Thursday, September 13, 2007

BBC Hits Bottom, Digs

Post below lifted from Ed Driscoll. See the original for links

The BBC decided to set up a website explaining 911 to kids. They have several sections set up to help the kids out on understanding the war on terror the BBC way. In one section they ask, Why Did They Do It? Guess who gets the blame?

The way America has got involved in conflicts in regions like the Middle East has made some people very angry, including a group called al-Qaeda - who are widely thought to have been behind the attacks.

In the past, al-Qaeda leaders have declared a holy war - called a jihad - against the US. As part of this jihad, al-Qaeda members believe attacking US targets is something they should do.

When the attacks happened in 2001, there were a number of US troops in a country called Saudi Arabia, and the leader of al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, said he wanted them to leave.

That's right! It is the U.S. fault! We offended the world! Read the whole thing and watch your blood boil. Not a single word condemning Al Qeada in the whole thing. In fact it defends them in non judgemental terms. As your blood pressure rises keep in mind this is aimed towards children. Hopefully your head doesn't explode! As Paul at Wizbang says: unfreakinbelievable!

Local prostitutes must be protected!

Only in Britain. Where has the oft-proclaimed Leftist respect for the privacy of the bedroom gone? Is it only homosexuals who are entitled to such privacy?

Men who pay for sex could be prosecuted under new government plans to cut down on prostitution. Ministers are debating whether to make the purchase of sex illegal instead of the sale of sex as is currently the case. Individuals caught kerb-crawling would also be named and shamed as part of the proposals currently under discussion.

The government is trying to stop the growing problem of sex trafficking in the UK with increasing numbers immigrants coming here to work as prostitutes. According to the latest statistics, 85 per cent of women in brothels are from overseas. Senior government figures believe that the only way to reduce these figures is to criminalise clients thereby sending out a message that paying for sex is unacceptable.

A number of female ministers are said to have supported the reforms including Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, Patrica Scotland, the Attorney General, Vera Baird, the Solicitor General and Harriet Harman, Leader of the House. Fiona Mactaggart MP, who used to be in charge of tackling prostitution as a Home Office minister, said: "The price of prostitution is enormously high for women. "The more vulnerable the woman is, the cheaper the price is for men.

"The criminal justice bill that comes back on the first day includes changes to the prostitution strategy. "It would be possible to put into it some amendment which deals with this issue of men who pay for sex," A spokesman for the Home Office said: "There are no current plans to change the law and criminalise paying for sex." "We carefully considered that option as part of a public consultation on prostitution in 2004 but decided not to introduce a new offence."

Under the current laws, it is not illegal to pay for sex even though many of the activities surrounding prostitution are illegal. Men can be prosecuted for using prostitutes in certain circumstances such as kerb-crawling and it is against the law to run a brothel and to solicit or advertise for the purpose of prostitution.

The reforms would follow a law introduced in Sweden eight years ago which made it illegal to pay for sex but legal to sell it. The scheme is said to have reduced the number of brothels and clients in the country as well as cutting-down on the levels of sex trafficking.


Legislating Intolerance: Is Marriage a Dying Institution in England?

There’s a problem at the moment in Britain with our sense of national identity. The problem is a compound of many things, of course: an all-pervasive culture of pop music and TV soaps, muddle about the way history is (or isn’t) taught in schools, a substantial and growing Islamic presence, confusion about our role in the world, an obsession with denouncing the (real and imagined) mistakes and evils of our past. But probably the single most important component is the one that most debates and discussions on the subject overlook: the collapse of marriage and family structures. And new laws that took effect in April this year are going to have a marked impact on all of this.

First, some background. New textbooks on “citizenship” for use in our schools—very much a project of the moment—emphasize sexual options as a fundamental part of “Britishness.” We are meant to assume that having various sexual leanings—heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual—is all part of the culture of “choice” that is our birthright. The idea that a nation is built on families, and that the passing on of family names, along with traditions and history, culture and folklore, is central to the concept of nationhood would be regarded as anathema. I say “would be” because, as far as I know, no one has actually dared to announce it even as a suggestion. Sexual relationships are, in the current parlance, “all about choices,” and it seems now to be regarded as quite wrong to suggest otherwise.

Now for the new laws: Under the new Sexual Orientation Regulations just passed by Parliament, anyone who challenges this notion of “choices” and appears in any way whatsoever to criticize the homosexual lifestyle will be criminalized. And I do mean criminalized: There are to be fines and possibly even custodial sentences for anyone who fails to deliver “goods and services” to people who are actively homosexual—“goods and services” in this instance including, for example, children who must be offered to homosexual couples for adoption from now on. “Britishness,” you see, is all about freedom to choose—not freedom for the child, of course, or for the natural mother giving up her baby for adoption, who might have wanted to specify a male/female married couple. No, “freedom” today is defined by political correctness.

There are many horrible aspects to all of this, one of the saddest being that the secretary of state who steered the legislation through Parliament is a Catholic, Ruth Kelly, whose membership in Opus Dei is much paraded (she’s a supernumerary). Kelly has said that she is proud to have gotten this legislation onto the statute book. She presumably hasn’t read Sacramentum Caritatis, the recent papal exhortation on the Eucharist, which states:

Worship pleasing to God can never be a purely private matter, without consequences for our relationships with others: it demands a public witness to our faith. Evidently, this is true for all the baptised, yet it is especially incumbent upon those who, by virtue of their social or political position, must make decisions regarding fundamental values, such as respect for human life, its defense from conception to natural death, the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman, the freedom to educate one’s children, and the promotion of the common good in all its forms. These values are not negotiable

But irrespective of how Kelly copes with her conscience, Britain now has a problem with its marriage laws. The law establishes the basis of the social relationship of marriage, sets its tone, and confirms its status in the community. I became aware of this in a very particular way. When I married more than 25 years ago, it was in a Catholic Church, but due to a falling-out between the local registration authority and our parish priest, it was necessary for brides from our parish to go to the local register office and arrange personally for someone to attend the ceremony as a legal witness and sign the relevant papers. I expected this to be a quick matter of a phone call, but soon discovered this was not the case. Marriage was taken seriously. On arrival at the registrar’s I was ushered into a rather grand office and asked to take a seat.

The kindly, rather serious official in front of me began: “Now. Marriage under the law of England and Wales is the union of a man and a woman, exclusive of others, for life. Can you confirm that you understand that?” And with a seriousness that I had not known I would feel, and a sense of solemnity about what I was considering to undertake, I answered, “Yes.”

I appreciated then—and appreciate now—the solemnity with which the matter was approached. As he proceeded to explain to me what I needed to know (including the information that, when making my vows, I must speak loudly enough for the registrar, sitting in the front pew, to hear me), I was very much aware that I was embarking on something that was of huge legal and social, as well as personal and spiritual, significance. I have never forgotten it, and that spring day in 1980 at the register office is as etched in my mind as the later September day when Jamie and I made our vows together before God, with all the glory of a Mozart Mass and bridal finery and hugs and tears and fun and joy of a family wedding.

So where’s the problem? It is simply this: Today, by reiterating what I was told by that registrar, let alone what was stated in church and what I know and believe as a Catholic concerning marriage, I could, under certain circumstances, be in legal trouble. As a Catholic journalist and commentator on these issues, I am—or have been up until now—sometimes invited into schools and colleges to take part in conferences and seminars on marriage and related issues. And up until now I have welcomed all such opportunities, indeed relished them.

“Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church proclaims. “In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament” (2360). In explaining the Christian understanding of marriage—and the fact that it echoes the natural law written into the very fabric of our being, which undergirds the law of our country that governs how we are to live—I have been privileged to be part of some excellent classroom discussions, hear some forthright views, and be touched by young people’s statements of their beliefs, hopes, and aspirations.

But under the Sexual Orientation Regulations, which were passed with minimal parliamentary debate (despite a valiant attempt in the House of Lords to tackle them properly), it is going to be difficult for me to talk about marriage in schools anymore, or even be of much use as a visiting Catholic journalist. The new regulations expressly ban my doing anything that might make pupils of homosexual inclinations uncomfortable. Suggesting—let alone firmly stating—that marriage is, by definition, a bond between a man and a woman is going to be rather too antagonistic. Affirming the Catholic Church’s position on other sexual relationships, including the homosexual one, is going to be trickier still unless I am prepared (which I’m not) to state that it is possible that the Church is wrong, or that other opinions on homosexual activity are of equal moral worth and validity, or that I recognize that everyone has the right to affirm his or her own sexual desires in his or her own way.

Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, Tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved (CCC 2357).

I have never actually quoted that in a school, and I have no particular desire to do so. In general, I steer well away from the subject. I’m concerned with communicating the facts about the Church’s message on marriage, or my own involvement with this as a Catholic journalist. But if the issue comes up, I am certainly prepared to quote the Catechism and explain that I support its teaching—and I’d probably link the section just quoted with the next, which says, among other things: “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition: for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (CCC 2358). I might go on to add that such people are not just a “they”—for among such people are personal friends, people I enormously like and whose company I enjoy.

So what am I to do? I’m probably not going to be asked to speak about marriage or relationships much anymore. I have benefited from some—though not many—schools’ attempts to present “both sides” of the debate on relationships, which does offer a little more than the usual school-nurse-with-contraceptives deal. But it now seems likely that this will slowly dry up or cease altogether.

Will there be a test case to get the legislation examined in the courts? When details of the Sexual Orientation Regulations were announced, the Catholic bishops publicly expressed worry about the position of Church adoption agencies that cannot, while remaining true to the Church, offer children to homosexual couples who, by their lifestyle, openly oppose Catholic teaching. It simply makes the whole idea of having a Catholic adoption agency pointless. It remains to be seen what, if any, legal steps the bishops decide to take. But there are other, much wider implications of the regulations.

The stated idea is that people of various “sexual orientations” should not be denied “goods or services.” It was made clear to the bishops that adoptive children are, in this instance, to be regarded as “good and services” and must be offered to practicing homosexuals under the law. And denial of goods and services is linked to the notion that people must be free from any sort of harassment—which could include being told, in a classroom, that certain activities are “intrinsically disordered,” or that a “marriage” with a person of the same sex is simply not recognized by the Catholic Church. And what about, for example, a retirement home run by a Christian group that does not want to treat lesbian and homosexual couples as married?

Speaking in schools is only a small part of my work, and journalistic talents can be flexible. I might decide to open up a new area of work by producing materials for weddings—helping with Orders of Service, choosing nice quotes for wedding programs or menus. If I am then approached by a lesbian couple and politely decline to do business with them, I could be prosecuted, even if I simply find some polite excuse and express it in a pleasant and friendly way, designed not to give offense. If I were helping to run a publication, and we chose not to have an advertisement from some organization promoting homosexual marriage, there could be similar legal consequences. And so on.

A few bishops have already expressed their concerns. Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, archbishop of Westminster, protested the denial of democracy: “My fear is that, under the guise of legislating for what is said to be tolerance, we are legislating for intolerance. Once this begins, it is hard to see where it ends. The question is whether the threads holding together pluralist democracy have begun to unravel.” And Scotland’s Keith Cardinal O’Brien said, “The role of the state is overreached when it tramples legitimate moral freedoms and when it imposes values which are without rational and sociological merit.”

The plain fact is that the law now clashes directly with religious freedom, and no exemptions have been granted for Church schools, or for independent ones, so the denial of good and wholesome debate on a crucial subject is being imposed on all.

What do I do? What do any of us do? Shrug, I suppose, and admit that male/female marriage is now a personal thing. Something to be spoken of with confidence only within the confines of our churches (they are protected under the law—an echo of the old Soviet legislation that confined all religious activity to church buildings, with penalties for anyone who took part in Christian activities beyond those walls); something to be affirmed as a private belief, for those who like that sort of thing. Technically, for the time being at least, the law of England and Wales will continue to affirm that marriage is a lifelong bond between a man and a woman—but will a registrar have quite the same confidence in uttering those words as that nice chap had in saying them to me a quarter of a century ago? He has presumably long since retired, and I expect his successor has been fully trained in officiating at civil unions—homosexual marriage in all but name. (Incidentally, a Catholic, according to a detailed and useful statement issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, should not officiate at such a ceremony. But is it likely that any Catholic in modern Britain who tried to affirm his conscientious objection to such duty would get very far?)

In teaching children about “Britishness,” I suppose schools will emphasize freedom, rights, the idea that ours is a country where we can make choices and live by them. I am not at all sure that this is an adequate summary of what being British is all about, but even if it were, it is not the case. The most profoundly important decisions are, and always have been, about things that matter not only to us but to others, and therefore include community responsibilities and obligations that sometimes (and correctly) involve the law of the land.

But that law no longer affirms marriage between a man and a woman as the fundamental and irreplaceable basis for our society, and hence for our nation. There can be no “Britishness” now that this has occurred, and none will return until it is corrected. Only then will we be able to face our very considerable social problems—our sense of isolation from our own history, our loss of community and neighborly spirit, the recent and rapidly growing presence of Islam in what was once a Christian nation, and more—and regain some sort of confidence in our future.


Scottish Archbishop Urges Faithful to Resist Threat of Secularism

Says "Things abhorred a generation ago are now inscribed in the statute books of society"

This past Sunday, the Catholic faithful in Scotland was called upon to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the first ever papal visit to Scotland. Archbishop Conti of Glasgow seized upon the opportunity to deliver a heartfelt sermon to encourage the faithful of his diocese to defy the mounting trend of secularism in Scotland.

Conti gave the sermon at Carfin Grotto in Lanarkshire, Scotland on the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's visit in 1982. The message of Conti's sermon was very similar to the themes addressed in the talks given by John Paul II so many years ago.

The Herald quoted Conti's sermon, "At a distance of 25 years, we need to reflect on the Holy Father's words: In so many areas of life the most fundamental principles of our Christian life are not only questioned, but ridiculed and threatened with sanction. Individualism has come to predominate. The growth in the quest for individual rights has taken precedence over what is right."

Conti referred to abortion, euthanasia, same-sex unions and "repeated attacks on our Catholic schools, unjustly accusing them of fostering sectarianism" as some of the dangers that must be faced by the faithful in today's society.

According to The Herald, Conti reiterated many of the same warnings first given in John Paul II's 1982 sermons, "We find it harder to follow Christ today than appears to have been the case before. Witnessing to him in modern life means a daily contest. As believers we are constantly exposed to pressures by modern society, which would compel us to conform to the standards of this secular age, substitute new priorities, restrict our aspirations at the risk of compromising our Christian conscience."

"Things abhorred a generation ago are now inscribed in the statute books of society. These are issues of the utmost gravity to which a simple answer cannot be given; neither are they answered by being ignored."

Similar to John Paul II, Archbishop Conti addressed his sermon to all the faithful but in a special way to the youth of the land. Such an outreach goes hand in hand with last week's nation-wide Christian effort to ensure that Christian values were recognized and included in the new curriculum being designed for Scottish schools. This effort was enacted to combat a bitter campaign by secularists to eliminate faith-based education on the grounds that it is divisive.

This is not the first time that Archbishop Conti has taken a public stand for orthodoxy over the secular forces of his country. Just last year the Archbishop openly defended the Scottish firefighters who were penalized for refusing to hand out pamphlets at a Pride event.

In 2003, the Archbishop wrote a newspaper column on Remembrance Day commemorating the heroic sacrifice of the men and women who gave their life for their country in war. He also wrote, "However, I cannot refrain from pointing out that another loss continues, every day of the week in our land, a sacrifice of silent victims. The victims of abortion."


NHS WASTED 43 Billion pounds

The money poured into the NHS has failed to produce a more efficient service, or to reduce unhealthy lifestyles. As a result even more cash will be needed in the future, says a new review by Sir Derek Wanless. It was published yesterday, five years after his review for the Treasury paved the way for the extra 43.2 billion pounds that the Government has since spent on the NHS.

Sir Derek, a former chief executive of NatWest bank, sees some improvements in the service, but also identifies a range of failings, including mismanaged structural changes; generous pay deals that failed to produce an obvious return; and a neglect of public health. He said at the publication of his report that the extra resources had undoubtedly improved patient care over the past five years. “But what is equally clear from this review is that we are not on course to deliver the sustainable and world-class healthcare system, and ultimately the healthier nation, that we all desire,” he said. Sir Derek would have liked the Government to have commissioned the review, but it showed no enthusiasm for doing so. The King’s Fund stepped in, enabling him to produce this report.

He states that more money will be needed over the next two decades unless steps are taken to deal with pressing concerns. That could undermine the current widespread political support for the NHS “and raise questions about its long-term future”, he says.

Of the more than 43 billion extra that has been spent, pay and price inflation have accounted for 18.9 billion, he concludes. New contracts for consultants, GPs and other staff have been introduced, but “there is very little robust evidence so far to demonstrate significant benefits arising from the new pay deals”. Staff numbers have risen far above the targets set in the NHS Plan of 2000, with targets for consultants exceeded by 16 per cent, for GPs by 166 per cent, for nurses by 272 per cent, and for therapists by 102 per cent. The biggest increase in NHS activity has been in accident and emergency departments, where attendances have grown by more than a third since 2002-03. This is hard to explain, but is probably caused by changes in behaviour, shorter waiting times and changes in GPs’ out-of-hours arrangements, the report says.

Public health budgets, aimed at tackling issues such as obesity and smoking, had been raided to bridge financial problems in the NHS, he said. It was impossible to track trends in public health spending or health promotion in the past five years because no official figures were kept. Sir Derek said: “It is also indicative of the relatively low priority given to public health that, while nonpublic health medical staff numbers have increased by nearly 60 per cent since 1997, the number of public health consultants and registrars has gone down overall.”

Sir Derek said at the publication of the report that there were “lots of positives” in his study. These included reduced waiting times, the use of less expensive statins and extra staff. He said that the framework introduced by the Government should remain in place for the next few years to minimise further disruption. He said in his report, however, that the restructuring had been expensive and had taken managers’ eyes off the priority of running the service.

Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, will call today for direct intervention to encourage healthier lifestyles after the report’s warning of spiralling obesity levels. The future of the NHS depends on encouraging people to take care of themselves, he will tell members of the New Health Network. “Government simply cannot afford to be the passive observers of unhealthy lifestyles, only intervening when chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease or lung cancer are already well established,” he will argue. “Public health issues must be elevated to the top of the national agenda by a Department for Health which takes an even more active role in encouraging healthy lifestyles.”

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: “This report is a damning critique of the Government’s failure to get value for money out of all the extra investment in the NHS. Ministers cannot ignore these recommendations as they did with last year’s report by Sir Derek into social care.”

Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, said: “Even Gordon Brown’s own adviser thinks he has mismanaged the NHS. Labour have invested lots and achieved too little. Gordon Brown is obsessed with pursuing top-down reorganisation instead of delivering genuine reform, which gives power to professionals and better healthcare to patients.” He added: “Public health budgets have been robbed to pay off huge deficits despite warnings about the strain that spiralling obesity levels will have on the NHS. Labour’s ignorance belies their arrogance.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “We welcome this report and its recognition that the Government’s investment and reform have improved patient care. We agree that more has to be done to improve NHS productivity and to tackle some lifestyle issues like obesity. We also agree that spending on healthcare will need to continue to grow above inflation if we are to meet patients’ growing expectations. “These issues will be central to decisions made in the next few weeks as part of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review and the long-term review of the health service being conducted by Lord Darzi.”


"The Pill" is back in favour!

As with all epidemiological data, this must be taken with a large grain of salt. The women who took the pill might have been healthier to start with and almost certainly led less risky lives (drug-taking etc.). The amazing thing is that official positions are being taken on the basis of these findings

Taking the Pill reduces the risks of a woman getting cancer later in life, according to one of the largest studies ever undertaken. The conclusion will reassure millions of women who took the Pill 30 or 40 years ago and are now of an age when the risks are growing. The study found that overall cancer risk was up to 12 per cent lower for women who took the Pill for less than eight years. But, for the minority of women who took it for more than eight years, the news was less good: for them, the risk of cancer increased by 22 per cent. The risk of developing bowel and rectal, uterine and ovarian cancers was most reduced. There was no evidence that the risk of developing breast cancer either increased or decreased with short-term usage.

“Many women, especially those who used the first generation of oral contraceptives many years ago, are likely to be reassured by our results,” the authors of the new study say. “The cancer benefits of oral contraception outweigh the risks.” Maria Leadbeater, of Breast Cancer Care, said: “The findings of this research will be welcomed by the thousands of women across the UK who have used, or are currently using, an oral contraceptive.”

The team, from the University of Aberdeen, used data gathered by the Royal College of Physicians since 1968, which asked 1,400 GPs to provide information on women who were taking the Pill, and a matched group who were not. A total of 46,000 women were recruited, aged 29 on average. All were married or in a stable relationship. The women were then monitored until 2004, and any cancers they developed were recorded. The team also had more limited data up to 1996 provided by the women’s GPs, giving them two sets of statistics from which to work.

The results, reported in the British Medical Journal, show that the Pill reduced the overall risks of cancer for most women, though the degree of benefit depended on which dataset was used. Using the main dataset, the team found a reduction of 12 per cent in the risk of getting any cancer. That represents one fewer case of cancer for every 2,200 women who have used the Pill for a year. The smaller dataset also showed a benefit, but a smaller one: a 3 per cent reduction in overall risk, equivalent to one fewer case for every 10,000 women per year.

The exception was for women who used the Pill for more than eight years – about a quarter of Pill-users. Their risk of cancer was significantly increased. The average Pill user in the research took the contraceptive for 44 months. Professor Philip Hannaford, who led the research team, said: “These results show that, in this UK cohort, the contraceptive Pill was not associated with an overall increased risk of any cancer; indeed it may produce an important net public health gain.” About three million women use the Pill each year in Britain and 100 million around the world. More than 300 million women have used the Pill since its launch in 1961.


British immigrants in France

We are gathered on a sunny Normandy afternoon in a county council meeting room to discuss the "British problem". Except that there is no "problem", of course. Everyone is very careful not to use the word "problem" - especially as there are a couple of Brits in the room. Instead, we are "nos amis Britanniques" (marginally less cumbersome than "les sujets de sa gracieuse majeste" so beloved of the local newspapers). And there is not a problem, but a situation.

The situation is that we are arriving in ever-increasing numbers, but without a clue how to register with a doctor or enroll the children into school or join the French health and social security system. Or, points out the lugubrious representative from the departmental tax office, file a tax declaration. "I would certainly like to help nos amis understand how to fill out their tax returns," he sighs.

Through sheer ignorance, usually, we fail to our homework or get the right bits of paper before converting our barns or building our extensions, and we carry on driving around with UK numberplates because we can't follow the complex rules for re-registration. Despite huge efforts to oblige, we still make a mess of filling in forms or requests for information and don't turn up for PTA meetings because we can't understand the notes the children bring home from school. A few of us - and yes, I know people who do this - simply bin anything that comes through the letter box that is written in French.

"Didn't EDF warn you that they were going to cut you off for not paying the bills?" I asked a hysterical compatriot recently. He thought for a minute. "There was something from EDF in the post," he conceded. "But it was in French. I didn't understand it." So? "I threw it away."

I have been invited to this meeting as editor of the Rendezvous, the monthly English-language magazine for Normandy. The woman at my side has been invited as a shining example of active integration, having co-organised the region's annual Franco-British Bonfire Nights for the past couple of years (with a diplomatic lack of emphasis on the burning-a-Catholic bit). We are here to have our brains picked.

The assembled French officials represent schools, job centres, social workers, tax officers, local communes and health authorities, and they are tearing their hair out. How can they treat people who don't have the right forms? How can they stop Brits employing other Brits on the black market and encourage them to use registered artisans or set up legal businesses instead? Or, on a kindly note, encourage incomers to come to tea dances or join the gardening club or take advantage of the daytime OAP rates at the local swimming pool?

But before we get down to business, there is that burning question that bewildered French people never tire of asking and the woman from the mayor's office can resist no longer: why are so many British coming to live here? The numbers are indeed extraordinary: in Lower Normandy alone, official statistics show more than 9,000 registered British households. And there are plenty of unregistered households: those who remain "officially" domiciled in Britain for whatever reason as well as those who simply fail to declare their arrival to anybody. The Rendezvous has more than 20,000 readers already. Even when British incomers give up and go home, there is a queue of other Brits waiting to buy their houses; indeed, nowadays there are as many British vendors - often moving to their second French property - as buyers.

"We are not here to discuss whether this immigration is a good or a bad thing," says the chairman. "We are here not to ask 'why?' but to accept the situation and decide how we accommodate it. How do we help these incomers become part of the system?"

We British incomers to France don't tend to liken ourselves to East European plumbers or Asian brides newly arrived in Britain, but all this "outreach" talk has a vaguely familiar ring to it. Although we are not economic migrants in the sense of being after better-paid jobs, we are nevertheless migrants in search of something better: "quality of life" or, as I have also heard us referred to, "affordable space migrants" (cheaper, bigger houses with bigger gardens, in other words). In any case, "integration" is the buzz word on local lips and as Normandy is not the banlieue of Paris, this means Brits rather than Poles or North Africans.

"Tea?" asks the charming woman from the local council. "This is a meeting about the English, after all!" she titters. Indeed, even if it is only a bag of herbal tea wafted near a mug of warm water, it is still the only meeting I have attended in France where refreshment is offered during, rather than at the end of, business.

So, over tea and biscuits, we decide to produce a brochure called Bienvenue chez vous! (Welcome home! - ie, to your new home) with chapter headings such as: "Do I have to Register with a GP?" and "What Help is Available for Mature Citizens?" It will run through everything the immigrant needs to know about settling into France and I am particularly intrigued by the audacious section heading: "How France Works".

"Crikey! Will the budget stretch that far?" I ask.

There is a moment's silence while it is ascertained that there has been no insult of the Fifth Republic and that I only meant that this might be a rather large topic for one meagre chapter. It is, everyone concludes happily, an example of "British humour".

And, in fact, the budget can stretch as far as we like. This, it turns out, is a Europe-funded project, so the coffers are virtually bottomless. Having mortgaged the house to start the Rendezvous, I can only wilt with envy. On the subject of integration, how, exactly, do I get a slice of this pie?


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