The building I live in is a block of flats about six floors high built at the turn of the last century, during the time Strasbourg was in Germany. It is managed by a committee of the residents who employ a company to do the day to day administration of the building. As owners of our flat since July we are supposed to be involved in the running of the building but to date have not been told about any meetings. Earlier this month scaffolding was delivered and erected in the courtyard and last week we had to remove everything from the area as the walls were jet-cleaned. Now we have men doing the treatments and remedial work ahead of the painting work. Apparently all this was agreed in March and I just hope that the delay, during a long dry Summer, does not result in problems being caused for the painters when the rain, which we have not had for so long, does finally fall. At the same time it was agreed to rewire the phone cables for all the flats. I believe it is necessary as, when we moved in and France Telecom came to connect us up, the workman sucked through his teeth before saying about how poor the wiring was for the telephones in the block and this was two years ago. We had arranged an appointment and were one of the first to have the new cables installed in the flat but were told that someone would have to come back and connect us up properly. On Tuesday afternoon the phone stopped working also resulting in no internet access. The next day a notice appeared with a number to call if you have not had your phone line reconnected. So we called and called and on Friday morning the man appeared in a huff telling us we needed to make an appointment to get the phone reconnected. That’s what we’d done with him, until it stopped working no-one had said anything about a further appointment being necessary. He got us reconnected on Friday. I work from home by phone sometimes so it was necessary to make arrangements to do it in the office during the week and on Friday it was in the middle of an hour and a half long work call on my mobile that the land-line was being fixed – which made for entertaining conversations with work and with the man fixing the telephone line. Anyway it’s working again so I can do my 7:30 am calls from home next week rather than having to go to the office (meaning not having to leave bed so early – very welcome) and I have access to the internet again. After something of a fallow period blogging I was inspired to write a couple of times last week when I didn’t have the access. Typical really.
Archive for October, 2009
I think someone has it in for me and getting any better at the French language. Last Thursday I was due to go to my French class. However, I had to work afterwards and had been given the use of the firm’s car so that I could leave my French class in time to get to work. It was the first time I had driven to the Eurodistrict in Strasbourg. I had thought that taking the route through the town would be OK and it would take much less than the half an hour I would set aside for the journey, parking and getting to the lesson. Between home and the car park where I left it overnight I decided to take the Autoroute, as that’s bound to be quicker isn’t it? Ha. I took a wrong turning and ended up on the route to Germany. I got off that and was stuck going in the wrong direction in Neudorf. I got out of that and managed to head in the right direction and found myself lost in Robertsau. What is a twenty minute cycle ride took me around an hour and twenty minutes before I found somewhere to park, an hour and a half before I got to the building where the classes are held. With it now two thirds of the way through I decided to have a coffee and leave early for work. It was just as well I did as when I got to the place I was going to work there was a lot of photocopying and form filling etc which took up the extra time I had from leaving early from my lesson. It’s OK I thought I have a lesson organised on Monday.
This morning I left for that lesson to get a message at the tram stop saying that the lines A & E which go south of Strasbourg have a ‘technical fault’ and are replaced by a bus service.(‘Technical fault’ means a tram has broken down and is blocking the route, see above.) Line A is , of course, is the route I need to take. On arrival at the transfer to line A I see one leaving the tram stop. It takes more than ten minutes before another comes but, at the transfer to the bus I get some luck and I’m the last one on to the bus. Twenty five minutes late for the lesson. Fortunately it went ahead and I get the full lesson which is good as I now understand the Imparfait and Passe Compose better.
My parents have been visiting since Tuesday so there has been time only for work and showing them Strasbourg and Alsace. On Friday night, for the first time since I was a boy and he took me to football matches, the roles were reversed and I took my father to the Stade de la Meinau to see le Racing play Vannes at home. As a result we were not standing in my usual place but right back behind the goal in the top row of the seats, so we had a great view of proceedings.
Inside ten minutes le Racing were 1-0 up and a couple of minutes later a Vannes forward was brought down by the keeper when through. Red card for the keeper and I thought a penalty but the foul had happened outside the box so just a free-kick which was defended. The ten men of le Racing didn’t just hold out for the rest of the game but had a few chances to make the game safe. Vannes, like Reading FC this season according to my father who is a season ticket holder, for their part played pretty football but had no idea in the last third of the pitch, they seemed to lose it in front of goal. So a first win this season for le Racing and they move off the bottom of ligue 2 for the first time this season.
Then after taking my parents to the airport this afternoon and dropping off the hired car I went to a local Irish bar to see City play Wigan in today’s late Premiership match. Having seen City play Man U, Aston Villa and now Wigan in the same bar I have yet to see them win a match, perhaps I’ll stop watching them and they’ll win? Anyway we should have had a penalty and a player received a dodgy yellow card which meant later, when the card was deserved, he then had to be sent off. I wonder how much dodgy refereeing decisions like today’s the endless extra time against Man U etc. will have cost us by the end of the season? Taking the positives we have recently played Aston Villa and Wigan at their place and have come away with a point from each, Chelsea lost to both.
Regular readers of this blog will know that the normal fare on here concerns life as an expat in Strasbourg, only rarely are my eyes lifted onto higher things. Today is one of those days when I look up from Strasbourg. Reports state that a writ has been obtained by the legal firm Carter-Ruck (Known as Carter-Fuck in Private Eye) to prevent the Guardian newspaper reporting a question tabled in Parliament for answer. The question, which I repeat below seems to be concerned with a report regarding tax avoidance schemes by a company, Trafigura, who have been at the centre of allegations concerning the dumping of toxic waste in Ivory Coast:
As usually happens when people resort to the law to try and shut something up, it has resulted in a lot more coverage for the item with it being published by Guido, Iain Dale, and JTO, together no doubt with hundreds of other bloggers – I say that because I haven’t made any effort to check exactly how many other bloggers have written about this but I hope it is at least hundreds. Iain Dale says that the matter relates to this story and repeats this from Next Left:
“To veer off at a tangent, for some reason, that short report reminded me that I was rather impressed by some more extensive reporting which the same David Leigh of the Guardian undertook over the oil company Trafigura‘s shocking oil spillage in the Ivory Coast, over which the company was widely report to have recently decided to offer a £30 million settlement to 31,000 people affected. I recall that it was an interesting story because of the way the newspaper worked closely with Newsnight
I found it offered considerably more for the reader to get one’s teeth into than another Guardian report over Barclays tax affairs, where a gagging order led to several documents being removed from the internet, in theory and no doubt in practice too.
Meanwhile, Guido Fawkes is among those playing the favourite backbencher in Hansard game, flagging up a rather good question from Paul Farrelly MP, of Newcastle under Lyme, and a very good man, as I recall from briefly overlapping with him as colleagues at The Observer where he was City Editor prior to be elected to Parliament in 2001.
His guess, and your guess, are certainly as good as or better than mine. But barking randomly up various trees has its limits.
So I would be rather heavily in favour of The Guardian getting the provisions of the 1688 Bill of Rights back in place so we might also find out the news of what our Parliamentary representatives are discussing on our behalf.”
I wouldn’t have known about the item in the Guardian and the dumping of waste in Ivory Coast by Trafigura if this attempt to prevent the Guardian publicising the question in Parliament. I also wonder what the judge was on? It has been taught for hundreds of years that what is said in Parliament attracts privilege, which also applies to the reporting of what is said, something reasserted as recently as the early 1970s. All-in-all it seems like an own goal by Carter-Ruck and the judiciary are once again showing themselves up to be a rest-home for eccentrics.
UPDATE: I have just received the following comment: “38 Degrees are currently running a campaign on this. Take action now by emailing your MP and asking them to take a stand to stop this happening again in the future. Take action now, it only takes 2 minuits. Go to:
This is the second part of a two part piece. If you want to read them in order then please start with the previous post, titled Pay it forward I – the kind German Police. I’m sorry that posting the two parts of the story in a chronological order means that the second part appears higher on this blog than the first part, but that’s the way it is.
For some time I have been registered with expat blog, initially with the aim of finding out about other bloggers in the local area, although I soon found out I was the only person registered in Strasbourg. There are other bloggers I’ve found like Strasbourg Englishman and people have joined who have moved to Strasbourg since like Fab food in Italian. Through expat blog I had been contacted by a semi-retired English teacher from Ireland seeking information on the teaching market here but until recently nothing else. Until I returned from dans le Nord. Waiting for me was a message from a New Yorker who had been working in Germany and France and had lost a piece of luggage which was waiting at the lost property office in Strasbourg Station.(See picture) My correspondent was seeking an English speaking person to collect the case, transfer the contents to a box and then post it back to them. Following the unbelievable good fortune of JTO‘s wallet being found and a kind German police officer sending it back to us I thought it was only right to do what I could to help so I replied positively. A fax was sent to the lost property office saying that I would be collecting the case, I received a copy and before I knew it the case was back at my flat.(See picture right) I then transferred the contents of the case to a box and didn’t find any quantities of drugs or other contraband, which JTO had thought I might be being duped into being an assistant in smuggling. Because of a strike by the French post office it then took a few days more to get hold of a few costings for sending the case to New York. It was worth the wait as the best price turned out to be that from ‘La Poste’ the French post office. Once the price of sending the parcel was discovered I was sent the money to pay for the parcel via Western Union. I took the parcel to the same office I collected the money and here it is last week heading off to New York.(I was told off for taking a picture of the parcel in the post office) All that remained was to get rid of the suitcase as I have sufficient good cases and this was a bit broken. It was put out for the binmen, I was even surprised that it fitted in the bin so I hoped taking it would not be problem. Of course it was. Next morning the one item left behind was the case. Even worse, I left at the same time as the miserable bearded git from upstairs (and I’d like to say I have nothing against miserable people, people with beards or most of the people who live above me, this one I do and there is more than another post to be written on him) who of course found the case and asked me if it was mine. He then proceeded to tell me that the binmen wouldn’t take it (No!) and that there was a rubbish tip around the corner I could take it to.(double no, see here) I was on my way to work at the time so I wasn’t able to deal with it then but on my return, as you see form the photo above, the case was taken to the rubbish tip.(I was told off for taking the above picture by the nice helpful man at the tip who helped me find the right place to put it. What is the problem? Post office scales, crushers in the rubbish tip all not to be photographed, what’s that all about?)
A busy week and no time for posting so, inspired again by Mr London Street (I hope the RSI gets better so he can get back to his full length [fnar, fnar] posts – that’s not to say that I’m not enjoying the writing in the 100 word posts we’ve had this week.) today will be the first part of a two parter.
The title for this post comes from a film first shown in 2000. The film concerns a schoolboy, asked by his teacher for an idea that can be implemented to make the world a better place. He suggests that, in return for a good deed done to you, rather than doing a reciprocal good deed to the person who did you the good deed, you do a good deed to three other people, you ‘pay forward’ the good deed. I’ve never seen the film so I am not able to comment upon whether it is heart-warming and life affirming or sugary-schmalzy pap. I also haven’t spent time thinking through the implications of the idea or of a comparison between it and other similar ideas like doing random gratuitous good things.
After my return from a season in Hull I had a great, though far too short, visit from my brother and sister-in-law. They left on the morning of the last Wednesday in August and we had most of the day to finish packing and tidy the flat up before leaving early evening for Germany and a train to Düsseldorf. Here is not the place to write about the project but, together with JTO, I have a project to visit every European capital before the end of next year, not 27 EU capitals but the 45 or so in the whole of Europe. As a break after my work in the UK, and JTO‘s continued work through the summer, we were going to Moldova to tick Chisinau off the list. It is not an easy city to get to, particularly cheaply, so when an old favourite, Air Baltic, started flying there it was too much of an opportunity to be missed out on; take advantage of the cheaper introductory offers and get to spend time in one of my favourite cities in the world, Riga, and visit friends living there. I was worried about the very short time we had between flights and any delay might mean we miss our connecting flight. As a result of flying low-cost, and as is so often the case with cheaper flights, it meant we had a journey overnight to get to our departure airport in time for our flight. That was not so much of a problem as we had plenty of time to get ready. In hindsight we had enough time to go to Düsseldorf and spend the night there so we woke fresh and ready for the flight to Riga, but we didn’t. We got the tram and then the bus over the border into Kehl in Germany. (I make no excuses, international travel was so much not done by people like me when I was younger, that I still get excited travelling and even crossing the border into Germany from France, passing the redundant, and since the NATO summit in April, destroyed border posts – I know it’s only 5 km from where I live – but I like it.) Here’s a report of the border post being destroyed in April:
In Kehl we got some dinner at a very nice German restaurant we had eaten in before and then the train via Offenburg, Frankfurt etc. to Düsseldorf. On the stop before Frankfurt our itinerary said we should switch trains but, hey, we thought, the train we’re on goes to Frankfurt as well, we’re comfortable and have seats, so why change? A lesson we learnt, if the itinerary from Deutsch Bahn says switch trains do so. We came into Frankfurt railway station to see our connection to Frankfurt Airport, and on to Düsseldorf, leaving the station. I ran to the information people only to find it was the last train of the night and there were no more to Düsseldorf. Running around the station area only revealed there were no buses that would get us to Düsseldorf in time for our flight. JTO found a taxi driver who was willing to drive us but he wanted €300. We spent more time trying to find a way to get to Düsseldorf but there were none. The only thing we achieved was to get the taxi price down to €290. By now it was around 1:00 in the morning and if we wanted to take the flight we had no choice. So, the taxi it was. We left Frankfurt and got onto the autobahn. I was full of paranoia that the driver would take us a long way to make up the fare, when it was close locally,(which it actually wasn’t) that he might drop us off somewhere leaving us to be robbed or worse. Of course he didn’t. He took us to the airport. He went the most direct route as he wanted to get us there and then go home. JTO, with her ability to fall asleep on any form of transport slept through the journey while I stayed awake stewing in my paranoia. I also had the Kraftwerk song, Autobahn, going through my head during the journey so here it is with the original film:
We got the to airport and JTO went to get her wallet to pay the taxi driver and, second awake nightmare of the journey, it was not there. I had already got money out from that I had earned in the summer, would I be able to get more? Feeling really bad I went off and found a cash machine which fortunately gave me the money for the fare. What an awful way to start our week away. We tried to sleep for a couple if hours before the check-in opened with not much success. After check-in we got something to eat and then got onto the plane. Of course my previous concern about the transfer at Riga came back, after the night we had had, it would just be the end if we missed our connecting flight to Moldova. Of course, it went totally smoothly. We arrived in the early afternoon and got a taxi to our hotel worried that the disappearance of the wallet, together with the money and cards, would mean that we would not be able to make the best of our stay in Moldova. I was pleased I had the money from working in Hull as it would make the difference between enjoying our tie there and not. That was when our luck changed.
On our first day we walked around and saw the sights of central Chisinau and then had something to eat. On return to our hotel JTO discovered she had a missed call. It was from American Express. Her wallet had been found on a train in Germany and handed to the German Police and because it contained one of their cards the company had been contacted and now had contacted us. We were given contact details for the police station where the wallet was now being kept. A bottle of something sparkling was clearly in order to celebrate our good fortune. Although the things we wanted to do whilst there didn’t quite come off we enjoyed our holiday particularly the break somewhere totally different from home. Time was spent trying to work out how we could get to the police station to collect the wallet on our journey home and talking to the police station in Germany to collect the wallet. We went to Riga and whilst there realised that it was impossible to get to the police station and use the train we were booked upon. It would mean buying extra train tickets, hiring a car and a number of other logistical nightmares. Why not get the police to courier the wallet to us? Talking to the police they said we would have to courier and fax them a letter of permission before they could take money out of the wallet and send it back to us. So, we found the DHL concession in the basement of a new shopping centre and between Russian, some Latvian and the assistance of a person from a nearby shop we managed to explain what we wanted and organised and paid for the transaction. During it we had to talk again to our third police officer, explaining the full story each time, in my schoolboy German and his schoolboy English to get the exact address of the police station.
We returned to the UK and both went back to work. The following Thursday I came home to find there had been a delivery which had been missed and had to be collected from the post office. I took the card round with ID and got back a package for JTO. When she returned she opened it and inside was the wallet. She had to complete a form to let the German Police know we had received the package but the timing could not be better, just before we left for our 10th anniversary and our trip to Ch’tiland.
Coming Next: Pay it forward II – The American Case
Whilst we knew about the role of Bergues in the film ‘Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis‘ we had not known about its history as a fortified town, until that is we got off the train. the picture on the left shows one of the gates to the town and behind it the former barracks for those defending the town. The extent of the remaining fortifications can be seen on the map of the town:
I had known about the engineer Vauban (wiki) from his work on the defences of Strasbourg after it became part of France in 1681. Something I have become more interested in during the time I have been here, although I did have a concern about regressing to a childhood love of castles and forts until JTO said it was something she found not disinteresting and, for me, is a part of finding out about the history of central Europe that I previously had not known about. For example one of the places in Alsace I am keen to visit is Neuf-Brisach (wiki) built by Vauban after France lost its fortified town of Breisach on the East-bank of the Rhine and a prime example of a Vauban fortified town built from scratch.
So, as well as spending time walking about finding out about the film related connection with the village I spent time walking about findng out about the fortified towns of Northern France and found that there is an association of fortified towns in Northern France and that there is also a ‘route of fortified towns’ pretty much as there is in Alsace a ‘wine route’, a route from the North to the South of the wineries in Alsace. The association features many places in Flanders. There is also an association of fortified towns in Alsace and an association for the many sites in France associated with Vauban. Like the memory of walking into Bergues across a drawbridge there is plenty to keep me busy through the Winter.
There are a couple of things I had been meaning to write about but I had not started because they were both quite big pieces. I had not worked out how to write pieces that were not inordinately long, and just getting down to write them outfaced me. Then help came to hand from the self-proclaimed ‘Reading’s Premier HumouristTM’ Mr London Street who wrote some pieces as two part items. Why not I thought? So here is part 1 of a two-part post.
Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis
I have already written about the trip JTO and I took to Dunkerque last month to celebrate our wedding anniversary on 11th September.(Yes how were we to know in 1999 the globally significant event which was to happen only two years later on the same day?) We were inspired to go by the film Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (film site):
Released in 2008 and the biggest box office success in France, the film is a comedic look at the regional stereotypes of France, pitting the sun-drenched idyll of the South against the North with its drunken, wife-beating, grimy industry, including mining, and filthy weather.(The people of the North, Ch’tis from the sh sound they make when talking giving the film its title.) It is now reportedly being remade by Hollywood. We took the train from Dunkerque and arrived in time to have lunch before starting the tour in front of the belfry on the town square, both of which play a part in the film. Our guide, pictured left, wore the hat, yellow shirt and waistcoat of a post office worker as featured in the film. Whilst walking around he told us anecdotes from the three and a half weeks the film was being made in the town, like how every business received a signed photo from the Director Danny Boon as a thank you for putting up with the inconvenience. On the right is the building used as the post-office in the film. It took so long to get any answer from the post office over whether it would be possible to film in the actual post-office in the town that this building was mocked up to look like the post-office. It was so realistic that people in the town kept leaving mail in the mailbox on the wall of it during filming. The picture on the left is taken looking across the canal at the spot where the two leading characters stop during a tour of the village delivering the mail, which includes calling at every house for a drink, to relieve themselves. Then we came to another iconic picture from the film, the window of a women’s underwear shop one of the male characters looks intently into to avoid another character before he fully realises the nature of the shop he is looking at so intently. After the tour we went up the belfry which played an important part in the film. Our guide, like the character played by the Director and well-known comedian Danny Boon, was the person who plays the keyboard which plays the bells. In the top right you can see the town hall which is where the wedding in the film takes place. Next to it is the genuine post-office and next to it the cafe where the day delivering the mail ends with the manager crashing his bike into it, which for the film was renamed. In the square also was the van selling chips which is where the initial bonding between the new manager of the post office and his staff takes place. These views will be well familiar to anyone who has seen what is a very enjoyable and entertaining film about France. If you do not know the film I hope you have enjoyed some views of small-town France and do see the film, even with sub-titles it is well worth it.
Continuing the catch-up, on Monday night I left work after 20:00 and walked to the Stade de la Meinau. Passing the southernmost tram stop for the stadium I saw the notice on the left calling for a “boycott” of the match to highlight the concern of the fans about the danger the club were in. Since failing to get promoted the club sacked the manager, appointed another and then sacked him when the pre-season had been rubbish and they were dumped out of the cup by some minnow outfit and lost the first two games of the season. Before the game against the leaders le Racing were bottom of ligue 2 and the match was being played on a Monday night as it was being televised on Eurosport. So, the ultra fans thought a message could be sent about the direction of the club and people could still see the game. The picture (right) is of about 30 people who were protesting outside the ground. Unfortunately, by then JTO and I had already bought our tickets so we went in to the match. The ‘kop’ where the Strasbourg supporters gather was pretty much empty as can be seen from the picture above. For the match, well the first half was fairly dire and ended 0-0. Strasbourg played like a team devoid of confidence. Whatever hope there was from them going in level at half-time was quickly shaken when I read that it had been 0-0 at half-time in their last match which was lost 3-0. However, a change of personnel and the substitute, Emil Gargarov, put Strasbourg were 1-0 up in seven minutes. Caen equalised and then Strasbourg took the lead again before Caen equalised in the last ten minutes. At the end Strasbourg were going all out for the win, not the behaviour of the team bottom of the league against the one at the top. An omen of hope for the rest of the season? We’ll see. The last picture is of the Strasbourg keeper and captain. I’ve posted before about his nervous habit of pulling his shorts up as play approaches his goal but never captured it properly before. Well, now I have.