Benefitting From Our Bonus Day

We’ve been making the most of our bonus day, 29th February, as well as the wonderful weather. We were down to teeshirts today. It seems incredible that only a week ago Chris and I were bundled up against the vicious cold, dragging wood across the firmly frozen lakes. They’re all thawed now and full of life. The fish are stirring again and wild ducks are swooping in from every direction for a paddle. A few cormorants have made an unwelcome reappearance – we hope not for long.

We went on a family geocaching trip this morning to play our part in the world record breaking geocaching event I mentioned the other day. We found three out of four. We’ll be back to track down the one that eluded us in a quarry. The clue wasn’t the most helpful – sous les pierres (under the rocks). You get a lot of those in quarries! However, we weren’t defeated previously when faced with sous l’arbre (under a tree) as a hint in a wood. Occasionally caches are moved or taken away by muggles (i.e. non-geocachers) so maybe this is what happened today. We certainly had a very good hunt around. And even if we didn’t have a 100% record today, we enjoyed ourselves. Two of the caches were in the vicinity of old stone crosses. Here is the one at St Sauvier in Creuse, dating from 1817,

and here is the one near Archignat in Allier. This appears to be much older judging from the amount of erosion that it’s suffered.

While we have an extra pair of hands around the place in the form of Eldest Son, Benjamin, we moved on to phase two of the branch clearing programme around the lakes – piling up and burning. Actually, we mainly just piled since the wood is still rather wet and the fires we started didn’t last very long. Long enough to take a rather good action pic though!

The arrival of leap year lambs would have been the icing on the cake, but our girls are not going to be rushed, that’s for sure. And to finish, a gratuitous pig picture. These are some Gloucester Old Spots that belong to friends of ours. Aren’t they great?



Houba, Houba ! Meet Marsupilami

He’s 60 this year, he’s stripey, he’s cute – but what exactly is he?

Marsupilami is a bande désinée (comic book) character invented by Franquin and was first published in 1952 in Spirou. In 1987 he got his own series of BDs, which our Ruadhri loves. There’s now a further spinoff series called Marsu Kids, and on 4 April this year, a Marsupilami film will hit the screens. Marsupilami been translated into at least a dozen different languages and has sold millions of books.

Franquin came up with his creation after reading about okapis, which for a long while were thought to be imaginary animals, like unicorns or the Loch Ness Monster. Franquin wanted an animal with strength, agility and courage, and which looked handsome. He came up with a sort of monkey-leopard cross, a yellow animal with black spots and an incredibly long tail which comes in handy during his many and various adventures.

The name Marsupilami comes from the combination marsupial, Pilou-Pilou (a cartoon animal created by the guy who came up with Popeye) and ami (friend). He lives in a fictitious South American country called Palombia. This country has its own website!  It’s a great one since it’s encouraging kids to think about the world’s dwindling resources and rainforests in particular. Marsupilami eats fleas (off tapirs mainly), nuts and fruit. He says ‘houba’ a lot. He has a laid-back attitude and is up for most challenges with his gorilla chum Mo. Generally I think he’s pretty cool. Check him out for yourself.

There are some Marsupilami colouring pages here for any youngsters in your family.

Talking about families, Eldest Son has come home for a few days, mainly to get his washing done and have sugar in tea again. Oh, and apparently to raid us for toilet rolls. Never mind that he lives five minutes from a supermarket! Caiti has turned into a redhead, so I’m not the only one in the family any more. She looks terrific. It’s a shame she dropped her phone in Carrefour while we were out so we have to go back some time this week to retrieve it. And at long last we got to Gueret bibliotheque again so Rors got his hands on some decent books – all BDs of course. He got four out, including a Marsupilami adventure, and I think he’s read them all already. We Daggs devour books.


Année Bissextile – Leap Year

Caesar from the Asterix books

As I’m sure you know, this year is a leap year. In French that’s année bissextile. A what? Well, bissextile comes from the Latin bis sextilis which means ‘twice sixth’. None the wiser? OK, leap years were introduced under the Julian calendar, after Caesar’s Egyptian astrologer Sosigenes advised him that a year was actually 365 and a quarter days long. An extra day every four years was introduced, after the 24th February. Now, Romans counted backwards in months so the 24th February to them was sexto ante calendas martii (sixth day before the 1st of March). So the extra day that was slipped in fairly logically became the second sixth day before the 1st of March – bis sextilis. Now it all makes sense!

An interesting fact. Sweden not only has 29th Februari, but has even had two 30th Februarys, one in 1700, and one three hundred years ago in 1712. This was because the country had managed to get out of sync with everyone else while attempting to gradually introduce the Gregorian calendar, rather than do it brutally as in other countries where eleven days suddenly disappeared. This had led to riots and protests on a wide scale so the Swedes decided to be more cautious.

And another one. Leap years don’t happen every 4 years. Under the Gregorian calendar, they are the years that are divisible by 4 but not by 100, or which are divisible by 400. This is why 2000 was a leap year, but not 1900.

Leap years should be celebrated since we get to have a whole extra day for free.

Three things to do on 29th February in France

1. Propose to someone if you’re a girl. At one time there was a law in Scotland that meant a man couldn’t refuse the proposal! And yes, I know in this day and age women can pop the question any time, but Leap Year Day is the official day to do it. I won’t be since I think Chris would be upset and anyway, I can’t think of a better guy to be married to. Caiti tells us she won’t be husband hunting either on Wednesday.

2. Buy a copy of La Bougie du Sapeur (The Fireman’s/Engineer’s Candle) a humorous French magazine that only appears every 29th February. This year’s will be number 9. Apparently, on the back page is a coupon offering you the chance to subscribe for 25 issues i.e. for the next 100 years at a cost of €100. I shall see if I can find a copy this year.

3. Go geocaching. Geocachers in every country are being asked to find a cache on 29th February so as to set a new world record for the number of geocaches found on a certain day. We’ll be joining in.  In 2008, 36,696 caches were found. is hoping to double that amount this year. Anyone who finds a cache and logs it on the site will get a special souvenir on their cache profile.

Whatever you do, have a nice 29th of February this year.


Queer Quantities And Strange Statistics

It’s long puzzled me why sliced brown bread here in France comes in ‘normal’ packets of 14 slices (550g) and family size ones of 21 slices (825g). Those seem to be strange numbers of slices, especially the 21 size. You can’t make an even number of sandwiches with that. Sandwiches come in pairs, everyone knows that! This equates to a single slice weighing 39.285714285714285714 (recurring) grams! Is this some kind of magic number? Baguettes and pains come in 400g and 800g so there’s no real correlation there, and they can be cut into 1 or 20 chunks.

Average French household size is 2.3 (INSEE, 2008). Our 14 slice loaf yields 6.09 slices per person and the 21 slice loaf yields 9.13. INSEE also tells us that the average consumption of bread per French person per year is 51.7 kg, which is near enough 1 kg per week. That works out nicely as 2.5 baguettes or 1.25 pains. It’s not so handy with brown bread. Remembering that a slice weighs 39.285714285714 g, we French residents therefore need to consume 25.45 slices of bread per week to get our kg. Neither 14 nor 21 slice packets are particularly helpful there either!

On to another peculiar size. Condensed milk comes in the quantity 397g. You have to wonder why the manufacturers can’t add another 3 g to make a nice round 400g, or scoop a dollop out so we have 375g. And it gets weirder. To dilute the milk down, the instructions tell you that you have to add 800g of water. I don’t generally go around weighing water. Do you? But we’re left with no alternative. By adding that weight of water we end up, apparently, with 99.3 cl of milk. Where have the grams gone? I think someone is taking the Micky! (In case you’re wondering, since our 1197g of liquid equals 99.3 cl, this means that 1g = 0.083cl. So, 800 times that equals 66.4 cl. Don’t get the scales out next time you dilute your condensed milk. Just whack in 66 cl (660 ml) and that’s near enough!)

It goes on. Ketchup comes in 560g bottles, mayonnaise in 470g jars, jam in 370g jars, tomatoes in 780g tins, and some cheese in 320g. I don’t think there’s any rhyme or reason behind these strange quantities. They’ve possibly evolved from some obscure historical measurement or maybe simple stubbornness is to blame. I like a tin/jar/bottle that size and that’s that! And it’s not just food that’s strange. Coffee filters come in 40s or 80s usually. Why? Why not 50s or 75s or 100s? Washing powder tablets are delivered in multiples of 16. Pourquoi? These latter are also strange because you’re told that the 32 tablets in a small box are enough for 16 washes. I get it – 2 per wash. So why not make them twice the size if that’s the recommended dose? Or provide them simply as singles without dictating exactly how many to use at a time?

If only I ruled the world …

Busy Week – Branches, Brouettes, Barbed Wire and Berkshires

I’ve been sitting gazing blankly at the computer screen for a while. Not writer’s block – I’ve got plenty of blog posts planned out – but farmer’s exhaustion! It’s been quite a week. Now that we’re finally thawing out, we’re catching up with outside jobs. But there was still thick enough ice on the lakes till Wednesday to allow us to carry on chopping off overhanging branches and lugging them to the banks. This job would have taken several weeks if we’d had to do it from the bank in unfrozen conditions. As it was we got it done in less than half that time. OK, we still have to drag many of the branches into organised piles for either further sawing to turn them into winter fuel logs, or for burning in a bonfire if they’re too thin and wimpy.

But we have the holidays to get that done in. After eight long weeks of term through the worst part of the year, at long last schools in Zone B have their winter holidays. Not that many people seem to flock to the ski slopes from Creuse. It’s more of a stay at home vacation here. And anyway, I think everyone’s had enough snow and ice for one winter!

We’ve finished one of the raised beds in the polytunnel. That involved a lot of compost digging to fill it, but fortunately we have a lot of compost! And finally a proper working wheelbarrow for transporting it around in. My old birthday brouette (wheelbarrow), from two or three years ago now, was a two-wheeler which never worked very well. It was very unstable. Or perhaps that was just me. The hi-tech rubber stoppers on the end of the axles which held the wheels on kept getting knocked off and so the wheels would quickly follow suit. It led to much swearing. Now I have an early, and I emphasise early (six months in fact) fiftieth birthday wheelbarrow. It’s 90 litres and enormous. Sadly a bit of it is missing. Chris got it from Bricodepot in Montluçon which is notorious for selling incomplete kits of things. Chris double and triple checked during the buying process, and even asked the sales assistant, to make sure he’d got all the right wheelbarrow bits. But one was missing when we got home, the renforcer for the caisse (supporter bit for the barrowy bit). It’s usable but could soon get rickety.

We finished the week with some fencing reconstruction and reniforcement. We’ve been carting fence posts into place which Chris has then whacked into position. Then we’ve battled with barbed wire and against brambles to make a llama-proof fence. Should be done tomorrow so Denis can get back out in his field again. And now the ice is melting we can give our poor hungry carp a daily dose of carp pellets again to keep them nice and fat for the fishing season.

All those jobs are on top of the usual maintenance and livestock chores, plus some extra plumbing Chris is having to do post-burst-pipes, and added to our 10 kms of walking each day to get Rors to and from his school bus. No wonder I’m a bit slow this afternoon!

But cheery, energising things are happening. The crocuses are coming out, the daffodils are hanging on (they took a bashing from le grand froid), the grues are migrating northwards – spring isn’t too far away. The two remaining chickens look like they’re thinking about laying again, and the sheep we hope are seriously contemplating imminent motherhood too. And we have our pigs lined up now. When I last mentioned them the other day, piglessness was looming. We were having problems finding any. No longer. A breeding trio of Berkshires will be joining us in early May. Which is great news, but will mean a major pig fencing programme.

All in good time!

Liberté, Fraternité Maybe – But Égalité Is Struggling In French Schools

Photo by Frenk and Danielle Kaufmann from Dreamstime

Having touched on discrimination yesterday with a look at the suppression of the term Mademoiselle on official forms, I thought I’d continue on the theme by looking at the disparity between the treatment of boys and girls at primary school. Recently there was a report on this subject in the little newspaper, Mon Quotidien, that Ruadhri reads every day and which is aimed at primary school kids. There are some interesting findings.

  • In class, the teacher is more likely to ask boys questions than girls, especially in maths.
  • Girls who hand in untidy work are more likely to receive remarks about this than boys. (I have to butt in here to say that this happens in Ireland too. I could hardly believe my ears one day when Mrs C, Caiti’s teacher, told me that she was very untidy ‘for a girl’! Caiti took against her that day and never forgave her!)
  • Teachers are more likely to ask boys to help them with technical tasks around the classroom – how to get the DVD to work etc – but more likely to ask girls to help them tidy bookshelves or toys.
  • The sports that are usually done in primary schools are predominantly ‘boy’ ones like football and rugby and far less often ‘feminine’ physical activities like dancing or gymnastics.
  • Boys tend to dominate in the playground by playing games that take up most of the yard and barging the other kids out of the way.
  • Kids’ books still have more boy than girl heroines. This is definitely the case with BDs.

I find all the above very sad.

I did some research on this area of inequality at school and came across a detailed report entitled optimisitically Filles et garçons sur le chemin de l’égalité (Girls and boys on the path to equality). You could write multiple theses based on the findings in this document. The ones that hit me most are that:

  • Girls spend longer in education than boys – 18.7 years against 18.2
  • Girls still tend to take arts subjects and boys the sciences. (Me again here. This is so true. Benj took the Bac L (languages) at Gueret. There were 4 boys in a class of 25. Caiti is doing a Bac S (science). She’s in a boy-dominated class, but it’s not quite so extreme as Benj’s was. Their lycée, Pierre Bourdan, is generally girl-heavy since it’s a lycée générale et technologique i.e. more academically orientated, whereas the other one in Gueret, Jean Favard, is very boy-heavy apparently due to its being a lycée générale, technologique et professionnelle, the latter term meaning that it offers more vocational courses, mainly scientific ones.)
  • Boys are more likely to leave school earlier and go into apprenticehip schemes.
  • At all levels, girls perform better than boys in exams with the one exception of the Bac STI (Sciences et Technologies Industrielles)
  • 71% of girls and 61% of boys obtain the Bac
  • More women than men obtain Licences (Bachelors’ degrees) and Masters, but fewer women than men go on to obtain doctorates

You should read this report if you can, it’s really quite eye opening. (It’s in French.)

So, does the boys-do-science and girls-do-art thing start at primary school when the teacher asks a boy to help her turn the DVD player on or tells a girl off for not colouring in neatly? It makes you wonder.






Mademoiselles and Bells

My mum and dad 60 years ago

It’s official. A circular from the Prime Minister’s office yesterday, 21st February, has decreed that the term Mademoiselle (Miss) is to be phased out of official documentation. Women no longer have to pinpoint their marital status. France has never had an equivalent of Ms so it’s always been a choice between Madame or Mademoiselle. (Men have only ever had the choice of Monsieur.) However, feminist groups such as Osez le feminisme  and Chiennes de garde are a little suspicious. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realise that this has happened all of a sudden just before la Presidentielle (presidential elections). Is it just vote grabbing, or is it kosher? We’ll have to wait and see if it is properly implemented after the voting is over. The groups also hope that everyone will follow the government’s lead and stop using ‘Miss’.

The circular also says that the demand for maiden names on official forms should be eliminated too. Darn skippy it should. It has no relevance to anything, and certainly not to setting up a business or paying your cotisations or opening an electricity account, what you used to be called before you married. It’s your current name, whether you’ve kept your own surname or taken your partner’s, that matters. I for one finding it infuriating to get letters from French administration addressed to me as Stephanie Oakley. That’s not me. I stopped being her 25 years ago when I became Stephanie Dagg. I was perfectly happy to take on Chris’s surname and such was my choice. So it’s irritating when some foreign bureaucrat overrides it!

I dare say it will take a while for this change to come through fully, but it’s all for the good.

And now the bells. As part of the celebrations for its 850th birthday next year, Notre Dame in Paris, which Caiti and I visited the other week, is getting new bells. Its original ones were melted down in 1791 and 1792 to make canons during the French revolutionary wars. More than sixty years later, in 1856 the cathedral got some new bells, but they didn’t make the same sound as their predecessors. So they’re going. Nine new ones have been commissioned. They’ll be made from tin and copper and recapture the authentic sound of Notre Dame’s carillon. Go to the website and you can download an MP3 file to give you an idea what the bells will sound like.  (You need to have the volume set very high to hear them well.)


Food Self-Sufficiency, Here We Come!

It may be hard to believe given my well-known dislike of cooking, but this morning saw me voluntarily in the kitchen. And I’ll be back again later making pancakes. Using flour, which leads me to this photo which I just have to include. (OK, I have it in for M Hollande at the moment, but he started it by asking me for a donation!)

A bad flour moment!

We usually start off with cheese and ham pancakes and I have some topically named cheese to use today!

After the savoury first course of pancakes, we hit the sweet fillings with a vengeance.

So why was I cooking this morning? Well, we’re taking our drive for self-sufficiency in meat and veg seriously. Chris has been busy butchering over the last few days and I had a liver to use, so I had my first stab at homemade liver paté. I chose an ultra simple recipe. It involved frying a chopped onion in butter, adding the chopped liver, pepper, nutmeg and herbs, and I threw in some walnuts for luck. Once the liver was cooked I added some cream and whizzed everything in the food blender and voilà, suprisingly good paté. In future I’ll store up all the livers from the poultry. We’d previously been giving them to the cats. No longer!

First attempt at paté

Monsieur le Président of the local hunting club turned up yesterday with three large lumps of venison for us, so we now have a very well-stocked freezer meat wise. Our supply of frozen pumpkins never seems to get any less, so today I was trying out apple and pumpkin crumble. It’s interesting, shall we say. I don’t think it will catch on. Actually, I think the problem may be that I used raw pumpkin with stewed apple. I vaguely remember reaching the ‘s*d-it, I-hate-pumpkin’ stage when I was processing the citrouilles last year, and lobbing a few bags of uncooked chunks into the freezer instead of cooking them first. I’m not a high ranking domestic goddess. And my laziness has caught up with me.

We still have loads of frozen eggs. The girls were laying right up until le grand froid hit so it’s only now that I’m starting to use my stash from the freezer.

The cold killed off all my seedlings in the polytunnel sadly, but we’ll start again. We’re in the process of preparing a raised bed in there. We put the wooden frame in place yesterday and put down a layer of geotex (our builder got the wrong stuff in for our fosse septique, which was responsible for it being failed the first time – it took five goes to get it approved.) On top of that we’ve put cardboard as an extra weed suppressing barrier.

Raised bed in progress

Today we’ve been transporting lots of compost in my brand new wheelbarrow (an early 50th birthday present I’ve been told!) to the bed. It will take several more sessions to fill it, but we’re on the way. The plan is to grow tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, radishes, cucumbers and other salad and delicate veg in there and keep ourselves fully provided for. We have a kiwi tree in there too.

We’re eagerly awaiting the arrival of our first lambs and we’re in the process of tracking down some pigs, preferably Gloucester Old Spots or Berkshires. We also have our eye on some Limousin Cul-Noirs (black-bottomed pigs). They’re very slow growing so they’ll be a long term project. We need some other weaners to fatten up quickly for this autumn. However, there seem to be a lot of time wasters out there who advertise pigs for sale, but when you make contact, it turns out they haven’t actually got any. A few people have also told us we need to be registered to keep pigs before they can sell us any. That’s nonsense, and all the pig-keeping forums say as much. Anyone can buy a few pigs to fatten up and eat. It’s only if you start supplying meat into the food chain that any sort of agricultural rules and regulations have to be obeyed.

Chris fell in love with pigs on his pig experience course so we’re very frustrated at finding it so hard to get our hands on some. But we’ll keep trying.

And to finish with, as a follow up from my last post, here’s a list of the Twitter accounts for the gallant round-the-world cyclists so you can follow them if you’re interested. Stephen Phillips @globecycleracer   Sean Conway: @Conway_Sean   Stuart Lansdale: @StuJLans   Simons Hutchinson: @SimonsEpicCycle   Richard Dunnett: @Onebigpedal   Paul Ashley-Unett: @paulcyclesworld   Mike Hall: @Normally_Human   Martin Walker: @Cycle_Around   Kyle B Hewitt: @KBH_WCR   Jason Woodhouse: @boyonhisbike



World Cycle Racing Grand Tour – Currently in France

Simon Hutchinson, one of the riders

As I write this, late afternoon on 20th February, six of the ten participants in the World Cycle Racing Grand Tour are in France. One passed fairly close to here earlier today but I had no idea the race was going on until five minutes ago. It would have been nice to have cheered him on! (Of the remaining four riders, one is in the UK, one is in Spain and two are in Belgium.) These crazy/dedicated indivdiuals are taking on a race that is five times longer than the Tour de France, as if that wasn’t long enough! They will be aiming to cover at least 190 miles a day. Actually, I think we need to know the names of these courageous souls: Jason Woodhouse, Kyle Hewitt, Martin Walker, Mike Hall, Richard Dunnett, Simon Hutchinson, Stephen Phillips, Stuart Lansdale and Sean Conway. Not only are they pushing themselves to their physical limits, but they’re raising money for thirteen different deserving charities.

These guys are aiming to beat Alan Bate’s global circumnavigation bike record of 18,310.47 miles (29,467.91 km) covered in 96 days, 10 hours and 33 minutes in 2010. Isn’t that fast enough? They’re being tracked by satellite and the data are updated every ten minutes. Log on here to see where they all are at any time.

In France their main challenge will be to cycle past boulangeries without being tempted to stop and indulge in viennoiseries by that almost irresistible smell of fresh croissants and baguettes that wafts out, and to avoid Francois Hollande and his begging tin.

Sean Conway

Further along the route it’ll be a tiny bit tougher with the Rocky Mountains, the Australian outback and the Gobi desert to contend with.

It’s too late to join in this attempt, which will bring the riders home just before the Olympic games, but should you be tempted for the future, and I’m thinking Gerry Patterson here, the guy who cycles up mountains for fun, then here are the rules.

Should you happen across a particularly weary looking cyclist that isn’t me out for a short spin, then it might well be one of these ten athletes. Give them a cheer and a surreptitious push!

La Présidentielle 2012 – Or, M Hollande Wants A Fiver!

I’m quite enjoying the run up to the French presidential elections, even though none of us Daggs can vote in them. That situation will have changed by the next Presidentielle though. As soon as Caits turns 18 in April, I shall go to the Mairie in Nouzerines and get the paperwork going for her, Benj and me to become French nationals and thereby obtain the right to vote. Rors is still too young and Chris isn’t particularly bothered.

Here’s the full list of candidates in this year’s Presidentielle:

Nicolas Sarkozy – Union pour un Mouvement Populaire

François Hollande – Parti Socialiste

Marine Le Pen – Front National

François Bayrou – Mouvement Démocrate

Jean-Luc Mélenchon – Front de Gauche

Eva Joly – Europe Écologie Les Verts

Dominique de Villepin – République Solidaire

Corinne Lepage – Cap21

Nicolas Dupont-Aignan – Debout la République

Nathalie Arthaud – Lutte Ouvrière

Frédéric Nihous – Chasse, Pêche, Nature et Traditions

Philippe Poutou – Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste



Nicolas Canteloup

There’s one I’d like to add: Nicolas Canteloup. He’s an impressionist who excels at politicians. He has a 10-minute slot after the news every night where he does skits on political figures. Chris and I actually understand most of what he says now. Our project of watching telly every night is really paying off. Not only are we now a lot more in touch with French affairs, but it has definitely helped our French. We chortle away at all Canteloup’s digs at the big guys and gals. Sarko is obsessed with Rolexes and conducting an affair with Angela Merkel in this alternate political reality; Hervé Morin (who recently dropped out of the Presidentielle) is always shown in his kitchen and Hollande generally makes references to flour as a weapon somewhere or other when he appears. (A disgruntled woman threw a bag of flour over M Hollande recently!) Canteloup has his finger on the political pulse and would make a brilliant president in my opinion.

I’m following most of the candidates on Twitter. Melenchon is chief Tweeter, closely followed by Sarko. However, some of them aren’t into newfangled technology like Twitter and either don’t have a Twitter account (or at least I haven’t found it yet) or Tweet about once a day. They’re missing out on good publicity in my opinion. Twitter is effective. I’ve signed up on a few of their websites too. I’ve already had a begging email from M Hollande. He wants me to give him a fiver to help his campaign (or possibly dry clean his suit to get rid of any remaining flour). Low income expat with no suffrage rights donating to millionaire politician? Sorry, I don’t think so! He also asked if I wanted to deliver leaflets etc but I politely declined. I’ve heard rumours he wants to restrict the autoentrepreneur status to a three year max, which is ridiculous, so even if I could vote, I wouldn’t be supporting him. I’m following him, and the others, out of intellectual curiosity only.

I was startled to discover that Marine Le Pen is only 42. I thought she was older than me. She hasn’t worn very well, poor dear, despite being wealthy. Now, her big idea is to reintroduce the French franc. That would be plain silly, since only a few days ago, the 17th of February, to be precise, saw the last acceptance of francs by the Bank of France. People queued for hours with bundles of old notes they’d discovered in attics, down the back of sofas, under floorboards etc to exchange them for Euros. Ten years later French people are finally turning their backs decisively on the franc. She’s missed the boat.

Finally, a quick look at slogans. Despite denying during his interview on TF1 20h journal that he had a slogan, Sarko is clearly going with La France Forte (strong France). It’s appearing everywhere. Hollande’s is Le changement, c’est maintenant (The time for change is now). (Not that he’d give me change from five euros.) Le Pen is apparently La voix du peuple (the people’s voice). Bayrou claims that Un pays unis, rien ne lui résiste (nothing can defeat a united country). The other slogans are all suitably vague and jingoistic – Aimons la France (we love France), Pour une France libre (for a free France), Le vote juste (the fair vote), Prenez le pouvoir (take power). Only a few are unsubtle like Arthaud’s Une candidate communiste and Poutou’s Aux capitalistes de payer leur crise (capitalists must sort out their own mess).

Sarkozy and Hollande are leaps and bounds ahead of the rest at this stage. Bayrou has referred bitterly to the Sarkhollandisation of this election. So will it turn into a two horse race and slanging match? Maybe, but I’m optimistic it will be more interesting than that. When anything exciting happens, I’ll let you know!