vacances de paques …

You can spend a fortune on holidays, and still come home stressed, argumentative and wonder if all the traveling had been worth the trouble. Or you can go to Bellefontaine Park, an English run estate of 11 detached gites, set atop the rolling hills of west Normandy.

We came to a late decision about an Easter break and thankfully found this little gem on eBay. And while it was inexpensive, true value for money can only be claimed if one’s utilitarian expectation of just having a roof over one’s head for a few days is exceeded by other factors – you know, stuff that don’t quite make it into the brochures because of modesty or other reasons. Things like … the natural warmness of the owners (Alan & Claudia), the unofficial child minding service carried out professionally by their 2 very able boys, the cosy communal atmosphere created by other guests who, despite being mainly British, found it hard to hide their admiration (and I daresay a wee bit of envy too) for this family who have done so much to make us all feel welcome in this little beautiful corner of France. As a closet Francophile, I feel deeply privileged about being allowed to develop a better understanding of her customs and language, her people (Daniel, and I include Steve, a Brit turned native!) through this family … and then there are the small things that most of us take for granted in 5-star hotels … freshly baked patisserie in the mornings delivered to your door, engaging and lively evening entertainment, and the continuous attentive service throughout … oh and of course, the very late bar! And then there’s the bonus – I came to France for a holiday and ended up buying a customised guitar (but that’s another blog for another day!)

So yes, in case you were in any doubt, this place gets my vote and top marks for value for money. You know the TV ad that goes – There are some things money can’t buy, for everything else there’s MasterCard. For me that’s Bellefontaine – absolutely priceless! Thanks Alan and Claudia … for creating a home away from home this Easter.

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bad things come in 3s …

I’ve not had a good whinge for a while but my patience ran out yesterday … Firstly, we were advised that our consortium had not been selected as preferred bidder in the downselect on the world’s largest single IT contract. In time, conspiracy theories will emerge to try and explain how we could have lost this deal but my favourite and money (if Ladbrokes care to open a book on it) concerns the simple and probably unprovable fact that the other consortium had used their powerful incumbent position on other major UK Government contracts (read: “if you don’t award this contract to us, then we can’t be entirely confident about the continued financial viability of our UK operations … hint hint who will look after all the other programmes then, Mr Blair?”) to bully ministers into reversing a decision that had favoured us since Christmas. I’m sooooo looking forward to the day when MoD invokes the ‘disaster clause’ – and invoke it they will. And this isn’t just a case of sour grapes: Grapes are only sour if you p*** on them, and this grape has felt the full burden of the government’s procurement incontinence … sorry incompetence 😉 Anyway, I’m a firm believer of the adage that “It’s the second mouse that gets the cheese” and so today, I shall drink to the demise of said company and look forward to brushing away the dead bodies when we next engage with the MoD …

The second thing that goated me yesterday was the gas man. Only in this great and efficient country can you receive a letter from a gas company advising you that a man will come and change your gas meter … sometime between 0800 and 2000! And so I waited, then called, then waited some more and called again … only to be told that someone had attempted to visit at 1710 (and they described the ‘green’ front door) but could not gain access. What complete bollocks! Call me cynical but here’s what I think happened … man drove past, suddenly remembered he had to go home to wash his hair before going out with the other chavs for a beer later that evening, made a note of the colour of my front door and called in to control saying there was nobody home. Well, Mr British Gas man, it’s your f***ing meter and if you want to change it, you’re just going to have to do it on my terms – so if I’m home when you next visit, great … if not, well … you can wait for me by the front door until I return from work which may be anytime between 1900 and 0700, but I’ll be going to bed then so you’ll just have to wait until the next evening, when I can offer you the same hours, and the evening after … Get the picture?!

Finally, this story will be familiar to those who, like me, despair at the state of this country’s healthcare ‘service’. Suspecting that I have gallstones, I visited my GP only to be told that confirmation by ultrasound carried a waiting list of 2 months on the NHS. Aha, I have private health insurance, I declared. Oh in that case, you can have it done within 2 weeks … and fair play to the GP, his referral and subsequent imaging appointment at the hospital happened within a week. So far so good – then I waited, went on holiday, and waited some more, then chased the GP surgery to see if it had received the results from said hospital. Dunno, but she would look into it. So I waited, and waited some more … and finally, she called. Yes, we have received the report … goodbye. Hang on, I said, what’s next – shouldn’t I talk to the doctor about this? Oh good point, said she. Which doctor would you like to see? Well, the doctor who referred me would be ideal if that’s not too much trouble, said I, failing miserably to conceal my sarcasm. In that case, you can see Dr X . Feeling very sheepish at this point, I thought to myself, funny, I don’t recall seeing the sign ‘Veterinary Practice’ when I last visited the surgery, but I’m buggered if I’m going to be treated like livestock having paid good money for the scan. I’ll take the 1st slot on Monday morning, I demanded. Now for the best bit … the so-called report, which had costed 212 squids, was a fax containing just 4 lines – or 50 quid per sentence, or put it another way, 10 quid for every minute at the hospital. There were no images attached, no mention of size of stones, no recommendation of next steps … just a crappy note that started “There is evidence of calculi …”. A couple of observations if you will indulge me – the UK may be the only country in the world that provides a ‘free NHS service at the point of delivery’ … but perhaps, GPs need to be reminded that they need to deliver a service in the first instance! Secondly, in another familiar part of the world, for the cost of the scan and in the fraction of the time it has taken me to get nowhere, I would now be the proud owner of a jar of pickled gallstones. Go figure …