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Today is our anniversary for seven years in France. Here's a photo of our little 'family' (I've added seven fireflies as it is a celebration!):

To be honest, it only seems like seven years when I think about it. Three or four, maybe, but seven? Yikes!
I dunno... I was flipping through an offline copy of a BBC micro mailing list and I noticed a message saying that Paul Vigay was no longer with the living. Whoa, what? When? How? I guess this is in part being "out of the loop" and also in part because it just seems to me like I've been away for a much shorter time than I have been. Okay, a smart bloke said time is relative, but that doesn't mean I aged seven years while Paul added seventy, but still... something of a shock, that.

Talking of shock, some people still seem shocked that I'm done with Britain and have not been back, nor have plans to return. I guess we just kinda got fed up. There is no one single thing that I can say "this was it!". I could take a cheap shot and point to Hazel Blears, but then again am I to believe that all the French politicians are not in the slightest bit corrupt? I think it is part and parcel of the edifice of power. It's just, I dunno, the country no longer seemed like "home" any more. I'm not sure if I feel that way about France, but I feel more settled here than I ever did in twenty eight years of living in southern England.
Part of me would like to go back, if only to visit the places I once haunted. But an equal part of me never wants to go back. I used to live in Bridwater (circa 1993ish) and I want back around 1998ish and my God had it changed. It seemed half the shops I knew were either boarded up or charity outlets. The place looked tatty. I believe it has been fixed up a little since then, and I dimly recall it briefly holding some sort of award for the largest number of surveillance cameras (which is possibly a very bad thing indeed, they're expecting what? student riots? gang warfare? grannies with loaded handbags at dawn?). It's better when places evolve around you as you are a part of the changes. Our own teeny-tiny commune has completed the first phase of its "lotissment" (generic crap breezeblock Monopoly houses, no character whatsoever) and is working on the second phase. That'll probably double the population of the place! Bridgwater? What's changed in a decade and a half? Do I want to know?
We used to go on holiday to Cornwall. Odd little 'A'-frame buildings. I think the place was called "Forda"? Lovely spot, tranquil. The houses were pretty good too, open plan downstairs, two bedrooms above. Set up well for holiday use. We'd visit places like Torbay, Loue (Looe?), Padstow (lovely bookshop on the corner, and very chip-friendly gulls)... It's been something like twenty years. I hear there's a bloody great motorway through the middle of Bodmin Moor and Torbay is the capital of teenage pregnancy in the UK (possibly in Europe?). So not how I remember it!
I'd love a KFC, and a couple of packs of Mr. Kipling Bramley Apple Pies. But I think I prefer my memories more. The way places used to be. I wonder what this economic nonsense has done to Woking town centre? (another nice bookshop) Or to Guildford? (a nice second-hand bookshop) Or to Fleet? (nice latté place, out of town a garden centre I watched evolve from a greenhouse with a garden shed attached)

So, yes, there's a small part of me that would like to go back for a visit. But on the long run I am done with the UK. A friend once said "what if you can no longer stay in France". My reply - "Why return to England when there's a whole world to discover!"


TV in France?

I watch British television. Apart from some forays into NHK World and TV5 Monde, pretty much all of my programming is British FTA channels. This isn't because I'm all hung up on my maternal language - for sure after working around Frenchies it is nice to come home and hear stuff that you don't have to make a running translation in your head; but on a more technical basis the older (analogue) transmissions don't work with PAL equipment and given that our reception is so poor my TV capture card (in SÉCAM mode) can't pick anything up, I don't think I'll bother. On the satellite side, the range of French stations on Astra 19.2°E is large, but Canal has encrypted them. A company is launching a smaller alternative which is much like the British Freesat in idea, these will be broadcast from Atlantic Bird (5°W) but will require a one-off outlay on a digital receiver. Why? Because they too are encrypted. Apparently it turns out that Canal are not being bastards over this (well, they are, look at the price of the receiver on offer!), it is the channel operators themselves that want the stuff not to be free-to-air. If you don't mind, I will give both of these a miss. I am pleased that the not-quite-Freesat is unrolling because when analogue switches off there will be huge swathes of France with no terrestrial coverage, and the Canal offering was pricey. On the other hand, it is deeply ironic that I can watch RIA Uno (Italy), TV Polonia (guess! ☺), and all manner of British programming, but there's barely a peep out of France that isn't locked up tighter than a nun's panties. Oh, and don't suggest arte as that's multilingual (would t be FTA without the German influence?) and don't suggest TV5/TV5Monde (they rebroadcast a lot of France2/3 content, but it's actually a Swiss channel!).

For the record, in case anybody is looking for info, I live below Rennes and above Nantes. I receive all of the standard definition (no HD here) free to air channels on Astra2/Eurobird (the Sky platform). I am using a Silvercrest SL65 receiver (a cheapie from Lidl), around thirty metres of satellite cable with one join, a DiSEqC switch (for european reception, more details if you're interested), a Lidl cheapie LNB, and a 60cm mesh dish (not a Sky Minidish, the older 'upright' style).

I would highly recommend the Silvercrest receiver. While its facilities are fairly generic, the menus are clear and it is friendly to use. I recently helped a friend try to find his missing ITV2 and discovered his receiver maintained a 'list of known transponders' and when asked to scan the satellite, it read from its list. To get ITV2 it was necessary to pop over to Lyngsat to get the tuning, polarisation, and symbol rate. How backward! With the Silvercrest, you simply add a new satellite (including DiSEqC setup if you have a switcher) and you tell the receiver to look for channels. It does, with no lists, no prompting, no grief. The menus were ugly and unintiutive (can't say that for the Silvercrest), and in addition I wanted to look up what was on five. Now channel five is weird in that it offers no Now&Next information, but it maintains a basic teletext service. Could my friend's box do teletext? Could it hell... Could it pop the information into the VBI so the television itself could do teletext? Could it hell... I really hope my friend bought it "fallen off the back of a lorry" or was given it, or won it in a poker game, for I'd hate to think he actually parted with cash for such a horrid piece of crap!
[And here, ladies and gentlemen, I would wager on the receiver most likely being a bog-standard ST20-clone - it is going to be, yet again, capable hardware woefully let down by an ill-thought-out and poorly implemented bit of software inside the box. If you read other entries in my b.log, you'll find this is quite a recurring theme - hardware that can, software that can't... (I remember the Good Ol' Days when it was the other way around and we all used cute tricks in software to work around those unfortunate but inherent deficiencies in the hardware)


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