Old friend Leo gave me a lift to the local train station this morning. The road that runs between Leo’s house and mine has just been completely resurfaced from local taxes, but almost all the roads were quiet as usual – and even though Leo is 80 and not in the Formula 1 league any more, we arrived within three minutes of the time it normally takes to get there. The ticket to Bordeaux costs €14, but when I arrived this was reduced to €11.40 because I’m over 60. The train – spotless, clean and
ultra-modern – arrived and left on the dot. There were plenty of seats for everyone, the carriage was yob-free, and the journey (as advertised) took forty minutes. During my time at the station and on the train, I saw one obese person,
The bus connection from station to airport was €1.50 and took 35 minutes. They arrive every five minutes.
All this is provided by the State sector, in that SNCF runs the rail network and owns 70% of the Keolis Group which runs the Bordeaux bus services. One is told over and over again that such industries and the Health Service have bankrupted France, and soon we shall all be groooovin’ to the Apocalypso. But I’m becoming less and less convinced that the country in which I now reside is in a worse position than the UK.
Both countries have almost the same level of national debt (90%), and both debts are growing fast. But whereas Britain has insisted on austerity, France hasn’t really; and although the UK is allegedly a financial powerhouse, France has a far bigger non-banking economy than Blighty, with enough farming land and output to be completely self-sufficient in food if it had to be. Wheat, vegetables, salads and root carbohydrates are real, but fiat currency isn’t. Opinions remain divided about who is in the weaker position going forward, but I’m at a loss to see why: manufacturing is only 9% of our economy, farming is under 1%, and our food imports bill is huge compared to that of France.
One thing one can be absolutely sure of, however, is that when it comes to travel infrastructure and value for money, the citizen here is far, far better served than he or she would be in the UK. The single biggest difference between the two countries is that Britain has enthusiastically breathed in the neoiberal virus, and France hasn’t. The Labour Partly persistently fails to make this case, but that’s because its current management is spineless and collaborationist. In France, the cost of living is lower, the health better, the transport system infinitely superior and the communal infrastructure and ethic alive and well.
I’ve posted many times before about the glee with which the French public sector concerned with maintaining a pleasing and functional environment keeps on and on spending money. The senior bureaucrat (ENA) view has always been (in private after the odd Armagnac) that losing sleep over fiat paper debt is a sign of insanity. As one prefecture bigwig confided to me three years ago, “Monsieur, we spend money at the same rate as bankers create it in their fraudulent ledgers. When the day of reckoning comes, the depth of creation and loss will be utterly meaningless, and of no consequence”.
I am inclined to agree. But the Germans think otherwise – and this is where the final split will appear in the final straw that is the increasingly ridiculous European Union.
As the bus from St Jean to Mérignac rumbled along the Avenue John F Kennedy, the robotic recorded digital voice kept on repeating “Ceci est bus nuuumaiirrooo eerrrn direcsheeurng Mérignac aaarooobueurroor”. An American lady opposite me began smiling until we were both giggling. It was, dare I say, yet another example of Robots 1 Jobs 0, but it was no less funny for all that.
Later I ate about 10% of quite the most disgusting hamburger I’ve ever tasted, but then later still enjoyed excellent fish and cheese with a bottle of reasonable Chianti. This latter eaterie had Germans, Italians, French, Spaniards and English dining there. The Aryans were fat and the Mediterraneans slim. Plus ça change.