Profs and Plastic

What is it about French teachers (professeurs or profs) and plastic? They’re obsessed with the stuff. I’m obviously  not going to get on with Ruadhri’s new teacher. On the list of fournitures that he brought home last night – and which really should have been sent out to parents during the holidays – was the inevitable demand for pochettes plastiques, 100 to be precise.

In the past, I’ve caved and given the kids some recycled ones to take to school. Well, this year I’m sticking my heels in. I have written a note in Ruadhri’s cahier de liaison to explain that I won’t be providing said pochettes because they are unnecessary and about as environmentally unfriendly as it’s possible to be. They take between 200 and 500 years to biodegrade. Not every single sheet of paper that the children work on has to be put in one. In fact, none of them do. Surely, surely teachers can see that. It’s by making little gestures like not using plastic sleeves simply for the sake of it that we might actually get somewhere long term with combatting climate change.

Ruadhri’s cahier de liaison is itself encased in one of those hideous plastic covers which the school has provided. The book has a good, stiff cardboard cover anyway and will happily last the year with normal care. It doesn’t need the flipping cover. More plastic junk. Grr.

Teachers tend to ask for more than the kids actually need. Every year they ask for feutres, felt tips, and these only get used a few times. They dry out long before they’re worn out. They also ask for batonnets de colle, glue stick – same story as the felt tips. They even encourage the kids to use blanco, Tippex, or ink erasers to cover up mistakes with. What’s wrong with just crossing them out and carrying on? That doesn’t require something chemical based and encased in plastic. And we had to get Rors an ardoise, literally a slate, a couple of years ago. However, these days these are – you guessed it – plastic, and require special marker pens to go with them that hardly get used. I can’t see why the children don’t use paper and pencil instead of the ardoises. Rors is vague as to what they actually do with them at school, so almost certainly not much.

I don’t want to make life awkward for Rors by protesting to teacher. But I’ve got to the point where I am so exasperated by people who really can make a difference – here teachers when guiding parents what to buy – simply turning a blind eye to the realities of climate change and demanding pointless, plastic products that will outlast us all by centuries and add to the problems of pollution and landfill. It’s ridiculous and irresponsible.

OK, time to put the soapbox away now!

Lurking in the Medicine Cabinet – Outdated Anti-Radiation Drugs

A gift from the Irish government

In a fit of domestic goddessism, I tidied up our stash of medicines this morning. You have to do this regularly in France since any time you go to the doctors, you come home with four or five sets of pills and potions, most of which you don’t use. I’m grateful for their enthusiasm, and so no doubt are the pharmaceutical companies, but it can be over the top. In Ireland, if the doctor prescribed you a drug for ten days, say, the pharmacist would give you exactly that number of tablets. Here you get the drug in multiples of a hundred. OK, not quite, but you get the tablet in whatever quantity the manufacturers decide to box it in. This usually exceeds the amount you’ve been prescribed, and so the medicine stock starts to build up. As just one example, we had amassed four boxes of the exquisitely named exomuc, an expectorant as you might have guessed. So there was plenty of sorting out to do.

And I happened across this. It’s a packet of potassium iodate tablets that the Irish government issued to every household in 2000 (I think) as a way of getting at the UK government. The excuse for issuing them was so the Irish population would be protected in case of Sellafield having a meltdown or otherwise misbehaving. It was rather a token gesture. The six tablets provided would be enough for one dose for two adults and two kids. Irish families are generally larger than this so some members would have had to have been sacrificed. The tablets work by preventing your thyroid from absorbing harmful radiation from the atmosphere, at least for a while.

It was essentially an empty, political gesture, although I think a lot of people were touched by the Taoiseach’s thoughtfulness at the time. I shudder to think what it must have cost. Anti-radiation tablets don’t come cheap as I’ve discovered after a quick trawl on the Net. Anyway, time to dispose of them since they expired in 2005! Also, we’re a long way from Sellafield now.

Taxing Times

It’s tax time in France. Any day now our avis d’imposition for income tax will arrive, but in the meantime we have our taxe foncière bill to groan over. This arrived with a heavy thunk in our mailbox the other day. It’s gone up by €600 euro this year. Mega ouch. The main culprit is the swimming pool. I had actually thought that would only have an impact on our taxe d’habitation, which will be coming soon too. How wrong I was.

Our three kids equal two parts between them

So what exactly are these taxes? Well, income tax, impôt sur le revenu, is obvious enough. However, less than 50% of people pay that in Creuse, which is generally an area of low income. The French system spreads the tax burden over the number of ‘parts’ in your household. We’re a household of five but constitute four parts. Partners, married or otherwise, are a part each, the first two kids are half a part each, and subsequent children are a whole part. Your taxable earnings are divided by your number of parts, which is a pretty fair system I think. It means families on low incomes don’t get hammered.

The other two taxes I mentioned are property taxes. They’re collected centrally but distributed to the local communes and your departément to cover things like schools, refuse collection, street lighting, local facilities etc. You pay these taxes whether you’re resident in France or not i.e. they’re payable on permanent and holiday homes alike. Taxe foncière, the more expensive of the two,  is payable by the owner, taxe d’habitation by the occupier. So if you’re an owner-occupier, you pay both. These taxes vary substantially from région to région and are calculated according to some sort of notional rental value of your property, the valeur locative cadastrale.

Pools are an expensive investment

The taxe foncière has two components; taxe foncière bati and taxe foncière non-bati. These relate respectively to the buildings and to the land that belong to your property. Any changes you  make, such as renovations, central heating, building an in-ground pool, will push the tax up. Now, learn from our mistake. I have only just discovered in the course of doing research for this article that you can get an exemption from paying extra taxe foncière on your pool if you submit form  6704 IL within 90 days of completing the work. I’m cross. I sent in the declaration saying we’d finished our pool, but the fonctionnaire on the receiving end didn’t think to write back to let us know that we could apply for this exemption. He/she was too busy working out much extra could be slapped on our taxes. I think it’s pretty shabby not to at least inform you of your right to make such a claim.

You can query your assessment if you think it’s too high. I may go in to chat about ours, if only to make sure it’s not going to keep on going up by €600 a year. Up to  now, it had gone up about €100, which was already more than enough.

This French website gives more info about the whole concept of taxe foncière.

I’ll return to the theme of taxes, no doubt energetically, when our taxe d’habitation bill arrives!



ZooParc de Beauval – Beauval Zoo

We began the holidays with a visit to a zoo at Haute Touche. Yesterday as an end-of-holiday treat we went to the ZooParc de Beauval. Ruadhri went there with school in June and he’d been raving about it ever since. And since we needed to film some animals for a project we’ve been asked to work on, well, that was the decider. Off we went.

Beauval is a bit of a haul from here. It took two and a half hours to get there. Rors seems to have got over his travel sickness, finally, so we didn’t have to keep stopping for him. But everyone was happy, we have an endless supply of music CDs in the car, I had a sock to knit, so it was a good trip.

The zoo suddenly appeared out of nowhere. There was very little signage and publicity on the way, unlike with Haute Touche. But Beauval is on a different scale altogether. We couldn’t believe how many cars were already in the very large car park, and it was only 10.30 am.  Generally French people are late starters. Cars poured in continuously as we changed into hiking boots and had a large elevenses. Rors had told us, correctly, that you’re not allowed to take picnics into the zoo. You can come back to the car park, which is surrounded by wooden picnic tables, for refuelling, but that didn’t appeal. We scoffed as much as we could to get us round.

Photo from Beauval website

There was a queue at the entrance, but that gave me time to work out it was going to cost the four of us, three adults (the adult rate starts at age 11 which seems steep) and a child, €82 to get in. Ouch. The minute we got through the gate, my camera batteries went flat, or so my camera claimed. Now, I think my camera remembered just how many photos I’d taken at Haute Touche and went on strike. Those batteries hadn’t been in long. And then Caiti’s apparently recharged batteries turned out not to be. But did a single shop or café at the zoo sell batteries? Sadly no, which is a steady source of revenue lost to them. Someone’s not on the ball at Beauval. But Caiti had her phone and Chris had the video camera so all was not lost!

We didn’t leave the zoo till 6pm. It was utterly fantastic, as well as huge. We were all on our knees when we got back to the car. We’d seen a colossal array of animals, including white tigers and white lions (of which the zoo is very proud, and while they’re undeniably handsome, you can’t help thinking they’re ordinary lions and tigers that have been out in the sun too long!), okapis which are a bizarre giraffe/zebra cross, tapirs, piranhas, koala bears (the only ones in France and all spaced out on eucalyptus), coral reef fish, manatees, otters, rhinoceros (white and Indian), tree kangaroos, meerkats (hooray!) and raccoons. The penguins were probably our favourite. They had an enormous swimming area, which was glass sided on the lower end. This was amazing. We spent hours watching them dart through the water after fish at feeding time, and then bob around once that was over. We could have watched them forever.

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Then there was the spectacle. We got to the allotted spot, the sea lion arena, quarter of an hour early, and it was already nearly full. By three it was jam-packed. For the next hour we were mesmerised, first by the rapaces (birds of prey), who were stunningly beautiful as they soared around above us, and then by the sealions. The big male, King, was the star, but all the sealions who performed were brilliant. I haven’t a clue how you train a sealion. We have never managed to train our dog Nessie beyond ‘sit’ and ‘stay’, so how you teach a sealion to balance a ball on its nose, fetch a rubber ring to rescue the trainer who’d fallen in, and clap or balance on their flippers, well, who knows. The sealion display wasn’t tacky ot too exploitative. The animals were clearly loving every minute and it was a fantastic way to appreciate just how intelligent they are.

White tigers - photo from Beauval website

The tropical serre (greenhouse) was excellent. It was hot and steamy with waterfalls, walkways through the trees, and a huge tank with manatees and stunning jungle fish swimming lazily around. A tiny monkey scampered out of a tree onto the bridge in front of us, looked at us, and then scampered back. Magical!

Our last port of call was the Chinese/Asian area. The deco was a tad over the top with Chinese statues and lanterns everywhere, but a lot of work had been put into it and it was atmospheric. We saw the snow leopard and the fisher cats, the stars of that section. But I enjoyed every single animal we saw.

During our visit we’d seen the penguins, gorillas, elephants and raccoons being fed. The zoo lays on plenty of such attractions during the day. It really is a very well-run outfit.

The zoo is well laid out, with plenty of cafés, loos and benches. When we can afford it, we’ll definitely go back!