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France is on strike (again)

Since my last blog post, France has exploded. Bang! and little bits of escargot dripping down the walls.

What this is about, as I'm sure the international news has elaborated upon greatly, is that people don't like the pension age rising from 62 to 64.
Yup. I could legally retire at 62 under the current regime, which will soon be 64. Actually, I don't much have an opinion on this issue because due to lacking payments into the French system, I have to work until I'm at least 67. And if that should change for any reason (like counting the time I was working in the UK), I won't receive any pension from the UK until I'm 67 which is the current UK retirement age, as far as I recall.

However, something that has really annoyed people is using a little bit of legislation to push the change through without oversight, debate, or parliamentary vote. There exists the possibility to do this, but it is highly undemocratic. Yes, I accept that people are living longer and I accept that something has to change in order that France can afford to keep paying pensions... however if this particular plan was to fail in parliament, then perhaps it's just not a good plan?

Personally, I think France needs to do three things:

  • Unify the retirement schemes. Maybe, just maybe, they wouldn't have to raise the retirement age of millions of low paid workers to 64 if they did away with the gonzo idea of certain categories of people retiring at fifty-bloody-five. Yup, if I was one of those people, I could retire in a little over five and a half years. That's ludicrous.
  • Require that everybody pays contributions as a fixed percentage of their earnings. No maze of exceptions to exhonerate the wealthy.
  • Set aside certain categories of work for the over-55s. The place I work is low wage manual labour. It's pretty physically active. Is it right for a 62 year old to be doing that? As of circa-55 people (even those who are basically untrained and don't have specific qualifications) should be able to move to alternate jobs where they can be useful without the physicality. This will allow them to continue to be productive, reduce the burden on the state due to injuries and/or burnout, and if they don't go home shattered at the end of each day they might actually enjoy their work, which again makes for a more productive person.

Now, the people you see protesting on TV fall into three main categories. Those who are fairly well paid, those who are economically inactive (housewives, unemployed, students...) and those who have already retired.
How do I know this? Because until recently there was a fair bit of sympathy with the strikes at work, but nobody (as far as I'm aware) actually went on strike. For the very basic reason that generally minimum wage workers, especially with family/children, simply cannot afford to. Each day of not being at work means sacrifices would have to be made. Minimum wage is €1,353 net a month. Divide that by 21 (average number of work days per month), that's just under €65 a day. So three days of strikes, a loss of just under €200. It adds up.
That's also why people come to work visibly ill. Doctors usually sign people off for three days, because general worker category rules do not provide any wage coverage for illness until the fourth day unless it was an accident that happened while working. That's why I didn't bother with Burger King's offer of a reimbursement for my illness last year. The meal cost about twenty euros. Being off work hit me for ten times that.

Now, I said "until recently". Now there is rather less favourable sentiment towards the strikers because something that is very common in France is the oil refinery workers go on strike. Like, at the drop of a hat it seems. Their thinking is that by causing petrol stations to run dry, it will paralyse the country and force the government's hand. A sort of domestic economic terrorism.

Now, where this plan generally fails is that these workers are well paid for what they do, so downing tools for an extended period of time is a hardship, but not like it is for people on the SMIC. This is why I call it economic terrorism. Generally, people who aren't militant and out on the streets waving flags just want to go to work. Even if they agree with the strikes, every day not at work is sixty five euros less at the end of the month. That's only pocket change if you're higher up the food chain. To those at the bottom, that could be a week's worth of groceries. Or not turning the water heater on for a week. Or... you get the idea.

The refineries have shut down. The big oil depot up near Rennes has run dry because there hasn't been anything coming up from the refinery near Nantes. Which means many many petrol stations have barriers across because there's just no fuel.

On Monday I was lucky. The station at my habitual supermarket was barricaded as it was out of fuel. So I went down to a little overpriced superette (mini-mart) in a nearby town. They had fuel. So I filled up my car, and went into the shop to buy some sugar (I like the Blonvilliers organic brown sugar, it's a nice taste in tea but my usual supermarket has a concession with Daddies (another brand)). When I came out, all the office workers had arrived. Posher cars, queue back through the car park to the main road...

Thursday, I went to both supermarkets in town. Both empty of fuel. I stopped at the Intermarché to see if they still had baked beans. Sadly not, I think I bought the last of them. I guess it's yet another casualty of Brexit, so I'll need to get a bunch from Amazon and pay inflated prices as, well, all the places I know that used to stock certain English food items no longer do. I mean, for a small subsection of their clientelle, who's going to want to deal with the headaches of all the import formalities and duties that are now a thing?

Yesterday? Did my normal end of week shop. The petrol station had been refilled. And... yeah...

Petrol madness
Petrol madness.

I had, actually, gone to the station to drop 10 litres of unleaded into a jerrican because I'm on holiday this coming week and the grass needs mown. But, alas, not only are jerricans forbidden, they had already run out of both types of unleaded. Not that it said this until you were literally at the pump. See the white paper on the side of the pump? That's where it said they were out of SP98 and E10 (which means SP95).
Of course, it is clearly far too much bother to do something useful like either turn off the price on the big illuminated sign by the main road, or set the price to a dummy value like 0.000 or 9.999 to indicate a lack of fuel? Let's just say that some people, ten or fifteen minutes in the queue for nothing, were rather angry. Arms of honour were directed at the pump, at the supermarket, at other drivers.
Me? I topped up. Three and a half litres. ☺ Well, I'll be damned if I was going to sit in that queue for all that time and then just drive away empty handed. In my defence, my tank holds 16 litres, so 3.5 is more than the mere drop it would be for cars with fifty litre tanks.

Anyway, as the lack of fuel is grinding on and work has put up signs giving contact numbers to let the line managers know if you can't make it in because of a lack of fuel, people are starting to lose patience. Not with the government, they already utterly hate Macron and many of them think that Macron doesn't actually have a mandate. Due to the bizarre way the French voting system works, Macron got re-elected not because anybody wanted his policies, but simply because he wasn't the far right. Voting for a candidate because they aren't as bad as the other candidate is no mandate.
No, they are losing patience with the strikers. Or, more specifically, the highly militant people who think they can refuse to work and grab the government by the balls. Because it's starting to make economic woes be felt by ordinary people. Indeed, some have said things like "well, we're all still here working, so if they're not capable of doing their jobs then fire them all and find people who are". Of course, you can't fire a striking worker in France, the ability to wave their little CGT banners is basically built into the French psyche. But, it's a mess, and I don't see any solution in sight. Every time Macron goes on the TV, he somehow manages to make things worse. That. plus a worrying tendency to want to throw his own Prime Ministers under a bus.

I also don't see how I'm going to get the grass cut. Beyond a certain height and Marte won't be able to cope with it, and we're coming on to the time of year when grass grows rapidly. See below.


Cute Easter things

Okay, it's capitalism at it's finest, loads and loads of identikit mass produced chocolate things, many of which are liable to end up as landfill if not sold (I mean, don't you ever wonder what happens to all of the unsold holiday chocolates?)... but once in a while something cute comes along.

This one is medium cute. They have barely been touched. Is this a lack of trust due to what happened last year, or is it because everybody is tightening their belts?

Kinder chickens
Kinder chickens.

These, on the other hand, were adorable. But being artisanal and hand crafted, the price (for one, 90g of chocolate) was definitely not cute. If it was, say, €4-something I'd have got myself one. But over a fiver is a need to justify, and over six is a stay on the shelf. Sorry, I know prices have to go up because they need to pay their staff more, electricity costs more, raw materials cost more, transport costs more... but while the SMIC went up in January my salary did not. Wages 'normally' rise by a similar amount to the SMIC, however it's only an obligation to raise the SMIC (as it's minimum wage, it's the law). For those of us earning more for whatever reason, no wage increase. Which means, effectively, if one counts the SMIC as representing the government approved (and thus mostly bullshit) "cost of living", my salary has had a decrease. Gee, thanks.
So, it's adorable, but that's all.


As a side note - isn't it amusing how we humans find bears to be really cute, while actual bears would have no problems at all with finding us to be.....dinner.


I note, sadly, a very conspicuous absence of Celebrations. Are there no Easter Celebrations this year, or were they just not willing to pay the supermarket concessions?


Beware the big packs of Quaker Oats

Quaker Oats have introduced a new handy big sized box for serious porridge lovers. Being 800g rather than the usual 550g, it is nearly half again as large. That's a lot of porridge!

So much more!
So much more!

But, wait, hang on... The little one is €1,72 and the big one is €2,59. What gives? There's something a bit rank at play here.

As a basic rule of thumb, you can work out the difference in the packs by figuring that the larger pack is half again as much as the smaller pack.
If we do the maths, then half of 550 is 225g. Add those together, it's 825g. So, yeah, as a rough and ready rule it's close enough.
But, wait, if we do the same with the price then half of €1,72 is €0,86. Add those together, it's €2,58 which is exactly one centime less than the marked price.

The problem arises from the fact that "rule of thumb" is not entirely accurate, and you're being screwed in both directions. They've added a centime to the price (which, admittedly isn't a lot, but it's not like there was any rounding involved), and rounded the pack size down to the nearest 50g or 100g amount.
Which means you're paying about 50.6% on the price for only 45.46% extra product.
Or if that's a little too accurate to be useful, it costs 50% extra for 45% more.

Thankfully it is the law over here that the on-shelf price indication must show a price per standardised unit (litres, kilograms, etc) to allow for direct comparisons.
So the big box is €3,24/kg while the little box is €3,13/kg.

Don't be fooled by bigger boxes, always compare.
You'd be surprised how often this sort of thing happens.


Yet another storm

...blew through yesterday.

The mothership is arriving?
The mothership is arriving?

This picture is as-was, no tweaking or editing. The sun was low in the sky, behind clouds, and behind me.


More raspberries

At the supermarket yesterday, I picked up two more raspberries on a promotion of "we treated our plants badly and half of them are dead, so buy one get one free".
While the dirt in the pots was dry, as expected, both plants seemed quite alive and would likely benefit from just being given a drink. One was actually quite enthusiastic.

More raspberries
More raspberries.

The raspberry I planted in the bin last week is a new French variety called Marastar. It is very productive with raspberries that are usually 6-11g and having a sweet but slightly tart taste. Ideal for making jam. Frost resistant to -20°C.

My new ones. On the left is Red Angel which offers a large yield of firm sweet fruits that average 5g. Spine free canes make it easier to manage.
On the right, the sprawling plant is Zeva which is a vigorous variety that offers a late season crop of big fruits that ripen to a deep scarlet and are very tasty. It's also a well known attractor of birds, bees, butterflies, etc. I couldn't find a fruit weight for comparison. We'll have to see...

Now sure where I'm going to put these. Well, I have a week to figure it out.


Power points

I finally got around to sorting out an extension lead for the washing machine, instead of hooking it to the cable that supplies the kitchen from my bedroom.

Let me explain. On the wall in the kitchen is a single socket. This socket was wired up to some random cabling in the loft which appeared to be installed for lighting. So it was okay running the microwave, but running the kettle caused it to overheat and burn out. Actually, the wiring itself was fine, it was one of the terminal boxes that melted inside (but not a big fire risk as it was a screwed tight rusty metal box and the wiring was encased in metal piping - to protect it from vermin and such that might make it to the loft - they used to store hay up there!).
This happened many years ago, and since then I've just run a power cord from a socket in my bedroom, through the living room, and into the kitchen. It was never supposed to be permanent, but neither of us fancied trying to drill a hole through the ceiling to fit a new cable to get the one socket working again.

It hasn't been a great hardship, but there are certain limitations. For example, I cannot run the washing machine when it is heating water (~2kW) at the same time as the kettle (~2kW) as the maximum capacity of the extension cable is something like 3.5kW, though I try not to exceed 3kW except for short durations because the extension goes into a multisocket thing that also provides power to run the Pi.
Likewise, I can't run the kettle and the oven at the same time. I can run the kettle and the microwave (about 3.2kW) but don't run the kettle and the air fryer together (about 3.5kW, right on the limit).

I finally got around to cutting the end off of a simple extension lead and wiring up one of the chunky 16A plugs.

Big plug little socket
Big plug, little socket.

Given it's a chunky high capacity socket, I don't see it'll be fazed by a ~2kW washing machine. So now I can run the kettle and the washing machine at the same time. ☺


This still leaves a problem of what to do with the kitchen? One long extension lead with a three-way splitter stuck on the end isn't really the best approach, but it's worked for... oh, about a decade and a half.

Hanging from the oven door
Hanging from the oven door.

It's okay to hang it from the oven door like that, as the oven/cooker is no longer used. The gas piping expired back in 1997 and the gas regulator is a bit duff. In order to use the cooker, both it and the entire gas plumbing would need to be replaced. It's just easier to use a little camping cooker with gas cartridges and an electric oven.

What I discovered in the kitchen cupboard under the sink, asides from an entire set of crockery, is a three phase socket. Very useful, no?

For powering an industrial mixer
For powering an industrial mixer?

Actually, it looks to me like a fully wired socket. That is to say, neutral in the middle, the three phases left/top/right, and the flat one at the bottom being earth.
So I am thinking that I ought to be able to wire a plug with two cables coming out of it, to power two different sets of sockets from different phases, so things that are 2kW (oven, kettle...) can be run at the same time from different phases. These sorts of sockets are rated 20A, which means it has a capacity of around 4.6kW per phase. The total load capacity of that socket should be something like 13-14kW, but that's not really an issue as my supply is rated at 9kW. Above that, the Linky will trip out.
Over here in France, how much you pay in standing/supply charges depends upon your load capacity. The current prices are:

kVA Monthly
3 €9,13
6 €11,93
9 €14,86
12 €17,88
15 €20,85

There used to be 18, 24, 30, and 36kVA tariffs, but they are being phased out. Anyway, if I go over 9kVA (roughly 9kW), then it'll trip out. Actually, it's not wise to go over about 8.2kW because things like electric motors have momentary surge currents as they're starting up. My washing machine's motor takes around 600W on fast spin, but spikes to nearly twice that when starting up. This might last only for a fraction of a second, but modern meters like the Linky will spot this and trip out as over-capacity. This is a significant change from earlier mechanical hardware that would allow brief transients like that.

I might look at doing something about the plugs this week. I think it mostly depends upon the price of the 3 phase plug. This is the sort of thing I'd look for in a vide grenier, but I'm now not going to the vide grenier in Châteaubriant (tomorrow) because... fuel issues.
Amazon isn't so helpful. Only two plugs that look correct for nearly €30 apiece. Most of their 3P+N+E plugs use round pins in a different configuration.



It was forecast to be strong winds, torrential rain, thunderstorms, random qunatum collisions, and so on.
It wasn't. It was breezy but sunny. And quite pleasantly warm.

So I decided to take Marte out to do the worst of the grass. The places where it grows faster. This meant appropriating the fuel from everything - the strimmer (with oil mixed in!), the little mower, the rotovator... but that together with what was left in Marte's tank allowed me to do the main areas - the half of the Northern Passage that grows lush, the Western Wilderness, and the Southern Area. That pretty much leaves The Potager (done using the small mower, and too much tree crap around to mow at all), the Picnic Lawn to the East (not that high), and the driveway (not that high).

Western Wilderness and Wonky Wheels
Western Wilderness and Wonky Wheels.

The problem areas have now been rough cut (at speed #3). I kept having to press the brake/clutch to let the deck spew out clumps of cuttings. I feel that another week and it might have been too much for Marte to handle, so I'm glad I got it done.

What next time? Will the strikes be finished, or will I have to siphon old petrol from the C1? Hmmm...



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Zerosquare, 26th March 2023, 01:35
I'm curious to see how you'll run RiscOS on those rapsberries... 
Regarding your electrical plug, there's one for 15.31€ there: e-20a-400v-legrand-055637_SKU417452.html
Random Joe, 26th March 2023, 22:59
That your kettle on the right? ROTF at how it be labelled TEA like that is all that matters. 
Rick, 26th March 2023, 23:14
Tea IS all that matters.
J.G.Harston, 28th March 2023, 16:12
The strikes remind me of the Miners' Strike in 1984. Initially the attitude of most people I knew was "meah, their life", and WTH uses coal at home? No skin off our nose. 
And then it started coming out what miners' wages were. Something like £150 per week when my Mum was on something like £35 per week. And then some miner's wife on the telly saying "it's terrible, we can only afford one holiday this year" when people like my family couldn't afford *ANY* holidays. 
And when they started dropping lumps of concrete off motorway bridges, the working class solidarity was completely destroyed.

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