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Thursday, 31 January 2013

Amandine Bourgeois to sing French Eurovision Song Contest entry

Proving there really is life after television talent shows, Amandine Bourgeois has been chosen to represent France at this year's Eurovision Song Contest in the Swedish city of Malmö in May.

Bourgeois won the sixth edition of Nouvelle Star - France's version of Pop Idol - in 2008.

The show, which was cancelled by M6 a couple of years ago, is currently undergoing something of a renaissance on D8.

And that's perhaps what Bourgeois is hoping for by taking part in the annnual Europe-wide musical jamboree, because since winning Nouvelle Star, her career has hardly been...well er...decidedly rocky (although not in the musical sense of the word).

It all started off reasonably enough, with her debut album "20 m2" in 2009 being pretty well received by music critics and the public alike.

It reached a high of number five in the French charts and went gold. The first track released as a single, "L'homme de la situation" was a catchy little number which received plenty of airplay and reasonable chart success.

Amandine Bourgeois (screenshot from "L'homme de la situation" official clip)

There were two follow-up singles both taken from the album - "Tant de moi" and "Du temps" - which helped keep Bourgeois in the public eye, her album in the charts and bolster tickets sales for her tour of generally small to medium-sized venues around the country.

Bourgeois' second album in 2012 "Sans amour Mon amour" apparently "inspired by the retro 60's R&B of Amy Winehouse" and the two singles "Sans amour and "Envie d'un manque de problèmes", although well-written and produced, pretty much failed to register on the all-important commercial rader.

The result? Well Bourgeois was forced to cancel her tour after selling only 4,000 copies of the album and admitting how upset she was.

"I'm very sad and sorry, but it's really difficult to fill venues when my album simply isn't selling well and the songs aren't played on the radio," she said on her Facebook page, making a promise that she would "work and pray hard to continue living her passion".

And the way apparently to "live her passion" is to represent France in Malmö!

Amandine Bourgeois (screenshot from "L'homme de la situation" YouTube clip)

A France Télévisions committee designated Bourgeois as this country's representative - yes that's the way things are done in France: no leaving it up to the public to decide.

And the song chosen for the 33-year-old to sing in front of millions will be  "L'enfer et moi"

Here's wishing Bourgeois all the best in Malmö.

She'll certainly need it if the recent past form of French participants is anything to go by.

Last year Indonesian-born singer Anggun only managed to finish 22nd out of 26 in the final and the previous year, the man with the big voice and dodgy "hairdon't" Amaury Vassili, only managed a self-described 15th placed "shitty finish".

In fact you have to go all the way back to the hey days of the competition for France's last win.

As the French media keeps reminding everyone each time Eurovision comes around, the last "triumph" for the country was in 1977 when Marie Myriam captured the hearts (and ears) of those watching with "L'oiseau et l'enfant".

"It's an honour for me to represent France," Bourgeois says on her Facebook page.

"I'm a little frightened but I also have the ability to transform that into a something positive," she told the weekly television programming magazine Télé 7 Jours.

"Whatever happens, Eurovision should open doors for me and boost my career."

There's no video of "L'enfer et moi" available yet, but here's a reminder of how she sounded back in her Nouvelle Star-winning days.

Friday, 18 January 2013

François Hollande stands firm on same-sex marriage

Well good for the French president François Hollande.

He has repeated that there won't be a referendum on proposals to allow couples of the same-sex to marry or to adopt.

"It's a promise I made to the French and it has to be honoured (some throat clearing might be necessary in believing the next bit) just as the other promises I made, have to be," he said in his New Year wishes to parliament this week.

All right so the protests might not be over yet, but with the end of January approaching and the proposals due to go before parliament, it's maybe Hollande showing that he actually has the cajones to follow through on a pledge.

Perhaps he's not so "Flanby" after all and is less lightweight with no hard core set of principles than his critics might claim.

From Wikipedia

After all, isn't there a sense of social justice in allowing those who wish to marry someone of the same sex, to do so?

Those 800,000 who marched in Paris recently (a questionable figure anyway as official statistics provided by the police put the number at around 350,000, even if we all know those can also be "massaged") will now just have to get used to the idea that the law is likely to pass.

As will those who claim to be oh-so-proud of their discriminatory and reactionary views as to what constitutes a "marriage", because - well it's going to happen, just as it has in Argentina, Belgium, the Netherlands, South Africa or Spain (to name but a few).

And that, dear reader, is called progress.

Welcome to the 21st century...France.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Chinese tourists take a roundabout pilgrimage to Lourdes - 800 kms away

It's easily done isn't it?

You arrive at an airport, rent a car, complete with GPS or SatNav, and tap in your destination.

If you're lucky the thing will direct you to exactly where you want to go without any problem.

If you're not, or are hopeless at following instructions, then you could end up taking a route which will allow you to see a little more of the countryside than you had intended.

The chances are though, that you'll eventually reach where you want to be.

Both scenarios of course rely upon your having entered the correct town or city.

But there remains another possible outcome: arriving miles away from your intended journey's end.

(screenshot Mappy  - the green flag is Paris, the yellow one Leuhan, and the red flag is Lourdes)

That's exactly what happened this past weekend to a group of Chinese tourists who had arrived at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris from Los Angeles and decided to hire a car with a GPS, to drive to the southwestern town of Lourdes.

Except they ended up over 800 kilometres away in the village of Leuhan in Brittany, in the west of the country.

As the regional daily Ouest France reported the five women had indeed entered Lourdes into the GPS but they had forgotten to include the number of the département: hence they arrived in the village where the chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes can be found.

An easy mistake to make!

"They got out of their car and asked me where they could find their hotel," Manée Peron, the owner of the village bar-tobacconist Ti Manée, told the newspaper.

"But when I looked at the reservation slip they showed me I saw that they were looking for Lourdes in the southwest of France and I told them they were in completely the wrong place."

Not surprisingly the women were apparently more than a little fed up but reprogrammed their GPS, and were on their way once the correct Lourdes.

Let's just hope their rental contract allowed them unlimited mileage.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Will too many cooks spoil the UMP broth?

You know the expression about "too many cooks spoiling the broth" don't you?

The idea that there are too many people trying to take charge and the likely outcome is...well programmed chaos.

Sadly it's a proverb the opposition centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) seems to have forgotten in its efforts to put the debacle that was the leadership contest behind it and start afresh - daggered hand-in-hand

A truce - of sorts - between François Fillon and Jean-François Copé, the two main protagonists in the story that "gripped a nation"  has been reached.

Fillon has disbanded his breakaway R-UMP (much to the annoyance probably of political journalists who could have continued to have had a field day with the acronym) a timetable has been agreed for new elections and Copé has happily installed himself as president.

There again, once Copé had declared himself the "winner" there was never going to be any going back.

And just to ensure parity between the two previously warring factions, all the leading posts - well nearly all of them - have been shared or rather doubled to ensure that supporters of both men are given a fair say in what happens next.

The result?

The party is awash with vice presidents.

Just take a look at the organisational chart - or organigramme in French - released by the party this week and the number of vice presidents needed to run the political machine that is the UMP.

(screenshot from La Matinale, Canal +, Wednesday 16 January, 2013)

And even better, here's a photo of all the "leaders" together at the "meet the press" session.

(screenshot from La Matinale, Canal +, Wednesday 16 January, 2013)

Bodes well for the future doesn't it?

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Sophie-Tith - a Nouvelle Star in the making?

The search is on for France's latest Nouvelle Star.

Yep, after a couple of years "on the shelf" mainly because of failing audiences, the French version of "Pop Idol" is back.

Mind you, it's not the generalist channel M6 which has commissioned the the show - the ninth edition.

Instead it's the revamped D8 - owned by Canal + and destined perhaps to become another - er all rounder.

Sophie-Tith (screenshot from auditions)

Th audition phase has come and gone, and the judges have been chosen the final 10 who'll be put to a public vote each week until the country's Nouvelle Star is crowned - complete with recording contract of course.

The four-member jury, comprising perennial presence songwriter-arranger André Manoukian (who has been there since the beginning), the return of musician Sinclair (real name Mathieu Blanc-Francard) and newbies Belgian singer Maurane (real name Claudine Luypaerts) and musician-composer Olivier Bas has whittled down the 7,000 hopefuls to just 10 and on Tuesday they'll take to the stage - their weekly fate to be decided live by the viewing public.

Now you might think this format is tired, clapped out and tedious. And the criticism would be a valid one, except that the programme can throw up some surprises.

But there's no denying it can act as a launching pad for an artist who might well have made it in his or her own right and an appearance in front of millions (although D8 is unlikely to match the audience figures of M6) can provide invaluable exposure.

Such should be the case for Sophie-Tith.

She might not win the whole caboodle, but there's surely no denying that she has an extraordinary voice and could be described as something of a vocal extraterrestrial (in the nicest possible sense) in that what comes out of her mouth, in no way matches your her physique.

Her voice is deep, full-bodied and resonant and she has perfect pitch with a natural swing or groove. And all that from a girl who's only 16!

It makes a real change from all those nasal high-pitched screechers (mentioning no names) who seem to be so popular and deem it necessary to belt out a number at full volume regardless.

Sophie-Tith's major problem might be that she has had a tendency (or at least she did during the auditions) to forget the lyrics, but here's hoping her proven musicality will be good enough to keep her performances going and enable her to receive the thumbs up from viewers.

Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo

Monday, 14 January 2013

Mass demo in Paris against same-sex marriage

Millions of people descended on Paris on Sunday for the first weekend of the winter sales...sorry, that should read to march against the government's proposals that people of the same sex be allowed to married and adopt children.

All right then, perhaps the figure is a bit of an exaggeration, but why not. After all the difference between the official figure - 350,000 according to the police - and that provided by the organisers - 800,000 - was quite hefty.

Whatever. There were a lot of disgruntled people in Paris expressing their non-homophobic views.

It wasn't homophobia because nobody actually had anything against gay men and lesbians.

Oh no. It was just the idea - shock, horror - that gay and lesbian couples could have exactly the same rights as those of heterosexuals with lawmakers thinking of "catching up" with what has been popular opinion for some time now (opponents to "Mariage pour tous" would probably point out that even though there's majority support among the population for same-sex marriage, the French are not quite as overwhelmingly in favour as they once were ).

No, no. Not homophobia or any form of discrimination at all. Just "don't extend any rights to a minority group because...well, it's just not proper."

According to the banners held aloft by many on Sunday's demonstration, marriage can only be between two people of the opposite sex. That's what counts as "normal" isn't it?.

What's more marriage is the very foundation of a traditional family values.

Forget about statistics (which as we all know can never be trusted) showing that 55 per cent of first children are born (say this very quietly) out of wedlock.

That's obviously just your pro-gay lobby massaging the figures to fit their own purposes.

Oh, and did you know that the French need a referendum on the subject. It's vital.

The current government is trying to force through unwanted legislation that was part of François Hollande's manifesto when he successfully ran for president and once again part of the Socialist party's platform when it won a working majority in the parliamentary elections last June.

"We need to hear what people think," said former minister and opposition parliamentarian Laurent Wauquiez, quite rightly not believing anything opinion polls have had to say about the matter for several years now.

Absolutely M. Wauquiez. Um side issue - Hhow come you were marching along side your party's de facto president Jean-François "always good for a photo' op'" Copé but the geezer you supported in the UMP leadership battle, François Fillon, was absent.

Ah yes, there's also the need for a debate - a proper debate. Not the one that has been rumbling on and on and on in the media over the past couple of months.

Of course France is only a representative democracy with a parliament stuffed to the gills with those wanting to discuss and debate proposed legislation before voting on it.

The justice minister Christiane Taubira reminded all those who've been complaining about the so-called lack of discussion of that fact during an interview on TF1 shortly after all the demonstrators had contentedly packed up and gone home.

"Parliamentarians - no matter what their political beliefs - will have ample to chance to express their opinions when the proposals are debated in parliament," she said.

"Over the past five months, no single subject has been discussed as much as this one - both within the government at all levels and by the the debate has taken place and continues to do so."

The organisers of Sunday's march had the good sense to keep the ever-so-slightly intolerant Civitas - who had turned a similar march in November into a less-than glorious display of democracy at work  - out of the picture.

They had their own separate demo.

But that didn't prevent Xavier Bongibault the president of the group "Plus gay sans mariage" and one of the rally's most prominent figures (along with actress Frigide Barjot) from shooting himself in the foot when he "didn't compare Hollande with Adolf Hitler"

Yes. Quite.

Fingers crossed on this one. There's no going back and let's just hope the government manages to pass the reform and bring France into the 21st century.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Friday's French music break - Garou, "Le jour se lève"

Friday's French music break this week this week is a song recently crowned "record of the year" 2012

It's ""Le jour se lève" taken from the album "Rhythm and Blues" in which the Canadian crooner Garou (real name, Pierre Garand) makes his growling mark on a number of standards in both English and French, as he covers remakes that he would have been best advised to leave well alone.

Now, how exactly Garou managed to walk off with the title "record of the year" with "Le jour se lève" remains something of a mystery.

Garou (screenshot from video clip for "Le jour se lève")

Perhaps it was the phenomenal commercial success of the track.

After all, even in these days in which singles aren't really a measure of popularity, "Le jour se lève" only managed to peak at 115 in the French charts.

There again, maybe it was all down to the success of the single in neighbouring Belgium - where it reached number 22.

Of course Garou's win could have been because of the low standard of the other artists in the running for the title: among them international no-hopers Rihanna ("Diamonds") and Birdy ("Skinny love") or a clutch of Francophone singers, including Matt Pokora, Jenifer, Shy’m, Tal, Marc Lavoine and Amel Bent - all of whom had achieved greater singles chart success in France during 2012.

But wait. Who was making the award?

Oh. It was France's largest private channel TF1, filliing up the schedules with a pre-recorded programme during the holiday period.

Isn't Garou also one of the judges in the second series of "The Voice" due to be broadcast on the very same TF1 in early February?

Well, what do you know. Yes he is. But of course that cannot possibly have played a part in a vote determined by the public from the list of nominees before the competition got underway.

Ergo all definitely very correct and aboveboard and 40-year-old Garou, who first shot to prominence in France for his performance as Quasimodo in the hit musical Notre Dame de Paris in 1998, walked away with yet another award to add to his collection.

What? You've never heard of the musical? Well maybe that's not surprising.

It ran and ran in France, made stars of several of its performers and transferred equally well to Canada. But when it opened in London, the welcome was less than enthusiastic with Independent going all Sun-like in its headlines and describing it as ""A load of old bells".

Anyway, back to "Le jour se lève", a truly wondrous remake of a song originally recorded by Israeli singer Esther Galil in 1971 - when it really was an international hit (sales of more than five million in Europe).

If you didn't like it first time around...the chances are that Garou's snarling interpretation won't do much for you either.

Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Gérard Depardieu, Brigitte Bardot - Daniel Cohn-Bendit's "morons"

It has been one of those stories whose legs have surely proven that it has more than runs its course.

Gérard Depardieu's decision last December to buy a house in Belgium has taken on proportions that perhaps not even the most enthusiastic of spoof writers could have imagined.

But as with much seemingly silly news - albeit with serious undertones - the media is keeping it going...and going...and going (when will it be gone?) .

And the main protagonist is of course playing his larger-than-life role like a real pro.

The latest stroke of genius from one of France's "greatest living actors" is that he's not leaving France for tax reasons.

"I have a Russian passport, but I remain French and I will probably also soon have dual Belgian nationality," Depardieu told the new French sports channel L'Equipe 21.

"If I had wanted to avoid paying taxes, as the French press keeps reporting, I would have left France a long time ago."


Meanwhile Brigitte Bardot - another great Gallic cinematogapraphic treasure - has threatened to jump upon the same Moscow express as darling Gégé unless two sick elephants  at Lyon's Tête d'Or zoo are allowed to live.

"Baby" and "Nepal" both have tuberculosis and are considered a danger by the authorities to the zoo's other animals and visitors alike.

BB - Bardot that is - wants to save them and unless she gets her way, she's warning she'll pack her bags and move to Moscow (that's paraphrasing at its most lazy).

Now, all kudos to Bardot for her animal rights campaigning (if not for her political tendencies), but it's another media yawnathan - and besides, where's the proof that she carries the same sort of heavyweight clout with Russia's democratically (cough, splutter - excuse us all) leader as dear Gégé?

Finally (except it's hard to believe it really is) Hallelujah!  Enter stage left - but not as quite far left as he used to be, Dany le rouge - aka Daniel Cohn-Bendit.

Now you might not agree with his politics, but there's no doubt that Cohn-Bendit has proven himself down the years to be a man of principle: one who speaks his mind, doesn't practise the fine political art of langue de bois and thus will probably never really make it to the highest seat of power. Not that such a position is necessarily among his ambitions.

Besides he's a committed European - which means we have to forgive him for many of his faults as it's clear it'll never make him sufficiently "popular" in any country in which the "national interest" is often played as the trump card.

Anyway, Dany  - sorry, Cohn-Bendit - has had perhaps the best summing up of anyone so far in expressing his thoughts for both Gégé and BB.

At the weekend he was interviewed on BFM TV and, as you can hear from the video,  didn't mince his words, calling them both "morons" whose careers were finished.

For Cohn-Bendit, Depardieu was a "fool" and in saying Russia was a "great democracy" showed himself to be "really sick and completely full of alcohol to say such nonsense."

As for Bardot...well, Cohn-Bendit was equally scathing. "And then the other one who wants to leave France to go to Russia: to go from Saint-Tropez to Siberia," he said.

"That would be great for her. She could spend every winter in Siberia in a concentration camp for example, or a prison."

Now, who else could apply for Russian citizenship?

In fact could we all join in and nominate people to dispatch to Moscow along the lines of a French version of the UK radio television programme "Room 101"?

Monday, 7 January 2013

Popping pills and knowing when you're truly "in" France

Whenever you're watching a report on telly - wherever you might be in the world - and up pops a photo of the Eiffel Tower, you know the film, report or whatever, is about either Paris or France.

Simple isn't it? It's an instantly recognisable symbol not of only the capital but the whole country - at least to those from the outside.

But there is of course another typical emblem of France - much more representative of everyday life and instantly identifiable to anyone who lives here - la pharmacie or chemist.

They appear to be everywhere - especially in larger towns and cities. Over 22,000 of them spread throughout the country.

Stand in front of one in your nearest town and the chances are you'll be able to see another one not so far away, its familiar green cross flashing outside when open for business.

Yes, you know you're in France when you drop in at the doctors thinking you just have a heavy, if lingering, cold, are diagnosed with bacterial bronchitis (ah, it's so much more reassuring to have a label put to something, it almost makes you feel legitimately "sick") and then sent packing to the chemist or la pharmacie.

Now comes the point when you realise you should have been paying attention to what the doctor was telling you while poking, prodding, taking your temperature, asking about generalised or localised aches or pains, and listening to that whistling sound coming from your chest. 

Because instead of just the anticipated antibiotics, there's also, a course of cortizone, paracetamol ("Pill or soluble form sir?"), breathing apparatus to "help inhalation in times of serious loss of breath or wheezing" as well as what looks like a vacuum cleaner complete with even more drugs and instructions on how to use it.

Just back from la pharmacie

At least that's what appeared on the counter; a fair mountain of drugs it seemed, fit to still the beating heart of even the most fervent hypochondriac (and what's the betting that France has more than its fair share based on such evidence) as the pharmacist runs through the prescription.

Luckily she (in this particular case) doesn't just leave you standing there wondering, "What the heck".

She's a trained professional after all and, besides, can see (and hear) you're (a) pretty zonked out (foreigner).

So before allowing you out of the door, she goes through the whole prescription and treatment not once, but several times ensuring you know what to take, when and how.

And explains the purpose of the "vacuum cleaner" breathing machine (on hire for a week), how it works, where to place the liquid and "How to breathe correctly, sir".

Yes the "patient" - who is now recovering rapidly thanks to the marvels of French drugs (bring 'em on) really should have been listening more carefully as he sat in front of the doctor first time around.

But he thanks his lucky stars there was another trained professional on hand to "walk" and "talk" him through it.

Time for a not entirely appropriate blast from the past.

Any excuse.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

France's sweet tooth Epiphany - Galette or gâteau des Rois?

It's one of those things - along with among others, soccer teams Paris Saint-Germain/Marseille and the weather - that apparently illustrates the North-South divide in France.

The choice of a galette des Rois (North) or a gâteau (or couronne) des Rois (South) might not exactly be the Gallic version of Switzerland's Röstigraben, as there's no linguistic difference. But there's very definitely a gastronomical and therefore in a sense, cultural one.

La galette des Rois

Le gâteau des Rois

As French television "news" never seemed to tire telling viewers leading up to January 6, Epiphany is traditionally celebrated in France with the downing of one or the other - depending on where you come from and whether you like frangipane.

According to TF1, the galette des Rois produced by boulanger Stéphane Louvard was chosen as the best in Paris this year.

Apparently Louvard worked for more than 15 years to get the right mix of puff pastry and almond paste and perfect his technique to beat out almost 300 others to pick up this year's title.

Meanwhile as BFM TV reported, in the South, the traditional alternative is la couronne des Rois: a brioche (in all its variations) decorated with candied fruit and "flying off the shelves for those who cannot stand almond paste."

While the one featured in the BFM TV report looked a little top heavy to say the least, there are more - shall we say "restrained" versions of the same thing also kicking around.

La couronne des Rois (screenshot BFM TV)
Either the galette or the gâteau should bring a smile to the face of anyone with a sweet tooth (even if there's no chocolate involved).

Plus of course the person who ends up with the fève or trinket in their slice (unlikely to be porcelain unless you've plumped for a very upmarket version) will get to "wear the crown" and play King (or Queen) for the day.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Les étrennes - How absolutely fabulous, another unwanted calendar

In France, Christmas isn't the only time of giving and receiving unwanted presents.

Just ask anyone who lives or works here and you'll be told about that New Year's tradition of giving (ahem) "voluntary" tips for services rendered - aka les étrennes.

It's a practice that dates back to "way back when"  - Roman times apparently - although you'll probably be able to fill in the gaps to discover the real history by doing a proper Internet search (which doesn't include relying solely on Wikipedia). But that's for those of you who really want the full story.

In this country it's a convention which happily persists - and confuses.

You "give" to postal workers, firefighters, rubbish collectors and (where they still exist)
 apartment block concierges or gardiens.

In each case, it's not exactly voluntary.

And you "receive" (yes it's a two-way process) from shops and businesses where you're a valued customer -  with an ever-increasing pile of competing calendars taking up space on your kitchen wall (or wherever you decide to keep them).

As far as concierges or caretakers are concerned, "To celebrate the New Year, it's customary to slip a small envelope (with cash) or offer a box of chocolates or a bottle of champagne to a concierge as thanks." Well that's according to Christine Henry a reporter for the national daily "Aujourd'hui en France".

Those services include ones not necessarily stipulated in their employment contract such as watering plants, walking the dog or simply being (extra) friendly!

It's also, as Henry points out, a tradition as much in decline as the job itself as the French are counting their centimes and some at least are reluctant to dig very deep into their pockets.

As far as sapeur-pompiers or firefighters are concerned, well nobody in their right mind would begrudge "giving" them the odd five or ten euro note now, would they?

And right now they're busy knocking on doors offering their 2013 calender - at a price - which you of course set.

You'll end up buying it, unless you're a complete misery, because of the 250,000 firefighters in France, almost 80 percent of them are volunteers and you could well owe your life to them at some point in the future.

And similarly you'll probably already have been offered - and "made a contribution" to - the Almanach du facteur or the Postman/woman's calendar.

Yes another flippin' calendar.

What in the past might have featured pictures of historical figures and events is nowadays more than likely to contain photos of cute kittens, puppies and meaningless landscapes.

Once again even though it's free, a contribution - left to your discretion - is expected. And you can hardly refuse to "buy" one.

In all fairness, certainly in rural parts of France, those delivering the mail provide a service above and beyond the proverbial call of duty.

Posties can be a Godsend to many an elderly person stranded in their homes during bad weather.

Finally there are the rubbish collectors. They too are traditionally entitled to "a little something" but more and more local authorities have clamped down on the practice in recent years because "fake dustmen" have been going from door-to-door pretending to be collecting on behalf of the real ones.

The main problem with all this less-than-warm-hearted virtually institutionalised giving is that nobody really seems to know how much to give or whether to give at all come to that.

When even the French are confused, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Watch out for a report or two on French telly over the coming days as there might well be some possible  guidelines.

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