Childcare – It’s Cheap As Chips Here…

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Why I love France – reason number 1,028: childcare costs.

The following photographs show the disparity in childcare costs between my new home, France, vs my old home, the UK. The costs in France for a day’s childcare – including meal – are 7 Euros. In the UK you can take that figure and multiply it by a factor of nearly 10. I am not joking about this.

In the UK if you have one child and you pay X amount, and then have another child in the same nursery, you pay X again. Here they adjust the price, so as not to hurt the family wallet too much. So you are already paying a (relative) pittance, and then they add in reduced costs for more children.

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This is one of  the reasons why this blog even exists, I had to give up my job in the UK because, when child number two arrived, I was essentially working for nothing. Can you imagine that? Doing a job that does not fulfil you in any way, only to see all your earnings be swallowed up, just so you can pay someone else to look after your kids, because you can’t look after them due to being too busy working to pay them to look after your kids…

It sounds like absolute madness, doesn’t it? But this is the reality that faces many parents in the UK. This is a stark contrast to France, over here they embrace the family and encourage people to have children and enjoy their lives with them. In the UK it sometimes felt like you were being punished for that greatest of all sins: wanting to have more than one child.

I’m conflicted about my own personal situation, having to quit the ‘rat race’, because on the one hand NOBODY should have to stop working because they cannot afford childcare, but on the other hand it gifted me some incredible times with my children. Times that I may never have experienced otherwise, and these memories will last forever.

Some people are lucky, and so have parents/family that can ‘pick up the slack’ and help out with the kids, and thus ease the burden of childcare costs. We didn’t have that, we didn’t have that ‘support network’, as they call it in the UK. And this is another one of the reasons why we decided to move to France.

This kind of thing is something that parents who are contemplating moving over here really have to factor in to their decision-making, as it is a huge, huge plus. This isn’t even considering the lower costs for other things such as school trips, extra-curricular activities, university etc.

They even adjust the scale in pre-school nurseries to reflect your income, so someone on a lower wage pays a lower rate than that of someone on a higher one.

Yes there are other costs incurred from moving over here but this took a great weight off our family’s financial shoulders and I’d imagine, for many other parents, it would be the same.

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Sarcasm In France Is Music To My Ears…

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Many times have I tried to use sarcasm in France. Many times have I failed.

‘Why do you keep doing it?’ my (French) partner has asked me, again and again ‘Just stop. They don’t get it!’ she always adds.

But I still try.

And fail.

So imagine my delight today, upon finishing singing a traditional English carol to the 8-year-old kids in my English class, to receive what was undoubtedly my second* round of sarcastic applause.

This really has reaffirmed my faith that sarcasm is alive and well in France, and is just waiting to be uncovered with the correct prompt.

Oh and if you doubt the veracity of my claim, please feel free to drop round – any time -and I will ‘treat’ you to ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’ in its entirety.

You will then agree that anyone applauding this godawful noise must be doing so sarcastically.

(*First time was for singing ‘What’s New Pussycat?’, Hotel San Eloy 1999, Costa Brava)

Torturing The French 2…

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Just got back in from my Yorkshire/English class and I have to say my group of French students did incredibly well and really jumped in with both feet. Stumbling blocks came when their English – as in ‘proper’ English – met Yorkshire English. They had a hard time with:
 
Yorkshire t’ = English to/the
 
Yorkshire wi’ = English with
 
Yorkshire me = English my
 
I thought Pierre’s head was going to explode when I explained that the ‘g’ in ‘maungy’ wasn’t pronounced the same as it was in ‘mingin”.
 
Fabienne really didn’t like having to say the Yorkshire slang for coal cellar in a sentence: ‘They’re in t’ coil oyle Margaret’.
 
And I fear I have damaged relations between Christine and I after I made her repeat ‘Let’s take a shortcut through t’ snicket’ five times, because she kept saying ‘the snicket’.
 
Yes, it did feel strange correcting people’s English, because it was correct English, but not correct Yorkshire English.
 
Next session we will be finishing this off (we only got up to ‘sup’ before time ran out) and delving into the Scottish dialect.
 
A Yorkshire/Scottish cocktail, what could go wrong?

Torturing The French….

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Every third Tuesday I teach a group of mostly retired, lovely French people, whose only goal is to improve their English.

I asked them the last time for suggestions on what they would like to do at the next class.

‘Tell us about England, about the colour, the life’ they said to me.

‘Speak about where you are from, tell us about Yorkshire’ they asked me.

‘We love hearing all the different ways you say things’ they told me.

‘There are so many regional accents in the UK, it’s really quite wonderful’ they opined.
 
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that, can you say it again but slowly this time please?’ they frequently added.

They may regret their requests when they see what I have in store for them tonight. The handouts I provide aren’t just for reading you see, they are also for reading ALOUD.

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Bonus points will be awarded for correctly pronouncing ‘sithee’ ‘ey up’ and ‘Eh by gum, tis chuffing cawd enuf t’freeze t’balls off a brass bloody monkey aht theer’

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I Was At A Loose End And I Had A Lot Of White Paint So…

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…I decided to do what any normal middle-aged man would do: I painted the inside of one of my dependances and turned it into a ‘chill-out’ area for adults. It’s a literal chill-out zone too – I mean, as in it’s not very warm in there.

For people who don’t know what a dependance is, it’s the French term for outbuildings, so running alongside our house, but not connected to it, we have a garage. Attached to that garage is a separate room that houses the boiler, and this room then connects with the aforementioned dependance that I’ve decorated.

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There’s also another dependance at the very end – again, also connected to the others – but that one’s a bit damp and so I didn’t bother with that. Plus the door is set painfully low, and if I bang my head on it one more time I think I might dust off my sledgehammer and set about it in a rather unpleasant manner.

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As you can see they had a sale on in one of my local paint stores on white Dulux paint. Having a sale on paint in France occurs with roughly the same frequency as winning the lottery. Or finding a French baker open at 12.45pm.

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I spent a fair bit of time on the prep, cleaning it up and getting it ready, but unfortunately neglected to take any ‘before’ pictures, so you will have to use your imagination and picture a grim, grubby, grey box of a room.

My main aim doing this – apart from the previously mentioned relaxation area for adults – was to highlight some of the features that the prior owners had neglected: the wooden beams. I cleaned each beam and then painted between them to really make them ‘pop’ – if beams can do that? I’ve never written anything like this so I don’t know if they can.

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Apart from the paint I used only existing materials with the exception of a few bits and bobs I bought from Aldi, in the reduced section. It seems nobody wanted to buy their ‘nautical-themed’ items, so they had reduced them to clear and shoved them in their ‘shit aisle’ (you know what I’m talking about). I also picked up a couple of coloured bottles and a rather garish pinky-orangy candle-holder/big glass jar thingy (hanging from the ceiling at the end next to the bottles). This was also from Aldi, and I bought it to give a bit of colour to the room and – even though you can’t see it – there is a flamingo on the reverse.

Total expenditure on ‘objets d’art’ (ooh I will pay for using that term) : 22 Euros.

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I also added a bit of blue paint here and there – the door, window frame etc – as I realised that if I painted everything white it would stop looking like a chill-out area for adults, and start looking like a holding-facility for adults with mental-health issues.

I’ve curtained off the other part of this dependance, where the boiler is, as it’s not quite as neat and tidy as this one is – yet. This will be the next part of the ‘project’. For the time being the family refers to this as ‘Monica’s Closet’, which should be familiar to fans of the TV show ‘Friends’, but if you aren’t familiar with that term, it basically means it’s where I’ve shoved all the crap for the time being.

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed the presence of toys in the room. These appeared approximately 25 seconds after I revealed my secret project to my family and explained what it was I had wanted to achieve with it. This is an unfortunate side-effect when you try to create a space to get away from children: they follow you. They have now commandeered our all-new dependance with cries of ‘Thank you daddy’ and ‘Thank you for building us a play-house daddy, can you close the door on you way out, please?’.

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Still I’m not begrudging them stealing our new area, because if they are in there, we can have the actual house all to ourselves.

Win-win, eh?

Introducing French Mole Rugby League…

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I thought I would draw attention to a little-known and underappreciated sport in my new country – French Mole Rugby League. I took a few photographs of a match currently being played on a pitch local to me today, in order to show people what they are missing.

As you can see in the first photograph the home team – Jasper’s Jets – are playing fantastically well. Their prop-forward – Bob ‘The Burrower’ Brown – is just about to make a pass and has achieved a remarkable distance in what is a new record time for the sport of mole rugby-league (7 weeks).

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On the other end of the pitch it’s a different story altogether. The visitors – The Taupe Terrors – are looking distinctly disorganised as they have yet to even get started, and some may argue that they appear to be moving backwards.

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Further adding to their embarrassment is the fact that their star player – Dave ‘The Digger’ Dawkins – has been sidelined for the second time in as many matches after he was caught smuggling illegal, performance-enhancing equipment under the pitch (a trowel).

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Rules are strict on this kind of behaviour and could see him hit with a two-match suspension, meaning he may not see the light of day till 2025, and his sponsors (Moleborough) may put an end to his lucrative advertising deal.

The tension is truly mounting here and for more on this up and coming sport tune back in the same time next year for the half-time update.

How Many Pieces of Lego Have You Hoovered Up?

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I believe I broke through the £300 barrier today – that’s the approximate value of Lego I have hoovered up.

In days gone by I would bend down and pick them up, but then I discovered that ‘accidentally’ hoovering them up was easier. I also realised I was fighting a losing battle, as for every 1 piece I picked up my kids would drop 6 more.

I draw the line at figures (complete figures only, heads still go up the tube) and pieces in excess of 10cm, but everything else is fair game.

They get everywhere. I guarantee that if you look under any parent’s sofa it will look like a Lego-battleground; heads, wheels, arms, blocks, lights, tools, legs, those pointy corner bits – they’re all under there. I recommend the narrow attachment for this. Another tip – if you can’t quite reach them all under there, and you have a rug – drop it at one side of the sofa and the resulting breeze will blow the parts towards you – as well as all the dust-bunnies.

The kids might not be happy, but at least when I go for a pee at 4 a.m I don’t wake the house up with my cries of anguish after stepping on Lisa Simpson’s Lego-head.

Cost-effective? No.

Easier life? Oh yes.

The Honesty Of Kids…

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Teaching English today.

Little girl looks at me quizzically.

‘You talk English?’ she says, sat in my English class, blinking her eyes in confusion.

‘Yes, because I am English’ I reply.

‘But you talk French too’ she continues (blink, blink).

‘Yes, but I speak better English than I do French’ I counter.

(Blink, blink) ‘But you speak French well’ she says, making my day.

‘Thanks, I try my best’ I reply, feeling quite pleased with myself.

‘But not too well’ she adds (blink, blink).

I don’t think there’s anything quite as honest as a 7 year-old child.

I Don’t Care What Time Of Day It Is, I Hate Clowns….

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They all bloat down here…especially if they have TWO Big Macs

We go to McDonald’s now and again. I might have mentioned it. People will frown about that. They will say things like ‘Consumerism’ ‘Frankenstein food’ and ‘I hate McDonald’s’. And to them I say ‘Yes, but have you tried the bacon double cheeseburger?’.

Now I have the kids full time on a Wednesday (thanks to French president Mr Macron, and I really do mean that) we often head there, especially if it’s raining.

It was raining on this grey and miserable Wednesday, so guess where we ended up?

Our trip to McDonald’s today was made more memorable as we were ‘entertained’ by the real-life, in the flesh, French Ronald McDonald, walking around saying bonjour, cava etc.

In case you didn’t notice the picture at the top of the page, he looked liked this:

Note suspicious glare from kid in bottom right of pic

He was walking around chatting away, smiling/grimacing at and cuddling people, with a balloon person accompanying him, making balloon animals for the kids, as if this would in some way alleviate the sheer terror that his form brought out in them and the adults as well. Especially adults like me.

It’s broad daylight, in a busy restaurant, yet this clown, squeaking around in his big red shoes, has got me quaking in mine. I hate clowns, yet have a perverse fascination with them, and have watched every horror film featuring them.

Some of the kids lapped it up, but some reacted like me and so there were plenty of scenes like this one:

I can say, with hand on heart, that he was at least 200% more sinister than the already-creepy-as-fuck UK ones that I used to see from time to time. I can also say that I have never seen my daughter turn away from something as quickly as she did when he approached our table today and tried to engage her in conversation, she was having none of him, his red shoes, his balloon animals or his ghastly painted face.

It was a pity, as the kids really did want one of the balloon animals – my son specified a dog, any colour but pink – but they were not prepared to endure having this painted creature interacting with them in order to get one.

He left half-way through our meal, probably had other venues to terrorise. We did not mourn his passing, and are not looking forward to him being there again.

Shame about the balloon animals though.

The Fog Of Awwwwww…

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I’m taking a gamble today trying the kids out at a new place. Always a risky choice with kids, deviating from the norm. Plus I wasn’t sure if the village I’d decided to visit had a park. I knew what would happen if I didn’t find one. That would be all I would hear about for a week. I saw promising signs on the way into the village, and pulled up at the local lake. Parks and lakes go together like fish and chips, right?

The kids were not initially impressed by my risky gamble…

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Me: ‘Look at this, what a great view, all that fog’

Him: ‘It’s all white daddy, look! Everything is white!’

Me: ‘Yes, this is a reaction caused by the cold weather’

Him: (a rare moment of parental concern) ‘Will you be warm enough daddy? You don’t have a thick coat like us on, yours is thin, you might be too cold’

Me: (tear rolls gently down face and almost freezes on cheek) ‘It’s OK son, I’ll be fine, thanks for asking though’

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Her: ‘Awwww….there’s no park here’

Me: ‘Yes, but there might be one on the other side, and look at all this fog, doesn’t it look great?’

Her: Blows air out of her mouth and makes a negative ‘Pfffffft’ noise that you would  expect to hear from someone in their forties. This ‘Pfffffft’ effortlessly conveys and encapsulates her disappointment with the location, the scenery, the weather and me.

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Me: (Looking up at the chateaux shrouded in fog and pointing it out to the kids) ‘What a great castle eh? Look at the height of the walls, I bet this was a good place to defend and look (pointing at ditch that runs along the base of the wall) I bet there was a moat here once too, what do you think?’

Her: ‘There’s no park here’

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Him: ‘What’s that daddy?’

Me: ‘It’s where we put naughty kids’

Him: ‘Can you open it?’

Me: ‘No’

Him: ‘Ha, ha! Daddy can’t put us in there, he doesn’t have any keys. Ha, ha!’

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Him: ‘Why are you taking pictures of a toilet? Why daddy? Why?’

Me: ‘It’s just in such a great location, look at it, surrounded by all the trees and leaves’

Him: ‘Weecee, it’s a Weecee’

Me: ‘No, it’s a ‘WC’

Him: ‘What’s that mean’

Me: ‘I don’t know’ (I’ve remembered now, without the aid of Wikipedia, and I think it means ‘Water Closet’)

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Me: ‘Come on, I’ll take a picture of you both under this little house’

Her: ‘There’s no park here’

Me: ‘There’ll be one round here I’m sure. Now why don’t you both get under the house for a nice photo for mummy?’

Him: ‘No, I want to hug a tree instead’ (Hugs tree)

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Her: ‘Weeee! A park!’

Him: (disappears in a puff of air and reappears on the see-saw)

Me: (thinking: ‘Everything looks wet – where are the swings?’)

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Me: (Now bored of the park – quickly done) ‘Let’s have a look over here kids, I think I can see something’

Both: ‘What is it?’

Me: ‘I think it’s….

Me: ….another toilet! And look, it’s got a little heart-shaped hole, how romantic’

Him: ‘I am getting really annoyed at you daddy, why do you keep taking pictures of toilets? Stop taking pictures of toilets daddy!’

After venturing inside and using the ‘facilities’

Me: ‘Why is the lock on the outside? How strange…and a little bit worrying’

Her: ‘Can we go back to the park now?’

Me: ‘Let’s have a look over here, I think I can hear something, can you hear the water?’

Both: ‘Yes!’

Me: ‘Maybe it’s a waterfall?’

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It’s NOT a waterfall….

Me: ‘Well, it’s not a waterfall, but it’s close’

Her: ‘No it isn’t’

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Me: ‘Let me take a picture of you in front of the foggy lake, and promise not to stick your tongue out’

Him: ‘OK daddy, I promise’

Me: (takes photo knowing exactly what will happen)

Him: (is seven-year-old boy, therefore sticks tongue out anyway)

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Both: ‘What’s that daddy?’

Me: ‘It’s a little island, do you want to live on it for a couple of weeks and give me and your mum some peace?’

Him: ‘No!’

Her: (launches a series of physical attacks upon my person, primarily focused on the groin-area)

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Him: ‘What are you doing daddy?’

Me: ‘Just taking a nice photo’

Him: ‘Shall we play a game? It’s where the first person to speak loses, so everybody has to be quiet’

Me: (nodding so eagerly that I develop neck ache later in the day) ‘Yes that sounds like a good game’

 

This is now my favourite game and one that is unfortunately short-lived, but lasts just long enough too get us back to the car, whereupon it’s business as usual and I drive home with what appears to the casual observer  – and sounds exactly like – two wild animals in the back of the car.

It could have been worse though.

At least there was a park eh?