Thursday, December 30, 2010

EHIC - European Health Insurance Card

Firstly, let me be clear that I am not complaining here - just nit-picking!

Like all Europeans, we can easily obtain an EHIC, which helps to ensure getting medical treatment at reasonable cost while travelling in Europe.
At least that is the theory.
Fortunately, we never had to test it yet.

Living within easy reach of Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg & Belgium, and not too far from Italy, Spain, Holland etc, we find it prudent to always have EHICs in our bags.
As they are only valid for one year (I wonder why?) that means getting a new one, for each of us, every year.
That is the first tiny inefficiency in the system.

Getting one is very easy - simply request it on the "Ameli" website & they send it by post, free of charge.
The snag is, you have to lie through your teeth, as the form has compulsory fields for 'Country to visit' & 'Start of visit' & 'End of visit' (why?).
As we are wanting a card to cover all potential & as yet unplanned visits throughout the next year, I am never sure what to say there.
One year, I tried to explain to them, but it just got too complicated, so I resorted to inventing little trips at the beginning of the year.
That brought a series of e-mails, firstly confirming my request, then saying that as the cards would take a couple of weeks to arrive, they were sending us temporary paper cover-notes immediately!
Which they did.
Second tiny inefficiency.

So this year, I carefully invented my little trip to start in 3 weeks so as to leave them plenty of time.
But I still got the e-mails & the paper cover-notes.

This system is providing all we need, and we are grateful for it, but just wish we could save Ameli a little time, effort & money by getting cards with longer validity, or with (automatic?) annual renewal, or at any rate without the extra cover-notes.
And without having to tell fibs!
Presumably thousands of others are in the same situation?

Of course, there are far worse problems to solve first, so I won't get hung-up on this one.

Parting thot: "The point to remember is that what the government gives it must first take away." - John S. Coleman

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fog Lights in the Rain

For Xmas, we drove across France, from Strasbourg to Chizé.
You know Chizé - near Niort?
You know Niort - in the Deux-Sèvres Département?
You know, in Poitou-Charentes Région?
OK - forget it, but it's right over the other side of France.
880km by autoroute.

In spite of the generally exceptional amounts of cold & snow everywhere this December, we didn't have either for the trip out.
Just a few patches of fog & several periods of rain.

In the foggy bits, most people used rear fog lamps, which clearly proved their worth.
In the rain, their use is illegal.
And the cause of near-homicidal pulsions from otherwise-reserved motorists.
Something I can understand in low-speed, night-time conditions, when they can be very dazzling.

But in high(ish) speed, daytime, autoroute rain, when all vehicles are followed by their own private fog bank?
Several cars were using their rear fog lamps in those conditions.
Either left over from the foggy bits or deliberately used in spray conditions.
And there is no doubt whatsoever that they:
1. Don't dazzle in daylight.
2. Vastly improve visibility & hence safety.

This is one section of the highway code which could usefully be revised.
But probably never will be, due to the emotions it seems to stir.

Parting thot: "Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Whatever Happened to Postmarks?

In the "good old days" (actually, seen from the last couple of years, they really were the good old days) letters & cards had postmarks which told you where & when they had been posted.
This was always of interest & sometimes critical in case of dispute.

Well, this year we received about 40 Xmas cards, mostly from UK.

Some of them had no visible postmark at all.
Most of them had slight smudges of greyish ink.
Only one had legible time & place of posting.

And that came from Brussels!

Is the Royal Mail trying to save ink, or trying to leave no embarassing traces?
Poor show, anyway.

Parting thot: "Be like a postage stamp. Stick to one thing until you get there." - Josh Billings

Friday, December 17, 2010

Missing Sorry Sign

Of course, like everybody else, I am an excellent driver.
And never make mistakes.
Well - hardly ever...

But, just occasionally, I might make a tiny slip.
Typically finding myself in the wrong lane in a strange town, for instance, at the sort of place where all the locals know that the right lane becomes a right-turn-only lane, but there is no advanced warning.

At times like that, it would be handy to be able to indicate, by body language, something like "Oops! Sorry! Excuse me!"
The nearest I can imagine is 2 palms up, but that can also be interpreted as "So what?" or "Who cares?" so is not a good choice.

Surprisingly, there does not seem to be any recognised gesture for "I'm sorry" anywhere.
Sad reflection on humanity!

Most reference articles concentrate on offensive & obscene gestures and after a bit of reading, I realize almost any gesture can get you into serious trouble somewhere or other in the world.

So I won't improvise my own hand signals, but I really think it would be a small step forward for civilization if we could invent & publicise a sign for "Excuse me!"

Parting thot: "By such innovations are languages enriched, when the words are adopted by the multitude, and naturalized by custom." - Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bramleys - Part 2

Back in August, I mentioned the impossibility of finding "proper" cooking apples in France & reported finding a couple of potential sites for supplying Bramley Apple Trees, to grow my own.

In the meantime, I had long & constructive exchanges with both sites, and eventually ordered a container-grown plant from Orange Pippin ( in UK.
After several postponements, they informed me in October that their courrier service to France was having serious problems & they could no longer garantee delivery, so we agreed to cancel the order.

That only seemed to leave one possibility - getting a bare-roots plant from Mike Curtis's "English Nursery in France". (

I had hesitated about that option previously, in spite of Mike's helpful advice, because I thought the bare-roots shipping & planting process was more critical (less foolproof...) than using a container.
Still, with a choice of that or nothing, the decision was easy & the "tree" arrived, weighing next to nothing, but looking healthy, at the end of November.

That should have been ideal timing, but not this year, as we were just heading into a week or more of -8°C/-10°C nights.

This really has been the coldest & snowiest December in our 30 years here, but finally I found a warmish slot for planting & the Bramley is now bravely standing in the garden - in the snow...

How many years before our first apple pie?

Parting thot: "There's nothing better than a good friend, except a good friend with chocolate." - Linda Grayson