Quality of life…

I was very sad to hear that Richard Briers has passed away. I can’t say I much remember watching The Good Life when I was little, but when watching it as an adult, it’s not just funny but very relevant to my life.

For those who aren’t in the know, Richard Briers played Tom Good alongside Felicity Kendall’s ubër-cute Barb. On his 40th birthday, Tom quits his day job and decides to turn his detached house in suburban Surbiton into a smallholding, complete with goat. I model myself after Barbara Good. She was a woman before her time.


It reminds me that this whole ‘back to the land’ theme is nothing new, and being frugal might be the fashion in this age of austerity, but it’s all happened before.

It’s funny, because it’s a kind of comedy version of some of my life – quitting ‘the rat race’ and going from being a ‘thing’ consumer to someone who only gets clothes for Christmas. Plus, it’s nice to see that other people – if only characters in a 40-year-old sit-com – get enjoyment out of a rotary cultivator and a chicken laying an egg.

I think the show was a bit ahead of its time, but the ‘make do and mend’ attititude certainly seems to have resurfaced periodically throughout the last hundred years.

It’s funny that we probably have all grown up in various ages of austerity – whether it was the war and post-war rationing, the 70s or post-2008. The ideas are the same, the sentiments are the same, whether it’s the Joads talking about the faceless anonymity of the banks who can and do act with complete impunity, granted powers to do things like charge you 250€ for going overdrawn, but not bothering to notify you because they’re coining it in until you realise (not me, by the way…) or insurance companies who, when you have had everything taken from you in a robbery, quibble over payments and locks and bolts, despite the fact they are among the most profitable companies in the world. You can see what drove the Joads crazy.

And it’s the same with work. Like Tom Good, you spend your life working hard on some pointless commercial whimsy, whilst the arse-lickers like Jerry Leadbetter get the offices and confess that they don’t work as hard. Anyone with ethics and values and morals better choose not to go to work for a corporation.

I’m not quite so gung-ho as Tom and Barbara. I took a kind of middle road, working less (though I know I’ve just spent the best part of six weeks slogging through fourteen- or fifteen-hour days, I get a ‘rest’ now – consisting of gardening and housework!) and being more frugal. I stitch up holes in socks. I repurpose clothes. When jeans are no good for wear, they become gardening attire. When they’re no good for that, they become dusters and glass cleaners. Then I wash them and shred them and they fill my Moroccan stools.

One thing I have realised, though, is the trashy quality of cheap French clothes and shoes. In England, you can buy a perfectly good outfit in the supermarket for less than £50, including shoes. Some of my best shoes came from outlets and cost less than £10 and have been worn to death. I got two pairs of Clark’s shoes from Kendal for £10 each and they’re still good. Practically the only shoes I ever had to throw away were a cheap pair of slip-on turquoise shoes that I wore to death and then they stank and fell apart. Here, I bought a pair of trainers that cost me 20€ – the cheapest pair I could find – and they’ve peeled and come unglued. If it were just glue, I could cope with it, but it is not. The upper material has fallen apart. That was November. I’ve probably worn them four or five times a week and never out for walks because I always wear my boots. I don’t know why France’s cheap products are not as well-made as English ones.

I’m pretty sure the French would pass scorn on English cheap clothes, pointing out that they’re ethically indefensible and suggesting, like the horsemeat scandal, that we don’t care if corners are cut. I wouldn’t mind but just as many French and Italian products have been taken off shelves. If English things are made in Romania and China and cost less but last, why are they different from the French things made in Romania and China that cost more and fall apart?

Luckily, Asda and Tesco deliver clothes to France now for £5, so you know I won’t have to spend 10€ on three pairs of ill-fitting, uncomfortable underwear that last 2 weeks as I did last time I bought ‘French’ and I can instead buy the Asda underwear that I’ve been using these last five years. Sometimes, going global is not a bad thing.

I wish that some of the English ethic could have come to France with me – things that make it easy to avoid being ripped off. Price comparison sites for a start. If I want to compare insurance, I pretty much have to go to four or five brokers and compare, like I did in England in the 70s I guess. There’s no such thing as a quick quote. The appointment will take 20 minutes or so. Just for a quote. There are some price comparison sites, but they aren’t accurate and they don’t include some companies, so they’re practically useless. And there’s no supermarket comparison site. With a recent study in France of the average trolley of groceries (over 200€ worth!) my local supermarket was the cheapest in the region, and Casino at Gond-Pontouvre was the most expensive, with another 20€ on each trolley full.

I’m sure I’m either the poorest person in France, or the most frugal. My weekly shop is never more than 40€, including animal food. I watch everyone else rack up triple-digit bills at the checkout and it hurts my eyes. They’re not even buying bottles of whisky or 500€ bottles of St Emilion, just the standard, usual things. 200€. Wow. I know what Tom would have said and done.

So, I will continue to live like the Goods, eating boiled eggs for tea and spending my days in the garden. Like the Goods, it might be a naïve and innocent and amusing to some, but at least it’s honest.

And bless Richard Briers. Few men had a twinkle in their eye like he did.



12 thoughts on “Quality of life…

  1. I find the clothing at Auchan well made and a good price. I’ve bought bras there and SuperU and found them excellent. Auchan socks are very good. Not tried any supermarket shoes. We tend to buy shoes in Paris, from Halles des chassures — better range of designs and sizes (Simon is bigger than your average rural Frenchman). I thought £5 jeans in Tesco were as much of an ethical issue as cheap chickens, and the same poor quality, although the Florence and Fred range was well cut and affordable.

    1. Unfortunately, I’ve been completely unable to find a type of bra I like in French supermarkets or shops, no matter the price. Unless you are an 85 or 90 B or C, which I am not, the only type available are either really lacy or “cross-your-heart” old lady bras, both of which need you to wear some kind of thick layer to hide your nipples. I just do not want a nylon cross-your-heart bra under my tee-shirt. Not only is it uncomfortable and sweaty, but every time it’s cold, the only thing anyone can focus on is my nipples! My issue with the 5€ Tesco jeans is that they are made by the same company that sell them for 20€ in France. I can choose to buy more ethical jeans in England that don’t cost 200€, where the only people who profit are the supermarkets and the Government who use it to feed their fonctionnaires. Whilst fair trade has meant shops in England are priced out of competition sometimes, at least some concept of fair trade exists. As a friend pointed out on Facebook, she paid a lot of money for some boots in France, with the concept that they were of a better quality and a higher ethical standard, only to have to send them back three times. I’m just disgusted that I have no choice other than to order from Italy, Spain or England if I want to buy shoes and underwear that last. I don’t see why anyone beyond a 95B should be forced to wear something even my very fashionable Grandmother wouldn’t wear. You have no choice but to be a consumer and to pay a lot of money, I find, if you want to clothe yourself. Even charity shops don’t exist. The Emmaus is great, but there’s no way on earth I would seriously buy anything from there other than books or furniture. And the depot de vente – might as well buy new for the same price. The way I see it, France has me over a barrel where even if I spend a lot of money, I can neither buy ethically nor quality.

      1. I’m 100C, and I do have to rummage around and look, but I’ve bought 3 very nice bras in French supermarkets, whereas I could never find anything I liked in Tesco (my only choice of supermarket in the UK where I lived). My French bras have ranged from a €5 plain white cotton to a very elegant black with a touch of cream lace underwire — not expensive (€12 maybe – I forget exactly) on special.

        At the moment my big problem is trousers — no one is making sensible
        tailored trousers that sit nicely at or a smidge under the waist. I am way too old to wear hipsters.

        Have you tried C&A — they are often good, although they have good years and bad years.

        I remember I struggled for years in the UK to buy clothes I liked, because the cut is so different to Australia. It takes a long time to get used to some of these aspects of a new country. I hated how tight and fitted all the British clothes were and was amazed at how willing people were to display rolls of fat in tight fitting clothes. I was used to loose, flowing clothes and a lot more natural fibres.

      2. I don’t have a C&A near me, unfortunately. And with a 100D, I’m lucky if I find anything that doesn’t look like it belongs on a 90 year old! Time to start the diet I think and then at least I can get in a smaller bra size!! It’s true that a lot of cheap fashion is badly fitted, trousers especially. It’s because it’s cold and we don’t sweat so much 😉

  2. What about ebay? I buy at least 90% of our clothes and shoes from there, not to mention sofa’s rugs and so on. I have no ego whatsoever about second-hand clothes. Even if they are from a less than reputable manufacturer, I feel somewhat removed from the initial dubious transaction. I rarely buy seconds shoes as they mould to your feet, especially for the children, but they are so much cheaper on that site than anywhere else. If you buy from within France, the eco print is lessened too in terms of transportation. I have been ebaying for about 7 years and have had only a handful of negative experiences. Jeans on average are around £4 with postage about the same. Give it a go!
    On the Good Life, we spoke about this for an hour or so the day he died. To be fair mostly about how divine Felicity Kendal is/was. I watched a documentary about it fairy recently on the iplayer and was very saddened by how the series ended. Have you seen it? Tom and Barbra come home to a vandalised house, swastikas daubed on the walls, and their garden destroyed. So shocking and very poignant. x

    1. French ebay works on the principle that if you own a thing, you ADD value to it. It just hasn’t taken off. There is another one called Le Bon Coin, but it’s nowhere near the same. However, I’ve had a good few things from there. I watched the last episode – so sad. I think a lot of our best comedies have got an edge. The last Blackadder was the same.

  3. Well, I think your problem is you are British. Another thing I remember being amazed by when we arrived in the UK was the size of womens’ bosoms. I regularly spotted C and D cups often on tiny or slender young women. And I wasn’t imagining it — it turns out that the average bra size is bigger in the UK, both in body measurement and cup size. I imagine French women are more like Australians size wise, or maybe smaller. You have the same problem with bras that Simon has with shoes.

  4. I loved the Good Life but I never got to see that sad ending – I’m shocked, now 😮
    It was a lovely series, something very innocent about that movement in the 70s. I used to have a couple of the John Seymour self-sufficiency “bibles” from that era that really fascinated me. Turned out that in practice, it’s not quite so quaint (for me!)… I still admire those who can hack it!! And I think both Richard Briers and Felicity Kendall have a quintessentially British quality you don’t get much, now. At least he had a good innings and she still looks great.

    Bras are terrible in France, not too bad up to a C/D though we don’t even find the bigger band size for my daughter’s AAs, either… you seem to have to be very petite to qualify. There’s a chain called Cannelle in some towns that claims to do up to an E, though I found them a bit of a squash, personally (usually a D/E). Switzerland isn’t much better, they are narrow-hipped and small-busted, so I have now resorted to M&S, who will send here yaaaay, a very reasonable £16 for two very pretty bras that fit and would have cost me £100 if I could even find them in this country.

    1. I might give M&S a try – and definitely know what you mean about quintessential Englishness. If it makes you feel any better, at the end, Jerry offers Tom a job and Barbara talks him out of it – they go on to live another day. I think Penelope Keith has the most Englishness of all – her cut glass accent is amazing!

  5. The quality of the writing, the quality of the acting…the inuendos (?). That was a seriously quality series. I was so sad for the loss of Paul Etherington..star in his own right. And now….
    I used to go into shops…and lose my husband..and say..”I’ve lost my husband, he looks just like Richard |Briers”…he still does, same age, but I can’t say that any more.
    I love your blogs.

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