4th -11th february 2013 - That was the week that is 6 or was 6 and is still a bit 6

Hail, rain, snow, more snow, more rain and more hail and on Friday afternoon, a brief respite in the grey meteorological monotony … the sun came out. The first sunshine since December. Oh grey, soggy France, where all the grey soggy days have all clogged into one soggy mass like a bowl of unwanted porridge.

France feels more than a little « porridgey » at the moment. Everyone clogged up with cold or bogged down with depression. Yes things are bad, but they are bad all over. In France though, even when things are good, we say they are bad. That’s the French way, always complaining.

So, on the home front, (for lest we forget, France is still officially a country at war, with nearly 4000 troops fighting an insurgent enemy in the sands of Northern Mali.) – well, two main stories in the headlines – Same Sex Marriage and Unemployment.

In a week when the British parliament at Westminster took just six hours to debate and despatch a bill on same sex marriage, the French parliament continued its marathon two week on the same issue. Had the right wing opposition parties not stuck a record number of amendments to the bill – 5300 to be exact, the whole thing might well have been dispensed in a couple of days. It’s all been a bit of a farce. Of those French people who are actually bothered about the issue, around 55% say they are not opposed to same sex marriage. One serious point was raised in the debate though – what the French press have been calling Medically Assisted Procreation – artificial insemination, test tube babies, surrogate mums and such like.

When the socialists originally put their same sex marriage bill before parliament, there were those who wanted to lump the « baby thing » in with the marriage thing – giving same sex couples the right to have kids, either via adoption or medical means. Howls of protest from the right, and also on the left. This was not a subject to be taken lightly; it merited a law in its own right rather than just a paragraph tagged on to the gay marriage bill.

It’s a thorny issue. We live in a land of equality – (that’s what the it says on the republican label – Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité) – if different sex couples should have the right to marry in civil ceremonies, why can’t same sex couples have the same rights? Well they will get the right. Next egalitarian question. If heterosexual couples can legally have kids, why can’t same sex couples have the same right? You can have a mum and dad, but why not two mums, or even two dads? Well, aside all the sexual and medical issues, there is also the legal aspect to consider. Will children born of surrogate mothers outside of France be considered French? Justice minister Christine Toubira says yes. If this is not the case though, then the « rent-a-womb » business will have to be legalised in France.

Big problems ahead for dads who want to be mums, however for the ladies it’s less difficult – test tube babies have been around for over 30 years now, and under French law, the identity of sperm donors is protected. Just for the record, sperm donors in France receive no financial remuneration for their seed, and the age limit for a spot of constructive onanism is 42 years old.

Now, there might eventually be a sudden rush for the altar amongst the gay and lesbian community – although there is no question of a religious ceremony. In our great republican scheme of things, only civil marriage is actually valid – however, I daresay that it will be same sex couples in long term stable relationships who will get hitched first, they might be of that age where kids are not an issue. As for younger couples, well I can imagine the ladies wanting babies, it’s a biological thing, maternal instinct and all that, but the blokes? « Honey I want kids. » Are they really going to say that?

Well, if the guys are going to have to rent wombs abroad, why not just legalise the process at home. I don’t know of this is very ethical, but certainly from a medical and financial point of view it makes good sense.

The government could start by setting up a national register of surrogate mothers. There would have to be some kind of medical and psychological vetting procedure before women could get on the register.

Next we would need to set a national price for the while process – call it a womb rental fee.

There would have to be some kind of legal and contractual, safeguard whereby the surrogate mums wouldn’t be allowed to keep the baby. There might also be the need for some kind of « anonymity » clause. As I mentioned before, the identity of sperm donors is kept secret, but I’m not too sure about the ID of the biological mum.

We would also need to look at the nationality question. Surrogate mums would all have to be French nationals or naturalised French

Finally, the tax aspect. This would be a job (though not like any other) however it should be treated like any other in terms of social security contributions, health insurance, income tax etc.

And when we have done this for surrogate mums, why don’t we go ahead and legalise prostitution. I’m all for the re-establishment of legalised brothels, which were legislated out of existence in 1949.

Now, if surrogate mums became legal (actually, I’ve written about this and I’m not actually sure if renting out your womb is illegal, though I haven’t heard that it is) I doubt if we would suddenly have thousands of unemployed women of child baring age, rushing into the job, but it might « shave » a few hundred people off the unemployment figures, which are on the up and still rising. I’ve already written about the massive job losses in France – 7500 jobs to go at Renault, 10,000 at Peugeot Citroen, 1500 jobs Dunlop and 1000 jobs at the Virgin Megastore chain. Last week though, yet another employment statistic was unveiled – since 2000, France has seen the closure of nearly 1000 manufacturing companies, and what are e going to do about it? Well, not much it seems.

When everyone voted for François Hollande as president (or rather when everyone voted against Sarkozy) everyone thought that a socialist president would what socialist presidents and governments always do – step in and bail everyone out. They didn’t though. Actually I say « socialist governments » - The French are a bit like the Russians in that they like strong « paternalist » even « czarist » leaders who will step in and make everything – even the right have been prone to bail out failing national industries. Look at Renault in the seventies. Yes, in France we like to heap all our troubles on one person, who will make them disappear with one wave of a big Presidential wand.

There is a problem tough. It’s not going to happen like that, this time round. There’s no money. French workers are so used to looking to the government for easy solutions or miracle cures. «What is the government doing about this? » - the same question is always posed. Well nowadays, we are asking another question – « is it the role of the government to save a failing company? » Why is it failing in the first place? If we pour in public money, what are the guarantees that the same errors will not be made again?

Anyway, in the past few weeks, we have seen a strange spectacle on the nation’s streets – workers and civil servants, protesting against a socialist government. Even teachers and have been out on the streets, protesting against government education reforms. The aforementioned groups are normally tradition socialist party voters. When the left are in power they don’t protest, but when it’s a right wing government … I finally lost count of the amount of demonstrations during the Sarkozy presidency. This is a sign though that things are bad. Teachers are protesting against education reforms that will change their timetables and working practices. The civil servants are demonstrating against salary freezes and the workers – they’re just trying to hang on to their jobs.

Take civil servants (of which I am one) as an example. I was due a promotion this year, but that has been put on hold until 2016, meaning effectively that I won’t have a salary increase for the next three years. Civil service pay has also been frozen. Civil service salaries were automatically increased every year by between 0.8% and 1.25%. No longer. And of course everything else is going up, so on real terms, this is a slow wage cut. Even at the best of times, French salaries are pretty low anyway – although we are always told that labour costs are too high. Anyway, as Chinese workers strike for pay and gradually get « too expensive » we might one day see all those « outsourced » jobs come home again.

As for price increases, everything is up. The average weekly shopping bill is up by an average of 7% on last year. Rail fares, energy prices, and motorway toll prices – they’re all on and diesel prices are set to rise. Diesel might be expensive where you live, but in France, it is cheaper than petrol. About two thirds cars on French roads run on diesel, because, traditionally it has been cheaper at the pump – up to 10 euro centimes a litre cheaper than petrol. Why do we al run on diesel? Well that stems from a choice made back during the oil crisis of the early 70’s, when French refining capacity made a switch from petrol to diesel.
Take heart, this is still a great country to live in. Beautiful scenery, fine wines and good food, unless of course you are buying the Ready-to-Eat meals from the supermarket. It would appear that our shepherd’s pies, Ravioli, moussakas and such like are all full of horse meat. Well, in response to those who think that this is scandalous, I would say that you are all damn Lucky to be getting horse meat. I love the stuff. It is lean, tasty and low in cholesterol, it’s also quite expensive and more difficult to get than it used to be.

When I moved to this small town, we had three horse butchers, where now we only have one, and he is just about to retire. Cultural changes also mean nit is harder to get horsemeat from the local supermarket. Now don’t worry, we are not eating retired racehorses, or working horses from the knackers’ yard, the horse that we eat is specially bred for human consumption. As for the horses that Romanian meat suppliers are putting in your microwave meals, well …

The problem is that in France we are not producing enough beef. Cattle farmers and breeder interviewed on the radio recently put the problem quite simply. There is no money in the business. National retail chains are paying lower than ever prices to their meat producers. Cheap meat imports from other countries and a profession, strangled by E.U rules and regulations. It’s not worth raising cattle anymore. No one is going into the business, and those in it, are going out of business, many voluntarily, selling off their herds and either turning to other forms of farming, or leaving agriculture altogether. It’s the same problem for dairy farmers.

This just leaves me to say a few words about David Beckham, who has just signed a five-month contract with the Paris-based football team – the Paris Saint Germain. The whys and wherefores of Mr Beckham’s spell with the PSG are numerous. Footballing skills apart, Mr B is also here to do a spot of promotion for the PSG’s Qatari backers. Don’t forget that the 2014 World Cup is in Qatar. Needless to say, Mr Beckham’s presence in Paris has not gone unnoticed. Even the nation’s fashion press is a buzz with the story, speculating whether Mrs Beckham (Posh Spice) will be accompanying her footballing husband. In the PSG team shop, Beckham football shirts were retailing at 110 Euros each. Despite the extortionate price, they all sold out in a matter of hours

Well folks, that as the week that was, and it’s time to get on with the week that is. Have yourselves a good one and spare a thought for Pope Benedict who has just announced his retirement at the tender age of 85