Out of Control
There are some weeks where a set of tasks are laid out before you, and you sit there on a Monday morning, chewing unenthusiastically on your All Bran, knowing really that it’s all futile and will possibly end in tears. I had, as is my regular wont, surrendered to the tyranny of the ‘To Do List’ and sat staring at it, trying to build up the courage and the energy to begin. It was the top three things that bothered me most.
- Install telephone line in Chambres d’hôtes – Speak to SFR
- Sort replacement for Thérence’s lost Carte d’identité
- Prepare documents for meeting with Chamber of Commerce
I mean it all looked straightforward enough, but if 13 years of dealing with French government admin and customer service has taught me anything, it’s that I could have combined all three into one, far more useful and enjoyable, job.
- Beat genitalia flat with heavy garden implement
I am in thorough admiration of these people; in Sci-fi terms they’d be rogue droids quietly taking over the world without the humans even knowing. They are cunning, obstructive, largely smiling, know the rules better than you do (and if they don’t, they’ll change them) and are utterly, completely, permanently immovable. As I’ve said before, these are the people negotiating the EU side of Brexit withdrawal. They are a race of paperwork loving cyborgs, stationary Terminators: cold-eyed, cold-hearted masters of efficient inefficiency. The UK has David Davis.
Of course, apart from the very obvious talent advantage that the EU negotiators have, they also know what they want, the best deal for them and the 27 countries they represent, whereas the UK negotiating team still hasn’t decided, in fact has continually deferred a decision, on the UK’s post Brexit relationship with the EU. They deferred it again this week. That’s almost two years after the referendum, and a year after triggering Article 50, and the UK still has no actual negotiating position. None at all. Fortunately for the rank incompetents in government they have no opposition. Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition should change its name by deed poll to Her Majesty’s Legitimising of the Mess in Front Us. It’s always unfair to extrapolate Local election results into national results, but after Thursday’s local elections, we would have another hung parliament. That’s a government who are disliked, distrusted, brazenly starving the NHS, filling the streets with the homeless, cynically deporting British citizens, openly arguing with each other and hiding from the responsibilities of Grenfell and yet Labour so distrusted, they still can’t win.
The spin, from the Momentum camp, is that it’s ‘Labour’s best result since 1971.’ In London maybe, but not nationwide which is what counts. My football team, Blackburn Rovers, were promoted this week from the old Third Division; twenty years ago we won the Premier League, so, you know, perspective and all that. There’s an ugly aggression to Labour that people simply don’t like, an aggression from the top and submission from the ranks who dislike the top but who are now too cowardly to say so because of the abuse they get from within. Again, the left’s main focus of attack isn’t the government or the disaster capitalists, it’s the centrists within their own party. This is revenge at being frozen out, and nothing to do with protecting workers or society’s vulnerable. The same is happening in France to a certain extent, the hard-left Jean-Luc Melenchon organises demonstrations against the ‘hard right’ Macron and that’s what the world sees. That the French public do not support the current round of strikes means nothing: Centrists must be defeated and the left’s own well-feathered nests should be untouched.
‘But Jeremy Corbyn has such wide appeal’, we are told, by people who aren’t the slightest bit interested in wide appeal. Well his Brexit policy certainly does have broad support, I’ll give you that, currently it has the support of Rees-Mogg, Farage, Le Pen, Putin, Trump and, quite possibly Ming the Merciless. You want to belong to that team? Good luck to you, but don’t tell me its people in the centre that are the problem. The problem is ideologues of both right and left, justifying a narrow, pseudo-vote for their own, even narrower aims. You know what British politics, possibly even society needs right now? Doubters. People who aren’t sure. I miss the ‘Don’t Knows’ of surveys and polls. Where have they all gone? Twitter probably, angry and frothing and thinking they matter. There’s a scene in Annie Hall, where Alvy asks a happy couple why they are a happy couple:
‘I’m shallow and empty and have nothing to say.’
‘And I’m the same.’
There’s something to be said for that.
Back to my ‘To Do List’ and by Thursday things weren’t going well. The engineer was due to come early so I’d been up since dawn. By lunch, quite rightly the proper cut off point for a French working day, he still hadn’t shown up and an hour spent on the phone to SFR’s Service Clientele revealed that they’d cancelled the appointment. There was no explanation why, just that it had been cancelled. It took seven different agents to come up with that by the way and I suspect an eighth would have denied the existence of the appointment in the first place, me as a human being and SFR as a company. I suspect that they were just a bit piqued that when the appointment was arranged they’d tried to upsell various things and we’d turned them down. Big companies are very sensitive these days.
As for Thérence’s Carte d’Identité. I filled in an online pré-demande, which turned out to be a warm up for a full demande, like doing form-filling stretching exercises, which in turn was just a form to arrange an interview sometime in June. The meeting with the Chambre de Commerce I was more confident about. I had spent a great deal of time building the necessary website, been very careful with the application form and prepared all the supporting documents in our bid to secure funding for a disabled access room. I had even spent 30€ in photocopying. I was not going to be under-prepared for this meeting.
At this point I should say why I was having the meeting in the first place, for those who don’t know. The day after the referendum I decided to apply for French citizenship. I didn’t like the nationalistic undercurrent of Brexit and suspected, even then, that there would be problems for my Anglo-French family. ‘Rubbish’, I was told. ‘It’ll never come to that!’ People scoffed. Oh yeah? Look around you. Families are being broken up, the ‘hostile environment’ has taken over, and it doesn’t just apply to the Windrush generation. Borders are closing and your rights are being taken away. In 2021 the new ETIAS scheme will come into effect in Europe. That is, anyone not a citizen of the EU – that’s you British people – will have to apply to visit, obtain a visa. These visas will have a restriction on time so a non-EU visitor will only have 90-120 days to stay in Europe. I am British. I live in France and work in the UK, that effectively kills my job or destroys my family home. Thanks for that everyone. Again though, I get the ‘it won’t affect you’ brigade, who are so certain, based on nothing, that I will be ‘fine’. I can’t afford to take that chance. Nothing, nothing that has happened so far since the referendum gives me any confidence in anything other than me having to sort this out myself. You want an example of how the UK authorities are dealing with this cross-border mess of their own making? They created an app for EU nationals to get advice on their status. The app isn’t compatible with iphones. You want another example of how mental this is? Nigel Farage is trying to get German nationality.
I laid all my documents out on the table, opened up my laptop and logged onto my shiny new website, handed over my application form, had a cafetière in the background infusing the place with warm aromas… and then after about an hour’s serious, financial discussion (which I may have been under-prepared for, as I’m financially a bit thick), what was the result? A new application form to fill in.
It’s been a heavy week all told. One step forward, a couple back, and three or four to the side like some hideous never-ending Hokey-Cokey. But I’ll get there, by autumn I’ll have my necessary back-up plan open, I shall be your grumpy B&B host, and I hope I’ll have had good news on my citizenship application too. It depends on a few factors obviously, that I’ve filled in the right forms, that those forms even exist, that I even exist anymore and that the whole process isn’t, I hope, run by SF – bloody – R.
This blog, bi-weekly, has been read by hundreds of thousands since it first started. It’s a story of my attempts to gain French nationality while covering the madness, as I see it, of post-referendum politics.
Our Chambres d’hôtes, that’s B&B to you, will open sometime in the autumn, have a look…
Photo be the brilliant Steve Best by the way.