In which I am astute and get ‘Astuce’d.

A city maman and I were bemoaning the difficulty of getting kids to after-school activities on Friday. She’d ditched her car and opted for the bus to avoid the nightmare traffic after the bridge fire to get her kids to the swimming pool on the Ile Lecroix. I had got caught out at the bus terminal on the way back from the cinema with no ‘liquide’ (cash) and an inoperable ‘credit card’ ticket machine and spent the journey back musing how well I was doing installing honest values into my four children, all the while ‘fare dodging’ my way back home.

So it was that city maman whispered in my ear something about ‘famille nombreuse’ and 10 free bus rides and I set off to investigate.

When I arrived at the TCAR bus-line office, there was a queue as long as the traffic at rush hour. Once I had put myself in said queue, I spent a good ten minutes scrabbling about in my bag for stray and unplanned bits of ID in the hope that by the time I reached the desk, half an hour later, I wouldn’t be spat out in disgust. Everyone knows that France is the land of red tape.

I spent a good ten minutes analysing the staff and had just come to the conclusion that with a certain amount of eyelash fluttering to the lone male, in the absence of passport photos, I might still succeed to get my free tickets, when I noticed him banish another woman in the direction of the door. After that I was laying bets on which woman looked the most compassionate, but the odds were still on being directed to the man.

As it was I did get a woman, and very fortunately the one furthest from the queue, which meant we were able to be conspiratorial together without fear of being overheard!

It turned out that for everyone who had never registered for a ‘Card Astuce’ – the rechargeable bus and metro travel card,  and thanks to the now defunct bridge, TCAR were offering free ‘membership’ and ten free travel tickets per head. This meant I would save 18€50 per head. What’s more the membership lasted 3 years and gave me discount 1/2 price travel for my rediculously large family for the entire duration.

I was a little concerned when she asked me which school my kids attended –  it was a French school wasn’t it? I was just thinking that I was about to fail by some obscure criteria, when it emerged that she had an english friend with several children moving to Rouen who needed some advice. Blog address handed over, I reckoned that the ‘Carte Astuce’ was ‘in the bag’.

The crunch point came when she asked if I had photos. I had a few dog eared one’s for two boys, and ripped the third off a defunct swimming pass. When I announced that I didn’t have one for my husband or myself, she waggled a web cam in front of me, and conspiratorially took a photo of me before I even had time to smooth my hair. For my husband she managed to scan off an old identity card.  Within a few minutes all the  cards were done.

I left the office hugely impressed that in the wake of a minor local disaster the city pulls it’s hand out of it’s pocket  to  give a few freebies to sweeten the ride.

So there you have it. Red tape? Paper work ?

What red tape? What paper work?

At least I won’t be arrested in the company of my children next time I venture onto the metro!

Baptism of Fire!

This year my daughter moved from Collège Privée to Lycée Publique. It has not been uneventful! Last year she was barely a minute’s walk from her school, this year she has to rely on public transport.

We are very fortunate to be at the epicentre of the public transport system- less than a minute from the Central station and its underground metro, and surrounded by various stops for many bus routes. My daughter and her fellow lycéens took a week to determine which was the most efficient route to allow them the most ‘shut-eye’ in the mornings and were particularly enamoured by Thursday EPS skating lessons for which there was a direct bus leaving from outside the door to the ice-rink, and allowed them to remain in bed until 7.30am.

All had fallen into a comfortable routine until, of course, on week three the public transport system decided to go on strike! ‘La Grève’ (strike) is a public pass-time in France. The right to strike is part of the National Constitution and as little negotiation occurs between the governing bodies and the workers until decisions are made, strikes are commonplace as the workers respond to management decisions. In front of the ‘Palais de Justice’, crowds congregate and banners are waved on a regular basis. The crowds generally then disperse into their vehicles and drive around the centre of the city with a fairly alarming din of car-horns and fluttering flags.

The first Thursday of the TCAR (public transport) strike the students caught their regular bus to the Ile Lacroix for their skating only to find that 5 minutes into their journey, and still a good kilometre and a half from their destination, the driver parked up at a bus stop and disappeared off to a local cafe for a coffee. He didn’t return. Somewhat bewildered the students didn’t know whether to descend and complete the journey by foot or remain waiting for the driver. The arrival of the bus inspector determined that they would walk. The students, laden down with their bags of books, bags of sports equipment and ice-skating paraphernalia arrived at the rink only to receive a text from their sports teacher to say that ice-skating had been cancelled. They were then obliged to walk the 4km uphill back to Lycée.

The strike is of course a logistical nightmare for those that work, or have children in various different locations, and that, it goes without saying, is entirely the point. That it is now running into it’s third week, with some drivers choosing to run, and others not, and with the strike times changing on a daily basis only increases it’s inconvenience. This week, my daughter begged me to take her to school, only for us to find ourselves driving along-side her regular bus because the driver had taken it upon himself to work that particular day!

Having now accustomed ourselves to the strike, I was somewhat disconcerted to receive a phone call from my daughter mid-afternoon declaring in a somewhat breathy tone “I’m alright”.

When I got to the bottom of the matter I discovered that she was standing in the school courtyard surrounded by a school-full of students, fire engines and ambulances and that the part of the school that contained her English classroom was now in flames. Some wise-cracks had decided to set off some explosives in the boy’s toilets.

“Well”, I said, when words returned to me…

“This really is a baptism of fire”