Wednesday 30 September 2015

Joys of Autumn

Well, of course there's garden tasks to be done.   The grass is a lush green again after the summer drought, so needs frequent cutting.  And the logs need to be split and stacked before the winter rains really set in.  The Wisteria is scrambling over the roof, and I've taken it off before it does any more damage to the tiles.  Now to replace the tiles.

The garden is blooming well, with Dahlias now at their best.  I have several new ones this year and they all seem to be doing well.

I grew this grass from seed this year, and although it's pretty, I fear it might spread a bit rampantly.  The dwarf Asters are looking nice; the taller ones are not all out yet.

Finally, some yellows.  I think the daisy-like ones are hardy prennials, but I have forgotten what they are.  And the (yellow) red-hot poker, a gift from June (thanks, June!) survived last winter after its autumnal re-housing, and is now blooming nicely.  (Though I think she'd prefer if I called it kniphofia).

And now I'm off to do some more work re-fixing the tiles that were dislodged by the Wisteria.

Sunday 27 September 2015

Saturday 26 September 2015


I do enjoy a good walk around the countryside, and last week I took one for no good reason aside from wanting to get out.  I thought that this windmill made a fine sight, standing out against the cloudy backdrop.  Presumably it's still pumping up water, but I wonder how they knew where to put it.  Does dowsing really work?   I don't think that this isolated farm building is inhabited any more.  It looks quite a lonely place to live, if anyone is still there.

Coming back into the village, I note that the ugly, rusty corrugated iron sheets that used to serve as a gate to the local château have been replaced by ugly grey iron gates.  I get the impression that the owner is a bit above country plebs like us, since the first thing he did when he bought the place, was raise the walls, and plant tall-growing trees around the garden.  I parked in his driveway for a few minutes last year to deliver something to the fête that was going on, and in the time time it took me to do so, the owner was out complaining about the car.  I apologised when I moved it and he studiously ignored me, so I have concluded that he's mal élevé too.

The abandoned car is nearer to home.  I'm sure it could find someone to love it and restore it, given the opportunity.

Sunday 20 September 2015

A french marriage, with music

Félicitations à Caroline et Mathieu

Wednesday 16 September 2015


I got the electronic version of Adam Smith's book Wealth of Nations a while back.  Like, I suspect, many people, I started but haven't finished it.   However P. J. O'Rourke has a nice modern summary, and I'm currently reading that.  It seems to cover the main points, and in a more readable, modern style.

One of Smith's basic points is that by division of labour, or if you like, specialisation, production can be increased, and if there is an adequate transport network to distribute the extra goods that result, this creates greater total wealth.

As an example he considers three manual workers, Tom Dick and Harry who make pins.  Each can make, say, 10 pins per day, drawing out the wire, cutting it to length, sharpening one end and fashioning a head on the other.  Each has his own wire-drawing machine, grindstone, and hammer for making the head.  Between them they make 30 pins per day.

Smith points out that if each specialises, Tom in drawing the wire and cutting it, Dick in sharpening one end, and Harry hammering out the head, they can typically make more pins between them than the sum of their individual efforts; say 50 or 100 pins per day, and they only need one set of tools instead of three.

It is mathematical and physical truth (I learned at uni) that fully optimised systems are less stable in response to external perturbations than less optimised systems.  High-performance cars are less reliable than family saloons, for example.  We can demonstrate this with our pin makers by considering what happens when Tom takes time off work for 'Flu.   In our first example, pin production goes from 30 per day to 20.  In the second it goes from 100 to zero, and, assuming that they are as specialised as the term implies, production stops until Tom gets back.   And if TDH inc are supplying pins on a just-in-time basis for some other customer, the shock propagates.

I can't help but notice how specialised and optimised our world is, and wondering what's going to trip it up.  Looks like it might be a financial thing, but you never know.  And secondly, I'm always a bit suspicious of people who demand the last bit of optimisation of any process.  It has a cost.

Saturday 12 September 2015

Zero-sum game

If you stay in a hotel, B&B, or chambres d'hôtes in France, chances are that you will be stung for a little tax at the end of your stay: the taxe de séjour.   Sometimes the establishments include it in their general charges, other times it's separated out.  It's normally not a large amount, around a Euro or so, and it's normally levied per person-night.  Its purpose is ostensibly to enhance the area in which you are are staying, to make it more attractive to you, make your stay more pleasant, and thereby also to increase tourism and help the local businesses.

French people mostly holiday in francophone countries, and usually this means France.  The taxe de séjour is levied more or less everywhere, in what is essentially a competition to beggar the neighbour by attracting the tourist over here rather than over there.  It's a zero sum game, and in the end everybody just pays more tax, but perhaps the French countryside is generally better, or more interesting, as a result.

Our area doesn't have a taxe de séjour, but the plan is to introduce one from 2016.  This is to help fill the gaps left by the drop in funding from the central state.  Quelle surprise.  We don't like it, but what can you do?  We had a chat with our mayor about it.  It's likely to be a small amount, something between 50 and 70 centimes, so not too onerous, and, he promises us, it's to help us in selling our gîte.  This is the stated purpose, of course, to attract tourists, to bring us more customers.  Right.

Our gîte has capacity for 30 people, and we always rent the whole place to a single group.  So it's a candidate for the shortlist if you are organising a family or other kind of reunion, say for a birthday, to celebrate a marriage anniversary, and so on.  What our clients don't do is decide to visit one or more of the local attractions, and then wonder where to stay.  If anything it's the other way around: once they have decided they're coming to us, they look around for things they might do while they're here.  Our contention is therefore that the local tourist bodies should be compensating us for the people we attract and who then spend money in the local touristy places, not the inverse.  Not going to happen, of course.

We got detailed news of the tax plans a little while back.  Whereas hotels will be billed a person-night rate, we hear that the civil servants can't be bothered to verify all the fiddly amounts coming from furnished holiday lets like ours, and therefore we, and other owners of such lettings will be expected to pay a fixed amount per year.  It will be calculated on the basis of a fixed person-night rate (about twice that for hotels - why?), multiplied by the capacity, dropped back by 50% to allow for less-than full occupancy, and applied to every day that the place is, in principle, open.  We are not happy.

Our place is, (at the moment) open for business all year (we take holidays as and when gaps in the lettings permit) and most of our clients stay for at most two nights of the weekend.  The bottom line is that if applied in its current form to our availability times as currently managed, we have a new tax of just under €4,000 per year to collect from our customers.   And the person-night tax rate is about 4 times the originally projected amount as a result.   We and others have made our protests, but we will have to see what happens.

I have a number of problems with the whole thing:

1) It shows a huge disconnect between the taxing bodies and the businesses they are supposed to serve.  It's not difficult to ascertain the average occupancy rates for tourist accommodation in this area, and they are vastly different from the basis used for this calulation.

2) It's a fixed amount to pay per year, regardless of the number of customers, and hence revenues, hence profits.  France is notoriously hostile to small businesses, and one of the reasons is the amount of the fixed charges (charges de structure) that you have to pay regardless of your revenues, profits or losses.  This is an extra, special one for people in the tourist accommodation business.  No clients in 2016?  Tough, that's 4 grand to you, squire.

3) How much do we collect?  We don't know on the 1st January, how many customers we're going to get that year.  So how to apportion the fixed tax between them?  What happens if we collect too much?  Too little?


Wednesday 9 September 2015


I had occasion to go into the Orange shop in Laval, and since there is a coffee shop just opposite, planned also to have a late breakfast and coffee.  My memory of the bar is of an old-fashioned typical French coffee bar/restaurant; slightly faded decor, dim lighting, and in particular, a loo on the other side of the corridor, that you have to ask the barman for a key for.

Wrong!  The place has been modernised: dramatic colour scheme, sensible lighting levels, comfortable furniture, disabled accessible toilets, mulitple named types of coffee and tea, and fancy pastries and tarts.  Two coffees and a little chocolate tart cost us just over 10 euros. I guess that you have to respond to changing markets, and the banning of ciggie smoking indoors has changed the clientelle for these kinds of places.

I find it's both good and bad.  I can see the point of making sure, for example, that modernised business premises are accessible to people with various kinds of disabilities, but do I not, as an able-bodied person, also have the right to enjoy quirky, difficult but characterful places where the loos are down the corridor, up the narrow spiral stairs and under the low beam?

Thursday 3 September 2015


We're starting to get that end-of-Summer, autumnal nip in the air in the morning.  We had our first morning mist the other day, rising up from the river down the hill.

Today dawned cool and sunny, so we went down to the restaurant by the river for our morning coffee.  I have to confess to a second motive; there's a really cute young ginger stripey cat that has appeared, (s)he's very friendly, and we took some food down to see if we could tempt it.

Meanwhile, the work on turning the old mill into a restaurant is continuing.  The front has been covered in a cement screed prior to a coat of coloured enduit (no idea of the english word; enduit is a mix of sand and lime).  On the back, the stones are still visible, the outer part of the grout between them having been removed.  I don't know if they intend to cover them up like they have done at the front, but in my view, they would look better if left exposed.

I was interested to see the use of copper for the guttering and the downpipes.  You can see in the picture that the copper guttering almost exactly matches the tiles for colour.  I hope that the colour will be preserved over time; if the copper turns green it will look awful, I'm sure.

They seem to be doing their best to ensure that the building never works again as a mill.  The end of the mill race has been walled off, and I'm told that the intention is to fill what was the race, with gravel.

And to round off, a couple of pics; the first of the river that was sparkling in the morning sun, and the second of men at work.  I was going to say that I could watch people at work all day, but in fact if they were in an office, it would be like watching paint dry.  Construction workers outside are OK though.

The ginger cat wasn't there.

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