Archive for November, 2011

I’ve just seen this subject discussed on Huffington Post (same link below)

Brits Abroad Can’t Speak A Single Word Of Local Language

And it’s true isn’t it? I often feel guilty that no matter how many times I go to France (I can’t remember any year in the last twenty that I haven’t been – even if only for a couple of days), I can’t retain enough of the language to hold down a sensible conversation.

I’m not as bad as Delboy by a long chalk and can ‘read’ most French menus because A) they are almost always the same no matter where you eat and B) I taught catering for so long and have a good grasp of ‘kitchen French’, but linking words and phrases I know seems to escape me. Unlike the 20% who don’t understand ‘bonjour’ and the 16-24 year olds who can’t even order beer in anything other than their mother tongue – I’ve always understood those basic requirements (in French, German and Spanish – I could always order beer!), I’ve even been able to book rooms and order food in French and German. I’m better at slinging things together in French these days but don’t stay there long enough to pick up more of the language, which I’m sure I could given the time.

Next year however, I will be making a determined effort to learn and retain more. Sharon has booked us a week of intense training at a language school in Sancerre as my main birthday present. Hopefully it will be conversational (we think that’s what we’ve asked for – but you know what doing stuff on the Internet is like :-)) as I just don’t ‘get’ grammar. Well, I do when it’s practised but not in abstract – I’ve done enough French language classes here in the UK to know that they (or at least the style of delivery) don’t work for me.

So it will be a week of hard listening and even harder remembering for me. Roll on Easter.

Me souhaiter bonne chance?


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I always said that I would try not to be a grumpy old man (not that I’m old).

However, not being grumpy isn’t easy these days. As I said in https://saturdaywalks.wordpress.com/2011/10/30/sixty/ and continued in https://saturdaywalks.wordpress.com/2011/11/05/sixty-two/, I am currently getting one or two things off my chest because I feel I should. The first item discussed (un) employment and the second pensions. I’m sure that there are many others who feel the same way as me and who feel just as frustrated. I was encouraged after reading this Huffington Post article today!

I was wandering around town the other day (I’d arranged to meet the glorious Lisa Featherstone and had arrived early) and I noticed the tourist exchange rates in Travel Agent windows. They haven’t change much in two years have they?

You’d think that if the Euro (€) was faring so badly, the exchange rate ( £ v €) would be better for us in the UK – but apart from the odd €c, there’s hardly any change. It’s the same with the US dollar ($) too. If America has such a huge debt – bigger than that of the whole of Europe (as yesterday’s papers lead me to believe) – why is it still so expensive to buy dollars?

And, while I’m at it (I’ll finish with this) – fuel costs! Are we being taken for a ride (again)?

First of all, if Libya is now getting back online and oil is beginning to flow freely – why is the pump cost still creeping up? It’s almost impossible to buy Diesel for less than £1.40 per litre now. £6.39 per Gallon. Six Pounds Thirty nine!

I know the old arguments about China’s thirst for oil etc. – but they also needed oil back in January/February when the Libyan thing kicked off. What changed as the oil started to flow again?

Just asking.

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Sixty (two)

We now slip quietly into November, the clocks have gone back and the leaves have finally started to fall off the trees. I rarely see leaves on trees on my December birthday but the actual ‘drop’ gets closer to it year by year.

Must be global warming they say, but I first heard about global warning back in 1967 at college, it’s taken some time to recognise that hasn’t it?

Nevertheless, although I really hate winter, there’s a comforting regularity about it. Something you can expect to happen that happens! Unlike pension planning these days.

Not that I’m ready for retiring yet, not by a long chalk, but as much of my working life has been in self-employment, I’ve had to provide for my own pension whenever I could and whenever the law allowed me. These ‘private’ pensions mature at 60. I never expected much so I’m not as disappointed as I could be with what looks like coming to me in December.

Luckily, I’ve also spent almost twenty years in education and 15/80ths (which looks like being my share because of large periods of part-time work) of a teacher’s pension is better than a poke in the eye. However, due to market turbulence my private pension pot is tiny and the cost of annuities (which the law says I HAVE TO BUY) is huge. After this week’s stock market shocks, the value looks like being even worse than I’d hoped. Ten years ago, I might have expected something like 10-11% return on my pension pot; today I might struggle to get 4-5%.

And once again, I have to ask – what did I do wrong? Whenever I could, and could afford, I paid into private pensions. When I first started teaching (part-time) the law prevented me from supplementing my pension (which took some time to gain access to as I was prevented from joining the TPP until that situation was eventually overturned by European courts) with a private one – despite me being self-employed at the time. It was one or the other.

Then the current crash came along and they started messing with the national retirement age too. I may just be able to retire with a pension at 65, but that remains to be confirmed: at one time it looked like I would fall into the ‘retire at 66’ band. I won’t get a bus-pass until I’m almost 63 because of the sliding scale imposed some time ago. But I hear that prescriptions will be free (but for how long?) whoo ooo.

I suppose we get used to winter as it just comes once a year but pension time and retirement only comes once in a lifetime and, apart from making sure we have one, we have very little control.

Now, please remind me, what are we celebrating with all the bonfires? Ah – really? Now there’s a good idea!

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