Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Anger Management or Bureaucracy #2

So with all of this bookmooching, I've been getting lots of book-sized parcels arriving from around the world. Unfortunately, I've also got that pesky day job so I'm often not at home when the postman rings (no, just once).

When this happens, I get a little note telling me to go to the post office to pick my parcel up. Not the same day of course — that would be too convenient — the next day. But not if the next day is a Saturday because my agence postale is closed on Saturdays.

Last week, I found the little note on Friday so had to waituntil the Monday afternoon to pick my parcel up. But I got to the post office only to find the door closed with an unapologetic hand-written notice on it. The agency was closed for two weeks for a holiday (!), but parcels could still be picked up at the main Post Office. My blood pressure did a little war dance.

The next day, I got another of those chits and so took them both to the main post office. I queued for the usual eternity and smiled my best bonjour when it was my turn to approach the hallowed counter. I presented my two slips of paper along with a public transport card
with my photograph and name on it which I'd dug out of my bag.

"What's that?" said the guy behind the counter as if I'd placed a steaming turd on his desk.
"I.D.", I said.
"No, it's not", he said.
"Yes, it is. Look it's got my name and photograph on it. Is that me or is that not me?"
"It's not a passport or a driving licence. For all I know, you found this card in the street."
"It would be a strange coincidence if I'd found a card in the street that just happened to have my photo on it!"

By this time, I was protesting in rather a loud voice, and peppering the argument with ill-advised asides such as "Vivement la privatisation!". That was stupid, I know from experience that one should never argue — it's best to feign contriteness. People started staring, but the nasty little man wouldn't budge and I left huffing and puffing without my parcels.

I went away for a couple of days after that and forgot all about the parcels. When I got back there was another chit for a third parcel on the doormat, and I thought, great, I'll be able to kill three birds with one piece of ID. Only this time the parcel had to be picked up from, wait for it, yet another post office at the other end of town.

On Saturday morning, I finally got round to going back to pick up the first two parcels. I'd looked out my passport and I was ready to be polite to the self-appointed guardian of my reading materials. He wasn't there, and the parcels were handed over without me being asked for any proof of identity whatsoever.

I haven't been to get the third parcel yet. It's just too emotionally draining.

Bureaucracy schmoorokratie

Yesterday I signed E. up for a new recreation centre. I had to take with me:
  • our most recent tax returns
  • proof that we live at the address we live at
  • an identity photograph
  • a document from social security
  • an insurance document
  • a family allowance document
  • a certificate from our doctor
  • E's medical records for vaccination dates
  • certificates from our employers
One of these I had to forge.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Saturday, September 08, 2007

I want to ride my bicycle

When I was nineteen, I spent the summer working on a campsite in Carnac in Brittany. I worked for a cheapskate camping company that wouldn't buy its couriers mobylettes which was a shame because riding a mobylette was really the best thing about being a courier. One day I went to a hypermarket in Vannes and bought a bicycle. It was a lovely brick red model with a basket on the front and "Jacques Anquetil" emblazoned in ochre letters on the frame.

At the end of the summer I took the bike back with me to Edinburgh and spent my student years using it on and off to cycle up and down hills in the city. Then I came to live in France and I can't quite remember how, but the bicycle came back over too at some point. I think I neglected it a bit for a while, not because I had learned how to drive (although I had) but because Bordeaux is a compact city and I tended to walk everywhere.

Then I rediscovered the joys of sailing past cars in traffic jams and started cycling to work. But at some time in the nineties my trusty bicycle was stolen from the university garage.

I have a beautiful new bike now, but whenever I see an old one that's just the right shape and the right colour and with the same replacement lamp at the front as my old one, I still do a quick check to see if it says "Jacques Anquetil" on the frame. I'm not quite sure what I would do if it did, run after it and challenge the owner to prove that it was really theirs, as opposed to mine from 10+ years ago?

Monday, September 03, 2007


While we were in Scotland over the summer, we took the children on the train up to Edinburgh and spent the day sightseeing. The Francoscotlets were underwhelmed but P. and I had a great time, although it did feel a bit strange being a mere tourist in a city I once knew intimately.

The city also kept popping up in things I was reading* and watching.
First in a biography of Bruce Chatwin by Nicholas Shakespeare. Chatwin spent a couple of years in a flat on the Canongate in a "nasty building with a good address". It seems that he hated "the gaunt northern capital" for its strait-laced society, its weather and it's sexual climate. No doubt the antipathy was mutual.

Then I saw a BBC4 documentary called "Ian Rankin's Hidden Edinburgh" during which I discovered that although you can't actually see the South Bridge because building were built backing onto both sides, it is still actually there and you can even visit the vaults underneath. Whole families used to live in this warren of underground rooms (which more or less brings us back to my last post). In fact, Edinburgh is such a many layered, many faceted city that it almost seems to have been built with novels about hidden depths in mind.

Kate Atkinson's "One Good Turn" also turned out to be set in Edinburgh. One of the less sympathetic characters — a festival performer — declares that it's a great city "fantastic to look at and all that, but it has no libido". A discussion ensues about which cities do have a libido - Rio de Janiero, Marseille... But the main character Martin concludes that "it was true that Edinburgh didn't have a libido, but would you want to live in a city that did?"

Well, would you?

* I've changed the LibraryThing widget in the sidebar and now it shows the books I've added recently, so you can see what I'm reading now rather than what I might — or might not — have been reading last year or when I was 18.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Spare rooms

Last week SusieJ wrote about a dream in which she showed her mother around her lake house and discovered that it had nine floors. I left a comment saying that I often used to have dreams about opening a door in our last (small) house and discovering that there were several more rooms that we had simply forgotten about. The dream would always end with a wonderful feeling of relief and a resolution to make more use of the masses of space I had rediscovered.
Now, we live in house with rooms in the attic that we really don't ever use and so I have moved on to dreams about extra apartments in town that we'd forgotten we had - "you know, we really should rent out that penthouse flat we have lying empty in the city centre, the extra income might come in handy."
Then yesterday, I read this post about a man in Turkey who broke through a wall at the back of a house and discovered "a room that he'd never seen,
which led to still another, and another. Eventually, spelunking archeologists found a maze of connecting chambers that descended at least 18 stories and 280 feet beneath the surface, ample enough to hold 30,000 people
Bldgblog points out, with a link to a previous post, that this might be the ultimate undiscovered room fantasy. I knew that some of my friends have had my undiscovered room dream too, (do you?) but when I followed the link and read all of the comments, I discovered (with some dismay, because nobody likes to discover that their fantasy world is, well, common) that it is a well-known phenomenon. One of the comments even had a link to this cartoon:

Slow Wave Live, originally uploaded by ranjit.

But as one of the other commenters sort of says, maybe the internet version of the fantasy is to discover a new site with links that lead to untold reserves of new pages and blogs and and surfing delight. Only to come back and discover that it has all gone 404.


Being confined indoors most of the day, just the four of us, is reminding me of the days when my children were wee and most of our weekends ...