All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

The Good Old Days

HALLATROW, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 12:  Book...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
I have been going through the bookshelves recently, which has been fatal to any other activity and reveals to me that I have had a great many and varied interests in my time, all of them marked by the purchase of books.

There are, as you might imagine after about twenty years spent in France, a good many on French life and times...from cookery to history via a fair number of photographic one a friend sent me about life in the countryside between the wars (here). It shows the hard life of country people...
The importance of wood for the fire that warmed the house, cooked the food and boiled the water.
Crushing nettles to feed the ducks.
The outdoor work in all weathers.
Meant as a celebration of the past, to me it was a monument to the sheer drudgery of it all and the release found in alcohol.

I have a number of others, showing towns and villages as they were years ago, from early photographs, and it is fun to try to link the present with the past.
Who would think, passing a quiet square in front of the church, that it used to be a busy weekly cattle market, or that the house lying back from the road used to be the village station in the distant days when a tramway ran through the area, bringing prosperity as people could sell their produce in the markets in the towns at each end of the line rather than being forced to accept the prices offered by the local higglers.

Local photographic collections and reprints of local history books used to be sold by subscription - a flyer would arrive in the post from a publisher who had cornered the market in 'local interest' books and you could order directly.

I had a few, but Edith (here) told me not to buy any more as she ordered anything of local interest and I could borrow her copies. She gave me them when her eyesight was failing...I would be interested, while her son would use the pages for wrapping bottles...or, as she said darkly, 'worse' I have studies on most of the villages in the area in which I first lived when I moved to France and when I turn to them I hear Edith's voice commenting as she turned the pages.....the voice of my dear friend who taught me so much not just about life in France, but life itself.

A photograph of a farmhouse up the road brought memories of how that was the only place for miles around with a telephone...
'Very handy for the Merles during the war....they knew what everyone was doing.'
'Why during the war, in particular?'
'Because they could tell tales to the police....pair of collaborators, and not for principle, just for money...
You know their son, friends of yours bought the granny's house next door to him. He's just the same...and so's his wife.
After the war, no decent family would let their daughters get involved with him....she's from away, from a family with nothing. No one else would have him.'

I did indeed know the son...grasping and avaricious.
He had a stand of vines and one year there had been a bumper crop. I watched him spoil what could have been a lovely wine by picking all the rotting bunches and throwing them in with the good, so as not to lose one drop that could be sold....that was the measure of the man.

A photograph of a cafe, the owner's family standing outside, brought back reminiscences of the times when there were eight bars in the village itself, not to speak of those, like this one, out in the hamlets.
'It's Jacquot's house pass it on the back way to the village from here...It's next door that the murder took place and they had to move the sugar.'

Now the murder had taken place in my time, so I knew all about that and it was some measure of my adaption to local culture that I knew why the sugar had  a starring role in the tragedy.

The village had a reputation for doctoring its' wine with added sugar, to push up the level of alcohol.
At first a device to ensure it met the quality restrictions which would allow it to be sold as an 'apellation' rather than as plonk with the consequent drop in price, over time, making a strong wine had become an object in itself.
In any case, it was strictly prohibited, except in special circumstances like dreadful rainy years when the wine would have been more like cats' piss without the boost from the sugar, at which point regulations would be issued.

I had discovered this when asking my fount of local knowledge, Monsieur Untel, (here) why there were notices in the supermarkets forbidding clients to buy more than - I think - ten kilos of sugar.
There wasn't a shortage or something, was there?
No, there wasn't. It was to make it difficult to get a good stock of sugar together to doctor the wine.

So, back to the murder.
A lady had moved in with a gentleman in his fifties, much given to the local male habits of hunting and drinking.
After a while, she observed that he was spending much more on these hobbies than on her so she transferred her affections to another gentleman, in his seventies, who lived out in a the house next door to Jacquot's place.
This relationship prospered, to the fury of gentleman number one who was missing his home comforts and one evening, returning to a cold hearth after a day spent hunting and drinking, he had had enough.
He took his shotgun, went up to the house of gentleman number two and, seeing lights in the bedroom, blasted the occupants.
He killed his rival, but the lady escaped, fleeing to Jacquot's house in her night attire while the murderer collapsed in an alcoholic heap in the garden.

Jacquot took the shotgun, but then was faced with a problem.
The gendarmerie had to be called...there was no alternative.
But there had been an incident involving illicit stocks of sugar in the next village and the gendarmerie had been sniffing about, so at the request of his friend, Jacquot had hidden the stuff in his neighbour's garage.
The dead neighbour's garage.

Well, as you are always told in France, if you have a problem, get hold of the maire.
Jacqut did just that and was told to do nothing...the maire would see to everything.
With his wife comforting a sobbing and shocked lady in his kitchen, and a comatose drunken murderer in the garden next door, Jacquot thought that he had enough problems - and then he heard a car engine approaching only to stop outside his house.

'Putain de merde! Someone's called the gendarmerie!'

No, it was not a kepi which emerged, but the flat cap of the maire, followed by the flat cap of the council workman. They had arrived in the municipal Renault van to remove the sugar.
Or rather Jacquot and the workman loaded the sugar while the maire - as first magistrate of his commune - took a statement from the lady.
Only when the van was well away did he call the gendarmerie.

After all, as he said later. gentleman number two was dead, gentleman number one wasn't going anywhere and the lady had been treated for shock by Jacquot's wife, so no harm was done by a little delay.
The maire, needless to say, was a vigneron and knew the importance of sugar and as he was wont to say when talking about the incident
'If the first guy had stuck to wine instead of beer and whisky, the lady would never have left him!'

A further photograph showed the entrance to my barn, with a group of young men standing or lounging in front of it.
'Oh, that's the lads going off to the army.'
Edith explained that it was the custom for the young men being called up for national service in the army to get together to have a last celebration of freedom before they had months of drill under the grim eye of a sergeant major.....a collection would be taken up and they would make a night of it.
Why my barn?
Because your house used to belong to the estate, and the owners had always given permission to use the barn because it was out of the way.
Edith's husband had been one of those lads and, having the bad luck to be of military age in the last war, had ended up as a prisoner of the Germans, returning home only after six years' away, a shadow of the young man she had married.

Books about France are not all about chateaux and romance....there is a whole genre of 'miserylit' on the hard life of the poor which sells well.....but no book can bring a photograph to life as well as the voice of someone who had lived close by and knew the lives of the people who stand, so stiffly posed, in front of their houses.

Thanks to what I learned from Edith, even a visit to an 'antique' shop takes on meaning.
I know from her that those cast iron and enamel stoves which 'incomers' love to buy to beautify their houses were the very devil to use......the tiny firebox needed continual attention if the fire were not to go out.
Better for the farmer's wife the cauldron over the fire.
Better still the earthenware pots with concave put your stew in the pot and laid it in the hot ashes, piled more ash into the top of the lid, and off you went to the fields for the morning, sure of lunch on your return.

I see piles of books from house clearances when I go to Emmaus and I sometimes wonder if, one day, the books which speak so clearly to me will end up there too, mute for lack of a listener.

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Saturday, 26 June 2010

They seek him here, they seek him there, those Frenchies seek him everywhere

Circus Circus - Ride #1Image by Deerbourne via Flickr
Or, the case of the missing tourist.

No, not the one who disregarded the warning on the door of the wine cellar which read
'Descend qui veut
Remonte qui peut..'

Which translates roughly as
'Come down if you like
Get out if you can...'

I've been down there and survived to tell the tale, but to be fair, I wasn't there on the occasion when the postman turned up half way through the session and it all had to begin again....

Nor is it the case of the man with a GPS system trying to reach us in France's Bermuda Triangle...

No, regretfully, it is the general case of the missing tourist.
France has sunk to third in the world rankings, but the worrying feature for tourism professionals is that an increasing number of these tourists are just one night stands, roosting in France on their way to spend their money somewhere else.

I cannot say I am surprised.

The French national tourist effort seems to be aimed solely at drawing visitors to Paris, and Paris for the casual visitor can be a right royal rip off, complete with bad manners.
One encounter with the average Paris waiter in a tourist area is enough to change any open minded person from Francophile to Francophobe in seconds....the refusal to understand the tourist's attempts at French, the insistence on using non existent English, and the contempt with which an order is received, make me feel like taking sandwiches and a flask.
Tthe mostly non French people fronting up in cafes and hotels off the tourist beats are nice, kind and helpful (here), but the tourist isn't very likely to meet them.

I just sincerely hope that the tourist does not meet with the employee of SNCF - the national railway company - who was quite content to see me stranded overnight in the capital without money or transport rather than sort out a problem with SNCF's own system.
I still wonder what would have happened if I hadn't had enough French - and volume - to insist on calling for his supervisor. From experience, a night on Montparnasse station is not to be recommended.

What astounds me, though, is however the one night stand tourist manages to escape from Paris in order to get to wherever it is he is going.
If the Paris metro or the buses aren't on strike, then it's SNCF...and if by chance all these are back at work, then the air traffic controllers decide that they need to be at home to look after their kids because it is the school holiday period.
Considering that on average an air traffic controller only works for 96 days a years - speaking from memory - you might think they could manage to crawl into the tower for peak travel periods, but, if so, then you'd think wrong.
Strong on family values, air traffic controllers.

I am sure that if the national tourist bodies shifted the emphasis to the pleasures of the provinces, the number of tourists staying longer would increase.
Everyone knows about the Eiffel Tower, Versailles and Monet's garden....what about the Rhone Valley, what about Bordeaux, what about Alsace?

If sitting on cafe terraces watching the world go by is an important part of a visit to France, it can be done anywhere in the country and, from what I recall, it was a lot more interesting in Aix-en-Provence than in Paris.

Regional and local tourist boards could do with raising their game, as well.

A little less attention to the importance of the tourist board director's wife's company getting the contract for printing the brochures and a little more to advertising attractions which don't necessarily have the means to pay for publicity in the said brochures would work wonders for attracting tourists who would then automatically fulfill the mission of tourist boards, which is to fill hotels, guest houses and restaurants.

Every year, in the local brochure, the same vigneron is presented. By coincidence, he is the son of the woman who runs the local tourist office. Given that there are over fifty other vignerons in the near vicinity, that wine must be pretty good!

The riding stables run by the wife of a local politician feature largely, despite the existence of at least two others.

A wonderfully restored chateau offering B and B gets hardly a mention, while the place run by a British woman said to be 'close to' the regional tourist board boss has full frontal coverage. Year after year.

I did toy with the idea of putting up a website with the real attractions of the area, but given my general IT incompetence and having no idea whatsoever how, having put something together, one gets people to know that it exists, the toy went back to the toybox.

When we were running holiday cottages I liked to hear what people had found to do in the intervals between eating croissants for breakfast and downing wine in the evening and for people with kids the overwhelming attraction of the area was the local theme park....not Futuroscope, nor even the Puy du Fou, but the local Parc.....d'Attractions.

It opened officially at Easter and lurched on into the autumn, the notion being that if there were more than two people at the gate, it would be opened.

You could bring your own food and drink, though if desperate Madame could make you a sandwich and find you a can from her fridge, so it was economical.

There was a swimming pool, but nowhere to change except round the back of the house by the outside loo which doubled as the toilet block so there would occasionally be startled cries from those unwary enough not to post a lookout man, at which point Madame would appear flapping her apron as if shooing off ducks.

There were, I think, three 'attractions', one of which was a caterpillar ride and the other two varied depending on what had been cobbled together during the close season.
The caterpillar ride was very popular with teenagers, though how they thought they would be unobserved given the holes in the carapace is beyond me..but then, those are the years of the triumph of optimism over reality. If you don't have it then, you're never going to acquire it later unless you take up politics and investing in Ponzi schemes as a career choice.

As Madame's son ran the rides and as Madame only had one son , only one 'attraction' could be operated at a time, so the whole clientele would follow him like the chldren of Hamelin. His word was final when it came to which attraction to run and preference on the caterpillar was given to those who had taken the other rides, so let no one say that he was backward in marketing skills.

Every year there was an event on Sundays. At 5.00 p.m. sharp...ish.
This varied every year, depending on who could be rounded up to provide it and what material was available, so one year it would be the Foreign Legion beating up Arabs - and I still wonder where all those Gendarmerie kepis came from - another year when the local motorbike club was going strong  it was Hell's Angels terrorising people and being driven off by the gallant Gendarmerie...the kepis again..

One year, Madame having realised that foreign tourists were leavening the lump of the faithful local attendees, she decided on Joan of Arc defeating the English, as there were a number of horses available.
Which is to say that the pony rides - run by Madame's daughter - stopped while the animals were prepared for their star roles.
It says a great deal for the total insensitivity of the French that she could think this was appropriate, and a great deal for the inhibitions inculcated by British culture that no one suggested lighting a bonfire.

The most popular was the cowboy and indian event, which appeared every three years or so - as there were a number of horses available - with chaps in feathered headresses galloping among the attendees trying to drag off attractive young ladies until other chaps in hats appeared firing into the air to drive them off and rescue the said attractive young ladies.
Health and safety would have had a fit, especially as one year it was discovered that some idiot had been using live ammunition. That time the kepis were for real...gendarmes swarming all over the place..... until it was discovered that the idiot had gone to the wrong drawer in the back shed.
The incident passed off peacefully. Madame's son agreed to keep his live ammo in the house in future and the gendarmes had a ride on the caterpillar. I've seen the photograph, and it is surreal...

The guests' kids were uniformly enthusiastic....
'It's so tacky it's out of this world...' about summed up the majority view and I am sure that some of our repeat bookings were due to the Parc d'Attractions.
Others were down to the massive spider which inhabited one of the bedrooms, but that's a different story.

Now, no tourist supremo would have put the Parc into his I was surprised to see publicity for it when I went back to the area last year but my  friend told me that Madame had sold up and a new company is runnning the place.
Everything is smartened up, there are at least four rides, and they are spending a fortune on advertising.

I would love to have the kids' verdict on it these days...but I expect that now it has lost its' rustic charm, they would prefer Futuroscope.

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Monday, 21 June 2010

Proust and the pressure cooker

Denis Papin (Aimé Millet)Image via Wikipedia
The mind works in a mysterious way at times.

I had been reading a history of science in the seventeenth century and came across mention of Denis Papin, one time employee of the Royal Society and originator of, among other things, the 'steam digester' or pressure cooker.
Among the 'other things', by the by, is a paddle steamer, in which in 1707 he travelled on the River Fulda at Cassel until the local watermen had it seized by the authorities as a threat to their monopoly of traffic on the river.

In 1700, Thomas Savery, another associate of the Royal Society, had proposed a like vessel to the English Navy Board, who had a similar mindset to the watermen of Fulda.
Their response was reported to be
'What have interloping people, that have no concern with us, to do to...contrive or invent things for us?'
You have to hand it to the seventeenth century for the sharp set down.

But back to Denis Papin.
While pressure cookers hold no allure for me....youthful memories of mother blowing up a tin of steak and kidney pie having kept me at a safe distance from the brutes....Monsieur Papin is another steam digester of fish.

After the student years of exploring France by train (here), I had advanced to ownership of a car and on my first subsequent trip to France, I had decided to visit the Loire Valley.
Inconveniently placed in the centre of France, it was never an easy stop over on the night trains upon which I had depended to avoid having to take a hotel for the night, so, newly independent, the Loire Valley it was.

I drove down without incident through one of those golden autumn days when the leaves are just starting to fall and arrived in the late afternoon at Blois only to find that every hotel known to the tourist office was booked for some convention or other.
Gloomily heading out of town, thwarted, I saw a bar and pulled in for a coffee, fortifying myself for a trek to somewhere I didn't want to be going to.
But the bar had rooms....clean, even if the smoke from the bar did seep up through the floorboards by about ten o'clock...and there was a dining room at the back where I had one of the best meals that I have ever eaten in France, before or since.
I was saved.

The next morning I set out on foot, crossing the bridge across the Loire in the pearly light that seduced me then and has delighted me ever since, a soft luminescence which casts an enchantment on the buildings and countryside the whole length of the river.
I wanted to visit the chateau, but it was too early, so I walked through the town centre, up the interminable flights of steps and round corners, until I came upon the statue of Denis Papin.
I walked on, I walked round, and  wherever I went I would turn a corner only to find........Monsieur Papin.

I visited the chateau.....redolent of the murders and conspiracies of the Wars of Religion

I drove out into the countryside....I found the Chateau de Talcy, where Ronsard's Cassandre lived ...she of
'Mignonne, allons voir si la rose..'
The other side of the same culture...the age of the poets of the Pleiade.

I travelled through the lakes and woodlands of the Sologne, across to the medieval donjon of Loches and up again to Amboise, where the bodies of murdered protestants were hung upside down from the battlements in the St. Bartholemew's Day Massacre while the young Mary Queen of Scots looked on.

I had gone to visit historical sites and instead fell in love with an area...the small towns, the cliff dwellings, the white stone walls around the vineyards, but,above all, the light of the Loire Valley.

For Proust, the sensation of the madeleine dipped into lime flower tisane...
For me, the unexpected encounter with Denis Papin, bringing back a sudden, vivid memory of my first visit to an area where I would eventually come to spend some twenty years of my life.

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Sunday, 20 June 2010

Heartfelt Blogger Award

Ayak, at Turkish Delight has been kind enough to pass me the Heartfelt Blogger Award for blogs which make you feel cosy and warm inside.

It is an award which Ayak richly deserves...her blog is always honest, sometimes hilarious and always one I'm glad to see popping up when I switch on the computer.

I must pass on the award and tell the recipients.

Well, there are some blogs I read whose authors might be a bit miffed at the idea that they might be making someone feel warm and cosy.....they would probably prefer something like 'The Edgy Blogger Award', which is not real - as far as I know - and makes me think of someone falling over a cliff.

There are others I read who are not into awards....and that's their's their blog, after all. Which is one of the nicest things about blogging - it's all down to you and you can do as you please.

So if there are any offended Edgy Bloggers among the following,  please forgive me. I just enjoy your blogs.

Do take the chance to visit and enjoy....

truestarr at Prospero's Cellphone, whether in her adopted Corfu, in the U.S.A., or, wonderfully, in Belgium, has a blog of close observation of the detail that makes up a life, so I hope she will be posting again soon.

Cogitator's Corner of France  offers a varied diet of life in the Mayenne region, from guests to gardening with some stunning plant photographs which please me greatly.

Open Toe Shoes details an artist's life in Costa Rica, seen through an artist's eyes...

I should say that the recipients aren't bound to do anything at all about the award...they're all busy people with busy lives...but it is nice to be given the chance to show appreciation of blogs I enjoy.

Thank you, Ayak.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Sarkozy's sinking ship.......

President Sarkozy has been in London to commemorate Charles de Gaulle's wartime broadcast to France, in which he urged the French to resist German hegemony.
Considering his recent meeting with capitulation to the German Chancellor it would seem that that particular message has passed Sarkozy by.

I imagine he is glad to be out of France at the moment, given the mood of the nation after the masterful display of incompetence by the national football team in the World Cup in South Africa.
Not only could they not play, it seems they couldn't sing either - well, not the   'Marseillaise' anyway. Perhaps 'Money, Money, Money' might have been better choice.
More fodder for the debate on national identity that Sarkozy was mad enough to start.
Personally, seeing that they only qualified by the hand of Thierry Henri against Ireland, I suspect that the Irish have put the Curse of Cromwell on them.

Whatever the circumstances, however optimistic the political mood, the football would have not been good news, but given all the rest......well, it's a good moment to leave the country.

Still,  politics is a funny is amazing what can be overcome with a bit of spin doctoring and a judicious bribe to the electorate administered at the right time - just look at Blair's survival.
So why should Sarkozy be worried?

He came to power offering reform of economic life in France and it is true that he has managed to make some changes...tinkering round the edges.

His problem is that his party, the UMP, have woken up to the fact that he is not one of the 'good old boys' who have run the country for their own profit for generations....they rightly suspect that he is trying to shift access to the goody bag to his type of people...the new 'kings of bling' generation.

He hasn't helped his cause by the antics of his 'court'...the blatant nepotism (here),  the vast amounts of public money spent on publicity for government initiatives, and the appointment of people more suited to public opprobrium than public office (here).
His rancorous and less than decorous pursuit of his rival Philippe de Villepin (here) cannot be said to have added lustre to the prestige of the French Presidency either...remarks about  hanging people on butchers' hooks bring up unwelcome associations.
He has even managed to make right wing voters regret President Chirac, that renowned toucher up of bovine bottoms and despair of the Academie Francaise.

The combination of these  factors lost his party a lot of votes in the recent regional elections for which his party will not forgive him.
His misjudgement in opening the debate on national identity, aimed at neutralising the Front National, has done the opposite and he has done the seemingly impossible by raising the PS - Socialist Party - from the dead.
Still, he shouldn't worry about that too much...the P.S. are past masters at arguing about the rules of a fiddling competition while Rome burns around them.

He had the misfortune to hit the buffers running when the catastrophic international banking fraud came to light, and has been forced to preside over 'austerity' measures to combat its' consequences...of which the proposals on pensions are the most unpopular.

His attacks on the press, particularly his attempt to completely take over French public television and to arrange for a group favourable to his aims to pick up the carcass of 'Le Monde' give rise to comparisons with Berlusconi..

He makes me think rather of of Napoleon trying to do a 13th Vendemiaire while Murat steals away with the guns.

But politics is a funny thing, it can turn in a moment, just as, with the funny rules of football competitions, France might yet qualify to go further, so why do I think Sarkozy's ship is beyond the reach of the salvage tugs?

Just take a look at the photographs of Sarkozy and wife in London.
Gone are the days of the demure little hat and the sinking decoratively into the background.
Look at the body language...she is always detached from the event itself, always knowing where the cameras are and performing for them as if she were once again on the catwalk - such an appropriate name for it, I always think.
He's looking to the Presidential elections in 2012.  She's looking to...a change of role.

Mrs. Sarkozy is a survivor. She's checking out the lifeboats already.

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Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Please read this...

Winston Smith's blog post about Liam.

Then please ask yourself how it came about that the lunatics took over the asylum.

How it is that theories totally unrelated to reality have been put into practice in the education and upbringing of children.

How it is that as a society we have lost control of the 'experts'.

How it is that we have failed to evaluate these 'experts' and their theories.

How it is that groups calling themselves 'civil society' have taken the place of actual people in a dialogue with the governments which fund them about the future of society.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

The French want more forks

State Banquet.--Serving the Peacock.--Facsimil...Image via Wikipedia
In the long ago days when French supermarket car parks numbered as many tractors as cars, I had friends with a holiday house in the next commune.

It was an eighteenth century house lying back from the road in a small hamlet and it had been completely renovated, so that instead of using their holidays to get close up and personal with plumbing, they could actually relax.
Instead of looking for Monsieur Cromagnon the never-ready builder and haunting the DIY shop, my friends could go out for the day, explore the troglodyte villages, buy wine and generally do what they had bought the house in order to do...enjoy themselves.

The  hamlet was a friendly place...this was before the great wave of British permanent immigrants arrived with the comcomitant backlash...and  after a while they had acquired quite a circle of friends, both French and British.
Being rural France, the friendship was usually expressed in invitations to drinks, to dinner or to Sunday lunch.
Just like all the books about 'living the dream'.

Shortly after they had arrived one summer, Jane telephoned and invited me to lunch. The weather looked to stay fine, so she and Alex planned to eat outside as that way they could invite more people than their house could otherwise hold.
Their neighbours were coming, as were a number of British and everyone more or less knew each other, so it would be a relaxed affair...not so much high heels and champagne but espadrilles and wine from the local guys.
Most people would turn up with some bottles and either a starter or a pud, to ease the load, so all it needed was to co ordinate who was bringing what.

Articles I have read on what to expect if asked out in France give the impression that this sort of thing would be regarded as really can bring flowers or chocolates but not proper food and drink.
This might apply in the champagne and high heels sector, but it doesn't down in the sticks.

The brioche vendeen from Didier's friend was eagerly awaited in every household to which Dider had entree - a considerable number - as was Rolande's fish terrine, just to give the first two examples which come to mind, while no self respecting local would dream of appearing at a friend's house without a few bottles wrapped in newspaper to be placed in the cool until required.

Still, invitation happily accepted and starter determined upon, I got on with the rest of my week.
I was in the supermarket, morosely regarding the quality and price of the cauliflowers, when a bright voice exclaimed
'How lovely to see you! We haven't caught up in ages!'
It was the Incubus!

It was a good job I wasn't at the takeaway counter or I might have fallen face down into the champignons a la greque and the saumon a l'oseille.
Rather than 'catch up' with the Incubus I would have eaten andouillette...well, nearly.

Mark you, from the way in which she would usually disappear like the Cheshire Cat in a grin-free zone when encountering me in the ordinary run of things, the feeling appeared to be common to us both.
So why the change of heart?

Having just been inspecting the cauliflowers, the milk of human kindness was at a low ebb in my veins...just how French supermarkets think that by pulling off the yellower leaves they can con the customer into thinking that last week's delivery are sparkling fresh and worth last week's price is beyond me.
Well, no it isn't.
The modern French housewife will buy anything. Especially when shopping at 11.45 for lunch at 12.30.

So, in this frame of mind, instead of being all Fotherington-Thomas about it and prancing with delight at the opportunity to repair a relationship, singing
'Hello clouds! Hello sky!',
I was rather more inclined to the Molesworth view of things......if she was bothering to speak to me she must want something.
'As any fule kno.'

What this 'fule' didn't 'kno' was what it was she was likely to want.

I did my own garden, thus no need of husband's gardening services.
I was not buying a house, so no need of their joint property finding and negociation services linked to occupation of their gite.
I had some French, so no need for her translation services.
Ditto, so no need for her 'hand holding' services with French beaurocracy.

It could only be information.
Whatever could I be supposed to know that she wanted to find out about?

After a monologue about the lovely weather, and how nice it was to see old friends now the holiday crowd were coming over, she threw the right hook.
'I expect we'll see each other at Jane and Alex's 'do' on Sunday.'

Oh, my ears and whiskers! That was it!
I'd suspected she hadn't been invited, but she'd clearly got wind of it and was now putting me on the spot.
This is one of the number of reasons why I cordially disliked her. Manipulative.
Whatever I said would only confirm that there was a'do'......and that meant that there was a fair chance that she and husband would turn up. Invited or not.

What I felt like saying was
'Not if I see you first.'  But the process of civilisation has been too thorough.
To my fury, I was reduced to smiling - in a sort of lips curled back over teeth fashion - and moving off...

I am so useless in these situations. In English. All sorts of bright remarks occur to me once it is too late and
I wonder if it is that using English involves all the codes of behaviour imbibed over the years which inhibit the initial response of'
'Take firmly by the neck and squeeze'...

I can do it in French much more easily...probably because in absorbing the language I haven't absorbed all the cultural bumph that comes with it, being a late starter as it were.
Come round to my house to try to reclaim a present from the previous owner of your house - yes, this has happened - on the grounds that her daughter said that you could have it, and just see where that gets you in French. Blown backwards bow legged, that's where.

Should I ring Jane?

She rang me. Someone less inhibited had called her with the news that the Incubus had trapped them at the bakery - that'll teach them to buy croissants, I thought - and they had succumbed to interrogation.
I confessed to my sorry display, but Jane wasn't too worried.
Her first reaction had been to hold the party in the back garden...but even then the parked cars would give the game she thought she would just have to put up with it.
The only hope was that there would be something more prestigious going on to act as a counter attraction.

There wasn't.
It was a very pleasant afternoon in the shade of the walnut trees...good food, good wine, good company...and the Incubus and husband duly arrived together with their latchlifters...a househunting couple who were staying in their gite.
Such a good opportunity for Dale and Alan to meet 'the locals'....

Such a good opportunity for the Incubus and husband to wolf down enough to feed a regiment, collar the most expensive of the bottles put out in the kitchen for people to help themselves, and, at the end, to ask for a doggy bag - to avoid wasting all that good food.

Such a good opportunity for drumming up custom for their various services.

Jane had been talking to her neighbours and then came over to me.
'I think there's a problem but my French isn't good enough to understand. I think they want more forks, to pick things from their plates...but that doesn't seem right.'
I hoisted myself up, put my shoes back on and wandered over.
Everyone had an elegant sufficiency of cutlery, so I said that Jane hadn't understood what they were asking her.
'Oh...we wanted to know who the pique-assiettes were, that's all.'
I told them and returned to Jane.

'They're fine for forks and plates....they were asking about the Incubus....the scrounger.....the pique-assiette.'


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Friday, 11 June 2010

A game of tag

Karl Anton Hickel's painting of William Pitt t...Image via Wikipedia
Pueblo girl has tagged me. Because I've been quiet lately. That'll learn me.

I don't think I've done tags before, so I shall have a go.

I have to answer ten questions put by Pueblo girl, then think up ten more and finger five other people...I think.
This must be a blogging exercise as opposed to blogging...I think.
It is going to be messy...I know,  as I generally spend more time wondering what questions are really asking than actually answering them.

Pueblo girl's questions.

What music/tribe defined you as a teenager?
I was a bit lost here.....I liked classical music and Handel was a favourite as was Purcell, but I also attended a Rolling Stones do at the Epsom Baths hall - as most of us did simply because our headmistress strictly forbade us to frequent such a depraved occasion, so it had to be good.
It was, I've been a fan ever since.

Urban or rural?
Um...when? Always lived in the country, worked for years in town, ideally would love to be able to live in St. John's Wood, a real rus in urbe, but could not afford to, not being a kept woman.

How old do you feel inside? And how different is this to your real age?
I feel thirty. I have felt thirty since I was a teenager and nothing has changed since.
Damned different!

Worst relative story, please?
Um...worst relative or worst story about relative? I can do nit picking for hours...
What about visits to my aunt when young?
She and her husband used to share one hard boiled egg for breakfast. When I visited, the egg was cut into thirds. Luckily lengthways.

What are you reading at the moment?
'Fred' by John Arlott. Again.

Who/what pushed/inspired you to start blogging?
Writing to friends about why I didn't sing from the same songsheet as the 'living the dream' magazines it struck me that a blog was easier than endless round robins.

Are you a learner or a teacher?
A learner...a serial learner. I have taught - briefly and adults - in my time, and I enjoyed it but there is a distinct dearth of people who have the faintest interest in what I am capable of teaching.

What it your pet hate?
Cruelty. In any form. Big or small.

Your word is law. What is your first decree?
Children are to be properly educated. Taught to read, write and do maths. Properly. No PC indoctrination, but the analytical tools which will fit them for their life enable them to form a question and evaluate the answer.
Don't know where I'm going to get the teachers, though...

Swanky bars, or sawdust on the floor affairs?
I don't think a swanky bar would let me in.
Not too sure about the sawdust on the floor ones, either.

Now I have to think of ten questions.

Resisting the temptation to ask 'When did you last see your father?' or whether you think you could better the last words of Pitt the Younger ''I think I could eat one of Bellamy's veal pies', here goes.

1.  What will you be doing while the football world cup is on?

2.  What picks you up when you're down?

3.  Indian or China...we're talking tea here, not economics...

4.  What do you value most about blogging?

5.  What can't you bring yourself to throw out of your wardrobe?

6.   Would you rather someone didn't ask your views on controversial issues?

7.   Do you recommend people..and then wish you hadn't?

8.   Do you own up to reading light novels, or hide them under the cushions if visitors arrive?

9.  Content with your own company or gregarious?

10. One thing which would noticeably improve your life.


I now have to pass this on to five happy campers...none of whom need do the least thing about it.

Ayak at Turkish Delight now that she has run out of weeds....

Home is where the Marmite is  for when playing with the crutches palls a little...

Jo at France for Better for worse to give more ammunition for prevarication...

Crumpet at Survive France for the five o'clock in the afternoon slot....

PigletinFrance to stop her seeking out her husband's grandmother....

And that is that.

There are several other bloggers I would wished to have tagged but they have either been tagged recently or are very busy.
If anyone else feels like joining in, they are very welcome.

I won't be quiet for so long ever again. I have been taught a lesson.
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