Thursday, 31 May 2012

Toulouse les Orgues

Taking a brief break from my principal profession as pornographer to frogblog visitors, this morning I accompanied Fingernail I's class to visit a church organ. It's located in a desanctified church which was bought by the private Catholic school to which it is physically attached and is now used for concerts and festivals. It's also in our street, so none of us burned too many calories getting there and back.

The presentation was done by a charity, Toulouse les Orgues, which also stages an organ festival every year. Toulouse is rich in instruments and the concerts attract organ lovers from all over the world. This particular instrument is a Cavaillé-Coll and you can read more about it here.

The visit was complementary to a musical project the children are all participating in called Le Clavier Fantastique, performed in collaboration with the Orchestre National du Capitole. They kept their concentration for a long time and asked some pretty intelligent questions. Our organist-presenter played a piece by Messiaen followed by Bach's ubiquitous Toccata and Fugue in D minor then took all the children up to spacious organ loft (see picture) to show them how the instrument worked. There's an unfunny joke in there, but I can't be bothered. Downstairs, they were able to get some hands-on experience with the help of a few fundamental models of bellows, keys and pipes. Needless to say, it got very loud, very quickly.

 In a country where you really need a toothcomb to find any musical education in state schools, our little local establishment is pretty good: they sing, they take part in cultural projects, they visit famous organs. It's reassuring.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Deauxma keeps 'em coming…(sp?)

Judging by the amount of hits my Deauxma page gets it would be fair to say I no longer have readers, I have viewers. And all because I thought she was just a glamorous housewife. Silly me…

Sunday, 27 May 2012


I'm sitting here boiling eggs, watching eight toasties cooling off on the draining board and waiting for Mrs. Fingers and the Fingernails to come home and wondering if there's anything else I should be getting ready for tomorrow's picnic outing to St. Bertrand de Comminges. Inexpensive red wine may play a part in this sentence, but I'm wondering just how more perfect a husband and father can be. OK, it's not my first glass, but give me a break.

The family is round at the cousins'/brother's/family place. Being of Spanish/guilt-ridden Catholic stock, Mrs. F's sense of time and proportion take an extended holiday whenever she is with the others. That's no bad thing in itself, but it's not as she even enjoys being there with them. No-one exists outside this particular world she is currently suffering from, but tonight did have a first: Fingernail I actually phoned me nearly an hour after I'd finished preparing tonight's dinner to tell me that Mummy was asking if I could prepare tomorrow's picnic lunch. I didn't bother asking what time they thought they'd be coming back; I'd tried that on previous occasions. I suggested they eat before they came back, otherwise I knew they'd pitch up at 10pm with empty stomachs. I know this doesn't sound like any big deal, but you have no idea how unhealthily dishonest this contact is. Mrs. F becomes like an irresponsible ten-year-old, forgets her otherwise Himmleresque-maintained children's mealtimes and seems to feign ignorance when challenged. And for what? It's not like she even has a good time.

There's nothing like a dysfunctional family vortex. Oh, they're home. Three hours late.

Thursday, 24 May 2012


You can wait for years for a big, red bus to come along and take your professional life to the next level, then two come along at the same time. After eight years of time contracts here in France, I've been offered my position permanently. It's a great job and allows me to travel to pursue other interests (South America, Germany etc) so having tenure would allow me to plan the future even more effectively. Just before the offer came through I found an opening in Vienna which was made-to-measure. I applied and received an invitation to meet them and conduct the orchestra. I don't conduct in France (at least not in my day job) and the idea of going back to being paid to stand in front of an orchestra is very attractive. It would mean us moving to Vienna on a time contract, the family learning German (I speak it fluently) and all that at a period when my employer here is prepared to may me until I retire (which I'll never do). Vienna is sending me some music to prepare, so I'll see how much I like the look of what they're performing at the moment. In any case, I'd like to meet up with these people again; maybe there'd be the possibility of a one-off gig later if I decide to stay here.

Some would say "Stay!"; some would say "Go!" The children would benefit both her and there (there's a French school in Vienna which follows the national curriculum) so the questions to be answered wold be more existential. I've got time before I have to reply.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Sergeant Bilko, France's new president

Just watched François Hollande's first press conference with Angela Merkel. Apparently, Emperor Flanby's plane was struck by lightening four minutes after take off, but still he persisted. He reached Berlin eventually, but it doesn't really auger well, does it? Anyhow, I found this picture of him and Dominique Strauss-Kahn in happier, sepia-tinted days, when maybe the country did resemble the fairy-tale la-la land he described during his election campaign:

Unless Frau Merkel manages to get her way (and I REALLY hope she does) it's only just started to go tits up, let me tell yer…

Monday, 14 May 2012

If this is road safety, I'm taking the train.

I accompanied Fingernail I's class to a road safety drill this afternoon, run by the police. They've got a nice little facility, tucked into a spot of no-man's land in the middle of a motorbike race track next door to Francazal military aerodrome. It's actually nicer than it sounds, believe it or not. The children all started with a fifteen-minute test on the Highway Code, then split up into groups to variously cycle, then walk around the circuit, comprised of traffic lights, zebra crossings, left and right turns etc. Just like a mini urban landscape, in fact, providing your idea of a town is one that includes no buildings. They appeared to have little or no guidance beyond 'Walk round the circuit clockwise in pairs and obey the lights'. Then it was all change: pedestrians became cyclists and vice versa. This went on for about an hour but its structure seemed to owe more to free jazz than to disciplined instruction. When that was all over, everyone trooped off to the clubhouse to get their marks - or so we thought - and have a summing up from the police. None of it. 'Congratulations, you all passed the test!' declared a comely lady police officer. Well, what about correcting the mistakes, ironing out misunderstandings? No way, José! This version of the Green Cross Code was more like a Labour Party Political Broadcast: "You're all brilliant, you're all winners! Now it's time to hand out your prizes and have some cake!". Coming hard on the heels of François Hollande's bogus election campagne this whole Road Safety Light episode made me feel distinctly queasy. Each child was awarded a 'Pedestrian Licence' (sponsored by the MAIF, who had a salesman RIGHT there, dontchaknow), a wraparound bicycle clip and a flourescent jacket. Everyone cheered as each child was called out, a crescendo resulting in sugar-fuelled euphoria after sixty-two presentations and the obligatory orange juice and biscuits afterwards. The din in the coaches going back to the centre was deafening and didn't abate until all the children had safely dispersed into the bowels of the school; They looked like a swarm of genetically-modified, glow-in-the-dark wasps and our delicate, adult heads were pounding by the time we were relieved of our duties.

It was fun, but it wasn't instructive. OK, the afternoon should have been enjoyable but the whole point of these exercises is ultimately to educate and, hopefully, save lives; not just entertain. I do not understand why the monitors didn't go over the right answers. After all, most children would have just applied the multiple guess principle to the questions. They're generally bright kids, but that's no reason not to make sure they really understand it. I won't be letting the Fingernails cross any major roads on their own, yet…

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Lo Stivale Restaurant, Toulouse

Went to this little gem this lunchtime for the first time with a few friends. It's tucked away off the beaten track behind Toulouse's fashionable Carmes neighbourhood. The address is 10, rue des Moulins and you can get them on the blower if you dial 05 62 26 28 19. The voluptuous waitress, worthy of her own post à la Deauxma in this august journal, will bring you excellent antipasti and a more than acceptable bottle of Montepulciano which, even if not cheap, is a rich and fruity delight. The boss and chef, Albano, does a great job and his efforts should be rewarded. Just behind us was a table of eight trainee catholic priests, who sung grace in harmony just before their salads arrived, which caused everyone else to look up, if only briefly, from their caciocavallo and mortadella. Two courses, wine and (superb) coffee put us back €20 each (the bottle was €25 divided by four, but you don't need to spend that much). Here's more info:

Buon appetito…

EELV: Presumptuous idiots.

This is absolutely staggering: the French political party Europe Ecologie/Les Verts - or EELV to all those who don't give a damn about them - under the leadership of Eva Joly, polled 2.3% of the vote in the first round of the French election on April 22nd. Barely has Flanby Hollande scraped in and this collection of ragtag and bobtail opportunists has held a straw poll among their membership and found that an extraordinarily high percentage would like to be part of the new government. With 2.3% of the vote! The Green Party leader Cécile Duflot was on the radio yesterday, explaining to a bemused audience just why they should be up there having their say (as opposed to the UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy with 27% and  the Front National's Marine le Pen with 18% in the first round) but failed to convince the listenership, who voted 75% that she should stay exactly where her party's legitimacy lies: in the wilderness. It was incredibly crass and not a little ill-judged, but that just sums up the bunch of disconnected hippies that represent that worthy cause. Significant ecological measures are already in place and are endorsed by all political parties, but no doubt these left-wing energy fascists are keener to have a chauffeur-driven Velsatis and free luxury flat in Paris than we think, whilst upping energy costs for everyone else by abandoning nuclear-generated electricity. Get stuffed, the lot of you.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

If you're bored with European news, try PRAVDA.

Yes, the iconic, Soviet-era journal of truth lives on, post-Yeltsin, in a sanitised, western form and is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary. It's still absolutely barking mad, though, and provides the average Joe with a much more entertaining canon of news pieces than our predictable dailies who mention nothing beyond French and Greek irresponsibility, over-budget Olympic games and Pakistani vice-rings. Here's a selection of this evening's headlines:

Marilyn Monroe was cooperating with KGB as 'Masha'

Naked taxi driver sentenced to coercive medical treatment

Armenia punished for boycotting Eurovision

Woman shoots her partner dead while dancing

Man lives in haystack for one month eating snow 

AND (my favourite):

Moldova cancelled.
All these are actual news items available as we speak on I suggest you give this website a go. Apart from anything else, the journalists actually nail their colours to the mast, which makes a change from their French counterparts' tiresome habit of avoiding any question which could see them kicked off the gravy train they so gleefully ride at the expense of actually doing their job. will also offer you some risqué links to other sites, should you be so inclined, so what's not to love. All aboard the train to Moscow!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Dear France: Your new president is a joke.

Well, the tidal wave of anti-Sarkozy sentiment really happened. Never before has an educated, western electorate rejected an incumbent president in such numbers and with such unanimity. Let's have a look at those figures again, shall we?

François Hollande:   51.6%    (18,004,656 votes)
Nicolas Sarkozy:      48.4%    (16,865,340 votes)

That's a landslide if ever I saw one. In fact, it's the tightest margin in the history of the French Fifth Republic. Benedict Brogan in the Daily Telegraph wrote a very interesting piece:

…which is worth a few minutes of your time. Even though I'm firmly to the right of anything that happens in the political world I still hope that the newly-elected blancmange is up to the task, otherwise it's curtains for France and Europe.

The (left-wing) French media are trying to talk up a Mitterand-style euphoria but the people aren't buying into it; there's as much scepticism now as there was anti-Sarko sentiment back in 2007. Bearing in mind there was no crisis on the horizon five years ago the immediate future is going to be interesting, to say the least. Flanby's acceptance speech started well but degenerated into a long-winded series of empty platitudes which negated his initial, almost statesmanlike utterings. Sarkozy was gracious in defeat, almost relieved, might one say; the upcoming presidential term is a poisoned chalice and the eyes of the world will be on the latest incumbent…

Saturday, 5 May 2012

The gormless left are coming!

This photo is one of my favourites. It features three supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon's 'Front de Gauche' shortly before he addressed an open-air meeting in Toulouse's Place du Capitole a few weeks ago. He was advocating a 'revolution' to seize the power from the haves, give everything to the oppressed etc etc yawn, bore, hence the ridiculous headwear our heros are sporting. What I love about it is the comfortable, middle-class faces of the two on the left of the picture - little Marcels and Claude-Didiers if ever there were any - and the apparent absence of any brain activity in the bloke on the right, who seems to have his work cut out simutaneously breathing and standing. The left, in a nutshell, basically.
This on the eve of France's probable crowning of Emperor Flanby tomorrow evening on the eight o'clock news, a president by default if ever there was one. Consider this: everyone you speak to tells you how much Sarkozy is hated, yet the 'great favourite' Hollande just beat him by just 1.5% in the first round and probably won't beat him by more than 5% in tomorrow's run-off. Hardly a candidate (or president) to inspire confidence, wouldn't you say? After all, we all know everything important is decided in Brussels, so what's the role of the president, anyway? If that's the case, then why don't we at least have someone charismatic? If he can't actually do anything, he could at least look and sound good. Flanby doesn't even do that. Let's face it; France is done for for the foreseeable future. And seeing things never really improve, long-term, that'll be done for for ever. How I hope I'm wrong, oh so wrong…

Sub-human jobsworths.

Yes, they exist in every country. The Fingernails have swimming lessons every Friday evening in one of Toulouse's majestic public baths. Seeing as I hate French swimming pools, I never take a dip while they're in the pool next door, choosing instead to read my book in the viewers' gallery. I slip through the turnstile to help them get changed and put the clothes into a locker beforehand, then slip the turnstile again at the end when I see them leaving the pool at the end of their tuition. It's no big deal, I see people doing it all the time in the underground and even the on-duty staff never say a word (as they're probably related to most of them, anyway).

Anyhow, yesterday, after trying unsuccessfully to get through with my daughters at the beginning of the session the pool staff seemed to have my number and I was barked at like a scrofulous dog as I was easing myself through the portico later on to go and help the girls get dressed. I explained what I was doing to the 'man', who, with his tattoos, piercings and squat stature looked more like a cross between a lobotomised ape and a council estate launderette than a sports functionary. 'They'll have to cope on their own; you're not going to help them', he barked. I replied, almost politely, that they were six and nine years old and I was not going to leave them on their own in a communal changing room. He told me I was 'defrauding' the pool by entering without a ticket, to which I replied that I didn't need one as I was not going to use the facilities. 'What if everyone did what you do?' he ventured. 'Well, society would be brought to its knees, of course', I replied 'But before that happens, I'm going to help my daughters get dressed'. I also pointed out that I was not 'defrauding' anyone or anything since I was not making use of any facilities, was taking nothing from the building and, in any case, possessing a free municipal pool pass, could use the whole place for free if I wanted to. 'Where's your card, then?' he snapped. 'At home, as I never swim here' I countered. The sports centre manager then came up and explained very patiently and politely what the house policy was, then asked his co-worker to let me through on this occasion. Another completely unnecessary encounter. Sports centres in this country depress me, anyway. They're populated by jobsworths and are generally quite dirty, despite the claims of almost nazi-like cleanliness by the people in charge. What's more, because the population is basically physically quite dirty and undisciplined, they make you wear speedos and swimming caps, a measure you never find in truly clean countries, like Germany. As we approached, there was a group of council estate heros just leaving, one of them playing to the gallery with his intelligent party trick: holding a lighter to his can of hairspray, making it into a flamethrower. You've no idea how much I hate living in cities, now; populated by cretins, they're just all filth and incivility.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

French Presidential Debate on Television

There's a statistic which claims - possibly accurately - that televised political debates have no influence on voting intentions. After listening to last night's debate between President Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande and listeners' reactions on the radio this morning I tend to believe this assumption a little more.

I found Sarkozy much more convincing on every front. Hollande interrupted continually and showed little or no respect for his adversary's right to airtime. As the representative of the political class who has continually criticised the outgoing president's lack of gravitas, the socialist candidate behaved in a fashion we reluctantly equate with the less-desirable denizens of the country's appalling sink estates. Yet many people found the opposite, claiming that Hollande was the more credible candidate, that Sarkozy was vulgar etc. In the end, everyone found more than enough to praise in their chosen candidate. In terms of entertainment it was quite good, but had I listened in just after getting off the latest flying saucer from Mars, I'd have cast my vote for the incumbent. Which just goes to prove my last point, I suppose.

It's easy to be more outspoken and promise more if you've never put your neck on the block, and this situation favours the candidate who has never had to make unpopular decisions. Sarkozy is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I'd feel more comfortable with his brain and knowledge at the helm than that of his spineless, posturing opponent.

Hollande will probably win the second round this Sunday, May 6th. It won't be the end of the world but I'm hoping he'll screw it up sufficiently to send the socialists into the wilderness for the foreseeable future, the way they have been in the UK. With less damage to the country, with any luck…