out by the religiously observed 2 hour lunch break and have been physically ushered out of stores and builders' merchants at 12:30 on the dot unable to complete our shopping. "It's not like that in Britain" we have muttered.

Now that we are back in Britain for a while we are profiting from the 24 hour shopping culture, ordering goods online without difficulty and we have not had to physically enter a bank once. In many ways everyday things seem to run smoother here. Or so I thought until yesterday.

Yesterday we drove into Salisbury and parked in a central car park. I could not help but notice how expensive it is to park your car. Parking is almost always free in France. Oh well, no choice but to buy the overpriced ticket. The parking meter only took coins. And only certain coins, and moreover not any of the coins we unearthed by raking through our purses and pockets. Luckily there is the facility to pay using your mobile phone. "It's easy and fast" the display board promised us. Jeff dutifully dialled the number, entered our car registration number on his phone and waited for the call back from Parking HQ to take our payment. Yes, you've guessed it - we waited and waited and no call back.

Luckily we spied a man wearing a hi-visibility jacket. Well he's got to be an attendant hasn't he? Jeff approached him and asked if the phone pay system ever actually worked. He didn't know. He wasn't the "Parking Ambassador". Yes that's right, they're not called Car Park Attendants or Wardens anymore, they are Parking Ambassadors. I'd had enough by now.

I volunteered to trek to the distant shops at the far side of the car park to get some change. Jeff stood guard by the car to beg the Parking Ambassador not to issue a penalty ticket while I ambled around a shop mentally calculating how much I needed to spend on an item to get adequate change from a £10 note. Clutching some moth repellant and £6 in assorted coinage I trudged back to the car and nearly 15 minutes after arriving we could leave the car park. It all felt quite French!!

Largin' it in Southsea

This blog post was published last year. I'm adding it here because, well, it's still apparent this year.

I spend several weeks back in Southsea every year over the summer and each time I notice something different about the people, the area and about Britain in general. Having spent nearly a year in France the thing I noticed almost immediately is that here in the UK there are many, many fat people. If there is such a thing as a “typical” person in France, Mr, Mrs, Miss and Master “average Ari├Ęge” is small, lean and certainly not fat. Here the converse seems to be true. And it is apparently not restricted to one or other gender, age group or even social class (if I can use this outdated and inappropriate term).

I was aware that there is an acknowledged obesity problem in the UK but just dismissed this as Daily Mail style hyper sensationalism. Surely with the constant media pounding you receive about eating 5-a-day, the importance of an active lifestyle and the apparently universal popularity of TV cookery programmes, the nation should be eating healthier, exercising more and consequently becoming slimmer, not fatter.

A walk along Southsea seafront from Castle Field to Gunwharf Quays on Sunday was enough to convince me that your average Brit is in pretty poor physical shape. It was a beautiful day and as part of the military celebration weekend there was a “Love Southsea” festival. I decided to take a look at the festivities and was assailed by the sight of an extremely well-upholstered young lady bedecked in a bright orange floaty belly-dancer outfit with matching orange platform shoes performing a fan dance. Yes, a fan dance. Her audience of OAP's reclining in deckchairs appeared only slightly entertained as she strutted her ample stuff and coyly concealed parts of her generous anatomy with two bright yellow fans before whipping her skirt off with a Bucks Fizz style flourish. My impression was that she was a novelty act based on the never-to-be-forgotten Roly Polys so I kept on walking past the stately parade of veterans which was immediately followed by hordes of rowdy bikers.

I could not help but notice that there were large numbers of, what I can only describe as, overweight people in the throngs. Substantial mothers pushing prams containing tubby babies. Overly plump school age children waddling slowly along. Big, loud teenagers leaning on bus shelters and slouching along the seafront. Older men with T shirts stretched tightly over their “Jeremy Clarkson” tribute stomachs. Even elderly wide-hipped ladies leaning heavily on walking sticks or using zimmer frames to support their bulk. Blimey, Britain has got big.

I discovered further proof of this observation, should it be needed, this morning. As I have flown out from France I have very few clothes with me and I certainly did not think to bring old clothes to clean and paint in. As I now urgently require some cheap, lightweight and ultimately disposable clothing I decided to comb the local charity shops. There are 3 on a 100 yard stretch of Albert Road close to where I am living. The first yielded nothing suitable and when I entered the second one I realised why. The vast majority of the unwanted clothing on sale is a UK size 14 or larger. The problem for me is that I am a size 10. Admittedly a foray to the more central charity shops did yield the requisite clothing and the rather stunning bonus item of a Calvin Klein leather jacket.

It's too small for me”, the shop assistant had sighed.

Tant mieux pour moi! Sometimes it's pretty good not being average.

The original post had an image of Jeremy Clarkson on a beach here but I've removed it because it was just TOO gross. Here instead is a photo I took last year of Pompey lass


OK in the interests of gender equality here's the original image of JC