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A new British Passport

A little over a month ago, on the 30th of August, I applied for a new British passport. The application process was simple enough, and I took a really crappy photo with my phone.
A week later, a brief panic as my parcel tracking showed the passport to be in Germany.

Thankfully it made it to the right place in the end, taking a little over a week. It took the passport people a further week to realise that they had it.

I was wondering if I would need to supply a new photo, or worse (much worse) go to the embassy in Paris to be asked questions like "do you pledge allegiance to The Crown?". Uh... not really, no.
I have no specific problem with Queen Elizabeth (Camilla, over my dead body), but something that I firmly believe is that if you are expected to be a citizen (even when elsewhere), you should be treated as a citizen. Shall we talk about the right to vote?

Anyway, given that two weeks had already flown by, I wasn't expecting my passport in any sort of hurry. The official estimate was 4-6 weeks. Various sources indicated that this should be doubled because of Covid restrictions and loads of civil servants working from home.
So it was a surprise, at the beginning of last week, to receive an email saying that my application had been approved. Which was followed that evening by a message saying that my passport had been printed and sent.

Given how everybody was going doolally over the burgundy "Europe" passports and how they wanted their blue passports back, I was expecting to open the envelope to see a bright Tory Blue passport. Instead, it was a colour that Wikipedia claims is Navy Blue, but it actually looks more like that murky not-quite-black you get when you mix all the subtractive primaries together.

Inside, the two big changes are that the owner information page is at the front rather than the back (and this wasn't an EU thing, everybody in France that had need of my previous passport seemed confused by the information being at the end), and rather than plastic coated card, it appears to be an actual thin sheet of plastic, held in place by a rather flimsy looking piece of flexible plastic.

For all that the current British English sensibility rejects Europe, and the French in particular (some dumb hooha over fish), it is deeply ironic that the logos on the coat of arms on the front bear two slogans in Middle French - Honi soit qui mal y pense and Dieu et mon droit.
Might I suggest a suitable replacement, "Le Brexit nous a tous baisés dans le cul"? I would like to see that on the front of my passport. Oh, I'm sorry, there are two phrases aren't there? Okay then, how about "Les conservateurs sont des branleurs"?

See? Words you didn't know you needed to know in French. Next time Johnson or Patel are on the telly, yell "branleur!" and stay in touch with your inner European. The Spanish equivalent is a cute sounding mouthful, "gilipollas" (say "he-lee-poi-yas"), and if you'd prefer German, it's "der Wichser" (which Google's auto-bot suggests is pronounced like "vick-sah"). Okay, okay, enough throwing crap at the radar. Let's continue...

Inside, that it's a passport and where it is from is written in English, followed in smaller letters by Welsh, Irish, Scots, French, and Spanish. There is a monochrome photo there - bloody hell, look at my eyes, I really look like one of the undead. Overlaid onto the photo by etching are the four plants of the United Kingdom's parts - daffodil, shamrock, rose, and thistle. There is also a see-through window. I'll talk about this later.

Turn over, the standardised passport information page in English and French. Interestingly, the passport number and date of birth are printed in raised ink, with the rest of the printing being below the plastic. There's a big photo, also monochrome, overlaid with a holographic compass and a map of the British Isles. Personally, whilst I understand the way that Northern Ireland is included, I kind of wish that they'd at least make a dashed outline of the rest of Ireland, as it's not some little island floating off the left of Liverpool.
Over on the right is a tiny version of my photo with my date of birth printed over it. Or, rather, is says 16/12/73, and the main part of the passport also says 73, so clearly they never got the memo about not using two digits for the year.

On the first (regular) page is a horrifically badly printed colour photo of me. You can see the stripes of the printer, and very evident dithering. It looks like something you might expect to get out of an inkjet printer made in the late '90s.
But it's hiding a little secret. That see-through panel I told you about.
Do you remember, as a child, those little cards that were a printed picture with a piece of grooved plastic placed on top, and you could see a scene change depending on which way you look at it? Common as postcards or things inside packets of cereal in the '70s and '80s, turned up in the last decade as DVD box covers. Technically it is known as lenticular printing, but it's more commonly known as wiggle pictures or tilt cards or something along those lines.

Well, the passport uses this twice. The first time is the little picture with the date of birth overlaid. Only, it doesn't appear to work correctly (alignment error?). The second is that see-through window which is about the size and shape of a 20p coin as it was circa 2000. Looking thought it at the inside of the cover will highlight "UK" (though this is visible in the printing without the lens). Looking through it at the naff colour photo will show several printed lines of parts of my name (just imagine my name printed in Arial/Homerton, at a 45 degree angle, with different offsets so the end of my family name might be just above the middle of my given name). Oh, okay, I can just about make out "273" so the date of birth is in there as well.
God help anybody trying to make sense of this using artificial light.

It is also a biometric passport. Accordingly, the chip and antenna are inside the plastic somewhere. They aren't evident, like they were in the older design.

Page three is official observations (none), page four is for notes about using the passport. Page five translates the sections of the passport's standardised page into the six languages previously mentioned, and pages six to thirty three are for immigration stamps, should one lead a much more exciting life than I do.
Wait... maybe Brits need their passport stamped on entering and leaving the EU these days?
Finally, a page for contact details in case of emergencies. A page I'll be leaving blank...


Working Saturday

I woke up thirsty at half two. Opened a pack of long life pineapple juice, stuck a straw into the top, and emptied a third of a litre. Felt good.
What didn't feel good was the raging heartburn that followed. I don't get that with fresh pineapple juice, so I wonder how UHT changes it? Suffice to say, I woke up feeling less good every time I turned onto my left.

The alarm beeped at 5.30. Well, it actually started to play "call" by Chihiro Onitsuka which I thought was a nice way to wake up. Better, I think, than "I Want My Tears Back" by Nightwish, that would wake me from the dead and scare me right back to dead at the same time. ☺

Got up, made tea, left the house at six twenty. It's still nighttime now, but Delain saw me through the dark and scary forest.

The Dark of Night
The Dark of Night.
At work, starting at 7am (until 12.30pm), I had to whip through my restocking at turbo speed and pretty much forget about my other tasks. I was supposed to be in plonge, and nobody accounted for the fact that I'm not normally in plonge because, well, I have a load of other things to do. Anyway, I stood at the end of a giant (like 20 metre long) machine as it spat out silicone moulds and various types of baking tray or similar, and put everything on the correct pile. It was... kind of mind numbing. I gave up looking at the clock as it started going backwards. Thankfully, after some tedium, the girl I was working with went on her break. Then the guy from the little plonge, and finally my turn. As nobody managed to keep to any sort of schedule, my 10.30 break actually happened at 10.52. Which was fine by me. We were shutting down at noon and I volunteered to drain and wash down the big machine as it would keep me out of the chaos for twenty minutes. That's because all the stuff in production that needs to be washed and/or tidied suddenly arrives at the last moment. Which means we (plonge) are standing around unable to do our jobs because they (production) are using our equipment. And you get the selfish bastards that walk in, notice you've cleaned the floor and wiped away excess water, so that's obviously the perfect spot to take the power hose and clean the crap out of the tread in their boots.

I clocked out at 12.34 (a nice pleasing number), and exactly the same time I clocked out Saturday two weeks ago.

When I was talking about Saturday work and the insanity of volunteering to do each, a comment mentioned that they hope nobody from work is reading. I doubt it, this being in English with a machine translation to French. However, I stand by what I said. There's a girl who has been accepted as working every Saturday. And, yeah, there's money to be made. If you take our typical monthly pay as €1250 and divide it by 20.5 (roughly how many days a month are worked), then this means our daily pay is roughly €61. This is what ends up in our bank accounts. Brut is useless as there are all sorts of deductions, so I'm only counting what we actually make.
Now, a Saturday is "majorised", that is to say, the pay rate is 125%, which means that we ought to get about €76 in our pocket as a result of working a Saturday. Note - it will be €54 for me, as I'm only working five hours.
We're currently scheduled to work seven Saturdays each between now and Christmas. That's a total of ~€532 (or ~€381 for me) extra over our normal salary. Now, if you are accepted to work all of the Saturdays, there is certainly money to be made. If we do indeed work every Saturday and none are cancelled, she stands to make around €912, which is an addition only one euro off of what I'm getting in total. So, yeah, there's money to be made.
But... the next ten weeks, six days a week, forty four and a half hours a week, one day of rest. Asides from the legalities (odd things happen if one passes 42 hours in a week, and making that much extra might push her into a different tax category), one must ask what it is going to do to her health? I am feeling surprisingly good today. Last Sunday, my first Saturday, I spent most of the day staring at the wall.


Oops? You didn't mean to land there, did you?

Just after I finished hanging up the washing (I mention this in the next section), a big plane went over. Really low. I mean, I could almost read the registration number on the wing. Very clearly was a red curved rectangle along the underside of the front of the body with what looked like a white bunny. A big green and white 't' by the wings (which appeared to be in front of the wing, not under it, so I'm guessing a Boeing, possibly a 737 as it wasn't that large), and a bluish-black looking rectangle along the back of the body. Plus a really weird way the wheels fold up (but are still visible).

I ran to my phone and fired up Flightradar24. I was bang on target with thinking it was a 737 (that's actually kind of lame, isn't it?). The markings are because it was a Transavia plane, and looking in Google, I think the white bunny is actually supposed to be a windmill (the brand was originally Dutch).
What makes this remarkable, other than the low flight height, was that it was marked as a flight from Athens to Nantes... that a few minutes later touched down in Rennes!

The Transavia site says that the flight (TO4621) arrived yesterday. It was scheduled to arrive at 13h40, it actually arrived at 14h50. That'll be after somebody at Rennes St. Jacques banged on the windscreen and yelled "where the hell did you learn to read a map? Nantes is 100km that way!".
If you look on Flightaware, you can see on the map that it... missed. They mark it as landing in Nantes, because it appears that it was supposed to, and this was followed by a short flight from Rennes to Nantes.


Feeling good and an unexpected trip into Big Town

As I actually felt quite good when I finished work, I came home and washed my clothes and hung them out. It was a bright sunny day. Quite pleasant. I decided, that since I was taking Tuesday off (my car is having it's first 5000km service, a little sooner than planned but depends upon the availability of the trailer to take it to Rennes), I would go into Big Town to do some shopping.

On the way in... well...

Crazy Quad
Crazy Quad.
It's a Quad, with a trailer attached. A trailer full of straw. But what makes this special is that he is driving with one hand. His other is holding a small dog.

I also pulled over on the main road to let cars pass. A lot of cars. Sixteen, actually. You can see them stretching off into the distance.

Who's a slowpoke then?
Who's a slowpoke then?

A brief walk around Action, I picked up some gas cylinders for the camping stove that I use to cook with. Given what's happening with the price of gas, I thought I'd better grab a few. Now, these little cylinders are already way overpriced for the amount of gas in them, but we all know that if prices go up, it'll be a convenient excuse to jack up the price of the end product as sold to people, even if the actual price rise might only add a half of penny.

At the E.Leclerc, I popped into the gardening section. The idea was, if they had one of the strimmers, I'd get it. Otherwise, it wasn't meant to be.

They had one. I got it.

As I was going in to do the regular shop, I was accosted by two young women handing out bags for the Resto du Cœur. The proper title is "Les Restaurants du Cœur" which translates (non-literally) as "Restaurants of Love" (of the Heart is the literal translation). It's a national charity, a food bank, set up in 1985 by the comedian Coluche. He wanted to set up a free soup kitchen for people in Paris, with the idea of giving out between two and three thousand free meals to those in need. In the first winter, the aim of 2-3 thousand was not met. It was utterly blown away by the actuality of 8.5 million. Twenty two years later, in 2018, they provided 130 million meals.
Given the current situation (the effects of lockdowns, the massive change in people's habits and behaviours as a result of Covid, unemployment, and worse...) I can only imagine that this year may well break records. Especially if it's a hard winter.

I got a triple pack of cassoulet (sort of beans with meat bits mixed in) and a jar of peas and beans. Things that could provide nutrition and have a reasonable shelf life. As I handed the bag over, I also gave each of the women a can of Pulco (lemonade) for themselves, as they've probably been there all morning. At least it looks like they filled a shopping trolley with people's donations, so that's a good thing to see.

Why donate? Because in the period just before I became gainfully employed, mom and I used a local Resto a few times. Let's just say the British basic state pension is an embarrassment. Even though we were "foreign", they took our details and added us to the list.

It's also why I would have no problems with paying tax in France if I came into money (the current Euromillions jackpot is just shy of a quarter of a billion euros - that's completely crazy!). France has been good to me. I would like to become French (complexities that I'm not going to get into), and I like being here.
As I see it, treat people well and they'll be more willing to be helpful in return. Well, the Resto helped me a while back. Since I was in a position to give something back, I did. And while it was only two products/four units, it represented 15% of my shop.

Stopped by The Burger Place for the obligatory. I didn't bother with chips when I noticed that I could get nine onion rings instead. So I did. And added another pack.
Getting out of Château was difficult. I don't normally shop that late, I am usually heading home by 2pm, not going. So I wasn't expecting traffic jams, or having to be assertive on roundabouts. But I made my way slowly to the road out of the town munching my way through eighteen extremely nice onion rings.

You know, one of these days, I'm liable to simply say "stuff the burger, give me a fifty onion rings". Well, actually it'll need to be 54, divisible by nine. Six packs of onion rings, €1,90 each, will cost me €11,40 and it'll get me twelve free dips.
Oh my god am I tempted. I'll tell you, if it wasn't nearly 60km round trip, I'd leave the tablet on and "be right back...".
Maybe next time.


My new strimmer

A shiny new strimmer. Complete with a useful measuring bottle for mixing up the fuel and oil (it's a two stroke).

The very first thing I did was remove the spark plug. This is because if the machine had been sitting around for a while since manufacture, it would have potentially had the oil put into it settle. In this case, it would be prudent to put in a little bit of oil and crank the machine (spark plug out) a few times so it doesn't start up with bare metal rubbing bare metal. But since the plug looked quite oily (and a fairly thick oil), it would seem to be okay. The serial number implies it was made in April this year.

The first few cranks got nowhere, I forgot the little bulb to push the fuel into the carb. A few more cranks, to draw the petrol in, and... success!

It started off erratic and smokey. This is to be expected, it'll be burning off the oil in the engine.

The strimmer feels quite heavy. It's a solid engine connected to a less solid looking tube. I have not measured it, but it feels about 7-8kg.

Old meets new
Old meets new.

Placing the old and the new side by side demonstrates how much larger the new strimmer's engine is. It's 43cc with a top speed of 7500rpm (that's the maximum engine speed!). Accordingly, the big metal shroud between the engine and the tube (the centrifugal clutch and the cooling fan) gets quite hot in use, though I rather suspect this is intentional which is why it's a non-painted hunk of metal. Draw the heat away and dissipate it.
By comparison, I think the Super Mac 28 is called that because it's a 28cc engine. About one horsepower or 0.8kW. The new engine is closer to 1.7 horsepower, or about 1.25kW.

That said, none of these engines can pull a plough so I think the term "horsepower" is bollocks. It's actually based upon the time to move a load or something, with one horsepower being, nominally, 745 watts (imperial) or 735 watts (metric), though it varies a lot because different types of engines behave in different ways - just consider a two stroke versus a four stroke; petrol versus diesel. Direct combusion versus indirect (such as steam). Anyway, we're getting sidetracked...

In use, the metal blade seemed to be a fairly slow way of attacking brambles, but on the other hand it did get into them, which is more than most things manage. Plus, I'm probably doing it wrongly.

I was a little apprehensive about not wearing gloves (hmm, where did I put them!?) because of how the older strimmer covers me in all sorts of rubbish. But this, smashing through brambles, didn't throw anything at me. I don't think there was much ejecta as the blade just sliced through things. What there was got caught by the pleasingly large shield. Result? A clean Rick that didn't have a dozen broken fingers from high impact wounds.

I couldn't get the harness adjustment to stay put, so I tied a small knot in the back to make it more the right size for me. I like the quick-release system. It's useful for maintenance (gunked up blade, petrol refill) as well as emergencies like the engine stalling in the middle of decapitating zombies. It's nice that such eventualities are covered.
I did move the harness attachment point a little further forward so it is more in line with the centre of gravity. It's slightly (only slightly) head-heavy to account for the fuel tank not being full. I mixed up 500ml, it can take 1,200ml in total, although maybe 500ml at a time is a useful amount? I'll have to see how long it runs for.

There's also an interesting loosen-and-unclip release system for the lower half of the tube. I wonder if it is possible attach alternative things, or if it is just "for easier storage" like the box suggests.

The guarantee offered by default is three years. By registering the machine (a simple on-line form), they claim the guarantee is doubled (to six years?). A side effect of this is to subscribe you to their mailshots handled by Mailchimp (hmm, GDPR anyone?). Of course, I used an address for "junk like this". I'm not sure I entirely believe a six year guarantee. Either they really trust their product, or they're full of it. It's a Belgian company called Elem Technic that seem to supply a lot of random things at a low price. The unit itself is made in China, though that's hardly a surprise these days.

The manual is... a mess. In French, Dutch, and English it contains a lot of rather interesting phrasings, a direct (and fundamental) contradiction, and a bunch of random French words. I have a suspicion that this might have been done by taking the French original and throwing it at Google Translate and simply copying the result. I'll talk about this another time.


A note of sadness

I saw this in the local paper...

Pumpkins. © 2021 Ouest France.

Down near the border of the Loire, not far from Ancenis, is a yearly pumpkin festival. Mom loved to go look at the pumpkins, buy some pumpkin pie, and she'd get me a big one to do something with for Samhain (Halloween).
So I know where we would have been this weekend. Possibly on Saturday after work, and more than likely deciding whether or not to have gone down to Clisson. Well, the weather as it was yesterday, that's more than likely a big yes.

I won't go. Even when I eventually (before the heat death of the universe) get a real car, I won't go. Because... it's just not the same. I've done a few things that we used to do together and... just no.


Legitimate salvage

The guy that restocks the vending machine at work came by on Thursday, as usual. He checked the products, and threw out those which were near their expiry date.
They were sitting in the bin on top of a tied up black bag (with coffee grinds and such) with no food or yucky things around. Depressingly, I must add that the inside of the binbag looked cleaner than the inside of the vending machine - something I've pointed out numerous times, but clearly nobody from the company that deals with this has the time or inclination to strip the machine down, so it's just gone over with a few antibacterial wipes which... is rather like trying to remove graffiti with a nail brush.

Anyway, I extracted the stuff. Commercial value? Maybe a euro if we're lucky. Vending machine value? Easily ten times that.

Legitimate salvage
Legitimate salvage.
In the fine-honoured art of dumpster diving, I don't need a lettre de marque. This was in the bin therefore it is legitimate salvage.



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Gavin Wraith, 11th October 2021, 02:09
> yell "branleur!" and stay in touch with your inner European. 
I only know "branle" or "bransle" as a country dance, and possibly the same word as "brawl". Do I get a whiff of "clodhopper" or "oaf" in there too? I am just guessing about "branleur". The trouble with languages that drop their 's's is that you can never be sure where to put them back in again. How could there be anything ruder than "Tory", though? Even Jeremy Clarkson thinks that they are making a right br*x*t of things over here.  
Funnily enough even the Romans thought that there was something daffy about pumpkins. A couple of years ago my wife bought me a printout of Seneca's Apocolocyntosis Claudii - the Pumpkinification of Claudius. A sour little work. 
Well done France, I say. May it continue to merit your gratitude.
David Pilling, 11th October 2021, 18:49
...having a chip inside, can your passport suffer hardware/software failure, and what happens if it does.
Rick, 11th October 2021, 19:36
Generally a faulty chip shouldn't prevent access to a country as the passport is still valid without it. It depends, however, on the specifics of the country in question. 
It seems, from a brief search online, that it is quite common for a customs entry passport reader to fail to read a passport. So the person is taken to a booth to be interrogated, and surprise, their reader works fine. 
Rick, 11th October 2021, 19:40
As for branleur, it probably does literally translate as oaf or something, but in colloquial use it means something more akin to a person who pleasures themselves (try using Google Translate). 
French is a bit like that, there aren't really many swear words (most people at work just yell "putain!"), it's more down to creative use of existing words to have a different meaning. Like when Sarko said "casse toi", it doesn't mean "break yourself"... 
Rick, 11th October 2021, 19:45
It would be nice if we could use "Tory" as a general insult for a useless failure that's full of effluent. 
However BloJo is busy talking about levelling up, seemingly unaware that the last decade of cockups are, uh, Tory cockups. 
The rest of Europe isn't trying to level up, so it's not an EU issue (but don't let that stand in the way of random bluster). 
My fear is that people are so delusional these days that if he called a snap election he'd probably win again. Despite the empty shelves. Despite the empty fuel pumps. Despite the price of gas going nuts. Despite taking away the credit top-up. Despite... 
Things are falling apart and he's painting pictures of sunny uplands. 
Gavin Wraith, 11th October 2021, 23:50
> It would be nice if we could use "Tory" as a general insult for a useless failure that's full of effluent.  
I already do.
Bernard, 12th October 2021, 01:23
I was surprised on applying for my Irish EU passport to be offered the choice of supplying my mug shot in colour or in monochrome. I chose the latter out of nostalgia. I haven’t yet made much use of it since Covid travel forms sometimes include passport number, and I want to be able to get home without let or hindrance from the fearful sounding Border Force. Yes, Spanish passport control physically stamp Brits’ passports on entry and exit (that’s too much nostalgia), but in future I will be Irish when abroad.
David Pilling, 13th October 2021, 14:53
I filled the car at a deserted petrol station yesterday, 100% success on the home shopping delivery today. 
I worry about the guy behind the glass at the garage, like God, he has witnessed the folly of humanity, and sits there in silent judgement. He knows I filled up petrol cans as covid started (for the mower (honestly)). 
Interesting explanation of the crisis was the change to E10 petrol. 
Meanwhile the defeatist BBC is predicting a "toy free Christmas". Good luck knitting that into the Father Xmas narrative. 
Rob, 14th October 2021, 18:00
Interesting that according to the log, the plane spent the last ten minutes on the ground doing 161mph ! 
Rick, 14th October 2021, 21:18
I recently had somebody comment that it wasn't acceptable to put extra fuel into a jerrican. The guy had probably seen the news about what was happening in the UK. 
I told him it was for my mower. 
He was like "well how do I know it's not for your car?". 
"Oh, putain de merde, c'est une voiture qui roule avec GAZOIL!" 
Jerk backed off. I'm not sure what shocked him more, the casual sweariness or it being forcefully implied that I won't be using petrol in a diesel car. 
I bet he was only complaining because he (a guy in a dirty white van, ho ho) had his own jerricans. 
Rick, 14th October 2021, 21:21
A toy-free Christmas? Brilliant! Everybody can think about what the spirit of Christmas is supposed to be about, and talk to people, rather than whinging because this one kid got a better present..... 

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