Friday, October 29, 2010

Today I finally became part of our Local Communes ‘micro-économie fraternelle’

Expats Blog

Yesterday afternoon Marie France, Madame La Maire of our little Commune of Gourville, called round to see me with some official looking pieces of paper. “Monsieur l’architecte” she started - I find it quite quaint in a way how The French greet people by their ‘métier’ , a practice that long since died out in the UK. So in our liitle commune we have ‘Madame La Maire’, René l’engineer’ and Manu ‘le plombier’ – who as far as I can see these days has nothing to do with plumbing, but who once I believe ‘fixed’ the toilets at our local salle de fêtes !

Marie France then started to show me her dossier of cadastral maps of the commune and wanted confirmation of the parcels of land that I owned just up the lane from our Barn. As we walked up there, she went on to explain that the men from the Commune where repairing the old ‘chemin blanc’ that runs behind our land and there was a large old chestnut tree that was showing signs of disease and needed to come down. At the tree she introduced me to Jean-Pierre , the commune ‘fixer’.

After the obligatory hand shakes, pleasantries and kicking and tapping of the grand old tree Jean-Pierre looked across to Madame La Maire and winked. “Monsieur West” ... she paused for quite a long time, then continued “Jean-Pierre would like to know if you would like the tree” Now technically the tree wasn’t actually on my land, but she had already told me that the owner of that parcel lives miles away in another Commune and has given our Commune their permission to remove the tree. A long silence followed while I tried to way up the advantages and disadvantages of saying “yes” to a forty foot high, by a meter across , mature chestnut tree.

My mind was racing … that’s an awful lot of logs for our wood-burners … was my first thought …. How do I physically cut it and transport it … was the second thought .. and finally, .. what’s it going to cost me ? ?

I decided to jump in feet first and started with “okay, but I’m not sure how I can transport it back to my yard “ - “ We have a lorry” came back the immediate reply. I then followed with “Ma tronçonneuse ne marche pas bien” (my chainsaw is not in very good working order .. well .. shamefully to say, it isn’t !! ) “Monsier West” smiled Jean-Pierre “Nous avons deux gros tronçonneuses … vous êtes libre demain ? ”

It then hit me …. They were offering me the wood … for free …. In exchange for me helping cut it up into manageable lengths for removal, and they had a lorry to deliver it to my yard ! One days labour for a couple of years of fire wood .. not bad eh ! !

It’s also quite nice to know that, after only just over two years of residence in our local commune, I have now been officially enrolled into the ‘perks for the boys’ brigade - Vive La France ! !

Monday, October 4, 2010

... but we know the Local Mayor ! !

The other day I was taking a nice mid-morning coffee down by the river in Jarnac with Graham Downie. For those of you who havn't come across Graham - I would highly recommend that you read his Award Winning Blog about the joys, and sometimes the "Gallic" frustrations, of life down here in the beautiful Charente Valley

"A Little drop of Cognac"

Graham is a big 'footie' fan ... following his beloved Girondins de Bordeaux ... at every opportunity, and telling us the latest score on twitter every time they are playing ! ! ( well I guess it beats some of the 'tweets' that pop up on my account ... "just making some toast" .... and "The cat has a nasty cough" .. to name but two in the last week ... how did we ever manage without it . )

I myself prefer my football in its 'classic' state .. ie Rugby Football .. played with an oval ball !! Graham and I have long ago agreed to differ on this matter, although I can't help putting forward the major 'differentiation' that exists between our two codes. As any 'neutral' will readily observe the rules of Rugby are almost infathomable to an outsider. In football - in theory - you are not allow to clatter someone to the ground, trample all over him, pick him up and hurl him five feet backwards and generally batter heads continually together in mass scrumages. ( in theory !) In Rugby, all these things are not only legal .. but encouraged ! Now, I'm not being partisan ( as if .. ) but I cant help but think that if you told Wayne Rooney he was allowed to do all those things, he would revell in it... and the result would be dozens of badly injured and battered bodies being carried off to the changing rooms at stadiums all over the UK. Worst still ( at least for Wayne ) would be the fact that during the 'replay game', it would undoubtedly be Wayne Rooney himself that was then stretchered off, as the opposition took its revenge.

My point here is simple, its all about knowing your own strength, respecting the limits of ones agression, and making sure the game is played in the spirit of true skill, without animosity and vengence. I think it was best summed up by this phrase ... beloved of 'jouers des quinze' ... "Rugby is a game with rules for Hooligans, but played by Gentlemen - while Football is a game for Gentlemen, but actually played by Hooligans " .. I rest my case !

But I digress, As Graham and I were watching the world go by and generally 'chewing over the fat" of our mutual interests in buildings and architecture, ( stearing well clear of any comparison between the 'round' and 'oval' versions of the beautiful game of football) It wasn't long however before we got into a fascinating discussion on the current and future directions of marketing in the property market - especially in relationship to social media, internet property portals and the interest of the 'Big Boys' in acquiring a pan-european web prescence to promote themselves. Graham wrote an excellent piece on the rise of the Property Portal - and their incredible 'market valuations' - in his blog back in September


It is well known in the industry that 'the UK Big Boys' - RightMove and Primelocation - are already casting their beady little eyes over the possibility of acquiring a Pan-European Portal in a move designed to dominate the housing sales market in the future. Of course this will be portrayed as 'of real benefit' to the consummer, leading to a better service and lower costs - and I am sure to some extent that will be true. The downside however is that 'the bullying power' that these portals will hold, especially in their ability to spend huge advertising budgets to obtain massive 'Adword coverage' in the big search engines like Google and Yahoo - and thus buy position for themselves up onto the front pages of ANY search for property - might actually act against the best interests of the ordinary consummer. Undoubtedly also, another part of their business development strategy will be to 'buy out' .. and thus effectively silence ... any competition from medium size competitors - such as the independant estate agents and competing property web sites. Which certainly wont help consummer interests.

So the real challange for the 'professional independents' - of which I suppose Graham and I would count ourselves part - is how you differentiate yourself to ensure that you are not 'frozen out' by the 'Preditor Big Fish'

As we mulled this over .. looking for 'the hook' that could be used back against 'the Sharks' .. it suddenly came to me. Its actually all about "service differentiation" and knowing your strengths .. and acting on them .. playing the game fairly ... and skillfully .. without needing to be a hooligan !!

Its quite simple really .... while the Big Fish will throw their weight about ... and trumpet their Pan-European Presence, their 24hr international call-centres ( probably in India !!) and the fact that they can speak to you in umpteen languages ... all at the hit of a website button ....

We know the local Mayor !!


John West - UK Trained Architect - Charente Gems ... Oct2010