Sunday, 28 September 2008


Having re-read that last post, it's clear that 1920 and forty years don't add up to 2008. This is what happened: in the communist era, large houses were appropriated by the state and families were sent to live in them, rather like in Dr. Zhivago. My colleague's family were one of many in this ambassadorial residence in Bucarest. As the years rolled on, the others either died or moved out, leaving more and more room to those who stayed. My colleague's father moved there shortly before his son was born and within a short time, had the whole house to themselves. And so it stayed until this summer. Hope that clears it up.

An Evening Out!

Anyone reading this blog (and there aren't many, if any, I know) knows that the denizens of Chateau Fingers have a slightly less invigorating social life than a handicapped nun, so forgive me if I wax lyrical a little about last night, when we actually WENT OUT to SEE FRIENDS and even SPENT A FEW INTERESTING HOURS in the company of someone OTHER THAN OUR SODDING NOISY NEIGHBOURS! We finally got around to accepting an invitation from a lovely Rumanian couple from work and the change of scenery and the conversation were truly things to behold. Without boring you with a run-down of the evening's chat, I will tell you this: his father, now 80, still runs a construction company in Bucarest. This summer, after forty years, they were evicted from their house on a trumped-up charge of preferential due: the house went to an invented relative of the original owner, a banker, who wrote the property over to the state in 1920 in lieu of debt. So, after nearly half a century's occupation, a couple in their eighties are basically turfed out onto the street. Fortunately, he had the wherewithal and strength to capitalise on the situation: he bought a 2-bedroom flat and made a three-story house out of it. At the age of eighty. Nice to see the benefits that Europe has brought to a new member state. Apparently, this deserving new owner of the house is the daughter of the banker's cleaning lady. Maybe. It seems probity was not high on the agenda.

The parents of a friend of Mrs. Fingers are apparently being evicted from their flat because of noise. Having never met them, my interest in the story was more about the logistics of how it can be done. Sorry, but that's the way it is.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Just when you thought you understood everything...

It seems our little house in the best part of town is just a façade. Mrs. F was greeted by two young men at the front door this afternoon who turned out to be police officers investigating one of the other residents in the house. Illegal immigrant? Delinquant? Bike thief? None of it. Heroin Dealer. Yes, we appear to have a heroin trafficker living on the ground floor. That's nice news when you have two small children. I hope they'll go through with their investigation and sling him behind bars for a (long) while. Pleasant as he seems to be, the thought of having someone like that introducing drug-addled scum into the building is beyond my already sorely tested tolerance level. I'm rather inclined to go with Sarko's suggestion of going through certain buildings with an industrial cleaner and to hell with the consequences which, in this case, would only be positive.

I remember we had a similar problem when we lived in Providence, Rhode Island. No-one would ever have thought that the girl upstairs was a crackhead: she was pleasant, courteous and had a little baby. The police were waiting outside the front door one night when I went to work and they explained everything. One guy was already bent over the car in handcuffs, 'helping the police with their enquiries'. More was to follow but we moved out the next day. A word of advice: never go and live in Providence, RI; it's the most desperate hole known to mankind: run-down, dangerous and corrupt. We had to take a taxi to get to the supermarket and our driver on the way back had his left arm in a sling. He'd been stabbed for the contents of his wallet a few days previously. Lucky old mugger got away with $20. The glories of the American healthcare system meant he had to get back to work as soon as possible so as not to endure foreclosure on his house, so there he was, steering and changing gear with the same hand while his lacerated arm healed. Greatest democracy in the world, you know.

I'm wondering what the next surprise will be. Maybe the Brazilians on the first floor are actually people traffickers or disposal agents of other countries' nuclear waste. Actually, seeing how many rubbish bags they put outside every day, that might not be so far from the truth.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008


Why do so many people write blogs? Are they lonely? Do they want some kind of recognition, having been bullied rotten at school and made to lick lavatory seats? Is this all part of our instant celebrity society where being famous is actually more important than the talent that should get you there? I don't know. Being a professional performer I'm used to applause if I do something well in front of an audience. If I do it badly, I'm the first to tell myself. In short, I don't feel I lack attention but certainly enjoy compliments regarding my various pursuits, one of which is having articles published regularly in one of London's leading dailies.

I was cock-a-hoop when the paper told me they'd publish the first piece I submitted to them and couldn't wait to tell as many friends and family as possible. Now I see my work in print and don't even mention it to my nearest and dearest. It's quite curious in a way. After all, it's my hobby; the thing I really wanted to do professionally until music took the upper hand. When you're young,though, concerts generally attract more comment and advice than a decent short story composed for your English Language class, so music it was, ever more marketable and obvious than a life arranging words on a page. But isn't it the hobby that should stoke my fire, provide me with a canvas to express my oh-so-important thoughts? Maybe, maybe not: I just know that writing is what I enjoy doing and I get a lot of pleasure re-reading this blog and remembering what happened when. So much daily trivia can conspire to keep your mind blank for months on end that it's rewarding to put down a few yardsticks from time to time and have some form of documentation of your existence.

This has quickly turned into a ramble. That's because I don't have anything of note to say. Then again, that's relative. I spent the entire day working with an extremely talented and, in some cases, very well-known group of artists, but since this is normal where I work, I don't mention it. It's a privileged life and having a daily outlet of musical expression followed by the liberty to compose random thoughts in the manner I choose late at night (hey, I'm married with children, so midnight IS late for me, these days) is vastly satisfying.

There's still too much noise from upstairs. Doesn't matter how accomodating and understanding you are, how much you empathise and seek a mutual solution, the fact that the neighbours know there's a problem yet continue to entertain every night of the week until late suggests they don't take the issue very seriously. Mrs. Fingers calls them actors, and I think she's right: they'll pay convincing lip service to your concerns and then laugh behind your back as soon as the door is closed and continue as before. I've decided that the dialogue phase is over and, if we don't hear back favourably from the owner within a week, will contact the police and the housing authority. The joke's over, as is our patience. I'm sick of writing about this and, if there's anyone actually reading this blog, I'm sure you are, too.

It's Fingernail I's birthday tomorrow and she'll be 6. I had to take her to have her present fitted this morning: a riding hat. Can't really surprise children with that kind of present in case you get the size wrong, so the puff's gone out of her special day a little. There'll be a cake for her after school, so there's that to look forward to. In any case, we're reducing Christmas and birthday presents to one good quality item instead of the tons of Made in China crap one accumulates so readily these days. When I was young it was 'Made in Hong Kong' (plus ça change...) or even - I kid you not - 'Empire Made'. Seriously, I had toys with that stamped on them when I was young and I can hardly remember England winning the World Cup.

Readjusting to France after ten weeks in Germany and Austria has been slow. I'm not at all up-to-date on the country's politics, a subject I absolutely love for its 'Planet France' factor, suffice to say that the Socialists are as much, if not more, of a shower than they were before we left in June. You have to say something for the place's dinosaur tendencies, though: had they been so willing to embrace every new fad of US origin the way the British do, the country would be feeling the effects of the recent credit squeeze far more strongly than they are. House prices have levelled off but the market is still healthy which is more that can apparently be said for the price avalanche in the UK, not to mention Gorgeous Gordon's strolling band of incompetents spreading confusion and mayhem wherever they choose to fire off an ill-conceived directive.

Beddy Byes.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

And so it goes on...

No real development in the 'noisy neighbour' stakes but the situation does throw up a moot point: at which juncture does one's own behaviour become antisocial? In seeking merely a decent night's sleep you're pushed to act in a manner you wouldn't normally choose. Having banged loudly on the door of the people upstairs a few nights back we actually had peace until the following morning. Not that much of an achievement, I admit, considering it was already gone 1am. The night after, things were back to normal: tangoing whales and break-dancing mammoth. This whole issue should have moved to the next level a while ago: engaging the owner to do something about the insulation of her property, but she's never at home. We've sent her a letter but the jury's out on whether she even acknowledges it. How much time should we leave her before contacting the town hall's housing department? A week? Three weeks? Difficult to say when you already dread going home in the evening, sure in the knowledge that you'll be wasting energy which could be used to positive ends just wondering when the noise is going to start and how long it'll last.

We're certainly not the only people to have this kind of problem; it seems the country is awash with tenants who'd be better housed in soundproof boxes on a riverbed. Yet it seems that those enduring this appalling behaviour receive little or no back-up from the authorities when they try to pursue their case. There are always the courts but my faith in French justice is minimal and this is the kind of thing you should be able to sort out without having to go before a judge.

Talk about wasted energy. There are so many things I'd like to record in my online diary but the daily confrontation with unnecessary domestic noise bundles them all out of brain's back door while this puerile conflict gets the red-carpet treatment all the way up to the main entrance.

So I just went up to ask them again, as politely as possible, to keep the noise down. Apparently, they're going to get in touch with the owner/agency to try to get them to do something about the floor in their flat. The more I go up the more motivated they'll be to actually do something about it, I hope. Hope springs eternal. To be fair, they were all in their stockinged feet and trying, at least while I was there, to walk around as quietly as possible. Even then, I could feel the floor vibrating from where I was standing on the landing. Gordon Bennett; I can't believe I'm writing so much about this but sleep deprivation does strange things to people.

Here's to the next time, when I hope I'll be able to write something I might actually enjoy reading in years to come instead of just this meaningless, domestic drivel.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Here we go...

Now come the two weeks from hell. Tons of stuff on at work with a mountain of extra-curricular activities to slot in in all available holes in the diary. It's no wonder my profession is the preserve of singles and the childless: any semblance of routine and regularity is blown to smithereens as soon as your back is turned. Juggling becomes a career necessity and not just a rubric under 'Other Skills' next to Dog Training and Full Driving Licence.

We still pay visits to our upstairs neighbours, altering our tack according to our estimation of their irritation upon seeing us. Oscar Wilde once said: "The definition of insanity is to continually repeat the same action in the hope that things will improve". He must have been thinking of this particular case. It doesn't matter if we're understanding and conciliatory, whether we're brash and abrupt, the result is the same: lots of 'I'm really sorry' and 'we'll pay more attention' and then it's back to square one. In the end it boils down to this: some people are just plain uncivil and inconsiderate. I'm sick to death of trying to put myself in the shoes of people who clearly make no attempt on their side to even come an inch towards you. Some people are just incapable of living close to others and quite a few of our neighbours fall into that category.

Friday, 19 September 2008


What a day. Knackered. Twelve hours of music, pretty much non-stop, then home to listen to the neighbours throwing medicine balls around above and below. Not what you'd call restful. Same again tomorrow, just when people with normal jobs are driving out to the country to sip Pimm's on their terraces...Showbiz: everything about it is appealing.

Long working days do make for an extraordinarily one-dimensional life. I didn't see the Fingernails at all after they went into their classrooms this morning. I'll see them tomorrow morning, but then not until dinner time, and that's Saturday I'm talking about. Sunday will be the same. It's almost like before they were born and I certainly don't want to go back to the period of my life, lucrative as it was. Once you've had children, you never want to imagine your life without them.

So just a shorty today, then. Sleep cannot come quickly enough.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Yes, it's a woman!

American politics never cease to amaze me. Having systematically selected the 'only votable' species for over two centuries: a wealthy white, middle-aged man with good Christian values and a wife with sparkling teeth, the World's Greatest Democracy©, economic powerhouse and self-styled Most Advanced Nation On The Planet has woken up, in 2008, to the existence of women. Having discovered black men in 2007 I suppose it was no surprise to see this nation of extremes go the whole hog and offer a potentially powerful soapbox to someone who calls her children Snap, Crackle and Pop and spends her free time murdering defenceless animals. This political heavyweight has already alluded to the possibility of declaring war on Russia, so one can only assume that news of the Soviet Bloc's demise has not yet reached Alaska. She'll be heartbroken when she finds out about John Lennon and his marriage to Cynthia.

The Republicans must have said to themselves: "Those Democrats, they had one of them woman things with those bumps on the front and 18 million people voted for her to be their candidate. Let's see if we can find one, too". Never the sharpest tools in the box, Republican aides set out on foot from Washington DC with diagrams of the strange species they were looking for and clearly couldn't find one until they reached Alaska. And what a one they got. Goodness only knows what would have happened if the be-lipsticked pitbull was out strangling fish the day the politicos called; John McCain would have ended up with a seal or a former shot putter from the other side of the Bering Strait. I can only hope that Sarah Palin's media honeymoon is as short as the average teenager's attention span and that she'll be exposed as the rather dangerous folly she really is.

Women in politics have a chequered history. Ségolène Royal is still as much of a joke as she was in 2007 and the mere mention of Margaret Thatcher's name, eighteen years after she left power, still makes some people reach for the whisky. I don't know much about either Golda Meir or Mrs. Gandhi but Israel has always been able to stand up for itself and India seems to reinvent itself every few years.

So if anyone fancies another spurious, illegal war with all the terrorist threats it will probably entail, put on your silly hat and holler for Palin; a tandem of her and that reactionary fool McCain might end up making us nostalgic for the current incumbent.

Killing Time

No, it's not time to whip the AK47 out of the cupboard and go on a spree; I've got an hour between dropping the Fingernails off at school and the arrival of the chappy who's going to paint out windows. Mrs. Fingers has gone off to the gym so I'm home alone with too little time to start anything more substantial than dashing off a few lines in my diary.

I've started moonlighting at the local nationally-renowned secondary school. It's an hour of English comprehension every week in term-time and I was quite frankly amazed at the standard of the pupils. Having taught at Berlitz in Paris a few years ago I was expecting seven years tuition to equip the students with no more than the ability to order a beer at a football match, so yesterday's find was a revelation. I feel I may even have marked them a little high, such was my surprise at their level. The school is one of the finest in the country and now I'm beginning to understand why.

Back to real work later on. My department had a little impromptu meeting yesterday at how best to tackle the first project up, so today's rediscovery of the workplace has been pleasantly defused. It'll be fun.

Sunday, 14 September 2008


I did my usually silent upstairs neighbour a great disservice in my last post: the noise actually came from the Copacabana Lounge downstairs and the dustbin was full to overflowing this morning with recyclables. Still, the most alarming thing is not the fact that our Brazilians, who have lived in France for the last twelve years, are incapable of disposing of a wine bottle properly; it's the fact that my normally trustworthy ears couldn't tell where the noise was coming from. These old houses were built with medieval Dolby Surround, it appears.

It's time to come clean: having started this blog as a means to just recording my own everyday thoughts I finally gave in to curiosity and decided to register it in a directory. It's part of Expat Blog (; they provided what looked like a hyperlink to show me how to set up a direct connection between the two but the nice little blue word didn't do anything, so I'll just give it a plug right here.

So if anybody does end up reading this, then welcome! Don't expect photos, links to websites or any of that tacky tosh; the beauty of computers is that you can still communicate using nothing more modern than good, old-fashioned words and that's the way I intend to keep it.

Back to work, tomorrow. It's been four months, four countries and a few other engagements since I last darkened their doors contractually and I'm looking forward to it.

Other than that, it was one hell of a dull Sunday. Plus our only city centre park is about to be occupied for a month by a travelling fair. Yes, a whole month. It's called the Fête St. Michel and apparently has its roots in tradition when the eponymous district was awash with vagabonds, thieves, disgruntled waitresses and other assorted ne'er-do-wells. It still is, but it's a lot more expensive, now. This infernal fair isn't even in St. Michel: they've shoved it over the border into our main park which means we have nowhere to take our children after school until the middle of October. Sure, we'll go once to have a ride and a candy floss but we'll have to be creative for the rest of the time.

I also wonder how long it'll take to finish all the work in, on and around the law courts. The little square will be absolutely gorgeous once it's all done, and then maybe the other owners will then up the rent on their properties and get a bunch of tenants in who have some concept of communal living.

Top Floor Entertainment

I don't know what it is about top floor flats, but they only ever seem to attract the most marginal of tenants. OK, they're invariably the smallest, least well-maintained and often bizarrely cut, but it really shouldn't mean that whoever lives up there needs to express his/her individuality by being criminally anti-social. Our new neighbours who live in the studio above our bedrooms have about as much civic conscience as drugged woodlice and this evening it's the turn of the bloke who lives in the one above our sitting room. I'll be fair: we've heard neither sight nor sound of him for weeks, but tonight he seems to be celebrating something and the 300-year-old floorboards are creaking under the weight of the merrymaking. He's normally incredibly discreet but he seems to be spending his capital right now...

The odd ones out in the house are us. We're more or less the only owner-occupiers and are surrounded by single students, Syrian somethings, Brazilian dancers (I kid you not) and an Irish chef. We're also the only ones who ever worry about having a bit of peace and quiet after 8pm. The Brazilian girls have a couple of children but don't appear to be concerned about how much sleep their offspring get. In a normal world we'd be living out in the country in a four-bedroom house, spending money on a time-share on the ring road, but we decided to do things differently. I'm still not sure we made the right choice, regardless of how good the schools are, how expensive the neighbourhood is or how close to my work it's situated. There will always be a downside, and neighbourly noise is the one grabbing all the headlines in our little world at the moment.

The birthday party season has started. Fingernail 1 was invited this afternoon and her little diary is filling up fast. Her birthday is just around the corner, too, so somehow we've got to squeeze a few mini friends into our bijou shoe box for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon before next month. Fingernail 2 feels a bit put out by all of Big Sis's activities but takes it all pretty stoically. Until she starts screaming with jealousy, that is.

Time for bed. Sunday morning in France is one of life's joys: all the important shops are open (wine merchants, newsagents, cafés) and I invariably bump into a coffee-worthy acquaintance at the market. It's a welcome semi-colon in the weekend, especially for those who haven't been able to get out of the city. The Fingernails enjoy their glass of mint syrup, too, so everyone's taken care of.

Monday, 8 September 2008

And hell, what a barbeque it was! Gorgeous house, set in 2.5 hectares of manicured garden, spotless swimming pool, sunny weather and more good food than you could throw a Mr. Creosote at. Wine, beer and good company on tap. Now that's more like it. The Fingernails spent the whole afternoon in the pool and zonked out as soon as their little heads hit the pillow. Which was just as well as the Syrians in the badly-insulated flat upstairs are now five in number, which gives them 5 square metres each. Did I mention there's a ten-month-old baby there, too? If we didn't see any elephants in the Safari Park we can picture a herd of them upstairs: them simply walking around above our bedroom makes the walls shake. I don't know if there's any legal recourse to getting the landlady to at least provide them with a carpet, but we really have to do something before we go crazy by sleep deprivation. Mrs. Fingers realises that she's only going to make herself ill if she carries on fretting about it so we're viewing this situation as a Magic Flute-like series of tests. Whether we fare as well as Tamino and Pamina is still open, though.

Spending time in the country, surrounded by so much space cemented our mid-term decision to move out of the centre. Our delightful little flat will at least remain stable due to its location and virtually all the areas we're looking at are gently falling in price. The ideal time should come in about a couple of years, when we should be able to grab a five-bedroom villa with a pool, seven acres of garden, a live-in nanny and a courtesy helicopter for 45p.

We can dream, can't we? Providing we can get to sleep in the first place, that is.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Now I don't want to get all alarmist on you (on me?), but something's afoot with the quality of the food we're eating. I was born and brought up on English school dinners in the sixties and seventies which basically means I could eat a rancid shoe with melted telephone sauce on top and not feel remotely queasy. In all my now forty-six years of existence I've never had a problem with anything I've eaten, until now. I mentioned a bout of food poisoning from an otherwise charming restaurant in Carcassonne a few months ago and yesterday night, having eaten an innocuous-looking industrial chocolate pudding I was back on the big white telephone to remind God he was still important to me.

OK, two pukes in five months isn't so bad, you might think. It is. When you have no previous history in way over half your natural life expectancy, two food chunders before autumn is harrowing. I don't have facts and figures at my disposal of how poor farmers are being forced to feed dead mice to their chickens or how cows are now ordering Agent Orange aperitifs at the bar, but somewhere we're all being taken for fools. Corn crops are now being channelled towards the production of the Emperor's New Bio Fuels and we're being made to pay through the nose for the sordid muck which is left over. It all makes you want to believe Alan Partridge's famous rant about farmers making pigs smoke.

Other than that, today was a great success. Mrs. Fingers and I set off with the Fingernails a bit later than anticipated to visit a local safari park. It was teeming with rain, but when you've hired a car expressly for this purpose you're not going to let a bit of precipitation put you off. Our Berlingo sat alone in the car park, most of the animals had barricaded themselves into their shelters and the only one who showed a bit of initiative was a zebra who licked our car. The lion was having none of it, though, as were the monkeys, the hippo, the panthers, the jaguars or the kangaroos. The sealion show was cancelled. A couple of Siberian tigers squared up to one another out of sheer boredom but soon gave it up as a bad job. The café was closed and the Fingernails were starving. By the time we got out, all the restaurants in the surrounding towns had finished serving, thus torpedoing our little dream of - gasp! - a lunch out, so we ended up driving home and having a plate of rice to calm our still delicate tummies. Top that if you can.

Tomorrow we're invited to a barbeque...