Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Stormy skies

Calais belfry, wide view, originally uploaded by Nyx.

I've never been a really big fan of the industrial town of Calais, in Northern France. But their belfry is one of the nicest in Flanders.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

I love a vodka-cranberry

I love a vodka-cranberry, originally uploaded by Nyx.

Experimenting with my 50mm lens

Friday, May 25, 2007


It's strange to think that a week ago I was miserably despondant about my career, my life, my general direction. I was sick of hearing myself whine incessantly to my long suffering friends and seriously doubting the likelihood of finding any work for at least the next 6 months (outside of September, optimum recruitment periods in France can sometimes seems like an eternal shifting line in the sand).

Moving to France was sort of one of those things that just happened without any prior planning on my part. Initially I didn't think too much about my career, and was more concerned with keeping my bank balance in the black than anything else. After some time temping, I started to concentrate my energies on getting something related to my qualifications and while I knew I would probably not find anything spectacular, I sort of assumed I should be able to find my place in society somewhere, somehow, eventually. After more knockbacks than I can count I changed cities and went back to temping followed by 6 months with social services I thought perhaps I would have more than proven my capabilities to work in the most French of French job roles. Not so.

In all honesty, it was with a fairly half hearted effort that I sent out a few job applications over the water. Two years in France where you're forced to appreciate whatever job you can get hasn't done wonders for my self esteem and I figured I was just a much too little fish in a much too large pond to ever be selected - here or abroad. So my jaw quite literally dropped when I got I got a job offer a half dozen applications. Right now I don't know if I was just lucky, or if things in France are even worse than I imagined. And while I'm really glad, relieved that I won't have to think 'job' or even 'career' for a while now, but there is also a part of me that is angry about the time I have sacrificed in France, jumping through hoops and trying to get a toehold anywhere.

France has a lot of things going for it, but I came to the realisation that it is not necessarily a place where, if you keep at it, and you're halfway intelligent, you WILL eventually get a break. Especially if you come from outside. The thing is, I know all this in part because this is what the French tell me about France already. Job searching assistants, temping agencies, they all sympathetically tell you how terrible it is in France that everyone is pigeon-holed. How the flow of your CV from the right uni to the right work experience placement to the right job is more important than what you as a person could bring to the job. They know their faults and lament them, but the situation remains unchanged. It would seem that, at best, as an english speaker (who hasn't had a work transfer directly from another country), you can get something in the bilingual line of work (barring having good personal connections)or teaching english - which probably suits a great deal of expats who end up settling here. I can't remember the number of times that well meaning locals suggested I switch my career choice to English teaching, and didn't really understand why I didn't follow up on this. I most commonly explained that in Australia we wouldn't ask (for example) a medical doctor who'd just emigrated from China and who spoke English correctly that all he could hope for was a job teaching Chinese. Mostly this worked better as an example because I've found that for the average French person, the notion of working in the 'environment' is kind of vague and airy and not really serious. More often than not, when people asked me about my qualifications, the standard response was 'what's an ecologist?'. I thought I was using the wrong word for quite a while before I realised that a scary number of people here genuinely don't know what an ecologist is, even though there always seems to be a trendy 'environment' story on every other news broadcast. Well anyway, if you're still reading through yet another French employment system rant, good on you. I expect it should be my last.

hippy bakers

Some great 70's looking ceramic signs in front of a Lille bakery

Thursday, May 24, 2007

We all scream for...

We all scream for..., originally uploaded by Nyx.

A friends daughter, and my favourite girl model. Just being a kid...

Monday, May 21, 2007


I finally had a job interview last week with a wildlife park in Kent as I've recently been toying with the idea that I may need to move to the UK if I want to get work in my field, anywhere near my field, 3 paddocks over from my field...

So far 2007 has been a wash out. Presidential elections in May have means that funding has dried up for most administrations as they wait and see what the new government will bring, the July-August period is generally regarded as fruitless for any long term contracts (though there may be some short term temp work on offer), and in June I'll be in Australia so I can't take up any temping jobs that cut into that month. My unemployment benefits run out sometime in August and things will start to be a bit stressful, to understate the point ever so mildly, if I'm still out of work then. The interview went well, though it involved an inordinate amount of travel and hairline precise connections as I had to get myself out into countryside Kent, and was at least less intimidating that doing in French.

It was interesting to notice the contrasts between interview techniques. French interviews are highly jobs focused - they ask you about many of the positions listed on your CV "tell us about your time at job x" , while the UK interview was highly skills focused, with practically all the questions being along the lines of "do you have any experience with doing x task?". Obviously this brings up prior work experience, but I found it gave me more scope to discuss my studies and more general competencies that can be grouped over several years and different jobs. Its a more flexible approach - some of those jobs on my CV don't bear mentioning and the fact that I got through them at all without being fired or quitting is probably more of a testament to my capabilities than the fact that I was simply employed during said period. Whether I impressed them enough to have got a job out of it is another matter. I'm pretty rusty on my interview technique as it's been a case of much too few and far between lately. It would also mean moving to southern Kent and buying a car rather speedily. The fact that I'm also not here in June plus the extra time needed to get myself settled might not bode well for me in the eyes of the interviewers - so I don't want to get my hopes up at all, and simply regard it as being a good sign that after only a few applications over the water, I already have scored an interview. It's a start.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Wild Iris

I've recently joined an online photography school site that has an great series of photography tips as well as post processing techniques. I'm just starting to experiment with a different software package. This was a simple crop, addition of a vignette and the usual fine touches of contrast/exposure/saturation levels

Even my dog has a chiropractor

I've never had a dog before. In fact, I've only very sporadically had cats and have never had the occasion to take any of them to the vet. However, being as I am a newly responsable, mature and adult dog owner (read 'wallet on legs') I have had a couple of recent visits for booster shots and the like. This last visit came with a singularly bizarre witch doctory chiropractic session where my fairly confused and generally overexcited dog (beggin the frequent question 'Is he always this hyper?') was treated to some micro manipulations from the local vet who, as far as I could tell, appeared to be casting out localised stresses with dramatic flourishes of her wrist.

So, is that normal then? Or has she hexed my dog?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Customer Dis-Service Industry

Dancing girl
Originally uploaded by Nyx
In general terms for Australians, the customer service industry encompasses any and all sectors of commerce where you're being inadequately served by a halfwit that's only doing the job to pay the rent/ their pot habit/ their car/ their trip around the world. Yet amazingly enough - in France, a country where these types of jobs are frequently regarded as career jobs - the service is even worse. I used to be one of those halfwits that worked these kinds of jobs while I was back at uni. I did an ok job, it wasn't very interesting but it had the advantage of flexible shifts to fit around my lectures and fed the standard female shoes/bags/clothes habit. However, despite the general indifference of the bulk of my fellow employees, there was still a basic level of service demanded from the staff.

My fellow expat friends and I have frequently been discussing the problem of the seemingly standard level of shitty service we've encountered in France. An American friend of mine summed it up perfectly while we were waiting many long minutes at a counter to be served by a non-existant employee (and half-heartedly considering raiding the till and fetching our own meals just to pass the time)

" I've become accustomed to the mediocrity"

She's doing better than me then, because I still have serious problems with it. There are two varieties in the bad sales technique dept. that I come across all too often;
1. Talkback tactics: where any complaint you might have is generally regarded as somehow being your fault
2. To stand and ignore: stand there and clear your throat all you like I'm not going to acknowledge your presence until I'm ready.

Though far from perfect themselves, in other anglo countries I've lived in or visited, the mantra of 'the customer is always right' (no matter how much of an arse they are) holds more sway. There seems to be a strange idea in France that it's not the person with the wallet that has the power but rather the commerce that has the goods. This possibly explains why - to buy my camera and pay it over several months, I was forced to buy a membership card with the shop in question and have had to pay 17% interest over the term of the purchase plan. This is about the same rate I'd expect to pay if I was overdue on my credit card repayments. In Australia, interest free terms on monthly repayment schemes are fiercely marketed and I've never had to pay to become a member when I've opted to pay over a set period. Not to say the credit issue is better in Australia, there are a lot of people who have got themselves caught in the big financial hot water soup that we call materialism. But still, you get the impression you're being taken for a big fat overpriced ride with a box of popcorn and premix coke that just cost you 10euros.

Still, the service at the restaurant where I took this photo was acceptably decent. It's the first Indian restaurant that my friends or I have come across in Lille that serves half decent Indian food. It's something of a perplexing mystery why - with a short hop, skip and jump over the channel you're suddenly swimming in great tikkas, whereas over this side of the pond they still don't know a poppadom from a naan bread. So this resaturant gets my ok:
Boulevard Jean Baptise Lebas

By contrast, I'll take a moment to mention the Indian restaurant 'Aux Indes' in Vieux Lille which gets my two thumbs down. Terrible service, overly hyped, exorbitantly priced micro portions of nouvelle cuisine and a crazily limited amount of choices on the menu.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


Unfortunately a bit underexposed, but I liked the image composition

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Silly shot for the day

The dog ate my sunglasses

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Cat tossing

During the middle ages in Europe many cats were sacrificed by being burnt, beaten or thrown to their death. It is not know whether the people in the middle ages wanted to punish the cat as disturber of the peace, renounce evil or simply continue the ritual of cat sacrifices …

During the middle ages the Grote Markt in Ypres became overcrowded on Cat Wednesday (the last day of the annual fair). The city jester would throw live cats to their death from the belfry tower. Ypres has continued custom for centuries - up until 1817. In 1938 the tradition was revived by throwing velvet cats from the tower.

Grote Markt

A difficult shot due to the strong sunlight. Used a fill flash to highlight the miniature of the Grote Markt in the foreground. Ypres, Belgium

Grote Markt detail

Mascarons on the Grote Markt (old cloth hall) building in Ypres, Belgium

Building detail

Ypres, Belgium


A colourful 2CV on the streets of Ypres, Belgium. Post-processed to creat a fake lomo look