Wednesday 31st December
Personally I cannot really complain –though that didn’t stop me. I was on my last full year of working just three days a week, and it was difficult. One restaurant closed and at exactly the same time a long-serving member of staff left the other one I was working for. This lady, who of course I did not fully appreciate at the time, used to, amongst other tasks, pay the suppliers. I would give her a weekly allowance of ‘x’ thousands and she would choose who to pay. As making payments electronically is a responsible job the boss did not want to give this to her replacement and instead I was given the job, as well as all supplier statement reconciliations; the new girl is not at all Accounts oriented. It was a nightmare from day one, over 150 suppliers, many delivering daily and all clamouring for payment. Also there was a lot to do closing the Accounts for the now-sold other Restaurant. On top of this I was given a new Restaurant to look after – it ended up me working at least four days a week, but only being paid for three. Anyway I threw my toys out of the pram and got some help – eventually.
We had a good year in France again, though trying to juggle my increased workload and flying back and forth in the summer was hard. Mind you lots of good food eaten and some new friends made too.
Politically the big story was UKIP. Though just how big a story it will end up being is anyone’s guess – though mine is that they will actually win very few seats. The SNP have done very well in Scotland, but whether these two newish popular parties will truly break the mould is hard to say. The big disappointment has really been Ed Milliband, who never seems to quite connect – he needs to relax and be himself a bit more.
News stories have been dominated by WAR. Ukraine, Gaza, Syria and Iraq. And all the smaller forgotten little wars raging too. And our politicians seem helpless, the UN emasculated, like rabbits frozen in the headlights of the oncoming Goliath, all our leaders can do is slingshot a few verbal pebbles. Other news – two planes missing and a third shot down, storms and floods and a few famous people dying – as you get older the names resonate more, many were from my own generation or just the one before and with each loss a part of us goes too.
2015 – is the year of the General Election. Lots will be forecast and written about but I expect it to be more a damp squib than a firework. So, goodbye 2014 – not much about it will be remembered for long.
Tuesday 30th December
Why do disasters seem to happen at Christmas. Or is that they just seem more poignant at this supposedly happy family time. A few years ago we had the Lockerbie disaster, when a plane full of people was blown up above the Scottish town, killing passengers and those on the ground. We had the Boxing Day Tsunami, where hundreds of thousands died, many bodies never recovered or identified when an underground earthquake caused a huge tidal wave.
And this year, though a smaller tragedy – a rubbish truck runs amok in Glasgow killing six people a few days before Christmas. And now the loss of yet another plane. One hardly ever hears of aircraft going missing, literally falling out of the sky – and this year we have had two, and another one probably hit by a missile over Ukraine. And also a fire on a ferry off Italy, where in terrible conditions people were trapped between the icy sea and the fire on the ship. It looks as if most of those people have been rescued, but even so – what a terrible thing to happen at Christmastime. Just how does one cope with the sudden loss of a husband, a wife or a child? Terrible just to think about it. But life goes on, and despite disasters the World’s population continues to grow. I am reading a book just now about the unstoppable effects of Climate change, which unless we completely alter our whole way of life and economic models will make these disasters seem very small indeed. And it is at this time of year that we think maybe of other people and how we might be able to help, though in truth we are very very helpless against the forces both of nature and man’s overwhelming greed. Hopefully 2015 will see some sense return and fewer disasters next Christmas.
Monday 29th December
Although it is nearly ten weeks since we were here last it is amazing how quickly one slips back into la vie Francais. Sunday is the market at Issigeac; in the summer it is huge and full of English tourists but now in the threadbare Winter it winds down the high street and into the tiny square; a few vegetable stalls, one selling pain, a boucherie and a charcuterie and a few local wine or prune and honey stalls. The man selling hats was doing a brisk trade in scarves and wooly hats, but everywhere else seemed quiet. We bought un poulet standard (pour les chiens), some carrots, a romain cauliflower, a pork and apple pastie pour moi and a few indulgences, a wedge of Brebis cheese and a prune and apple cake for desert and a Jalousie to eat with our coffee.
It was bitterly cold, only just across the country cars were stranded in deep snow, but here no rain or snow just a cold biting wind. We pushed open the door to our favourite café. It was packed with French people who all seem to know each other, we waited and soon a table came free. We ordered our coffee, and unlike any café in England they were happy for us to eat pastries bought in the Patisserie down the road. There is nothing quite like eating a Jalousie and drinking hot grand café au lait in a heaving bustling café full of people all taking and gesticulating at the same time. On the way home we tried a new town Mouleydier on the Dordogne itself, we walked along the river for a while and then went into a small bar for coffee, a few tables of solitary French drinkers and even here a man came over and petted the dogs and talked to us.
In the evening we dropped into Café de Paris where our patron welcomed us with hot mulled wine; a perfect end to a typical day in France.
Sunday 28th December
We started out at 4.00 a.m. on the 27th. Very cold. Filled the Thermos flasks with hot water, plenty of sandwiches and a few goodies to eat. Got to the Channel Tunnel at twenty past five and on first train at ten past six. I dashed into the services for a croissant and a latte but the queue was too long and the staff too slow so I gave up. I might still have been waiting now. En France at 8.00 French time and away. Stopped at first French Aire for a small paper cup of dark sludge masquerading as Grand Café Au Lait and a croissant and a piece of custard flan. Delicious. We had a couple of sleeps and hit Paris at twelve, the traffic not bad – but we couldn’t see the Eiffell Tower because of the rain. The wind was pretty strong too and buffeted us whenever we stopped to let the dogs have a pee. South of the Loire and the clouds lifted and a couple of hours of Winter sunshine. The long drag down through Limoges to Brive. Left turn towards Perigeux and then down the twisty old road to Bergerac. No street lights, pouring rain again and we were blinded with oncoming traffic. Dark as pitch by now too, but we crossed the Dordogne and the old familiar run into Eymet. Our friends had put the Calor gas stove on and we arrived at nine. Unwashed, unshaved and tired. A quick walk round the town, beans on toast, an hour of pointless telly and bed. 666 miles but we made it.
Friday 26th December
All the tension is gone. No-one now cares who bought what for whom, or if it was appropriate, or if they might like it, or if they had spent more on their present to you than you had on yours for them, or whether the turkey was dry or overcooked, or if the roast potatoes were a bit hard in the middle or if there was enough food or wine for everyone, or if you had remembered to post all your cards, or indeed anything anymore. Christmas is over for another year.
And you can relax. And enjoy yourself, and let’s face it – the cold meats are far better than the turkey could ever be. Boxing Day is for relaxing, put your feet up and watch a bit of telly. So raise a glass to yourself and promise yourself that next year you won’t be so stressed out because it is only a day, nothing special about it, just because it is Christmas day. By boxing day next year no-one will remember or care anymore. At last, at last Christmas is over.
Thursday 25th December
So here it is, Merry Christmas – though just now (Christmas Eve) I am not so merry. I am sitting almost alone in a pretty much deserted Pret near Baker Street. Anyone with any sense has already cut and run and is sitting feet up on the sofa or fast asleep in bed. One last day of work to finish; checking and reconciling last weekend’s frankly rather poor receipts and seeing which suppliers I can ignore until next year and which I will have to end up paying, spacing out some of the payments until next week.
Christmas always tires me out – or rather the preparation for it. This year has seemed a marathon, or rather a series of long-distance sprints. And even last night I was frantically wrapping presents at ten at night, instead of relaxing. So it goes. At least today I will finish early and be home by three.
So, what is it all about – Christmas? Certainly it is nothing to do with celebrating the birth of Christ. In some ways it is a commercial event, designed to make us part with our money. It is also a time to forget for a few days our worries, financial, work and even family – as people do generally come together and seem genuinely happy to be with each other. And yet so much seems to just be going through the motions. None of us minds buying presents for the kids, but most adults do not need anything – it is really just another social convention. Much like Christmas cards, which because of the cost of postage are more often than not exchanged rather than arriving on the doormat. Anyway Mr. Scrooge will take off his grumpy hat for a few days and raise a glass to all my loyal readers who have put up with me over the last year.
We are travelling to France on Saturday, so as usual the regularity of my blogs may be disrupted for a few days. Merry Christmas.
Wednesday 24th December
For us Accountants this is a torrid time of year. There just isn’t enough money around. What? But surely it is Christmas and everyone is spending like mad. True, but even though sales may be a bit higher cash-flow is still always bad at this time of year.
For one thing quarterly rents are due on 25th December. This goes back to some dim and distant time when amazingly a lot of financial transactions actually took place on Christmas Day. Now, of course it is a Bank Holiday, so the landlords are champing at the bit and requesting being paid early. Then there are the suppliers, who know only too well how bereft offices are for the week after Christmas, so they are all busy phoning up for monthly payments for the week ahead. Wages are also a problem – everyone wants to be paid before Christmas, even if they are normally paid in the last few days of the month. Then there are bonuses, and bosses want to reward good people even if the cash ain’t there to pay them.
But the worst problem, by far – is the banks. They will be shut on Christmas and Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Quite right you might think – the staff need the time off too. But here is the rub. Most transactions, including payment of Visa and Amex receipts (already held up for three working days and eight in the case of Amex) are electronic and automatic and require no staff to process them. But even these payments are held up even longer. So, between Christmas and New Year companies have to wait four, then five, then six working days for the receipts to reach their bank accounts. Trying to forecast daily revenues, hard enough at any time, over this period becomes almost impossible. Add to this that I want to be away for the week after Christmas too and will therefore have to pre-schedule both supplier payments and rent payments with only a rough guestimate as to what the likely daily bank balance will be means a monumental headache. It all comes right by the second week in January, and the only consolation is that I will be unavailable in France when it inevitably goes tits-up.
Tuesday 23rd December
Like quite a lot of TV this one has been going for ten years now; it is almost as if TV has become frozen into a comfy form of “Family Favourites” – Strictly, Eastenders, Corrie, X Factor, I’m A Celebrity – and even the slightly less popular shows still keep going; Antiques Roadshow, Come Dine With Me and all. It isn’t very often that I watch a complete series through, but for some reason ‘The Apprentice’ this year has held me riveted.
An awful lot of work must go into the show before it even starts – to ensure we have such an eclectic mix of characters, some we will love, some who are destined to fail early, some who are so in love with themselves that it is ludicrous, some who are genuinely smart and a handful who might actually win the thing. And the producers are quite clever in that they have changed the format from a job with Alan Sugar (I refuse to call him Lord – as the contestants are forced to do) to him backing their business plan. Another innovation has been that he can now sack as many as he likes each week. It used to be that once the fall-guy had fallen the other two in the boardroom could breathe a massive sigh of relief but during this series he got rid of two and even three at a time.
They film the teams over two days but only show about thirty minutes of footage, which means that as they know the result they can edit in all the best, and much more fun – the worst bits too. The boardroom itself is almost a modern version of the Gladiators pit, where no holds are barred and any weapons may be deployed to avoid being fired. This year Mark was almost destined to be a finalist but Bianca almost pipped him at the post and Rosheen, my favourite, stumbled at the interview stage.
But almost better than the Apprentice is the show that follows on BBC2 – The Apprentice – You’re Fired with Dara O’Brien where the loser is feted and the tension has all gone and everyone can have a laugh as they look back at their journey. Great stuff – can’t wait for next year.
Monday 22nd December
At this time of year most political argument dries up, everyone is too busy with preparations for Christmas to even listen, let alone be convinced by Politics. But I am sure this is the very time the plans for the next feverish five months are being polished. As long as I can remember almost every election has been billed as the most important ever. How many times has Labour told us it had to be elected to save the NHS, how many times have the Tories insisted Labour would wreck the economy if you voted for them and how many times have the Lib-Dems claimed that they would do things differently?
At the last election it was pointed out that winning the 2010 election would be a poisoned chalice, that whoever won it would get kicked out next time – and they may have been right. The pattern over recent years had been for one party to rule for three or even four Parliaments before the opposition got its act together. But things may be different this time. There was no sea-change at the last election, no landslide, in fact – no real winners. And so it may be this time too. The country seems split almost three ways, a third still backing the Tories, a third hoping that Labour will be the answer and another third saying neither of you (or the LibDems either) have the answers. We are in quite unknown territory, the SNP are threatening to wipe out Labour in Scotland and Ukip to do the same to (mostly) the Tories in the South and East. Even the Greens are higher in Opinion polling than ever before. Of course, whether this discontent will manifest itself in real change at the next election is the big question. In many ways it could be a good thing, the two large parties really do need to change. There needs to be a fresh look at our whole concept of democracy and how to involve and include people. At least two party leaders will probably resign after the next election too, so that may bring in some new people and new ideas. For now, all is quiet – but come early January and the real arguments will begin.
Sunday 21st December
Do you remember a few years ago when the environment was at the top of the Agenda. It seemed the biggest problem facing the World, dwarfing all other petty squabbles. Even David Cameron was filmed in the Arctic with some huskies, as he portrayed himself as the greenest politician around. Where did it go, all this enthusiasm to change the way we ran the World? I can remember the excitement about electric cars – where did they go? You do see the occasional Toyota Prius dual-fuel around but it is hardly a revolution. I even recall an article about a French company who were designing a car to run on nothing but compressed air – no idea where that one has gone. And then there was the fight-back by the skeptics, backed I am sure by the big Petro-Chemical Industries who have persistently rubbished the scientific arguments, declaring that the changes in Global Temperatures were not necessarily man-made and were nothing compared to what the Earth had been through many times before. And even today I read a report that glaciers in the Antartic were moving to the sea far faster than ever, despite increased annual snowfall and that this would inevitably lead to increased sea-levels. So what are we to believe?
I for one am fairly certain that the scientific evidence is pretty overwhelming. The Environment is being changed through the actions of mankind and year on year temperatures are rising and this must be damaging in so many ways. A few years ago I saw a man on Newsnight who was arguing for alternative energy development and Paxman asked him why, if there was still an abundance of oil, should the world look for alternatives. The guest replied “Look, the stone-age didn’t end because of a shortage of stone – a better technology came along.” So what does the recent fall in oil prices mean for the Environment. On the surface one would think that it would scupper plans for alternatives but I am not so sure. If this momentary fall in the price, created by an over-supply becomes entrenched then the immediate effect means that new fracking development becomes uneconomic, so that particular nonsense may be slowed down if not halted. More long term it may mean that new Oil Exploration itself becomes uneconomic so the Arctic may be spared. It may also actually spur on the development of cheaper alternatives. Sometimes things which seem bad have a habit of heralding in the good.