Monday, March 15, 2010

Contributions For April Issue

I've just got back from a few days in the UK (I am slowly processing my thoughts about life in the old country, but the impression that I am left with is a country that is putting far too much reliance upon the value money) and am now starting work on the April issue of the CBJ.
This will be our 70th issue and it also marks six years of publication. The main theme of this issue will be gardening. I have scheduled an extra eight pages for this issue, making it our first 72-page Journal. Contributions of all sorts are welcome, and especially on the theme of gardening – whether it be questions about local gardening techniques, reminiscences, pictures, suggestions, or advertisements.
When I started the Journal, six years ago, the editorial side was very much a personal effort, but as the years have gone by it has evolved to reflect the views of the community as a whole. I still have the final say of what goes in and what does not, but my own views about what is appropriate for the Journal have also change from month to month as I take note of feedback from readers and contributors. Each issue of the Journal is now made up of many different strands, provided by people from all walks of life.
My hope is that this is something that will continue to develop in the future. I would like to see the Journal, and its associated website, be the preferred news medium of everyone in Central Brittany – not just for people who have English as their first language.
Closing date for contributions for the April issue is Friday 19th March.

Gareth Lewis

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mr Biznuz March 2010

Space was tight in the March issue of the Central Brittany Journal, so the editor suggested that I put this month's column on the blog, which is perhaps fortuitous because the subject that has been occupying my thoughts may be of interest to people who do not normally read the Journal.
Timing is critical to success in business – it is not so much a matter of having a good idea, it is whether or not you choose the right time to implement your idea, and this concept is of even more importance in a developing market, such as Brittany, than in a relatively saturated market, such as in the UK.
Many thousands of businesses have started up in Brittany over past twenty years, only to fail within the first two years of their existence. Many of them were quite visionary and specifically designed to serve the needs of people moving to the area and / or bring new technologies or local products to the local population. They have included food outlets, web-design companies, computer sales and repair businesses, businesses specialising in sales and repairs of imported cars, paint retailers, estate agents, holiday companies, equestrian-businesses, and transport companies: it is almost certain that at some point in the near future, ther will be a huge market for all these services, and it is also true that any business that manages to get established now, will be in an ideal position to make a lot of money when the market takes off. The problem is, that if a business is just a little ahead of its time, it will run out of cash before it becomes profitable – and someone else moves in to reap the benefit of their hard work. This has been the fate of hundreds of innovative businesses in Brittany in the recent past, and it is something that has to be taken seriously by anyone who is planning to set up in the region.

If this sounds a little depressing, there is another side to the story: people have been moving to Brittany, particularly from the UK, in small numbers for at least twenty years, but around six or seven years ago, an exceptionally large number of people moved at around the sound time – something in the order of ten thousand households – and it is estimated that between them they injected between one and two billion euros into the local economy. At the time, hardly anyone was prepared for this windfall, and very few local businesses managed to take advantage of it. The process of migration is cyclical, and even though relatively few people have moved to Brittany over the past couple of years, at some point in the not too distant future, perhaps another ten, twenty, or thirty thousand households will suddenly decide to make the move, bringing many more billions of euros to a region that is still not economically geared up to take advantage of this sort good fortune.

It is all a matter of timing, but anyone who can set up in business now, and survive for a while in difficult trading conditions, could find themselves in a position to make a lot of money in the not-too-distant future.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fest Jazz 2010 - 30th, 31st July, 1st August

I took a trip over to Chateauneuf du Faou yesterday to meet the organisers of Fest Jazz 2010. Trevor Stent of Good Time Jazz, and Regis Garnier of the Ragamuffins laid out the plans for this years festival, which they are confident will be the best so far - extra facilities are being laid on to ensure so that all the events can go on uninterrupted whatever the weather, and the growing international reputation of the festival has made it possible attract some outstanding musicians - this year, the bill is headed by Florin Niculescu, the outstanding jazz violinist (see video below).

The organisers would like everyone to make a note of the festival dates for their diaries, and hope that that, as usual the festival will be well-supported by local residents as well as by jazz enthusiasts from abroard.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Building with Straw

Last week, I had a chance to visit the headquarters of of 'Pig Shed Records' an independent recording label, run by James Hofmeister, outside Moncontour.

The reason for my visit was that I am researching an article on the use of straw as a building material. The Pig Shed recording studio has been built out of straw bales inside an old pig shed and James reports that the straw was not only cost-effective but also provides sound and thermal insulation properties comparable to, or better than, any material available.

I have long held the belief that there must be better ways for providing housing for people than the current methods: wood, straw, earth, stones, etc. could be used much more widely and creatively than at present to build homes, workshops, and other buildings, probably at a fraction of the cost of current building methods. One of my ambitions is to compile of directory of suppliers of 'natural' building materials in Brittany.

Below is the latest video from Pig Shed records - sound and video editing done in the new studio:
Lads 'O' the Fair - Kincardine Lads.

Friday, January 29, 2010

February CBJ now in the shops

The February issue of the CBJ is now available in the shops. The main feature in this month's Journal focuses on the 2009 census figures that were released in January 2010.
The magazine contains a special map showing population density of the Breton communes, which graphically illustrates how few people live in Central Brittany.
The article somewhat controversially proposes that these figures would qualify Central Brittany as Terra Nullius i.e. land not already occupied and therefore free to whomsoever wants to make use of it.
The truth is, however, that business interests have been operating on this principle for the past twenty or thirty years and have building industrial-scale farm buildings for which they would never have received permission if there had been more people in the area. Central Brittany has also been proposed as a suitable site for 'storing' nuclear waste, and, at the moment, as a suitable dumping ground for industrial waste.
The ease with which the administration, and their contracting companies, have been able to rush through wind-turbine construction over recent years is another sign that the land is effectively unoccupied and there is not a large enough local community to be able to defend its own interests.
Of course, business cannot actually occupy land, and sooner or later Central Brittany will be re-populated by human beings. The interesting question is what sort of society they choose to build - a modern consumer society or something more closely-allied to the self-sufficient society of Brittany of the past; a society that looks to Paris for money and support, or a society that can stand on its own two feed and deal with the rest of the world on equal terms. People might not like the idea of Terra Nullius, but it does open up the possibility of exciting times in the future.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Population Figures

I'm working on an article about the recently-published population figures, based on the 2009 census, for the next issue of the CBJ.

From my point of view, the interesting thing about these figures is that they give a very graphic indication of how few people live in Central Brittany at the moment. I've been tapping questions into Google and Wikipedia to try to get some context on the question, and I worked out today that the Cotes d'Armor has less than half the number of people per square mile than Devon.

I made the comparison with Devon as, historically, the two regions have a lot of links, and and they are quite similar in terms of industry, climate, etc. I am sure that up until quite recently the population density of the Cotes d'Armor would have been quite a bit higher than that of Devon - because the climate is milder and, overall, the terrain more hospitable.

The local press don't seem to see it as a particularly grave issue (its more a matter of counting heads to see how much money each commune will be entitled to in the coming year, than anything else).

In any other time and place, these figures would be taken as evidence of a cruel people driving people off the land through exessive taxation and harsh regulation. We are expected to believe that in this particular case, however, it is caused by the irresistable draw of the city luring everyone away.

I would be interested to know what people thought about the issue before putting the finishing touches to my article.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I think, therefore I am...or at least I think so

Last week, I received a new book from the Breton Publisher, Yoram Embanner, entitled Descartes, Breton? The Breton Point of View. The book is by Simon Alain and the French edition came out last year, and it has now been released in English.
It immediately caught my interest as I have a private grudge against Descartes dating back to my days at school, or rather, University. It seemed to me when I was a student that Descartes was one of the major figures responsible for the unfeeling approach to scientific study that has led to so many problems over the past 400 years. It was an issue that brought me into frequent conflict with my teachers, and ultimately, I came to the conclusion that most of the things that I had been taught at school had been based upon a false premise.
The thesis of this book is that Descartes is fundamentally misunderstood. In France, perhaps because he was the first significant philosopher to write in French, his name has become inextricably linked with the idea of being French. In the words of the author, for the French public, his ideas have been synthesised down to:
I think, therefore I am.
I think in French, therefore I am French.

Apparently, however, Descartes, was not French. His father was Breton – living and working in Rennes, and a member of the Breton Parliament – and Descartes himself chose to leave France to live in the Netherlands, where he found the atmosphere more conducive to freedom of thought.
Therefore, to Descartes, the idea of 'I think in French, but I am Breton' or 'I think in French, but I am a human being, just like everyone else', would, presumably, have been perfectly acceptable.
I am enjoying reading the book, perhaps because I have always had a soft spot for philosophy. The book is written from the perspective of a Breton person, who has more or less reached the limit of his endurance with the whole concept of 'Frenchness', but I must admit that one aspect of France that I do like is the willingness of people to discuss philosophical issues.
Just for the record, I still think that Descartes was wrong. If he had said 'I love, therefore I am', he would have been on a better track.

Descartes, Breton?
The Breton Point of View
Simon Alain
Yoran Embanner
71 Hent Mespiolet 29170 Fouesnant 17.50euros ISBN 97829165792214