old salut!

Colin Randall wrote here on France, things Anglo-French and more......but has moved

April 16, 2007

Born again blogging. The new Salut!

We are on the move.

New home
Picture: sammo371

To find the new home for Salut!, look at the Read Me link to the right, click here or click on the word moved in the blog's title banner above.

There is much to do, but although I expected the whole operation to run in tandem for a while, the move went well and there will be no further posts here.

As I am in a good mood after a weekend trip back to Sunderland, I thought you might like to know.

And I am now in an even better mood after a weekend in which Sunderland clinched promotion. BUT the time has come to declare the move accomplished and announce that no more comments may be posted here. See you over at New Salut!........

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Coming off fence, causing offence

Tomorrow is the day I have decided upon. None of the 12 French presidential candidates is shaking in his or her boots, no sleep is being lost and no votes depend upon it.

But I live in France, occupy my corner of an Anglo-French family and pay my taxes here. So I have a civic duty to declare my choice.

Watch this space tomorrow, if you are interested in knowing for whom my inactive votes are being cast this Sunday and at the playoff on May 6.

I had one of those useful opportunities at the weekend to view the issues from the other side of the Channel. The company I kept was intelligent and lively, and everyone knew there was actually an election in progress.

But the only people mentioned by name, without my prompting, were Nicolas Sarkozy and Jean-Marie Le Pen. Very well, someone may also have thrown a Ségolène or a Royal fleetingly into the conversation, but not with such interest or passion that I now remember the detail.

French politics rarely matter much back home, except during those intermittent crises - warfare in the past, agricultural policy now.

We are taught to regard the likes of Jacques Chirac as hate figures. The French, it is said and not only on www.****france.com, are driven by self-interest, arrogance and pride and by nothing else.

But even this is little more than a pantomime sideshow. For we are told by bonker English columnists that what this country really needs is a good walloping. And that only Sarko can administer it, with his pro reform, pro free market, pro Modèle Anglo-Saxon policies taking the role played by the martinets that once hung from hooks in French kitchens.

Those pundits probably do not know how little their views mean to him. But just as surely as Sarko has already watered down his promise to achieve "rupture" with the past and its failures, the truth is that he'll end up being very wary about doing very much at all that would suit the lovely-country-shame-about-the-people mob, the racaille of the English Right.

I did not mean to be so cruel on my confrères. If I use racaille, a contentious word that has brought Sarko much grief since he chose it to describe delinquents on suburban estates, I mean it in its broader sense of "rabble".

Most English language reporters prefer the harsher definition "scum" and may even be right (the only deciding factor, of course, being how the person on the receiving end interprets the word).

But how much interest is there generally in Britain in this political contest? Given that it's been a pretty drab campaign, I suspect that the answer reflects my exchanges when back home: Not Much.

Perhaps things will become more animated once 10 hopefuls have been cast out of the race, leaving us our top two playoff.

The tragedy is that the elimination of the also-rans is pretty certain also to entail the elimination of all the true characters of this campaign.

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April 11, 2007

New neighbours

Isn't it just a part of human nature to worry about the people who are about to move into your street?

Well OK, the Fort de Brégancon is a 10-minute drive away, not a few doors down the hill from us. And as you can see, it is not the kind of plcae where you just park outside and pop in for a cup of tea or glass of rosé.

But when the person who occupies it happens to be a head of state, you tend to play up the connection. Drinks on the patio here in Le Lavandou await the eventual winner, provided it's not Jean-Marie Le Pen. No guarantee, of course, that the invitation will be taken up.

Given the Fort's isolated location as the official holiday home for French presidents, les couples Sarkozy, Royal or Bayrou are not likely to drive all their neighbours wild with rowdy house-warmings or noisy, dusty building work. But we may yet bump into them if they venture into our neck of the local woods.

I know who I want to be there in the post-Chirac era. But if you want to know more about that, you will just have to keep coming back to Salut!, where I will declare my non-voting preference as we get nearer election day (April 22).

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April 09, 2007

Impolitesse revisited

A good debate is just taking shape over at my Guardian Comment is Free slot, where I have returned to a favoured theme of rudeness and the French. Have your say, there or here.

Posted by Picasa
Marseille: easy to get lost, harder to be told to Get Lost - if you're polite

But those who have stuck with me from the Other Place, where I now languish in the sidings for archived foreign correspondents (along with, it has to be said, three valued former colleagues), will remember the impassioned discussion my thoughts on the subject aroused there.

They will also know my view that the French, by and large, get an unjustifiably bad press, accused without proper cause of being ruder than others. But then, not all the French agree with me in any case.

My occasional sparring partner Agnès Poirier thinks the French are guilty as charged. but adds that while she and her fellow Français and Françaises are rude, us Brits are hypocrites.

So when I make my case for not being beastly to the French, I am undermined by certain French people taking pride in their rudeness.

Pretty much the flip side of the debate, the subject that that got me going last time around, is the tyranny of the French insistence on a proper bonjour monsieur/madame at the start of any casual exchange.

Is it time for another discussion on that? These days, I rarely forget the need for such introductions, and I bonjoured away merrily, to good effect, a few times when I was lost in Marseille yesterday.

Mme Salut!, French but conditioned by long years spent in England, gets it wrong as often as she doesn't.

If you are far too polite to consider talking about rudeness, there is always the lure of yet another competition, over at (tonight) a somewhat jubilant Salut! Sunderland.

The core subject will be of no interest to many of you, of course, but I'd bet several of you would get the right answer to my question even without recourse to Google.

Some may even like my choice of prize - a copy of an unusual graphic novel, Alice in Sunderland, by Bryan Talbot, about which you can also read a little on that blog, and more here.

And just a few of you will take to the idea of a guest column, even though it has to be about football - note, not specifically Sunderland.

But then again.........

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April 06, 2007

Not fit for public view

A friend recalls the utter embarrassment she felt when, during Cambridge undergraduate days, her parents arrived to see her one weekend, dressed in matching shell suits.

Although I have never met the parents, and am sure they are perfect in every other sense, it is difficult to imagine the scene without wincing.

And the scene always comes flooding into mind when I go to the supermarket in France.

Lurking around the corner of each alley, ahead of you whichever caisse you choose and all over the car park, there are men - especially men - in the French equivalent.

They are not always glossy, as I rightly or wrongly assume shell suits must be, so are probably closer to being track suits. Invariably, in recent years, the trouser bottoms will be cut short to add a hint of fashion consciousness.

But if they look like track suits, you know that their wearers - six times out of 10 - have almost certainly indulged in no sporting activity for years. There is something especially bizarre about this mode of dress when it is adopted by the elderly or obese.

Appearances may be deceptive, of course. There is, after all, a bit of pot calling kettle black going on here.

No one has ever mistaken me for a style guru. My wife once wrote to Hilary Alexander's fashion agony aunt column asking how she could transform me, from whatever kind of northern oik slob I am, into an ultra-smart and trendy Parisian.

Hilary promised a reply, or to deal with it in her column. But she clearly knew me well enough to be able to decide that I was beyond redemption and quietly forgot all about it.

Nor can I claim to be superfit.

I make an effort, playing badminton, using one of those Décathlon abdominals frames and walking a lot.

Each morning I am sent out to buy the baguette and Var Matin, an easy walk down the hill to Intermarché but a tough old slog back up.

To bypass the endless winding bends leading eventually to our house, I clamber up a steep grassy slope and then tackle the 139-step short cut. Lame dogs pass by with scornful looks and, if I have missed a couple of days, I am certain to be briefly out of breath by the time I reach the top.

It feels good later, though. As does the muscular pain the morning after I've played, say, seven or eight hard games of badminton singles.

But I promise my fellow early-morning shoppers, all the lame dogs of the Var and my badminton opponents that they will never be required to cast eyes on me in a cutaway track suit.

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April 04, 2007

And the winners are....

Monette has been described as a chic Parisian cat, but the truth is that while she is fairly chic, she is - or was - Parisian in the sense that de Valera was Irish or I am a Durham lad.

In other words, she was born far from the land she called her own. Not quite as far as de Valera from Ireland (New York) or Randall from the North East (Hove), but far enough for a cat.

A few days into her life as one of a litter born at a restaurant at Giverny, where the house and gardens of Monet are on public view (and well worth the drive weat of Paris), this scrap snapped at the heels of a table where two couples were rounding off their visit.

One couple fell in love with the kitten and were promptly told they could take her. Since this was a girl, she couldn't be Monet, so she became Monette.

Several readers of Salut! were able to identify her with ease. No one, I am sorry to say, came up with that 50,000 hits home page from the blog.

But then, my web man Craig McGintywas always iffy about the idea and somone else was kind enough to send me an image of the Stat Counter on my site stuck on 60,000 to show how easy it was to fiddle.

I chose not to withdraw thatvpart of the competition, since you'd have to be especially odd to sit there making the counter say 50,000 just to win a book on curries.

There was the risk, of course, because I had only to receive more than one saved image to know that one, both or all were cheating. But what the heck....

So, the witching hour having been reached, I apologise to those who sent in correct answers to the cat question and do not now see their names.

But I found a use for a pile of pristine Daily Telegraph visiting cards, wrote the names of each correct respondent on them and asked Mme Salut! - Monette being unavailable - to draw two of them.

And the winners are: Mason Norton and Steve Bushnell. Both sent charming e-mails with their correct responses.

Neither, however, supplied a postal address and should do so, once again by writing to colinrandall2001@yahoo.fr

The prizes will then be dispatched in the next few days.

Otherwise, one or both may end up going elsewhere - perhaps even to Louise, whose name went into the hat despite her lack of affection for Indian cuisine and would go into it again if a re-draw were necessary.

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Competition (4): tension mounts

Just one day and a bit to go, as I am reminded by the arrival of a brand new copy, albeit slightly battered in the post, of one of the prizes.

You still have between now and teatime today - 6pm French time - to e-mail the name of the ungovernable French cat, and/or a copy of the Salut! home page capturing the moment we passed 50,000 hits last week, to colinrandall2001@yahoo.fr

No disadvantage applies to anyone who is late in supplying the right answer. You could even be last and win.

If you haven't been paying attention, and wish to enter, a simple search of Salut! or a less simple one of my old Telegraph blog (since it is hidden away in the Telegraph site's sinbin) should lead to the cat's identity.

As for the picture, it is election time in France and she may or may not be making a political statement with her choice of colour, or making the natural response to much of the debate in a somewhat drab campaign.

An announcement as to prize winners will appear here as soon after that time as possible and in any event by tomorrow morning.

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April 03, 2007

Wined-up boy racers get presidential champion

Back from London, and those raucous late-night shrieks as the binge-drinking young take to the streets, I ran straight into Jean-Marie Le Pen's latest campaign pledges.

You'll have gathered, I imagine, that while the Front National leader was given a surprisingly cushy ride by my former paper, he is not Salut!'s candidate of choice.

But what should we make of his attempt to capture the roadhog vote?

If I heard my France Info broadcast correctly this morning, the rabble-rousing old rogue of the far Right has been on his feet demanding a higher blood/alcohol limit for drivers.

He also wants to push up motorway speed limits from their present maximum of 130kph to 150kph and has a thing about speed cameras.

Having just checked on two reports of his actual words, uttered during a visit to a motor museum in Rheims, I think he was serious on both matters.

So just as France seems to be starting to get to grips with the appalling carnage on its roads, and bringing the death toll down, Le Pen offers a recipe for more danger, more crashes and presumably more deaths.

But why leave it at drink and speed? Why not make at least one bald tyre compulsory? Require no one to light up in namby-pamby fashion when it is dark or murky? And discourage insurance cover and the French version of the MoT test, the Controle Technique?

Naturally, Le Pen doesn't see it thay way. He wants a special tax on foreign lorries entering France, claiming that European freight hauliers' vehicles are involved in nine crashes in 10. And he argues that car drivers have come to be treated almost as presumed delinquents.

I am sure it cannot be that FN supporters of an especially evil bent reckon that most casualties of this tomfoolery would be of immigrant stock, and have urged their leader - innocent of such thoughts, of course - to encourage more accidents.

Indeed, Le Pen denies that his proposals would make the roads any less safe.

I'll say one thing in fainress: the French drink-driving limit is lower than the British one, so that Henri Paul was roughly twice ours but three times France's when he drove Princess Diana to his death.

But that's where the fairness ends. Let's hope that Le Pen's latest opinion roll rating - stuck on 13.5 per cent - is the one figure we can trust.

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March 30, 2007

Competition time (3)

The competition has proved a jolly enough distraction and made it a good deal easier to keep Salut! active during my week in London.

There is still time to enter. As one of those who has already done so said to me, finding the answer to the question I set does not require a huge amount of research.

I will announce the results next week. The competition closes at 6.30pm French time on Wednesday and I will make a random selection from the correct responses received at colinrandall2001@yahoo.fr by then.

The encouraging trickle of replies reminds me of a short period at that Other Place when I offered prizes linked to my journalistic sideline of writing about folk music.

On the first occasion, I rather optimistically made the question harder than was wise for a mainstream publication: name each of the women who, up to that point, had served the Irish band De Dannan as lead singer.

I think there were only four replies. One reached me from within the newspaper office where I worked, two arrived in identical writing on postcards sent from the same town and the fourth collected the prize.

This was before the internet age, which has pretty much removed the slog from finding the right (and yes, sometimes wrong) answers to most questions.

So for my next little contest, I posed a relatively simple Fairport Convention question (which member of the original line-up was still in the band?) and the letters and cards flooded in.

Consider the hurdles. You had to buy the paper, open the section, locate the small listings item mentioning Fairport, read it, know the answer, care a jot about the prizes (four pairs of tickets for the band's annual Cropredy festival), bother to reply.

About 150 did. It seems a small number given the circulation of the paper at the time - well over a million - until you look at hoops listed above.

I wish to this day that I had not been pompous enough to disqualify the wag who said he was replying only because he was sure there couldn't be three other Fairport fans among the Telegraph readership.

You'd need to do a lot worse than that to be thrown out of Salut!'s competition.

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