Thanksgiving: Part I

My beloved had built up sufficient air miles on British Airways for us to fly to and from New York, via London. We caught the first flight to London from Nice which left us about two hours between flights. I like to leave a reasonable amount of time to allow for delays and, more importantly, luggage transfer. We arrived in Newark ahead of schedule, early Sunday afternoon, and made our way to our nearby hotel for an overnight stay. I hadn’t wanted my beloved to drive any distance after a long-haul flight.

Typically, we’ll check in and then head into New York on the train from Newark. But it was cold and wet, so we opted for the gym and dinner locally. My beloved looked at the list of local restaurants, many of which were Hispanic; we plumped for the one claiming to be Basque.

A quick cab ride and we were entering a large buzzing restaurant, with bar attached. The food looked and smelled delicious. Since everybody appeared to be taking home a doggy bag, I elected to have just the one course which I struggled to finish. My beloved had to assist. Both of our dishes lived up to the billing.

We got chatting to one of our waiters and discovered the lady owner came from Markina, near Bilbao, a town we’ve visited thanks to watching Itzulia, a pro-cycling tour of the Basque Country. My beloved’s choice turned out to be a great neighbourhood restaurant that’s been in situ for many years. Replete, we returned to the hotel and a great night’s sleep.

The following morning we returned to Newark to pick up our hire car only to discover my beloved had mislaid aka lost his wallet containing his driving licence (credit cards and a number of membership cards)! A quick re-enactment established the last time he could recall seeing his wallet was at Nice airport the previous morning when he’d taken out his card to access the priority security channel.

He’d taken the wallet out of his hand luggage, taken out the card, and stuffed both back in his raincoat pocket. The wallet must have fallen out somewhere en route. Fortunately he’s a Herz Gold Card member, meaning they have a copy of his driving licence on file. You might be wondering why he didn’t notice it was missing before, like when we checked into the hotel, or paid for dinner? Simples! I always handle all of these tedious details.

Having established he hadn’t left his wallet at our overnight hotel, we sped off through Manhattan to Long Island and our destination for Thanksgiving, Montauk.

Postscript: On our return, I successfully applied on line for a replacement licence for my beloved. The site also provides “a declaration of loss of licence” should one need to provide a copy of same,  although I also had a copy of it on file. The replacement licence arrived early in the new year – pretty impressive turnaround.

Sheree’s sporting and personal highlights: 2019

Welcome to 2020! We’ve now left the teens behind. As we enter another decade, I look back on the past year. Generally this post is only about my sporting highlights but this year I had a personal one that I thought was worth mentioning again, plus a couple of lowlights.

1. Melbourne Renegades win Big Bash League

On our previous two trips to Australia, we much enjoyed watching 20/20 cricket and, having spent much of our vacation in Melbourne, decided to support the Melbourne Renegades. It helped that they wear red and black, the same colours as our football team OGC Nice.

In early 2019 the Melbourne Renegades secured a stunning BBL Final victory, winning the ultimate grudge match against cross-town rivals the Melbourne Stars at the Marvel Stadium. How I wish I’d been there to see it! Good luck to the boys in the current series. Theyre going to need it as they’ve lost their first four matches.

2. My beloved AVFC Secure Promotion

It was our third consecutive season in the Championship following our relegation from the Premier League during the 2015–16 one. Fortunately, after a shaky start, we finished in fifth place and won the play-offs to return to the Premiership where we’re currently dangerously dicing with the drop zone. Hopefully, we may just avoid the dreaded bounce.

3. Marquez Bros Double Act

The elder brother Marc, 8-times world champion, just keeps re-writing the record books while the younger one (Alex) is this season’s Moto2 champion and will be riding with his older brother in MotoGP next season. My only regret is that I didn’t get to watch any MotoGP live this year, next year there are two events on the (draft) agenda.

 

4. Rafa Nadal Ends Year at No 1 (again)

What’s more fellow players chose him as the winner of the Stefan Edberg – my all time fave player – Sportsmanship Award in the 2019 ATP Awards. The Spaniard receives this honour for a second straight year and third time overall (2010) for his fair play, professionalism and integrity on and off the court.

5. INEOS buys OGC Nice

French Ligue 1 outfit OGC Nice were taken over by Ineos, the energy group run by British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, making it part of Ineos Football led by CEO Bob Ratcliffe, in the hope and expectation that the club would “sustainably compete at a European level” in the future.

On the one hand I don’t really approve of companies using sport to whitewash their activities, on the other as a supporter of OGC Nice I’m delighted we’ve secured stable ownership. Furthermore one  who’s brought back the previous successful club management team.

6. Great Bloggers’ Bake-Off

Chocolate and raspberry delight

This was seriously cool. This fun and creative competition was organised by Mel at crushedcaramel and Gary at  bereavedandbeingasingleparent and judged by Jeanne inthekitchen.  Loads of bloggers sent in pictures of their cakes along with their fun stories and recipes. I had wanted to take part but hadn’t found time to bake a cake from scratch so I fell back on “here’s a photo of one I prepared earlier.”

It’s rare I make fancy cakes and apart from the recent wedding cake, I generally only make tray bakes and loaf cakes – nothing fancy. However, my first, and one and only, fancy cake made for a clubmate’s 60th birthday at the behest of his wife won! I was shocked and delighted, and have been floating on cloud nine ever since. I’m still waiting for the offer of a book deal and my own cookery programme……………………..

Sadly, I also had a couple of lowlights this year too though nothing very serious.

1. Cycling

We probably watched the least amount of live cycling last year and due to our #adventuredownunder missed our annual trip to San Sebastian to watch the Clasica race. Furthermore, we only attended the start of one of the three grand tours, Le Grand Depart du Tour de France in Brussels! In years past we’ve managed attendance at all three! Looking at 2020’s calendar, it’s not going to get much better though at least the Tour de France is coming to us.

2. Epic Fail

Back in April I decided to sign up for the 20km run as part of the Nice-Cannes marathon, held each year in early November, reasoning that six months would be enough time to train, and it was! I easily and quickly progressed to running 10km but was finding it difficult to take it to the next level. Then I had problems again with my right knee. My physio thought I might need surgical intervention but it turns out an enforced rest worked just fine. However, it meant I couldn’t get the required medical certificate saying I was fit enough to run in order to take part. I was disappointed but on the day which was very cold and wet, albeit with a tail wind, I wasn’t too disappointed to be taking part. I think I’ll just stick to two wheels!

Things I’ve done: stolen a car!

In the run-up to Christmas I’m veering away from my usual posting schedule – no doors ’til the New Year. Instead here’s a post about something I teased you with in the responses to one of my recent awards.

You’ve seeen my picture, do I look like a car thief? Well appearances can be deceptive. Let me tell you about my joy ride in someone else’s car.

When it comes to driving, I was a late starter. I only learned when I absolutely had to, no sooner. I had always said that I would never have a company car. But as soon as I had that bit of paper in my hand, I went to see my boss, who also agreed to pay for my car parking space. This meant I could drive into work!

I’d learned to drive in a small Vauxhall car in central London and although I’d ordered my new company car, I had to wait a couple of weeks for its arrival. The company had one spare car still under lease that I drove until my new one put in an appearance. It was a silver, boxy turbo-charged Volvo with big rubber bumpers, perfect for a new driver.

I would drive to work early, drop the car off at the garage and go down the gym. The garage closed at 19:30 in the evening and, if I hadn’t picked the car up, they would drop it off outside the office and put the keys through the letter box. It was a perfect arrangement.

One Thursday, I’d arranged to leave « early » at 17:00 to do some much needed late-night shopping. I went to the garage to collect the car and when I arrived asked the caretaker where my car was, he pointed in the general direction of the exit. Well, I had mentioned I’d be leaving early.

I leapt into the car and drove off. The keys were kept in the ignition as cars were often parked several deep to maximise the space. As I drove towards the West-end, I thought the car felt a bit sluggish and someone had moved the position of my car seat. I’ve got short-legs so I like to sit far-forward and upright. It fact it didn’t feel like « my car » so I did a quick eyeball: mileage, leasing company sticker, A-Z in driver’s side pocket, umbrella on back seat?

I didn’t leave an umbrella on the back seat? Nor did I own the gloves residing in the glove box. It wasn’t my car, it was the right colour, right mark, but it wasn’t turbo-charged and there was just one different letter in the registration plate. I’d been so keen to get out of Dodge City that I’d driven off in someone else’s car!

This was well before mobile phones (1993) so I couldn’t ring the car parking garage to explain. I just had to drive back. An hour after I’d left, I was back in the garage. Of course, the caretaker had worked out what had happened. The chap whose car I’d mistakenly taken, hadn’t driven off in mine, he’d kindly gone home on public transport.

The caretaker had however rung my number and spoken to one of my colleagues so the entire office knew I was a car thief. The following morning, they’d knocked up a front-page newspaper article about the City Car Snatcher! I can only thank my lucky stars that the incident occurred well before the advent of social media!

Of course, by the time all this was sorted out, it was too late to do any shopping!

Shoulda, coulda, woulda

In my recent post Postcard from the Blue Mountains, I mentioned that we should’ve travelled there by helicopter from Sydney rather than driving. Let me explain why.

I had planned to arrive in Wolgan Valley well before dusk (which is when you have to watch out for wildlife on the roads). I was thwarted by my beloved scheduling a meeting with a leading orthodontist based south of Sydney, which meant we set off several hours later than I’d anticipated.

We had with us our trusty satnav, purchased several years ago, which inexplicably decided to give up the ghost as we left the orthodontist’s practice. So we wasted further time trying to find our way onto the correct route. At this rate I thought we’d be lucky to arrive in time for dinner!

Finally we were heading in the right direction, following the directions provided by the resort. I now have to hold my hands up and admit that I misread said instructions and for reasons known only to Orange  – possibly lack of coverage – our mobile phones wouldn’t work, meaning we couldn’t access Google Maps, ring or text the hotel. As per map above, we should’ve taken the right-hander to Newnes, instead we drove almost as far as Mudgee.

As light started to fall, we spotted a tourist rest stop and asked the janitor if he knew where to find Wolgan Valley. He had no idea, not a good sign, but I spotted a map which showed we’d overshot the turn off by some way (British understatement). There was a public telephone at the stop so we contacted the hotel for directions.

Finally, we were headed in the correct direction and easily spotted the turn off to the Valley (at the petrol station). An hour later we slowed to turn into the resort, what should’ve been a three hour journey had taken close to seven! Of course, it was now well past dusk and my beloved had already dodged a few kangaroos on the road. He was fortunately at a standstill when one decided to use the front of our hire-car as a launch pad.

The roo was fortunately unhurt, the same could not be said for our hire car (later repaired in Brisbane for a very reasonable AUD$385). However, we were just relieved to have finally arrived at our destination. We dropped off our luggage in our accommodation and went straight into dinner.

As the resort is fairly remote, it offers an all-inclusive package, including a wide range of alcoholic (and non-alcoholic) beverages. To celebrate our safe arrival, I suggested that we had a nice glass of red wine at dinner which wasn’t part of the package.

As is his want, my beloved spent ages perusing the wine list, pretty useless since he can see very little without his glasses! There was a Pinot Noir he’d wanted to try for a while and by chance the sommelier knew both the wine and the vintner’s family well, I chose a Penfolds Shiraz without really glancing at the price. I have to say it was rather delicious.

My beloved had a second glass of Pinot Noir but I passed on a further glass of the Shiraz. During dinner, the sommelier was incredibly attentive and happily told us all about the respective wines. The resort has a high staff to guest ratio (100:80) giving the former plenty of opportunity to engage with the latter.

After dinner, I signed the bill but even my eagle eyes couldn’t read the grand total in the flickering half light. But how expensive could it be? I discovered the answer the following evening when I managed to get my mitts on the wine list first.

My beloved’s Pinot Noir was AUD$41 per glass, he had two glasses so that was AUD$82. A mere bagatelle by comparison with the price of mine (AUD$333), thank heavens I’d only had the one glass! I’ve since seen a bottle of the same wine for sale in a very upmarket off-licence in Brisbane for over AUD$ 2,000 a bottle!

I suspect that’ll go down as the most expensive glass of wine I’ll ever drink! Was it worth it? Well, let’s just say I’ll be dining off this tale for quite sometime. Now, perhaps you’ll understand why I said we should’ve taken the chopper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things about France that surprised me: French driving

After falling to a historic low in 2018, road deaths in France started to increase dramatically at the start of this year. The French government blamed January’s steep rise fairly and squarely on the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) movement during which some 60% of speed cameras on France’s roads were vandalised or put out of action leading to worsening driving habits.
More worryingly for cyclists, the government’s safety body Securite Routiere added:

Cyclist mortality is the highest recorded for the last 10 years.

In 2018, 3,259 people died on French roads, down from 3,448 in 2017 and an historic record low which the French government said vindicated the controversial lowering of the speed limit on secondary roads to 80kmh from 90kmh though the speed limit change as well as speed cameras in general proved one of the main sources of anger among the gilets jaunes.

These figures might surprise you but not, if like me, you drive (and cycle) in France. Here’s my slightly tongue-in-cheek advice about driving here. I always tell people to “Expect the unexpected” on French roads.

1 – getting going

No self-respecting French person drives anywhere without the obligatory accessories – a mobile phone clamped firmly to the ear and a lit cigarette. They’ll then totally skip the  whole pesky “mirror, signal, maneouvre” going straight to manoeuvre without glancing in any of their vehicle’s mirrors. They’ll often have “lost” one wing mirror driving too closely to something and the in-car mirror is, of course, only for putting on one’s lipstick.

2 – road etiquette

You should always drive within two metres of the vehicle in front, especially if you are driving a white van. This normally intimidates the other driver into going faster. If this fails, execute the overtaking manoeuvre (see 5 below). If another vehicle flashes you in anger, hold up the middle finger of your right hand in response. Always warn oncoming drivers of a police radar trap by flashing (strictly illegal). Never fail to exercise your priorité à droite* rights, even in front of foreign-registered cars whose drivers probably don’t understand. Also, never stop to let anyone out of a side road.

Always choose the lane with the least number of vehicles. If that’s the outside lane and you’re turning right at the roundabout, no matter, just sail with impunity across the bows of the cars in the middle and inside lanes as though you have some God-given right.

*A rule which gives priority to drivers emerging into a major road from a minor one without a ‘stop’ or ‘give way’ sign. In that case, oncoming traffic on the major road is obliged to give way.

3 – use of indicators

Indicators are an unnecessary luxury and are simply part of some crackpot government scheme designed to constrain la liberté. You are particularly advised against using indicators at roundabouts, when executing a u-turn and when pulling in to the side to park. It is up to your fellow-drivers to be vigilant. Don’t be fooled if someone is indicating, they probably just knocked the indicator when reaching for the cigarette lighter.

4 – motorway driving

On a three-lane motorway, always drive in the middle lane, even if the right-hand lane is clear of traffic. Disdainfully ignore traffic that starts overtaking you on the inside. When approaching the péage, waver between lanes without indicating until you have determined which queue you wish to join. If you miss your turn off, don’t worry. You can pull over onto the hard shoulder and reverse back!

5 – overtaking

The ideal conditions for overtaking are at a blind corner with a solid white line in the middle of the road, preferably going uphill. To execute this manoeuvre, drive as closely as possible to the vehicle in front, pull out (without indicating, naturally) then pull in sharply in front of it – a queue de poisson (fish tail) – to avoid the oncoming juggernaut.

6 – speed limits

The speed limits are there to be broken, except where there is one of those irritating automatic radar machines that have sprung up like mushrooms). In particular, you should ignore the 50kph speed limit in towns and villages. Old ladies, small kiddies and domestic pets mown down in your wake frankly should be more careful.

7 – use of the horn

The horn is there to admonish other road users as frequently and as noisily as possible. Its use is obligatory when the vehicle in front hesitates for more than a nano-second at a green traffic light, when the person in front of you at the péage fumbles their change, when the combination of a cyclist and traffic calming measures means you cannot overtake said cyclist, cyclists riding more than one abrest and when another driver holds you up as they reverse into a parking space. It should also be used liberally when someone has casually parked thereby blocking your entrance or exit.

8 – pedestrian crossings

Never stop for a pedestrian on a crossing unless they are at least halfway across. More than three people constitutes a case of force majeure, in which case you are regretfully obliged to give way. Once they are across, gun the accelerator and speed off with squealing tires to indicate your frustration.

9 – greeting friends

When you see a friend walking along the street, greet them with a long burst of the horn. You should stop if possible in the middle of the road and carry on a conversation with them regardless of the traffic building up behind.

10 – parking

When the parking space in a busy street is not long enough, simply drive onto the pavement, preferably obstructing it for pedestrians. At the supermarket, always park across two spaces, especially when it is busy. If that’s not possible, park anywhere there’s a space, even if it then prevents someone else from exiting or entering (see 7 above). Feel free to park in cycle lanes, on roundabouts and frankly wherever you can abandon the vehicle. The key word here being “abandon.”

The French hate paying for parking and will do anything they can to avoid paying, though, to be fair, they never use car parking spaces allocated to the handicapped, but that may have something to do with the very large fine! Additionally, they prefer to park right outside their destination and will hover endlessly waiting for a space to become free. When it does, they’re like heat-seeking missiles. Never attempt to park in a space that someone else has bagged unless you want to experience some French road rage!

I could never understand why the car park of my local supermarket was always full while the shop was empty until I realised, it’s free parking. People park there to visit someone at the nearby hospital ,which only has paid parking, to catch a train from the nearby station (again only paid parking) or when shopping at the nearby mall (free car parking for 3 hours only!).

If you follow these 10 rules assiduously, you cannot fail to be accepted as a true French driver.

As I said above, this is all tongue in cheek, although in some cases I am only stretching the truth a little bit – the use of indicators is a case in point. Apologies to the many French drivers who don’t do any of the above. Please note: I’m not suggesting that the British, or indeed any other nation, are any better.

 

In praise of charm

One of the things I love about the French is that almost all of them are naturally charming and I’ve found the men to be incorrigible flirts, whatever their age. Let me explain further.

Last week I was waiting for yet another delivery. Typically the driver will call to check whether I’m home. If not, he  – it’s always a he – knows he can leave it at the security office at the entrance to the Domaine. On this occasion, I’d just missed his call and when I rang him back, he’d already dropped the box off with Security. I told him it wasn’t a problem and I’d pop down to collect it later. He then complimented me on my voice, I thanked him and was about to hang up when he asked whether we could have coffee together sometime.

Assuming he was joking, I laughed and said maybe, next time. We continued chatting and he then asked how old I was, to which I replied that you should never ask a lady her age but that I was probably a not dissimilar age to his mother. He was genuinely shocked but then enquired whether I was interested in a younger man. I laughed and said I’d put him on the list!

The list comprises a number of my cycling friends and acquaintances, many of them much younger, who’ve been impressed enough with my cooking to demand my hand in marriage. Easy to say when you know I’m already happily married, hence the list. Should anything ever happen to my beloved………………

Clearly, it’s not just M Macron who has a thing for older women. I should add that this is not a first for me. I’ve been chatted up by many a younger man, often while I’m out on my bike with my beloved riding a mere 500 metres ahead of me. One of my younger clubmates offered to come round and do any odd jobs that needed doing while my beloved was away on business. A girlfriend advised me he wasn’t really offering his services as a handyman which was a real shame as I so need one.

However, the situation was probably best summed up my beloved when a French colleague told him that he would never leave his wife home alone surrounded by Frenchmen for an extended period. Quick as a flash my beloved replied:

My wife likes men who are tall, blonde, with rippling muscles and who weigh more than her. I really don’t think I have anything to worry about, do you?

So true!

UK Mothering Sunday: Happy Mothers’ Day

Mother’s Day seems to be a bit of a moveable feast with it featuring on different months and days around the world. Not that I need to be concerned: I don’t have any kids, just the one big baby to look after.

My mother died some years ago so I don’t have to worry what to buy her to celebrate her special day, though she was an easy woman to buy presents for largely because she used to tell you what she’d like as a gift. She would say things like: “Your mother’s run out of her favourite body lotion.” Additionally, she never wanted a card because she felt they were a waste of money. She preferred us to spend more on her gift – no flies on her! My father famously would buy her a birthday card and use it for a number of years in succession.

In case you hadn’t guessed, in our household my father was the purchaser of all cards and gifts. My mother was however very generous. If you went out with her and saw something you liked, she would buy it for you. She saw no need to wait for your birthday or Christmas.

Getting married oh so many years ago and acquiring a mother-in-law, whom I refer to as the outlaw, meant I then had to buy two presents for Mothers’ Day. As you all know, my beloved is not good at either purchasing cards or presents. The outlaw’s present was always what you might call “nominal.”

Once my mother died, I advised my beloved that I would no longer buy the outlaw a Mother’s Day card or present, though would continue to purchase her birthday and Xmas presents. Consequently, the outlaw hasn’t received a Mother’s Day card since 2011. My beloved’s excuse is that Mothering Sunday in France is in May so he can’t buy her a card in March. This is despite his regular trips to UK.

My beloved is the apple of his mother’s eye and can do no wrong, ever. She has recently moved involuntarily into a very nice nursing home close to my beloved’s brother and sister-in-law. The burden of caring for the outlaw has fallen heavily on their shoulders in recent years and frankly this long overdue move will certainly lighten their load. She’s been adjudged unable to care for herself and was becoming a nuisance to the other residents in her apartment block.

To give his brother a helping hand, my beloved has taken charge of the disposal of her property. In reality, of course, this means I’m doing it. Fortunately, my beloved along with his brother and uncle holds the outlaw’s enduring Power of Attorney. Even more fortunate, it’s joint and several, meaning one of the attorneys can act on the others’ behalf.

Thanks to Money Laundering Regulations, professionals such as solicitors and estate agents need to “know their clients.” Typically this involves seeing original identity papers such as a passport and documents which confirm one’s address. Not a problem as my beloved was over in the UK last week and could visit the solicitor and estate agent in person. However, the uncle, who’s the outlaw’s younger brother, is in his mid-80s, lives in the west country and doesn’t possess a passport, driving licence or even a free bus pass.

My brother-in-law is fretting as to whether the outlaw has enough money to remain in the home until the end of her days. She’s 93, she’s got dementia, she’s probably got sufficient funds. Plus, it’s unlikely she’ll remember that today’s Mothering Sunday. I’m  not however completely heartless, I gave my beloved a small edible gift to give to her last week when he was in the UK.

 

 

The Food in France

Background

Is there any country more renowned for its food than France? French cuisine is arguably the most revered on earth – indeed the very word “cuisine” is French. Training in traditional French methods and cooking techniques is considered a core component of many a chef’s basic education, regardless of their country of origin.

The French have elevated food into an art form. Nowhere else on earth is so much attention paid to what people are going to eat and how they are going to eat it. The reasons are steeped in history but include the quality of ingredients and creativity of the chefs, the availability of incredible produce and simply, the love of good food.

Sharply dressed waiters, beautifully set tables with linen cloths and long, leisurely meals are the hallmarks of classic French dining, a culinary tradition that’s been the epitome of elegance for decades.

Can’t you just smell that bread?

From the simplest crusty baguette eaten with ripe brie to a beautiful lobster bisque or hearty beef bourguignon, France is heaven for any food lover. Or is it?

Slippery slope

Despite it being the international standard for haute cuisine, top French food critic Philippe Faure recently blasted the “lamentable” standard of cooking in France, and sadly I had to agree with him.

Thirty or 40 years ago you could cross the country stopping randomly every 20 kilometres and eat very well; there were good bistros everywhere. But that is no longer the case.

So does French cuisine still deserve to be held up as a gastronomic benchmark or is that all in the past? Does where you live in France make a difference to the food you eat? Or does it simply depend on how much money you have?

I talked to friends (French and non-French) who live all over France and they agreed that French food isn’t what it once was. Many labelled it boring and unimaginative, saying it’s rare to find anything different on restaurant menus. Those, like me, who live near to Italy say the food there is cheaper and better quality than in France. Although, if you spend a bit more on mid to luxury range French cuisine, then the quality improves. Worse still, and which chimes with my own experiences, some complained of patchy quality, with the risk of eating mediocre or inconsistent food running high.

How has this state of affairs come about? Well I’ve written about the French’s secret love affair with fast food (burgers and pizza) which is increasingly taking over its tables, largely due to the lack of time for a proper lunch and the arrival – and popularity – of online food delivery companies such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats. And don’t even get me started on the French invented horror that is O’Tacos!

The figures don’t lie

These are the figures that reveal France’s growing love of fast food:

  • According to restaurant consultant Gira Conseil, fast food in France accounts for turnover of €54 billion. That’s more than half the total turnover of the €88 billion food service industry, meaning fast food accounts for more consumer spending than traditional restaurants.
  • €4.8 billion is the staggering 2017 figure (up 4% on the previous year) for the turnover for McDonald’s in France in 2017, the biggest in the whole of the restaurant industry. The turnover of the next largest group was a measly €1.7 billion.
  • According to French corporate services company Edenred, French employees get an average of 31 minutes for lunch. The much spoken of two hour lunch is a largely thing of the past for the majority of French employees, most people are looking for something that can be prepared and eaten as quickly as possible.
  • France has 32,000 fast food restaurants , with the number increasing rapidly due to growing demand.  The majority of these are burger joints, 2,100 of which belong to a chain.
  • On average consumers spend €9 on a fast food meal, revealing the French are not entirely sacrificing quality in the name of convenience.

So where and how can you find a good meal?

My husband claims that I’m like a truffle hound when it comes to finding good restaurants. I put this down to the training I received at my father’s knee.  So here are a few salient tips to steer you in the right direction:

  • Planning and Preparation: read plenty of blogs written by locals to suss out the best places to eat and make a reservation. If they’re good, tables will fill up fast. Look in particular for restaurants that are local institutions, they’ve been around for donkey’s years for a good reason. In particular, choose family owned and run establishments, they have skin in the game.

  • Seasonal and local: look for restaurants with their short menus on a chalk board – dishes change with the seasons. Look in particular for the words “fait maison” (home-made). Generally, avoid restaurants with large, laminated menus. Don’t go a la carte, prix-fixe menus are generally better value.

  • Effort with ambience: when in doubt opt for the restaurant with linen napkins (and maybe tablecloths) and fresh flowers. See which ones are popular with locals rather than tourists. Failing which, just trust your nose and instinct, and ask plenty of questions about the menu.

What are the French doing to improve this state of affairs?

Today, 21 March, 5,000 chefs from around the world will create a French-style dinner, based around socially responsible cuisine.  It will be a demonstration of cuisine which is firmly rooted in its time and is sensitive to the needs of today: respecting the planet and healthy eating. Visitors and locals will be able to sample tasty food which showcases not only local farmers and produce, but also socially responsible cuisine focusing on environmental protection.

So all over France until 24 March, you will find initiatives and experiences to be shared and enjoyed. In particular, Provence in 2019 has been designated the foremost destination for gastronomy and will be promoted at Goût de /Good France events both in France and internationally.  For the first time, the Bouches-du-Rhône department and Provence Tourisme are launching Marseille Provence Gastronomie 2019 (MPG2019), a year of gastronomy in Provence under the patronage of renowned French chef Gérald Passedat. It will be a year of celebrations, meetings between chefs, gourmet markets, picnics, urban vegetable gardens and more – a genuine gastronomic journey through Provence!

 

 

My least favourite places to visit

IMHO these three are the worst places to visit in France. That said, their equivalents in other countries are probably no better.

1. Any mobile phone/internet provider shop

My own experiences are strictly limited to Orange but judging by the queues outside the other operators in France, they’re probably similar. Thanks to having our own company, we’ve managed to move all of our services onto a “Pro” basis. The advantage being we get “service” 24/7 and we can book an appointment with a dedicated “Pro” advisor at our local Orange shop.

However the advice, particularly when we’re talking “internet,” only goes so far because we’ve had an extension fitted so that our WiFi reaches beyond the walls of the office. We had said extension fitted by a specialist arm of Orange pitched at larger corporates, rather than ourselves, which offers an all-singing, all-dancing service costing an arm and a leg, and the rest of one’s torso. We’re currently waiting to access FIBRE which we fervently hope will give us greater capacity and a speedier service.

2. Any pharmacy

The French are by and large all hypochondriacs and, if they’re feeling under the weather,  their first port of call is the local pharmacy – there’s one every 100 metres. Okay, so that’s a slight exaggeration! But go into any pharmacy and you’ll generally find a long queue. Admittedly many of those queueing will be elderly and probably looking to have a friendly chat with someone about their various ailments.The outlaw (my mother-in-law) would love it here!

The pharmacists are all very knowledgable and will quiz you about your symptoms to ensure they’re suggesting the best rather than the priciest  products. My favourite pharmacy, largely because it’s a little goldmine, is in the Cap 3000 shopping mall in Saint Laurent du Var. It has an unrivalled selection of goodies, masses of staff, is always full of customers and has security on its doors.

Of course, the pharmacies lighten the load of the local doctors. Most are privately owned by the pharmacist, there are few pharmacy chains in France – or indeed in most of Europe. There’s (fortunately) no equivalent of Boots or Wallgreens.

3. The Post Office

Most French Post Offices are well-organised with plenty of machines to weigh and frank your post, thereby minimising the number of staff. Again, there’s a “Pro” service which allows you to jump those inevitably long queues, providing there’s someone staffing the desk. The problem is that once again the place is generally full of the elderly – you know I don’t include myself in that description – who are unable/incapable of operating said machines. Many of them use the Post Office bank and always seem to require counter assistance. I’ve found the only way to hurry them up is to give them a helping hand. While they can use the Post Office during the week, they seem to prefer Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings!

I seem to spend an inordinately long time each week at our main Post Office. During the summer, it’s a nightmare parking nearby as it’s close to the beach and is one of the few roads with free car parking, so there’s rarely a space. Of course, they could install those machines which allow you to park for 15 minutes only but any trip to the Post Office generally takes at least 30 minutes!


Perils of aging I

Anything that talks about baby boomers tends to catch my eye, particularly since I recently experienced my maiden “Senior Moment.” So as soon as I spotted an article about tech products for baby boomers, I just had to read it.

Admitedly the article was US centric and more than a bit patronising about the ability of the older generation to cope with new technology. I’ve experienced this down at the Post Office where I often lend a hand to those more elderly [than me], to speed things up. Equally, of course, there are plenty of tech-savvy elders – ourselves included. Though the article claims tech products are starting to become more senior-friendly through voice recognition, touch screens and sensors. Its thrust was that the best tech products for elders need to serve a real purpose in their lives, many of whom may suffer from Alzheimer’s or other forms of cognitive impairment.

Of course, I dismissed most of these innovations out of hand as being for baby boomers so much older than us. As I scrolled through the article I sadly noted no one seems to have yet perfected a robot that can do all or even some of the housework. One of those would be worth their weight in gold. No, most of them seemed intent on keeping track of the elderly in one way or another. No doubt so anxious relatives can ensure they don’t swan off with their inheritance!

There was one however which caught my eye. My beloved would love to have a dog but a) we live in an apartment b) I know I’d end up looking after it and c) he would want a large dog. My beloved always scoffs at small dogs. I think he feels it would be an affront to his masculinity to be seen walking a ball of fluff. That said he’s inordinately fond of his niece and nephew’s dog, a mini dachshund with attitude! So, when I saw this I thought: problem solved!

Ageless Innovation: Joy for All – Companion, life-like pets

A spin-out from the Hasbro toy company has developed fun and engaging, furry, life-like companion pets (pups and kittens), designed to create a connection between them and older adults. The pet responds to voices with little barks or purrs, and even has a heartbeat activated by petting. Its marketing blurb goes on to say:

In between naps and being adorable, real puppies require a lot of special attention. Joy for All Companion Golden Pup has all the love in the world to give but won’t chew up your slipper! [Nor, more importantly, will in wee or poop on your floors.] Thanks to built-in sensors and speakers, the pup can recreate some of the more delightful moments of owning a dog, including being a best friend for aging loved ones.

I watched the video and the puppy appears to be modelled on those cute Labrador ones which promote a well-known brand of toilet paper in the UK. It’s undeniably charming and I could see it bringing comfort and joy to those with cognitive impairment. My mother had Alzheimer’s and I would happily have spent US$119.99 (plus taxes) because I think she’d have enjoyed petting it. Alternatively, she might just have thrown it at me. We’ll never know!

The downside is that you can’t take it for a walk. Lots of the elderly where I live – we’re talking 80 years+ – have small dogs and I regularly see them out walking their dogs and stopping to chat to other neighbours and dog owners. The dog gets them out and about in the fresh air and gives them a connection to others. That might just be why France has so many centenarians!