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Back to the city...

Chèques vacances

Yesterday I went back up to Rennes. This time I paid for the train ticket using two chèques vacances.
Cheque vacance
Chèque vacance.

These cheques are something commonly provided by employers. You pay an installment for a number of months, and the company gives a little bit. I think I pay 4×€25, and the company adds €40 for €140 worth of cheques. These cheques, intended for holiday use, can be exchanged at resorts, theme parks, fast food, etc. Yesterday morning I Googled to see if SNCF accept them. They do.

Unfortunately SNCF does not appear to handle money right now, so the Vitré station could not pay me back the difference between what the ticket cost (€16,40) and what I paid (€20). No big deal. I had fourteen such cheques to be used by the end of the year.

The cheques have a validity of two years. They can be renewed, but I would imagine it's complicated. Anyway, 2019 was pretty much a no-go for obvious reasons, and 2020 was abandoned due to unforseeable circumstances. So I currently (having just received my 2021 cheques) have three booklets (€420 in total) on cheques. As you can imagine, losing... what would it have been, three sixty? So not the end of the world.

As for the other €120 to use by year end. Well, let's just say that Burger King accept them. So that'll be six burger meals paid for. Restaurant opening in July and year ending in December? Easily doable. ☺


Getting there

Aaaaanyway. Jeez. What a diversion. Forgive me, I'm a little hungry. Anyway, the bus was on time. I got to the station, got myself a ticket, got on the train, got to Rennes. At the station in Rennes, an announcement seemed to be saying that "protocol G44 was in effect, all staff should go to the assembly point". Given how the French say letters, it could have been J44 instead. Either way, nobody seemed to be paying any attention to this.
I got on the Métro, got to Pontchaillou, got to the Préfecture, and was there for 9.55am. Even better timing than before.



Unfortunately there was a queue.

In front of me, two Muslim mothers. One with a son (maybe 12 or 13?), and one with two daughters. The elder daughter (13? 14?) was this amazingly cute girl with big eyes peeking out from a large-rimmed floppy bucket hat. The younger daughter was the anti-Christ, or whatever the Islamic equivalent is. She was clearly unhappy at being ignored as the mothers talked to each other and the elder children did likewise. Her hands had sweet-dye on them, and spent half the time in her mouth. She thought nothing of simply dropping her wrappers on the ground, she got... I don't know if it was chalk or what, but started doodling on the bollards. Altogether a thoroughly odious child. And given how the elder girl (clearly "the one that speaks French") was keeping a eye on everything with regards the paperwork and what needed to be done when, plus translations, it is remarkable how one appeared to come out so well while the other was clearly a quality control failure.....

The line slowly shuffled forward. I lost count of how many times the mother shoved a sweet into the little girl's mouth to shut her up. After about half an hour an elderly English guy in the line ahead asked if a friend, who had been standing forever with a walking frame, could go inside to sit down. Security agreed, shooed everybody out of the way, and let her and her husband jump the queue. An Asian couple behind me jumped the queue too because they had an appointment and had spent half an hour in the wrong line.

Just before eleven I was given a ticket, number 44, and allowed to go in. I had a backpack as I had planned shopping, but it was empty other than an umbrella (I'd considered the searching).
I sat down and saw that the indicator was at 35. And most of the people previously in the queue outside were now inside. Little girl? Trying to drag her sister to the vending machine at the back of the room.

One of the kiosks had a malfunctioning fingerprint scanner. The man was swapping it for one attached to another computer. He wasn't being too gentle either. I wonder if that's part of the reason for the problem?

Number 40 was called. And again. And once more. Then 41 was called. Person 40 turned up. Nope, sorry, back of the line, go get another ticket. The woman looked like she was about to start something, and then realised that all three security guards had noticed. She mumbled something that could have easily been a Romani curse, and headed off to get another ticket.

44 was called. Me. I got up, went over, handed over my phone (with the SMS) and my passport. She copied the number from the SMS into her computer. Looked at my passport, then asked me to remove my mask so she could see my face. Afterwards, I had to put both index fingers onto the scanner. Finally, sign a piece of paper.

Then she handed over my residency permit. I asked if it was valid for ten years. She confirmed that it was, and added that renewal is a lot simpler.


French Titre de Séjour

I'm now a legal alien, rather than a soon-to-be-illegal immigrant. The process of obtaining this was actually pretty simple. Send some data over the internet. Add some more data to confirm rights. Visit the Préfecture to hand over a photo and get fingerprints scanned, and then visit one more time to pick up the card. It was... not even onerous. And French public transport worked flawlessly and to time, both times. Okay, granted, things might be different on a Thursday (France often goes on strike on Thursday, though they don't appear to have done so recently), but with no strikes and no other strife, everything was running smoothly and on time.
My first trip up was bowel-loosening panic about making a one-off fixed appointment. This, my second trip, was only a "9am-noon" and I'd already done it once, so no panic at all. In fact, I rather enjoyed myself.

All of it was for the right to live and work in France. A right that I had as a European Citizen, and a right that I lost when Brexit stripped me of the better half of my identity.
All of it was for this:

Titre de Sejour obverse
Titre de Séjour - obverse
I've blanked out all of the identity stuff, and given myself a mask over the eyes, because every superhero will tell you that it's a completely effective disguise, although in my case it looks less like a superhero and more like I ought to be carrying a bag that says "SWAG" on it.

The card itself is small, credit card size. It carries the photo of me (scanned and printed into the card) along with a copy of my signature. My date of birth is also present, and it says quite clearly that it is to do with Article 50.
That little symbol like a Plimsoll line at the upper left indicates that the card has a contactless chip inside. This holds a digital copy of my photo and my fingerprints. It is short range (less than normal RFID tags) and uses a security key printed on the card (lower right) to allow access to the data. This is intended to stop people scanning and lifting biometric data.
Finally, a sort of holographic thingy (looks like a woman riding a bull) and etched into the plastic is a snippet of a piece of music which I'm just going to go out on a limb here and say... La Marseillaise? ☺

The reverse of the card is just as interesting.

Titre de sejour reverse
Titre de Séjour - reverse.
Under remarks it notes that the card was presented following Brexit withdrawal. I am permitted to live and work in France.
There's my place of birth, my current address, and the card number as a fake hologram (you know those pictures with the grooved plastic on top where looking at it from different angles changes what you see? it's that).
Another picture of me, and a large white machine readable area similar to passports.

The final thing is the chip. With six contacts, it's a fairly common setup. I like how Marianne is etched into the metalwork of the chip contacts.
The chip is the same one as used by contactless. I can tell because I can see the antenna when shining a light through the card. However unlike traditional RFID devices (such as my Métro ticket), the antenna inside this is really complicated and appears to be on several layers. No photo, however, as the most interesting part is within the machine readable area and editing out that information would edit out what we're interested in seeing.
I have not found any document that describes the sort of storage capabilities of this chip. The very minimum required for a coherent photograph would be 240×320 in 16 shades of grey (4bpp) which is 38,400 bytes as raw data, less if compressed. For the fingers, they only store two fingerprints - the index and middle fingers of my right hand. I would imagine the size will be larger but I'm not sure if it would be better to have a monochrome (1bpp) rendition of only the contours of the print, or a full greyscale scan. Either way, I'm guessing we're looking at 32K to 128K. It's worth remembering that the ISO standard is a 9600 baud serial link, so it should be designed to not take too long to read the data on the card. 128K would take a little over two minutes (not including protocol overheads) which might be unacceptable. It's about 35 seconds if 32K, but understandably the less data the less clarity.


The shops - Palais du Thé

I got back on the Métro and went to Republique. Through the archway in that impressive building I saw last time, and was accosted by a Greenpeace woman.
"Have you heard of Greenpeace?", she asked.
"After what you guys did at the football, I think everybody has heard of Greenpeace", I replied.
"Uh.... yeah.... so we're a...", she began. I cut her off, telling her that I already supported Friends of the Earth. Not entirely true, that was mom, but close enough. I find Greenpeace to be far too political for my liking.

The tea shop was a lot of expensive tea in strange blends. They had fancy names and fancy ingredients. Some were for cleansing, others for drainage, yet more for other sorts of healing.
A young woman with big glasses came over and asked if I needed any help.
Okay, let's try - black tea with cherry.
She walked over to the many tubs of tea lining the other wall and asked if I preferred the black tea with cherry and cranberry, or the black tea with cherry and rooibus.
Any black tea with just cherry?
I thanked her and left. I'd already noted their take on Earl Grey, and the prices...


Le Comptoir des Sorciers

The next stop was the witchy place. Only... wall to wall Harry Potter.
I asked the guy watching me if it was all Harry Potter.
He confirmed that it was, so I said thank you and left. His assistant said that there have been a number of people coming in lately who weren't interested in Potter. I pointed out to her that it's the solstice on Sunday, they're probably looking for a wand made of willow not plastic.



Walls of bookshelves, a big pile of boxes in the middle, and a bunch of nerds way far into nerdiness than me discussing vital plot points of a manga that I would describe as "giant robots bashing on each other".
There was a room at the back, locked glass cases of figurines. It seemed to be that most (if not all) of the female figurines were tending towards being X-rated, which was a bit squick given the prevalence of robot-fighting schoolgirls. Pretty much the only safe bet was Totoro.
I didn't bother looking at the manga on offer. That's the sort of place you probably need to either know what you want or spend a lot of time browsing. I didn't have the patience to browse, and if I knew what I wanted I'd probably already have got it from Amazon.


Bubble.... I forget the name, the Asian deli place

It probably would have helped if I was into raw fish...

I got a small plastic tub of beef and ginger, two yakitori sticks, two beef ball sticks, and a bean paste mochi. Came to a rather shocking €17.

I ate these later, but I'll talk about them now.
The yakitori were "okay" but expensive for what they were. Ditto the beef balls. The thick soy sauce on them was lovely. The balls themselves were... less interesting. Almost dry in texture and reeking of garlic.
The mochi was a disappointment. It was put into a plastic baggie, and by the time I got to it, it had turned into goo. I threw the whole lot in the bin. Is that normal for mochi? And if so, why didn't he wrap it in paper or something?
The beef and ginger was better. The beef was really chewy, and you know they're using low quality meat when sliced beef is that chewy. However there was quite a lot of it, and the soy sauce was lovely (maybe I should just buy a bottle of yakitori sauce and eat that?). I heated it all up in the microwave and that was yesterday's dinner.
The only downside was the thing that I thought was grated cabbage was actually grated ginger. Yikes!

Too expensive, won't be going back, but at least I tried.


Towards the bookshop

I am really proud of myself. Last month I looked at all of these things on Google Maps, and their relationship to the Métro stations. Then I navigated the entire route from memory. Didn't need Google Maps at all.
For the book shop, I walked beyond Sainte Anne. This time by way of the shopping precinct. And I saw a lot of designer handbag shops, and cafés/restaurants for many different styles of cuisine (highly biased in favour of Turkish).

I was accosted by a young man with flyers.
"Greenpeace? Already talked to somebody."
"No, I'm Uber Eats."
"Uber Eats? Why would I want to eat a car? Or is this a euphemism for something that happens in the back seat?"
He just stared at me and then walked off. Win!

I found the town Mayor, and opposite a circular building with a free toilet down in the basement. Well, it was almost free. You needed a little token to activate the turnstile, but there was a pile of tokens on top. Weird, but okay...

The Mayor of Rennes
The Mayor of Rennes.

Finally I made it to the rear entrance of a shopping mall - La Visitation. It was a shopping mall like... well... like any British one. Like a mini Aldershot (or a laughably tiny Woking).


Le forum des livres

I went into the book shop and... it wasn't bad, it just looked bigger in the photos. ☺ Upstairs was where most of the books were. I think mom could have passed a lot of time (and spent a lot of money) in this place.
I found some English books and picked up two. One, a bi-lingual book at French prices, and the other I'm not going to look up on Amazon because it was an impulse buy and I don't want to know how much they screwed me for.
And a cute thing, because, cute. It's basically dayglo colours and pink and it's called Owen. I can't help but feel there might be a back story...
Books, and Owen.

The weirdest thing was that I asked in every shop if I should leave my backpack. Nobody was interested, and nobody checked it on the way out. This was quite a contrast to Leclerc in Ancenis that was not only paranoid enough to require me to hand it in (and get a token for which box it was in) but they also wanted to check inside it afterwards...though they decided not to after I started filming them. "Why are you filming? Stop that." the woman said. I happen to know that they are not legally entitled to rummage around inside people's backpacks, they can only damand that I open it so they can look inside. This explains why the security guard at the préfecture had me open the backpack and take things out. He's allowed to look, he's not allowed to rummage. So he looks by asking me to take stuff out.
"It has been handed to you for safe keeping, it hasn't entered into your store, what exactly do you think you're going to find in there?" was my reply. The woman handed it back to me with a "don't bring it in again". Stupid, that's what those consignes are for. Bloody nosey jobsworth.
As far as I'm concerned, anybody (shopkeeper or my employer) can look inside my backpack (I don't have anything to hide) but they will be recorded doing so.

I left the shopping centre and walked to Sainte Anne. And down, and down, and down... having completely forgotten that the lift worked going up, not coming down.
Finally in the bowels of the planet, I caught a very packed trainlet back to the station.



At Rennes station, I had noticed earlier a small McDonalds. Next to it, a "Prêt". I've heard Prêt (À Manger) mentioned in The Guardian, so I thought I'd take a look.

Cheese and pickle sandwich, and a chicken mayo wrap.

Two things at Pret
Two things at Prêt.

The first thing was the deceptive packaging of the wraps. The photo says it all.

Pret's deceptive packaging
Prêt's deceptive packaging.

It was chicken mayo, but if you offered it to me blindfolded, I'd have told you that it had the texture of tuna fish and the taste of neither chicken nor tuna. Actually, the meat tasted of nothing in particular. You know something has gone badly wrong when the strongest (and near only) taste came from the cucumber.

The next thing? How did they manage to break a cheese and pickle sandwich? I don't know what the pickle was supposed to be, but "pretty grim" would be my considered evaluation. I did have other words in mind, considerably less polite. I ate the bread and the cheese and left everything else.

It's at this point I had the Asian things, with the exception of the beef and ginger that was in a sealed container. As already mentioned, not impressed by that either.

For f'ks sake, I'm not a connoisseur (or connaisseur in French). I can be impressed by a pot noodle so that both of these (Asian deli and Prêt) failed so miserably is a rather damning indictment. I should have just gotten a crappy identikit Big Mac. At least you know where you are with that rubbish.

Speaking of which, I stopped by McDonald's for a coke, as my two and a half euros would buy me 400ml of something wet and sweet. Prêt wanted more money for less coke.

Okay, I've had the Prêt experience. Next time I'll know not to bother.



I went up to the waiting room to drink the coke. But it seemed a bit too closed in and poorly ventilated, so I didn't stay. I did find a pair of earphones with an Apple lightning connector, which I handed in.

Sitting in the main terminal overlooking the tracks, I wrote some messages on the RISC OS forum and watched the world come and go. There was a guy, an older guy with sandals and socks and those ridiculously baggy shorts that the Evil Fashion Fairy bestows upon the hapless. He was also wearing one of those oversized backpacks, the tall ones.
He ran down to the train in a complete panic, started checking every carriage, and alarming the station staff. He legged it up the train and tripped over himself crashing to a heap on the ground. As the staff cautiously approached, a grey haired woman in a blue pinafore dress (way better dressed than him) went to his aid, helped him up, and gently motioned to the staff that it was okay. She pointed to the suspended screen that would have told him, had he bothered to look, that the train leaves in fifteen minutes. His wife (for who else would it have been) helped him onto the train, and paid no attention to the various people watching the spectacle. Something suggested to me that she'd had quite a bit of practice at this role.

The announcement system started droning on about the J44/G44 protocol. Nobody seemed to be paying any attention to it. I do wonder what that meant.

After a long time idly staring out of the window while listening to PPN, it was time to head down to the platform for my train. I noticed four policemen standing unconfortably close to a teenager. One of them kept his hand to his waist. Taser? Gun? I detoured the other side of the platform and noticed one of them give a tiny nod and a ghost of a smile. I rolled my eyes as some yuppie yacking into his phone almost collided with them until hand-on-waist guy roughly moved him out of the way. Yuppie was about to argue and realised who it was.
Jeez, some people.

I walked to the far end of the platform and sat down. Looking back, no police, no teenager. Hmmm?

The train came, the doors opened, and I sat at one of the seats facing the direction of travel with a table. I got out my book and plugged in my earphones again. I noticed two policemen walking the length of the train carefully looking at everybody. Whatever J44/G44 was, something had them spooked.

Before long (about one and a half Epica songs) I was in Vitré. I didn't get to touch my book. Damn that return train is fast.


More waiting

An hour and a half in Rennes, and another hour and a half in Vitré. I went to the "maître restaurtanteur" and got a coke. I asked for a straw but the trainee girl wasn't getting it. I made a sucking motion. Oh, right, she got it...
...and came back with an ashtray.

Eventually, after describing a straw in technical detail (basically - a small pipe to which suction permits one to aspirate the liquid from the bottle into the mouth for the purposes of drinking), she was like "a paille?". Yeah miss, that's the word I've been saying numerous times.
Luckily for her, a combination of Brexit and Covid mean I'm possibly the only British person she's spoken to in a while. Because she really didn't seem to get the way we Brits mutilate French.

Beside me was a door for a Kinésitherapeute who had a diploma in Biokinergie. Basically a massage parlour of the medical type.
Mom did that. An "aromatherapist", which requires a lot less training because you really only need to know enough to understand how to not accidently hurt people (though being a nurse was a good grounding). The thing is that most people are not tense because of muscle problems, the muscle is a symptom and not the cause. That's not universally true, of course, we have people come and give massages at work and in those cases it is definitely muscular. Anyway, the people that mom treated were mostly psychological cases. Their stress came from events in their lives, and the massage was a means of helping them open up and talk. Mom was very good at psychology, so she was a good untrained/unofficial therapist. She never talked about people's issues, suffice to say that sometimes the hardest thing to do is begin to talk. Even talking with a complete stranger is often beneficial as those things that a person had been trying to ignore, or not acknowledge are now things to be dealt with. Pain to cry over. A situation to be angry about. Whatever. Merely starting the journey of recovery is often the way to begin to feel a lot less tense.

As I am often in the staff break room in the afternoons (it's when I clean it), I have been offered the opportunity to take one of the vacant slots. I decline. While I think having my muscles prodded might have some medical use, I do not like to be touched. You may have read a few days ago of my thoughts on handshakes...


After watching the world go by for an hour, I walked across to a small bookshop. A kindly woman was there, and we entered into a surreal conversation.
"Would you like me to leave my backpack here?"
"If you like."
"Uh... it's your shop?"
"I don't mind, whatever you want."
I left it and looked around. It was a tiny bookshop, with more upstairs. Creaky wooden stairs and a floor that made so much noise I felt guilty walking across it. I saw a manga, by one get one free. So I did.

The shop owner had a picture poster of all of the towns in the area on the wall behind her. I pointed to one and gave it's co-ordinate. "I live there", I said. "How long for?"
"Since 2002."
"You have an accent, English?"
"Close, Scottish. Just been to Rennes to get my residency card."
"Scottish? You're going to have an independence vote soon?"
"Oh, I hope so."
"Me too, it's a lovely country. It deserves better."

Damn. Just the other day I sent a birthday card to Ewen (it's his birthday today) and where it said "Écosse" at the bottom of the address, I added an arrow and wrote "Bientôt indépendante".
The man in the post office noticed, and told me that very morning a Scot had been in saying exactly the same thing.

Note that the French just generally refer to us all as "les anglaises". I used to let it slide, but as of the summer of 2016, I'm either Scottish or British. I am not Anglais.


I went back to the station and prodded an automatic ticket dispenser. Picking a random date of August 4th, I looked at the price for tickets to Ancenis (via some tortuous route like Laval and Le Mans). About €30 for a direct train (takes an hour and a half) or €35 for a train with changes (takes three hours). Oddly, Vitré to Nantes was slightly cheaper, some including TGV connections.
Finally, Vitré to Montparnasse. A TER, probably to Rennes, and then TGV to Paris. Takes between two and four hours, probably depending on the waiting time in Rennes. Prices are about €50. The "inOui" trains (regular TGV service) are about €10 more expensive. The other one is "Ouigo", that's the more budget offering. Clearly somebody likes the word "Oui".
I would imagine these prices are for the outgoing, not for there and back, so double them. Still cheaper than the guy quoted me last time, and payable using chèques vacances.
Don't think I'm going to become the man in seat sixty one. But it's good to have some ideas in case a need should arise.

The bus came. Got me back to little local town and I walked around to work and was there just before 6pm to pick up my car. I was tired so I decided not to go to Châteaubriant today. Instead, I swung by the supermarket and got several milks and a pack of Golden Grahams. Yup, that's going to be today's dinner. Yup, I'm that lazy.



Actually, I had planned on doing nothing today, so it's not a surprise that I got up early and went and strimmed (strum?) the weeds this morning. It rained almost immediately afterwards.
I had a bath, and washed some clothes. Sat down to write this but had to unplug everything as a thunderstorm came through. It rained extremely hard, which has flattened my potatoes. They don't look broken, but still...
Flattened potatoes
Flattened potatoes.



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Mick, 20th June 2021, 03:11
Woking is under continual development. Since you left, they built a roof over the road up side of the station. It had solar panel powered lights and took a year to build. A couple of years later they tore it down as those down on their luck slept under it. Hmmm. Further down at the bottom end of the shopping centre they are building tall blocks. I think they want to be twinned with East Croydon or Dallas or somewhere! Oh if you wanted a biggish shopping centre you should have gone to La poterie. Its nearer the metro station than the ter.
Zerosquare, 20th June 2021, 07:01
"Uber Eats? Why would I want to eat a car?" 
That's priceless! 
If you can afford it, you owe yourself a trip to Japan someday (well, after they allow tourism again, that is). Even if you don't like raw fish, there are still plenty of other dishes that taste delicious - the food you get in typical "Japanese" restaurants in France is just a limited selection and often mediocre version of the real things.
David Pilling, 20th June 2021, 15:21
Independent Scotland seems obvious, and since the devolution changes it has seemed inevitable. And yet people I know who live in Scotland are greatly against it. Do you get a vote, do you get a Scottish passport. There would be some fuss. Might happen in a couple of years, might take fifty.
Bernard, 23rd June 2021, 21:01
‘Inouï’ is just French for ‘unheard of’, ‘extraordinary’ in ordinary parlance. The TGV usage is, I assume, a deliberate pun. And ‘Ouigo’ is clearly a Franglais pun: ‘yes we go’ as it were.

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