One of the possible reasons the mayor came round the other week was that, after two and a half years of living without an income, we are now – officially – Poor.

(The reason for the delay is that your rights to benefit in France are measured on what you earned two calendar years ago. I earned over €26K in the first half of 2007 – and was self-employed – therefore had no rights until this January, despite the fact that we spent all of that income buying yurts. This January, I got a letter from social services saying how poor we are, based on our 2008 income, which I was told to take it to the mayor’s office to see if they could help pay the kids’ school meals. The reason why I think it prompted the mayor’s visit is that the first words out of her mouth were: “Are you OK for money?” And: “Can you feed the children?” The implication here is that it’s OK for adults to starve to death – just as long as the kids are OK. Although what the kids do after they lose their parents is anyone’s guess. I reassured her, telling her were we eating our pigs.)

When I had my follow-up meeting with the mayor, she said I must go and see the CAF (social services) to see if they could help pay for the kids’ school meals.

I arranged an appointment and was told (apart from what a great idea a yurt camp is) it was nothing to do with the CAF and I should go and see the CIAS to see if they could help pay for the school meals.

I arranged an appointment and was told (apart from ‘school meals don’t cost very much’ – they do if you don’t have any money) to go and see the mayor’s office to see if she could help pay for the school meals.

Which brought us back to square one. A familiar square. (Perhaps I should give it a Proper Name. Square One has a nice ring to it.)

We went without an appointment and were told ‘lots of people are in difficulty – and look at what’s going on in Portugal and Greece’ – though not by the mayor.

Naturally, we could waste more time going round and round in circles. But we’re busy people. We decided to take the kids out of school for lunch after the holidays and went back to work.

I suppose picnics in the park near the school, next to the river, with our own ham and home-made bread, might be nice. Especially now the good weather’s on the way.

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Last year, as per usual, the Brighton Festival kicked off with the Children’s Parade.

(If you don’t know it, all the schools in the ‘City by the Sea’ march through town in themed costumes, with ‘big makes’ made from willow and paper coated in PVA, ending up on the beach. It’s well worth a watch, especially with a street-side seat and a decent cup of coffee from, say, the Komedia coffee bar.)

I didn’t see it. Because Clare came up with the theme (which meant the daughter’s school was at the front), ran the school’s show (often cajoling unenthusiastic parents to DO SOMETHING), and volunteered me to carry the big make, even though the other three dads were about a foot taller than me:


This year, our new village also had a children’s parade.


With not one…


Or two…


But three big makes.


A marching band.


An enraptured crowd.


Even a dragon fight.


After which, inexplicably, the dragon burst into flames.


It all ended in a melee near the food table. Much like the many Friday evenings of enthusiastic parental participation in the months leading up to it.

It was the last day of term at the daughter’s school today. To celebrate, the canteen provided:

Foie Gras

Duck with pommes noisettes

Profiteroles

Not bad for just over two euros.

Just before the ad break, comes a moment like this. A moment when you go: “How are they going to get out of that?”

The mayor was not surprised to hear that he did not approve of our project. Our land is not in a constructible zone, he said. (“But the previous owner had permission to build?” I said.). The department of agriculture objects because there is forest, he said. (“Yes, but…” I said.) In France it is Yes or No, he said. (In French.) They also object because there is a steep slope (“…?”). A woman from Planning objects to the compost toilets, he said. And nobody wants yurts.

The big cliffhanger is the thing about not being in a constructible zone. How did the previous owner get permission to build? Was there anything underhand? Did we buy the land under false pretenses? Is it worth less now than it was when we bought it? What will our brilliant estate agent say tomorrow? What will our solicitor say next week? What solutions will we come up with after several glasses of wine? And will we remember in the morning?

In the meantime, here’s an advertisement for French schooling. It’s the menu for Monday and Tuesday this week at the daughter’s school. An education in food – which costs us about €15 a month.

Bong. The daughter went to a school this week where all the lessons were French. Bong. Boy had a taste of his own medicine. Bong. And we have a new phone number – but no new phone.

One of the reasons for moving here in August was so the daughter could start school at the beginning of term. Which, following days of excitement, happened on Tuesday. It’s a little school in what will be our local village, with ‘loads’ of kids in classes of mixed age-groups, and a big mural on the playground wall. The days are long (9.00 to 4.30), with ‘loads’ of playtimes, and the canteen serves three-course lunches that would make Jamie Oliver weep into his fresh tagliatelle. There are ‘loads and loads’ of other English kids in the school and a day off every Wednesday.

Very civilised. No one should have to work three days in a row.

If you know her, you won’t be surprised that she’s already found a new best friend and she’s already been back to her place on a play date.

Meanwhile, boy got an ear infection. That’s the opinion of a very serious docteur (doctor) we found through the Pages Jaunes (Yellow Pages). After making the pedestrian 50-metre journey for a 27-euro consultation (same-day service – only had to wait an hour), we came away with a prescription for his first every course of antibiotics. Which must taste nice, because he loves it.

Phones, over the last few weeks, have been a bit of a talking point. Before we left Brighton, I switched my contract to a Pay as you Go with 02. After spending an obscene amount of money in a very few days, I phoned up to find I’d been paying 99p a minute to make and receive calls, with equally high costs for texts. And I wasn’t even entered into a Prize Draw! Although the charges have now been reduced, I remain an unhappy customer.

We’ve been in to see France Telecom (who’ve been bought by Orange – and it doesn’t seem long ago since the company was even born), and have seen various deals for phone, Interweb (up to 8Mb!), TV and all that. But in our local Orpi, Sonia came to the rescue and secured a pretty good deal. In the next couple of weeks we’ll be getting phone and Interweb for 30 euros a month, plus unlimited UK calls for an extra seven euros. And no connection fees. Not bad.

And now the weather: We’ve seen highs of 39 degrees (which is pretty bloody high, I can tell you), but mostly it’s been English – cloudy, with some drizzle, or morning mist clearing to give blue skies with temperatures in the low 20s. I said to the guy in the Interweb shop the other day: “It’s not normal for August, is it?” And he said: “What is normal nowadays?”

Tune in later to see how we get on in the search for beautiful furniture for inside and outside the guest yurts, in tomorrow’s markets in Lalinde and Issigeac.