Sunday, 30 May 2010

France life Health

The french health system is said to be the best in the world but you pay!
If we set up a company and pay ourselves a salary the contribution from the company is over 40% to the health and social security and we would have to pay 11% of our salary as well. As a self employed person the contributions start at approx €3500 pa for the first year and then €4500 in the second. On top of this there is the TOP UP. The health service only pay a percentage of the cost of each visit or medicine. It ranges from 70% for the majority and for some key illnesses and conditions they cover 100% ( diabetes, heart attack etc)
So when you go to your GP he charges you €23. you get 15 refunded from the state and the top up pays another 7 leaving the customer to always pay the last euro.
Assuarnce as insurance is called here, is a different set up to the UK. No talking dogs who ski, no meerkats and no discounts. You sign up with a major company or the bank and it is assummed that you will carry on with them If you want to leave at the end of a years contract, you need to give them 2 months notice in writing, if not they carry on at their new rate.
The health top up itself offers 6 or 7 different levels plus add ons. This is because the base figure paid by the state for treatment stays the same even if the doctor or consultant charges more. An example a specialist charges €70 rather than the standard 23. the state refund 15 and then depending which top up level you have elected for you get the relevant return. 100% tariff returns €5 leaving you to pay the other €50 whereas the top level 300% pays the standard €23 three times over minus 1 so you get €68 and only have to pay €2. But at what cost? A mid range policy is approx €120 a month for the top up for J and I. So that's a starting figure from the business of €3500 per annum plus a top up of approx €1500 so €100 euros a week. We hope we dont have to use it but if we do it had better be good

Friday, 28 May 2010

Football's coming home

We still believe
We still believe
We still believe
It's coming home
It's coming home
It's coming
Football's coming home

France has been selected to host Euro 2016. I don't think it will have a huge effect on Champniers but who knows?
Pity we had to move to France to get the tournament at "home" but then Platini is French isnt he

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Paris in the Springtime

Paris was superb last weekend. J's team lost the rugby but the game was ok, The Stade de France is everything that you would expect from a national stadium including good transport links. Wembley take note.
The temperature was up in the thirties, so a bit hot and sweaty and unfortunatly whilst the majority of Paris was it's beautiful self, there was an outbreak of "youth summer". This manifests itself to me in two ways, depending on the sex. For the ladies we have the DIRTY BRA STRAP. It must be on show, it must be a completely different colour to all other clothing and it must partly cover a tattoo. And for the men we have the NO WAIST JEANS. Call me a prude, call me old fashioned but why do they call the thing at the top of a pair of jeans a waist if you are supposed to wear it round your bollocks. Why does the crutch have to touch the floor? These guys look like they have put on their little brothers jeans by mistake or they leave their Granny to buy their clothes for them
So I guess my message to the young is simple, girls don't make a tit of yourself and boys don't be an arse. Never mind the rugby hey...

Monday, 17 May 2010

Choosing the Cafe

We visited France in August 09 and saw a cafe for sale. It was perfect, beautiful position, good business but unfortunatly wasn't for us, not enough space. It was enough though to make us realise that running a cafe was an option and so when we got back home we started to plan. We put the house on the market and our decisions became based on when and not if. The house was sold stc in late Jan 2010. We took a week off work and travelled to France to view 7 cafes, all different but all within a 50km radius. We had done our homework on the internet, using various websites including streetwise, to see the villages, the locations and get a feel for each.
Of the seven. We eventually viewed six as one sold two days before we got there. All different and very difficult to compare. One had letting rooms, one had a gite, one had a huge garden, another had none.
We were fairly specific in what we wanted, a cafe/bar with a bit of character, decent private accomodation with space for friends and family to stay,a private garden, something we could put our mark on ( whatever our mark turns out to be!) and finally it had to be capable of taking some money. The last point is important but was not the deciding factor. Our plan is for this to be a lifestyle job. We dont plan to employ anybody so it's got to be what we can manange and no more. If it's too big it was out

A busy week seeing six cafes. We were welcomed in all and all had good points but we had to make a choice. The first looked as though it could only operate in one way and we would have just been the new owners with no other changes. The second was a restaurant rather than a cafe. The fourth was just rubbish accomodation. The fifth nearly got us going but the bar was too small, it felt like the customers were sitting in your lounge. The sixth was a disgrace and the owner should be prosecuted under each and every advertising law.

This left number 3. The cafe bar is in a small village called Champniers about 30 miles south of Poitier in the Vienne department. It has been closed for just over two years so has no "business" but everything else looked good. It has three public rooms, a bar which holds maybe 20 seats, a small restaurant which holds another 20 and a large function room which can seat up to 100 and opens up many possibilities.

This was the one for us. An opportunity to start from scratch in a small village.
There is a fairly large english population in the area so we can appeeal to both nationalities. We negotiated the price, worked out what needs doing before we start( more of that later as we go through it) and last Wednesday finally put pen to paper. we take possession on June 16th 2010 and hope to serve our first drinks at the beginning of August.
The dream is turning to reality and the todo list is getting longer and longer.
But the consulation, little traffic, lovely surroundings, it wasnt dark until 10pm last night, the sun is already shining today and I can smell the fresh bread from the bakery.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Cycling the Vendee

J's bike was buckled beyond repair so we bought her another on Saturday. It was "occasion" which is French for second hand. I thought it was a description of how often it would get used so it seemed perfect. This meant that on Sunday we were going for a bike ride no matter what. I agreed as long as we were back indoors for the 20/20 final.
So we got ready. For me that means find a pair of sunglasses. For J, suncream, gloves, change clothes, change shoes, "just put the handlebars up a couple of inches" an extra fleece on the bike rack and water. I managed to convince her we most probably wouldn't need the sat nav.
We have new bike hats. I have never worn one before, I thought they were poncy and unneccessary but a good friend of ours, a very keen cyclist, in Paris is in hospital and has been for 6 months after being knocked off his bike on a cycle track. Get well soon Thierry!
So hats, it is.
Preperation took a good half hour but success we are off. Tour de France or the Vendee at least. We got as far as the village square, which must be 200 metres at least and J loses a chain and we dont even have one of those Skodas behind us with a new bike on top to swap to. Chain repaired, a quick lesson on changing gear one at a time so the chain stays in place and off we go.
This area of the Vendee is very flat, most of it was marshland reclaimed from the sea by monks a few hundred years ago. It is very fertile for the farmers but also has a large variety of wildlife especially birds. The whole area is split with canals and drainage ditches and the cycle tracks mostly follow the canals rather than the roads.
Just cycling along you see herons and other wading birds in the ditches, there are plenty of birds of prey including large buzzards above and the whole time you ride to the tune of countless cuckoos and frogs.
It's funny how when you ride you dont notice the wind when it's helping you but when you turn round, wow, where did that come from. I quickly realised that I am not very aerodynamic whilst sitting perched. I cheated, I tried to slipstream J but that didnt work, the middle half of me was ok but the exposed outside took even more of a battering.
We made it back in time and was it worth it! Great to see England beat the Aussies so convincingly even if we are only just more english than Arsenal. Let's hope this is an omen for a similar result on July 11th.

We are off to Paris this week, we have tickets to the Heineken cup final. We are going to see Toulouse V BO but i think we will be ok. Our seats are downwind.

Friday, 14 May 2010

The mysteries of the French way of life (Bank Holidays)

Just a quickie. Yesterday was the third Bank Holiday so far this month. The first two fell on a Saturday, the third on a Thursday. Today is "le pont" which basically means that as yesterday was a day off and tomorrow is a Saturday we will bridge it and take a day off so no post, no school etc. Remembering back to MFI days, bank holidays we opened. Here the local supermarket plays a guessing game, on the first they closed, on the eigth they opened and on the 13th they opened a half day. We have one more bank holiday to come this month on the 24th, I have a €10 bet that they will open and close alternate hours

The mysteries of the French way of life (Parking)

sorry to write about a subject so boring but on our road in St Michel we have the sign you see in our picture. There is of course only one sign because there are four entrances to the road. It means that you may park in the road but on the side and dates as indicated by the sign. What a good idea you say. This means that each side of houses gets a fair share of people parking outside their doors which is quite correct. Except of course that you don't actually follow the instruction, that would be far to easy. On the 16th we arrived back to an empty road so parked on the side of the road as indicated on the sign. An hour later there was a knock at the door to tell us we were causing a blockage and lo and behold, there were 5 other cars parked on the alternate side of the road and the traffic chicaning around our car. But why? we asked, only to be told that there had been some road works and no parking was allowed so we were making up days!!!
We relented and moved. We parked on that side until the first of May. On May the first, which was a bank holidy even though it was a Saturday, we decided to keep an eye out and move the car when the majority parked on the other side. They didn't.
Sunday morning came and bedlam. The parking fairy had moved all the cars overnight except the white mondeo estate with english plates which was now parked on the wrong side and causing a jam of M25 proportions. I would point out that we are in an area of France where a traffic jam of any sort is likely to be reported on the local TV news and will certainly make the local press. There is a bakery opposite and you may well know that parking rules do not apply around bakeries. It does not matter how you park your car if you need bread. Whilst a quick run in to the bakers perhaps wouldnt cause too much upheaval, you have to remember that every driver has to stop and either shake hands or kiss all of the other drivers. passers by, people that are now hooting them and anybody else that happens to be within 100 metres.
But back to my photo, taken today the 14th. I don't know if the fairies have told people to move early, if we are still making up time owed to our neigbours "en face" or if the sign was placed in the wrong street all those years ago. I do know we are all parked on the wrong side and that come the 16th we will move again---or will we?

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Sunday May 9th

I am breaking off from my history of the cafe to give an insight into French life. On Sunday we were invited to join the Rural Families St Michel Branch day out. It proved to be a great day but also reconfirmed a couple of things I associate with France
Distance....For those of you who have driven in France, you frequently see signs to places such as Macdonalds, the local supermarket etc by the side of the road. These show directions and normally a time. "Macdonalds a 2mn" The first few times you believe them, telling the kids, " only a couple of minutes" and then you learn the truth. These signs are only relevant if you happen to be passing in a jet fighter, if not 2mn means 20,so you need to "hold it" just a little longer.
The relevance to our day out, the invite said bike ride of 15kms with "plus le reste", the reality 31kms with a quick turn around at half way. Mind you,having not ridden a bike for a while, I couldn't have walked around or perhaps even have got off the bike even had there been "plus de reste"
Food and Drink...The invite said bring a picnic for lunch and also a meal in the evening. J an I not realising that a pique nique had an entirely different meaning to picnic, took what we would normally take, a few sandwiches, a bottle of water and some fruit all nicely wrapped in a small rucksack.
We knew we had got it wrong when the car boots were opened and people started to take out what looked like treasure chests. These were somewhat large and had, in the main to be carried by two people. When opened, they included, tablecloths, pastis, pineau, three of four baguettes a couple, red and white wine, meats, the dinner set and I am sure I saw a set of cut glasses somewhere.
By the time we had eaten our meagre lunch no other couple had even unpacked. So we joined the PICK NICK, we picked at everybody else's food and nicked what we liked the look of. That was until J was kindly offered some andouille by a local farmer. this is a delicacy apparently and is the pig equivelent of tripe. Tripe it was!
The evening meal back in St Michel was enjoyable and also gave me an opportunity to speak English to more than just J for the first time in the day. When we were on about the third or fourth glass of wine and toast, I was asked what the english equivelent of "sante" was. Having had a quick look at the internet when we had popped home to change, I had no hesitation in standing up raising my glass and getting 25 french people to toast "CHELSEA".

The day also involved a trip to the National Stud Farm in La Roche. I mention this as it ruined some of my illusions. I am sure that like me when you hear that a champion horse has been put out to stud, you imagine him having the time of his life with any number of female horses and then relaxing afterwards with a beer and a cigar. I thought that a stud farm would be the equivelent of a hotel bedroom at a premiership clubs christmas do. Well its not quite like that. I may not be exactly right as the explanation was all in French but basically its like this. Mr horse is taken to a room where there is a pretend horse, full size and with a bit of cat fur in the relevant place. Inside the cat fur is a downpipe as used on guttering and at the end is a large bucket. Mr horse is then introduced to Mrs horse, who is there to tease. ( you know the type!!!) Mrs horse teases Mr horse until he can fill the drainpipe so to speak. Mrs horse is then led away , mr horse is shown the cat fur and the bucket collects.

I came away ( maybe not the right choice of word there) thanking my lucky stars nobody has ever referred to me a a stud. I dont even have a bucket.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Idea

We made the decision. On our anniversary as it happens we decided we would emigrate. We have agreed that we will buy a cafe bar in France, or at least we would do our utmost, having to sell up in the UK to finance it.
we had considered it earlier in the year when we realised that a small business in France even if it just about broke even would be a way of getting into French life pre retirement. It was a way of joining the social security/ healthcare system which is vital. We travelled to France at the end of August 09 to go and have a look. It wasnt really a fair view. We took two hours in a traffic jam to get from the A1 to the Dartford bridge. I think we had made up our minds that the answer would be yes before we even got on the ferry

So what makes us want to commit to a cafe life? I for one can’t be bothered to jump through the hoops to get a new job, phone interviews, face to face interviews, tests, more bloody tests, more interviews, give me an example of when you did this, when you did that. Experience is ok if you can put it into words, actions not required, and if you fit the “culture”. I think the final straw was being told by a failing company, with low turnover, high costs and severe problems at least in the stores I visited, that I was “too results driven”

How crap can it be when to secure a 6 month contract on a low basic salary with no car, you are asked to do a CV, then an internet maths test based on store sales and profitability. Profiling followed as did an hour competency interview, an hour profit and loss exercise and a communication exercise. Get through this, through to the final interview, another hour another exercise and then “too results driven”

I enjoyed watching the demise of Threshers.
Still they had it coming. Of course the results won’t come if they want someone who “fits their culture” of dirty, untidy, poorly organised stores with low stock as they can’t afford it and low expectations.

I guess I should add at this point that had MFI not closed, I would have been very happy continuing to work for them until we could retire properly. I enjoyed the variety and the comradeship. It is a pity that when the new owners took over, nobody in senior management had the balls to tell them the truth. There was an opportunity there for the experience of the business to be used but it wasnt. I am sure that GF, CP and the like felt that they had all the answers and that we in the business must be wrong as the business wasnt working. Well no guys, the business had the answers but you were too stubborn to ask and the people who had your ears were too protective of their own position to tell you that you the emperors were walking round in the nude!! As for those who could, they didnt, did you Richard? Too busy preening and trying to look good. Yes sir no sir whereas it should have been think again. Those with balls who spoke up Adrian, Colin etc were moved on whilst you stood and watched, knowing you were accepting future failue. Your team were taken from you and in a show of solidarity you went and kissed the arses of the new guys

Still I expected no more, your stock answer to me was "you're not telling me what I want to hear" to which my response was " no but that's how it is. For someone who prides himself on his looks you too were wearing emperors clothes, and their transparency showed your lack of balls

To oversee a company closure is one thing, to oversee it again within 6 weeks of a prepack agreement is somewhat careless

As for J, she worked in a job she enjoyed with people she didn’t. Not sharing their love of drivel and reality TV nor her colleague “Ms I know everything” but can’t do f... all. Life’s hard when your cant have a telling conversation without having to wait for “ Me time” or “time out”. As is normally the case, the spoilt brat gets all the attention and everyone else has to walk on eggshells in case they start “Ms I know everything” off on one and once again she forgets what she should have learned at her anger management course had she not thought she knew it all before she went.
So a cafe it is, J is swapping her colleagues for me, look like Rene act like Basil Fawlty. We have never done anything like this before, never poured a pint, never made a sandwich to sell but we are game and WTF we’ll give it our best.

It is unbelievable many things pop into your head as you go about your daily business. Can you get them all written down? Are they relevant?
Loads of ideas as to what we could do with the cafe, what we could sell, how it could look and on top of this all the concerns keep rising to the surface. Can we actually do the job? Who will do what? How much French will I know by then and will it be enough?

Saturday, 8 May 2010

A man walked into a bar

So the blog starts. Like a book the first paragraph has to grab the attention so here goes.

As she stood naked in the shower rubbing herself dry she had never dreamed it was possible, but as the water dripped from her body wrapped in a fluffy towel the idea came to her, like an orgasm it spread through her mind and overtook all other senses.

ok, so now you're reading I can cut the Mills and Boon and tell you what A Man walked into a bar is going to be

It's about how J and I decided to give up our life in England to come to France to open a bar. So why a blog? I thought it would be a good idea to write things down, keep people up to date and as the memory gets worse, i wont have to remember who I've told what as it will be here for all to view.

All reading is entirely optional as are comments and feedback. The only exception to this is the kids..YOU ARE OBLIGED TO READ EVERY WORD...YOUR INHERITENCE DEPENDS ON IT and YOU WILL BE TESTED

My blog will also be a way to express my views as a grumpy old man. I will be throwing merde in all dirtections as I go. So far this list includes Alliance and Leicester, French estate agents, french red tape, Saga car insurance but have no doubt it will enlarge as we go..but that's for later. Firstly how did we start this idea