Archive for October, 2010

Brought to book


Every Summer for the last three years I have gone away for an amount of time to work in the UK.  People in France tend to go away for up to a month and it is either the month of July or August so there is little work for me here.  People from all over Europe, and further afield, send their children to schools in the UK to improve their English and this means there is a demand for people who can teach the little darlings English.  Each time I have worked I buy myself something from the money I earn.  Usually it is something quite expensive that I would otherwise not have the money to afford.  The first time it was a new came Large book storage ra like the one pictured, except being a child of the 80’s it was black.

Last year I bought a Sony Reader.  I didn’t do so because I prefer it to books.  I don’t think the various form of eBook readers mean the end of the printed page.  Why is it that there is a bipolar choice, books or Reader?  To read some like Norm, or David Hepworth or Andrew Collins in The Word making great pronouncements that it is the book for them not the Kindle.  Hey, I too love getting and reading new books.  Form the time of ordering to the time Mr Amazon arrives at the door with my new delivery is a time of excitment and expectation for me.  I wrote about my recent visit to Bristol and how a visit to a book shop for a particular book resulted in me leaving with about five extra books I hadn’t intended and I came a way with two more from a record shop.  So you don’t have to convince me I love books.

So why buy a book reader?  Over the last few years I have travelled up to ten times each year.  I like to read when travelling and the extra weght of the pile of books can make quite a difference, especially if going for up to eight weeks as I do when I work in the UK.  It is much better to get some eBooks and read them.  If it is a book by an author I like and expect I will want to keep I usually try to get a hardback version of the book and read it at home.  If I do not know, or if previously I would have bought a paperback version of the book then I might as well get an eBook and read it whilst travelling.  If I decide I like it and want to keep it I can then get the hardback copy.  So for over a year that is what I’ve done.

Not any longer.  The two partner stores on the Sony Reader site where you can buy your eBooks are WH Smith and Waterstones.

I have previously bought books from both shops online.  On 15th September I received the following email from WH Smith:

Dear Customer 

Thank you for your custom at WHSmith’s eBook Store. Today WHSmith eBooks has moved – we’re now at

At you’ll find:

  • Thousands of eBooks in ePub and PDF formats and eAudiobooks
  • More great eBook offers
  • The Richard & Judy Book Club exclusive to WHSmith
  • As well as millions of Books, Stationery products, Magazines and Gifts.
Within one week we will move your account and Bookshelf to If you already have an account with we will associate your eBook Bookshelf with that account; we’ll match them up using your email address.
In the meantime you can continue to access your Bookshelf at If you have queries about your WHSmith Bookshelf please contact our customer service team.
Please Note: 

  • If you have Mobipocket or Microsoft Reader eBooks in your Bookshelf please download these by 22nd September as from then on they will no longer be available to access.
  • If your credit card billing address(es) is outside the UK we’re afraid we will not be able to sell you eBooks from This is due to taxation and contractual issues. We hope to serve you again in the future.
We assume you would like to hear about WHSmith offers by email. If you would prefer not to, please click here.
Thanks again for your custom. We look forward to serving you at
Yours faithfully

As you can see from the text in red I am not able to buy books from WH Smith because I live outside the UK.  OK then I’ll have to do with Waterstones.  You’re ahead of me here aren’t you.  On Tuesday I received the following email from Waterstone’s”

“Dear Customer,

We see from our records that you have previously purchased an eBook from whilst having a registered address outside of the UK and Ireland.

We regret that  with immediate effect, we are no longer able to sell  eBooks to customers placing an order from anywhere outside of the UK and Ireland.  We have had to take this action to comply with the legal demands of publishers regarding the territories  into which we can sell eBooks.

Please accept our sincere apologies for any inconvenience  that  this may cause.

Please note: Your previously purchased eBooks are not affected by this and will still be available in your ‘Digital order history’ in your online account.

Kind regards, Customer Service”

So the publishers have threatened legal action against eBook sellers who sell eBooks from UK based shops to people who do not live in the UK.  Whatever happened to globalisation?  Particularly for something like an eBook which is designed for being bought over the internet.  This is crazy.  I can buy physical books from Amazon from the US, Australia. New Zealand or the UK.  Because I have bought something other than a Kindle I cannot buy eBooks from them and the shops I can buy from say they have now been threatened by the publishers and can’t sell them to me.  OK there are plenty of free eBooks available from the following sites and I’ll get my reading there.  Publishers Association, I hope your writers are happy as they’ll lose the income they would have had if I’d carried on buying my books from WH Shith and Waterstones.  Well done.

Another 2 years?


The French government has been quite impressive in the way it has handled the media around the retirement reforms.  All the media discussion that I have seen in the Anglophone media has been aroWorkers take to the streets during a protest in Marseille, France, on Tuesday Oct.12, 2010. Teachers, mail carriers, bus drivers and other French workers tried to shut down France in a showdown with President Nicolas Sarkozy over his government's attempt to raise the retirement age by two years to save money. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)und the change in age in which you can take early retirement from 60 to 62.  Huh bolshie French think they don’t have to work and the rest of Europe should support them.

Last week I received a letter from Revenue and Customs in the UK.  It stated that in the 2008-09 tax year I earned almost enough to count as a qualifying year for my pension.  I am surprised at that because I believe I only worked for less than three weeks in the UK in that tax year.  If I make an additional contribution of less than £400 I will have another qualifying year to my pension.  I currently have 27 qualifying years to my pension and if I make 30 I will qualify for the full state pension.  I don’t know anyone who says the UK state pension is generous but it would obviously be better to have a full UK state pension when HMRC logo I retire than to not have it.  So I will pay on the assumption that I will get out after my retirement more than the almost £400 I have to pay to get closer to a full pension. 

How long do you think someone in France has to work to qualify for a full state pension?  30 years?

If this were ‘The Price is Right’ there would have to be shouts from the audience, higher, 32? Higher, 34? Higher, 36? Higher, 38? Higher, 40? Higher.  The answer is 40.5 years.

One part of the reform not much is heard about is the part of the plan to increase the number of years it is necessary to work before qualifying for a full state pension in France to 41.5 years.  A full 11.5 years more than in the UK.  When for most jobs it is necessary to train, perhaps go to university and then train afterwards, it could be the late 20’s before someone enters the workforce and starts qualifying towards their pension.  What then?

Englishman in Strasbourg has another aspect of this.  He says:

“In France, retirement is about one of the few ways you can let go of your employees legitimately without going to tribunal.  This explains why only 12% of those capable of work in the 60-64 age bracket remain employed in France, compared with 40% in the UK and 23% in Germany.”

So, the French, who are the most productive European workforce, do not get a much better deal of things and respect to them for standing up when the government tries to make their conditions of employment worse.  When I was a union steward the line was that pension was payment deferred to retirement so any attack on your pension is an attack on your terma and condition of employment.  Would people expect the French workers to take a pay cut?  No, I thought not. (Here’s a very interesting Spiegel piece on what’s happening in France.)

What I know about Sierra Leone


Is that for a long time there was a war going on where child soldiers and teenagers fired up on drugs murdered and mutilated in the most appalling way.  That the then British government sent a small force to intervene and that peace and democracy has returned to this abjectly poor country.  I am proud that a Government I voted for and supported intervened to stop the madness that was happening.

Before he became a Manchester City player my view of Craig Bellamy was not good.(wiki)  I thought he was an ignorant thug.  How much snoberry was involved in that view I’ve not thought too much about.  On the inestimable Norm blog he does a profile of another blogger every week where he publishes the answers the blogger has given to a set of questions the Normster has provided.  One of the questions is:

“Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you’ve ever changed your mind?”

Whilst it is hardly a major moral, political or intellectual issue one thing I have changed my mind about is Craig Bellamy.  One reason could have been that, as most supporters will say about a player for their team, “he’s our thug so it’s OK.”, but its not that.  Exposure for a long amount of time allowed me to see that he was actually a big hearted player who just wanted to do his best.  If he gets involved in trouble its because he’s committed to his team.  I didn’t manage to convince a fellow City fan, I sometimes watch the matches with here in Strasbourg, about this.  Then I saw a video on the fantastic MCFC website about the foundation he had set up in Sierra Leone to encourage school attendance and to improve football in the country.  Here’s the website for the Craig Bellamy foundation.

I can do nothing but admire the humanity of a man who went to a country and saw the problems in one of the Worlds poorest countries and saw a way they could help, and then they did help in a real and practical way, some of it with their own money.

You can see the video of Craig Bellamy talking about his foundation on the MCFC website here.  I’m just sorry eiher my ignorance or their control freakery doesn’t allow me to post the video here.

So I thought that was it for City and Sierra Leone.  How wrong I was.  Did you know the country has the largest supporters club outside the UK?  Nor did I.

A City supporter retired from the Police and he went to Sierra Leone to train the Police force there.  After work he went to a bar on the beach and was approached by someone selling sunglasses and other trinkets.  The City fan refused to buy anything as the local person was wearing a United supporters badge.  The local said that if the City fan returned with a City shirt the local would be a City fan.  You can see more about it here.  The fan returned with a City shirt and it lead to the creation of the Sierra Leone MCFC supporterDo they not look the parts club.  It also led to the creation of a youth and other football teams as you can see here.  The Freetown MCFC supporters were not able to make their away matches because of the lack of transport so the former police officer City fan returned to the UK and started fundraising to get them a minibus so they could go to away matches.  The club and other supporters groups got involved and you can see more about it here.

The bus would not only provide transport to away matches for the team but would also be put to use during the week to provide a couple of members of the supporters club with an income working as bus drivers around Freetown.  Watch further videos about the saga of getting the bus there here, here, here and here.  The bus has now arrived and was even used by the Sierra Leone Football Federation to take the South African team to the stadium for a recent match.  Further information about them can be found on their blog about it here.

It is humbling what a difference two people, together with a number of others, have managed to make in a poor country.  If you can please donate to help either initiative via the website links given. (Hat Tip to MCFC Sierra Leone for the last picture.)

Coincidence or what – you decide


When I was recently i"MC5", Sonically Speaking: A Tale of Revolution and Rock 'n' Rolln the UK, in Bristol to be more precise, I went into a couple of book and record shops and the foreseeable danger happened, I came out of them with more than I had intended to buy when I went in.  That’s why online shopping is so much better as, despite the best efforts of Mr Amazon with his ‘others who bought this also bought’, there is not the same danger of buying things on impulse as there is in a physical shop.

One of the books I bought was 77 Sulphate Strip reviewed by me here, and the second one I’ve read that I bought on that trip was ‘sonically speaking mc5 a tale of revolution and rock’n’roll‘.  I got interested in the band after they were referenced by a number of the bands involved in early punk rock as an influence.  I like going back and finding out about the people who influenced the people I like and I came to like MC5.  The book’s interesting to read about what was happening in Detroit in the late 60’s about the band and then read about what happened to the people in the band after the band.  I wasn’t going to review it here or write about it.

The book does talk about the relationship between guitarist in MC5,(and here) Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith,  and Patti Smith (Who didn’t have to worry about hanging her name after they got together) and then at the same time as I’m reading about her in the book Patti Smith turns up in Strasbourg this week, which I wrote about here.

Then on Friday I decide to listen to the Word magazine podcast and this week David Hepworth talks to the founder of the Elektra record label (wiki), Jac Holzman, about the founding of the label, its early incarnation as a mainly folk label, the change to have more rock acts, about finding Love and the doors, and about signing MC5 and their “mascot” band the Stooges.  His story of the signing of the two bands tallies perfectly with that in the book.

So after no MC5 activity at all I chance upon a book on a visit to the UK, buy it and the week I read it two other events connected to the band happen as well.  Spooky.  Anyway here are the band with the title track from their first album, ‘Kick out the Jams, motherfuckers’:

Men don your frilly lacy pants for manhood.


As someone whose work involves the English language, in a number of forms, making explicit the fact there are a number of different forms of English and that the difference amounts to more than just vocabulary is quite important.  For example I spent the afternoon and evening of Patti Smith events with an American friend and it struck me how much of British English is formed in the negative sense, even giving approval or permission – not half, I don’t mind etc, which doesn’t happen in American English, certainly not the mid-west version of my friend.

You do see quite a lot of adverts featuring English, more than I expected.  The advert has to have the French equivalent displayed on it, though on this one it seems to be in very little letters up the side – they’re too small for me to read to make sure.  This is part of a campaign launched by Dockers and will fall foul of the teaching of British English.  A ‘Call to Manhood and asks “Wear the  Pants”‘, or as the poster puts it, ‘Calling all men, its time to wear the pants’

American British English

Pants                       Trousers

Knickers                  Pants

So the call would be met by the answer, which ones?  The Frilly lacy ones, the thong, the big pants or the white y-fronts?

I also saw this poster of ‘A spectacle from the heart of Ireland’and I must say the Irish friends I have don’t tend to dress like that or break out in dances like that.  One friend I worked with this Summer didn’t do any of this at all.  What are we being sold?

Whilst out in the city I saw the van photographed from a local ‘Fromager’, M Tourrette.  I know the syndrome (wiki) is not spelt like this but with one ‘r’, however, an online medical dictionary spells it differently.(Check the URL rather than on the page – whoever did the coding was the person with the spelling problem.)  It did make me wonder what a cheese with tourettes would be like and that even for France, where as De Gaulle famously said with more cheeses than days of the year, a cheese with tourettes would be a novel concept.

Finally, a friend has introduced me to a dubbed version of the wonderful Flashing Blade that gave this blog its name.  Here’s one in funny supposed Lancashire accents:

The people have the power


Tuesday JTO and I had lunch out in Strasbourg which made a nice change.  After it we found a bar in central Strasbourg that was open for a wuick drink before turning up in the room above Librarie Kleber where Patti Smith was due for a book signing as a result of the publication of the French version of her book about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe Just Kids.

The place became very full before her entry and then a great cheer greeted her entry.  She was interviewed in French and sometimes needed the services of the translator to make sure she had understood the French before replying.  After her reply the translator then repeated in French what Patti had said in English.  It was interesting hearing her talk about her early times and being with Robert Mapplethorpe and in the middle she gave an impromptue rendition of ‘The People have the Power’ which I only managed to film the second part of.

After there was a signing and I took along my copy of Horses which now has the autograph of Patti Smith on it.  Most people had bought the book although there were some like me who took other objects, a chap behind me took his guitar which Patti would not sign.

Earlier tickets had been offered to those who wanted them for the civic reception to welcome Patti to Strasbourg so we took them,  A short walk to the Hotel de Ville where it wasn’t the Mayor of Strasbourg but one of his deputies who welcomed the poet and singer to the city.

She was presented with a medal and a sculpture before she signed the visitors book, on a page which had been prepared for her.  As is usual at receptions it was only after the words that we were able to fall on the food and champagne which was provided by the council.  The food was good quality sandwhiches and other nibbles and the champagne was quality stuff too.

Patti Smith then left to go theCite de la Musique et de la danse on the tram.  When we arrived there we saw a big queue to get in and after a while someone came out to tell us that the hall was full up and that we would not get in.  After a great afternoon in the company of Patti Smith it was a shame to miss the final part of the day, but it was still a great time.

I think if there was any lesson it was that it would have been better not to go to the Civic Reception if we had wanted to get into the concert in the evening.

Tous et toutes en grève et à la manif


On Tuesday heading home for my lunch after work I took the picture of these people heading off for a demonstration on the day of the national strike.  Reports from both the Police (1.3 million) and the Unions (3.5 million) said it was the biggest strike so far in the campaign by the unions against the proposed changes to retirement benefits being put forward by the government, although there was the usual disagreement about the number of people who took part in the demonstrations.  Yesterday on my way home from work my tram was stopped and the driver took it back to the depot so he could take part in a mass meeting to discuss what they will be doing next.  I got off and walked across the major road that heads into Germany and came to the buildings for the Council covering the Strasbourg Urban area where there was this demonstration by workers for the council taking place to inform people about the strike on the coming Saturday 16th october and the demonstration in the Place De La Republique taking place on Saturday afternoon from 14:30.  The leaflet I received said to bring family, friends, work colleagues, all together with your unions.  Later that same day I was in another tram heading home and we got stuck just short of the main central tram interchange at Place Homme De Ferfor about fifteen minutes before we were passed by a group of students who had come out on strike in support of the campaign to protect current retirement benefits.  In some other towns they went as far as setting cars on fire – what fun a day off and setting cars on fire – but when the Police took action against them they cried.  The unions have brought the petrol refineries out on indefinate strike and there was some panic buying of fuel last weekend and there have been requests for people not to panic buy fuel this weekend.  It has now affected Paris largest international airport which is in danger of running out of fuel.

Coming from a country where the unions were emasculated by Margaret Thatcher it is good to see people fighting back against what they see as injustice from their government but I just wonder if a country with a massive structural deficit and the best welfare in Europe can afford to continue to pay for them?  I’ll fininsh with the headline from the leaflet I was given at the demonstration above:



UPDATE: This was written yesterday and should have been published then but for some reason was not.

Big Mal RIP


Legendary: Manchester City management Joe Mercer (right) and Malcolm Allison I was sorry to read yesterday of the death of probably the greatest football coach ever produced in England, Malcolm Allison, who, in partnership with Joe Mercer (pictured together here) took Manchester City from towards the bottom of the old Second Division to Division One Champions, FA Cup winners, League Cup winners and European Cup Winners Cup winners in just six years.

As with other successful partnerships. eg Tony & Gordon, they were better working together than when one forced the other out and tried to do it on their own. After Joe Mercer left Malcolm didn’t achieve anything and then returned to Manchester City in 1979 only to leave again after having lost some longstanding successful players and spent a lot of money on players who achieved nothing precipitating the decline of the club which saw them sink to the old Third Division in the 90’s.

As a coach Malcolm was second to none, introducing thirty years ago a fitness, training and diet regime still thought leading edge today.  It has been good to read reminiscences from former City players outlining how he was always on the side of the players and helped them give more than 100%.  Here is the tribute from the MCFC site, a review here, and the fans tributes here.

Touch my Dirndl II


The weekend before last JTO and I were in Stuttgart to See the wonderful Leonard Cohen and at the same time the Stuttgart equivalent of the Munich Oktoberfest was taking place.  When we were returning from the concert the fair was closing down and a number of drunk people tried to hail the cab we were in by standing in front of it.  They were so reckless in their desire to get a cab they were lucky one of them was not hurt.  We stayed the night and saw some of the city.  As a result of the celebrations people were walking around in Dirndl as you see on the left and the rather un-leather looking lederhosen on the right.  As well as an opportunity to show the young women and men in their local costume this post has been an opportunity to show again the wonderful Antonia singing the Dirndlsong.  Just watch those chaps dance:

More work to do


As someone living in France, who talks English at home and whose work is in the English language it would be very easy to remain a non-French speaker.  It would mean I remain dependent upon other people for things it is necessary to speak French for and that my experiences would otherwise be massively curtailed to those available in English.  This could still allow a large element of activity; there is only one all French cinema – so there are three (here & here) that show films in English with sub-titles, the Strasbourg Cricket team operate in the English language and I’ve just got involved in one of a number of theatre groups in the city that do so in English, there is also the English Speaking Community of Alsace (ESC) who put on a monthly pub visit, coffee morning and regular events like quizes and a bonfire night.   So, as long as you have a French speaking partner who can take care of the bureaucracy, you can live an active life and have a circle of friends without eve learning the language.

But then why live in France if you don’t learn the language?  Yes its difficult but then things worth doing sometimes are.  Why live in a place and miss out on a lot of what it ha to offer?  As a result I learn French once a week in a class for an hour and a half and exchange an hours French lesson for an hours English lesson.  I have resumed the fencing lessons which were the instigation for writing this blog and they are done in French.  Most importantly the kind of work available to someone who only speaks English means that, unless you do something like the childcare, you have little independence and you rely upon your partner.

It takes time but the work to learn the language is worth it.  To restart fencing I needed a certificate from my Doctor to say that I am healthy and fit enough to fence.  The precautionary principle providing a stark contrast to the more English approach of relying upon the individual to know what is good for them.  I just went to the local Doctor and waited to see her and I felt such a sense of achievement upon leaving with my certificate having carried out the conversation in French.  At work, apart from my fellow English speakers I deal with the other staff in French and it is good to be able to do so.

At school I did one year of French and did not get on with it.  Some of it was as a result of a clash with my French teacher.  On reaching 11 and being given the choice I opted for German and fell in loved with the language, country and people although it was not always reciprocated – particularly the results in my exams at 16.  For the last three years I’ve been working to be able to speak French and there has been a lot of progress but there is a lot more to do.

Tony Blair’s book has just ben launched in a French language edition and last night he was on a programme where he was interviewed for an hour about the book.  I was pleased to be able to follow the interview and pick up some of the nuances that were talked about.  Watch yourself at:

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