Sunday, 22 July 2018

The Essence of Castlemaine

Something we never expected to see in Australia was an antique shop that specialises in old French petrol pumps. The owner scours France for old pumps and imports them.

If you think your life is missing an expensive old French petrol pump, the dealer is here.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Gone to the Wall

When I was a young bloke living in Canberra we had very few museums and art galleries. This meant that apart from a visit to a dairy farm and one to Parliament house, school excursions were restricted to the Australian Instituite of Anatomy (Phar Lap's heart, skeletons, Papuan penis sheaths - photo here) which now no longer exists, and the Australian War Memorial (tanks, guns, airplanes).

No prizes for guessing which was more popular.

Lancaster G for George. There used to be more light in the Aircraft Hall

In 1972 a feature that I thought was the best ever thing ever done anywhere was unveiled, a mural showing all the aircraft type used by the Australian air forces between 1914 and 1968. It was massive - 4.5 metres by 60 metres - and incredibly detailed, and I had poster copies of it on my bedroom wall. It was painted by Harold Freeman, who was an official war artist during world war 2, and who went on the be the State Artist of Victoria.  Today the mural can't be seen after the aircraft gallery was redeveloped in 1999 and the mural hidden behind black panels. A poor image can be seen here.

Today some of the aircraft I remember from my childhood are still on display - Lancaster bomber G for George, a Spitfire fighter, and Albatross D.Va World War 1 german aircraft - but no mural.

You can't even buy the posters any more.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Struck by Lightning

Yesterday evening we had a tremendous storm. It started while I was on the phone to a very chatty client and I could see Simon in the background getting more and more agitated about the need to disconnect. A couple of hours later and back online I picked up friend Simon D's latest FB post. Here's what he had to say:

Our little village of Boussay in Indre-et-Loire was just rocked by a massive thunderstorm and the steeple of the church here took a direct hit from forked lightning -- see the line of the strike on the steeple and the slate debris in the street and grass below. This hit was maybe 100 meters (as the crow flies) from our house -- the noise of the strike was deafening. Exciting stuff. For concerned dog lovers reading this, Brandy was as cool as you like.

Other bloggers, from near and far in France, are remarking on the storms last night.

Fortunately, my postillion was spared.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Applying for a Carte de Sejour

We currently have the right to live and work anywhere in the EU by virtue of our British citizenship. We both have dual citizenship, Australian and British. That British citizenship automatically gives us EU citizenship. Once Brexit actually takes effect we will be non-EU citizens and have to apply for permission to live and work here just like our American and Australian friends.

A titre (or carte) de séjour, as it is known, is not strictly necessary yet, and will not be until March 2019 at the earliest. However, the advice from the British Embassy, the British in Europe citizens rights support groups and the French Ministry of the Interior is all to apply now for a titre de séjour. Those already holding cartes de séjours when Britain finally exits Europe will be fast tracked into whatever the new system is.

 The Post Office in Preuilly sur Claise.

The procedure is outlined in detail on the RIFT site but I thought it worth outlining what we have personally done so far. I've been networking with others in our situation for months and literally everyone's experience with this particular issue has been different, because the Préfecture in Tours' response has been different for everyone. The Préfecture is the département (county) administrative centre.

Back in October last year I spoke to a local British couple who had applied for cartes de séjour immediately after the referendum in 2016. They were exceptionally quick off the mark and were issued cards without too much bother. They kindly provided me with an inside contact at the Bureau d'Immigration in our préfecture in Tours.

I emailed the public servant they had dealt with and outlined our particular circumstances (born in Australia, married in England, dual citizenship, arrived in France in 2009, own home, income as per last tax return, auto-entrepreneurs). The public servant replied within a week, pointing out (as I already knew) that a carte de séjour was not yet necessary but that we had a right to apply if we wished and she gave us a list of documents she wanted to see as proof of when we arrived, what our income was, proof of identity and proof of our continuous residence in France for five years. We exchanged several cordial and professional emails, then Simon and I went to Australia for a couple of months.

 Our dossiers ready to go.

On my return applying for a carte de séjour kept falling to the bottom of my to do list, but slowly slowly I accumulated the pile of documents required and put them into categorised folders. Then I counted up how many pieces of paper I needed to photocopy. Around a hundred! We figured it would be cheaper to do it at the library on their big photocopier than at home using our ink on our little home office printer. Off I trotted to the library, only to have Hélène, the librarian, apologetically tell me that her photocopier was en panne, with no hope of it being repaired any time soon.

So I popped in to the mairie with my sack full of papers. The receptionists looked horrified and very quickly told me to come back when Gérard, the deputy mayor, was there. He was apparently responsible for 'this sort of thing'. I went home, and that evening Gérard called at the house. He left clutching all our documents, marked with how many copies we needed, and promised to do them himself over the next few days. About a week later he was back, with a file of papers that had doubled in size and he had done all the photocopying. He refused our offer of payment, so we gave him a bottle of 2015 Chinon which should develop into a good drop.

In the meantime I'd bought two folders with tabbed dividers so I could slot in the various papers, index them and keep them organised without annoying the public servant who would eventually have to deal with them. The papers are loose but contained. I'd heard that fonctionnaires hate having to deal with papers in plastic slips because they take so long to get out and put back in. I hope that little touch pays off...

At that point we received a letter from the préfecture, referencing my previous email correspondence and inviting us to submit our documents within a fortnight. No mention of having to have an interview at any point. So I drafted a covering letter in my bestest French and sent it to my friend Alain to proof read. I told him it didn't have to be perfect but I didn't want it to appear like it was from some mad foreigner. He kindly emailed back with the comment that it was clearly not written by a native speaker, but was perfectly comprehensible and I didn't sound like a crazy person. He made some minor corrections, mostly gender and accents. I printed it off and attached it to the folders of documents.

Then I took the folders to the post office and asked for an envelope to send them off to the préfecture. The post office clerk suggested a box would be better and went out the back to get one. The folders only just fit and she spent a while taping it up using little pieces of sticky tape. Eventually I said I wasn't convinced by the tape arrangement and requested she tape in a single strip from one side to the other. Nope, she couldn't do that. She'd run out of tape. If I wanted the package taped up securely I would have to go round the corner to the tabac, buy some tape and come back.

By this time there was a queue of four people and the lack of tape and sending me to newsagents caused some sympathetic eye rolling in my direction. I was back very quickly and one of the people in the queue helped me tape up the box more securely. I explained that it wasn't that the documents were valuable, but I'd spent hours gathering and sorting them and didn't want to risk the package bursting open. I filled out the forms for getting notification of the parcel's arrival at the préfecture and paid the €12.50 postage. I was surprise at how little the postage was -- I was expecting about twice that.

So it's in the system and now we just have to wait. My guess is that the next we will hear will be in about six months time, but in the meantime I've made an appointment online for early October at the préfecture. I bet we just get the brush off at that point though and told we must just wait for the file to be processed.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

An Evening of Fun

On Saturday I posted a video of the Retraite Aux Flambeaux, but there's more than just marching around town following a band and flaming torches.

Trying to get a hay baler through a crowd standing on the road.

As customary we meet at the Mairie at 9.00pm. At that time it's still light - far too early to do flaming torches, so we stand around catching up on news and bising our way through the population of Preuilly. At about 9.30 the Pompiers start organising themselves with torches

Starting to get somewhere

Once we're organised we follow the band around town, visiting the poterne (in front of the chateau) and crossing both bridges across the Claise before marching up the Grande Rue

We then head off to the Plan d'Eau for fireworks, set to music. We are always surprised by how good the fireworks are for a town with a population of only 1,000 people.

The evening finishes up with beer and dancing, which lasts well after we do - usually I return home after a couple of tunes to prepare a blog post about what we have done. This year I was home before midnight, but making the video took a couple of hours. Even then, I could hear the dancing was still going on.

We always enjoy our Bastille Eve event, it is a highlight of the year. Next year why not join us?

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Surveying at the Standing Stone

Recently I've been working with a small team to do a biodiversity survey of a site near Yzeures sur Creuse, known as the Pierre Levée. The site is made up of two former sand extraction pits that are now filled with water. A track runs between them and they are surrounded by cultivated farmland. The owner lives part time at the site. Between the two bodies of water, alongside the track, sits a prehistoric tomb -- the aforementioned Pierre Levée.

The team consists of François, a biologist working for the Regional Nature Conservancy; Alain, the president of the Living History of the Claise Valley in the Touraine Association (PVCT); Maeva, an ecology student on a work placement; Jean-Claude, a retired ecologist; and me.

Here are some pictures from our activities on the site in late June.

Leaf Blotch Miner Moth cocoon.

The caterpillars of the Leaf Blotch Miner Moth Acrocercops brongniardella feed on oak, in this case Downy Oak Quercus pubescens, making these characteristic white tissue paper like blotches on the leaves. The adult moths are one of those annoying micros that I try not to have anything to do with. They are a localised species, preferring open woodland, and are known to occur in Indre et Loire.

Alder Leaf Beetle larvae.

Along parts of the banks of the ponds are Black Alder Alnus glutinosa. Some of them were infested with Alder Leaf Beetle Agelastica alni larvae. It occurs commonly all over France as far as I can tell, but curiously has not been officially recorded for Indre et Loire (or at least, any records haven't made it to the official National Natural History Museum public database). The French name for the beetle is la Galéruque de l'Aulne. Like many leaf beetles the adult is rounded, shiny and black. It can sometimes cause serious damage to its Alder tree host.

 Alain and Maeva making observations along the southern edge of the site.

 A grass moth.

This grass moth Chrysocrambus linetella was recorded at the end of the visit, resting on Alain's car. Their caterpillars eat the roots of grasses. Thanks to Tim Ford for the identification. The French name for this little moth is le Crambus mordoré. It occurs over much of France.

 A weevil.

The charming little weevil Cionus hortulanus is widespread and abundant. There are about 40 species of Cionus in France, most of which look very, very similar. I'm no weevil specialist, so imagine my relief when this one turned out to quite easy to identify to species, based on its preference for Great Mullein Verbascum thapsus and the even colouration of the grey scales covering its body. The closest lookalike species favour Figwort Scrophularia sp and have scales that are different colours on different areas of the body. The French name is le Charançon gris de la scrophulaire.

A robber fly.

The robber fly Dasypogon diadema can be encountered on any sandy site in the area. Males, like this one, are entirely black (except for their yellow halteres). I've created a species account on Loire Valley Nature for this species.

 Small Red-eyed Damselfly.

The Small Red-eyed Damselfly Erythromma viridulum (Fr. la Naïade au corps vert) prefers still ponds with some floating aquatic vegetation, and is widespread and abundant over much of France.

A Honey Bee Apis mellifera takes aim at a Vipers Bugloss Echium vulgare flower.

 A mirid bug.

The mirid bug Lygus gemellatus is widespread and can be a pest of cereal and legume crops. The species is very variable in appearance, with a lot of differences in the amount and position of dark markings. Thanks to the Facebook group Insects and Other Invertebrates of Britain and Northern Europe I was able to identify this species.

A harvestman.

Harvestmen Opiliones are known as les Faucheurs in France. They are not spiders, having no venom and no silk. They are opportunist feeders, omnivores and detritivores. I think this one is Opilio parietinus.

Alain selflessly beating a path for us through nettles and brambles.