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, 28 September 2011

The Poisoner's Wife and the Sands of Time

Alternative version of image:Wooden hourglass ...Image via Wikipedia
It was in April of this year that I heard of the death of The Poisoner.

His house had been destroyed by fire in the previous summer, and he, at 91, could not survive outside his own environment.
The little bungalow in the retirement colony in the village centre, surrounded by other people, with no garden except a strip under his him it resembled a circle of the Inferno.
He, to whom control was everything, was no longer in control of his life.
He gave up.

His widow is still living there, in one of those bungalows.
Six months after his death and more than twelve after the fire.
She wants to return home.
She goes up every day to tend the garden, but she has nowhere to bottle her fruit, nowhere to store her potatoes......Alain and his wife next door do their best to help, but she is fighting a losing battle to get back to her old life, her old routines, the things she knows and which give her value in her own eyes.

Why is she still in her bungalow?

Well, as you might guess, the insurance claim took a long time to settle, despite the clear reports of the fire brigade and gendarmerie.
The cause of the fire was undisputed....she had left the gas on in the back kitchen when summoned by her husband to carry out some task or other...there had been an explosion, and the fire had taken hold.
The amount the insurance company would pay out was, on the other hand, greatly in dispute.

Until the insurance claim was settled, nothing could be done.
The tarpaulins covering the roof flapped dismally all through the winter and were still flapping when The Poisoner died.

The insurance finally settled, her son called on local builders for estimates.
They were all up to their ears in work despite the economic downturn....a phenomenon which I observed over the years of my residence in France.
When times were good, they were twiddling their thumbs looking for clients....once things turned down, they were worked off their feet.
I could only think that the French consumer of building projects has the same reaction time as the French motorist whom you see in the distance as you are driving on the main road, hovering at the exit of a country lane.
He has seen you coming....he has plenty of time to pull out......but by the time his reactions permit him to act  you are upon him in a conflagration of brake pads.

So when times are good, the French client thinks about his project....and eventually engages his builder, who thus starts work when the downturn begins, and as always, takes on far more work than he can perform, given the exigences of French employment and social security provisions.

But in this case another complication has arisen.....the chosen builder's faithful foreman has retired....and he can't find a replacement.
This has dragged out the process yet further and with no solution in sight the Poisoner's widow looks like spending another winter in her 'temporary' accommodation.

Get another builder?

No chance, they are all up to their eyes in wood and plaster, and, moreover.....

When she agreed the estimate there was no provision for timescale in the contract.

She's stuck.
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Friday, 23 September 2011

Hard choices...

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26:  In this photo ...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
Ah, Maurice!

Clement. Comment ca va?

What a week! It makes you wonder why you bother...
Yes, a glass would be nice....Albert's white turned out well last year...
That's better...

Well, make the most of it.
He's discovered esca in his vines....going to have to grub up a lot of them.

What!  Him  too?
Mark my words, this is going to be worse than phylloxera!
And now they won't let you buy the stuff to treat it it will run wild!

Old Benoit reckons it's all down to using Roundup. He reckons you never saw it before.

Well, he's still using his old horse to plough between the rows.....these young guys won't have that...they want it easy, sitting in their tractors spraying stuff...
The only place...apart from'll see a vineyard plough these days is in a museum!

I remember the Dad.....out in the autumn ploughing to cover the vine roots for the winter....out in the spring, uncovering them again....Benoit might have a point, the soil certainly got more aeration when you worked it rather than poisoning it.

Well, if you can't depend on getting a decent drop of wine in the future you wonder what the country has come don't fancy drinking town water with all that chlorine in it and before we know it they'll be recycling the sewage plants for drinking water.

Have to build them first, and by the way things are going there won't be much money about to do anything.
Look at Benitierville....the council took out one of these toxic loans and are up to their ears in debt.

Ho! Up go the local taxes again!

Oh, hello,Victor! Join us?

That' Albert's? Better make the most of it...

Yes, Maurice told me.
Miserable situation all round...and what have you got on the box to cheer you up?
Dominique Strauss Kahn having sex with a chambermaid!

Oh, did they film it then? I didn't know that!

No, Victor, they didn't film it...he was just talking about it.

Typical socialist....all mouth.....

That's enough about mouths, Victor. Anyway, he's innocent.

No he isn't, Maurice...they just didn't have enough proof to go for him...

Then he's innocent, isn't he? You're the expert, Clement, you work for the tell us.

Well, from what Maitre Plouc says, Strauss Kahn is innocent in France but not in America.

Well, he's in France so he's innocent. That's what I said.

It's a pity they didn't film it though...they film everything else!
Look at those speed traps they've set up all over the place...just another money machine, nothing to do with safety at all.
Just like the drink driving...and now they want you to buy a breathalyser to carry in your car to test yourself!  And who's got the contract for that, I'd like to know.
Pure magouille, all of it!
As if I need a breathalyser to know when I'm drunk!

It might have been helpful to you when you decided to race the gendarmerie in your tractor....

That was sheer bad luck! I was nearly home when the bastards crept up on me...

Everything comes down to money!
Even Maitre Plouc is feeling the pinch.

What, him? With all his property dealings? You have to be joking.

Oh, yes.
First it was when they forced notaires to use a central account for their client accounts.
No more nipping round to see Jean Paul at Credit Agricole when he wanted a bit of extra to do a deal.
But at least he got the interest.
Now, with all these English selling, he's got another problem.

Well, he gets his money, doesn't he? What's the problem?

Oh , he gets his fees all right, but they're buying and selling in sterling, between themselves, so he doesn't get his hands on any of the money....nothing in the client interest.

I bet that speeds up transactions....he kept my neice's money for four months...

But how do they get away with it? This is France! And aren't they worried the seller will run off with the money?

Not so worried as they are about Maitre Plouc sitting on it for months...
And you should hear them crowing about the euro!

They've got a nerve! I remember when England fell out of the Money Snake....that sent a pile of them home with their tails between their legs.....
And look at what happened when their pound dropped against the euro...another lot running for home....

Yes, well now they reckon they won't do any transactions in the euro and they don't trust French banks!

I suppose they've got a point, there. Who but an imbecile would buy up Greek debt? You can't trust a Greek.

Too right. Antoine's dad used to sell cattle there, back before Europe, if you see what I mean. Selling was one thing...getting paid was another.

Well, they've put us all in a right mess, and it leaves me with a big problem.

What's that, Clement?

Well, you know my mother in law....
She wasn't happy about going into the euro, didn't trust she kept her stash of francs and refused to change them.

In the mattress?

Where else? If it was good enough in the know the sort of thing...


Well, the Banque de France has just announced that the last date for changing them into euros is at the end of next month....
And she says that the way things are going the euro will be down the tubes by then.....
So she's hanging on to her francs.

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Thursday, 15 September 2011

There will be changes.....

Volcano EruptingImage by kahunapulej via Flickr
No...I'm not yet despairing enough to brave the horrors of Wordpress, but Blogger is getting me down.

I'm having trouble with my Costa Rica blog again....the people kind enough to follow it have no idea that the latest post exists as Blogger won't tell them.

I have checked settings until I am blue in the face and I am completely fed up with it all.

Unless anyone can come up with a solution -  forget Blogger, their idea of communication is to deliver self congratulatory posts on how clever they are - I am going to amalgamate the two blogs into this one and try my best to signal the content to avoid people interested in Costa Rica finding themselves in darkest France and people interested in darkest France being stunned by mention of public transport and high speed internet that works.

Oh...and one more thing.

I do get het up about things which don't necessarily fit into either French stuff or Costa Rican stuff and will thus put up a page from time to time, as the boiling point of blood approaches.

It's on the sidebar....under the archives...

Threads in the web.

Blogger is a wonderful idea...

It would be even better if those running it could help the IT autistics among us to cope with its little ways...

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Friday, 9 September 2011

A few wrinkles from the cosmetics counter....

01172009: Cough MixtureImage by jmcknight via Flickr
A little contretemps has occurred in the quiet world of Chiottes la a puppy crapping in a discreet corner and about as welcome when discovered.

In the well regulated Hexagon that is France, certain things are sacred...monopolies, for example.

You can't qualify as a notaire and set up where you like. This would give rise to the risk of competition to other established notaires.

I really can't see where the worry would be from the clients' viewpoint....the course of studies followed by notaires seems to include - apart from the vital art of turning pages on a document for the client to initial - an element best described as professional procrastination.
Professional as in being paid to procrastinate.

Clearly, established notaires might well object to another professional procrastinator turning up in the area...there's a risk to the annual purchase of the new car, after all....and, as in the Hexagon it is the view of the monopoly holders which counts - with only one exception - the client is thus deprived of choice.

Same thing with taxi and ambulance firms. Taxis Merdiques have got their area sewn up and will brook no competition.

But at Chiottes la Gare it is chemists' shops.

Chemists too have monopolies.
You go to the doctor for your corns, emerge with a prescription for enough stuff to start up a health service in a third world country and set off to the chemist to have it packed into the lorry you will need to carry it away.

'The' chemist...not 'a' chemist. The one with the monopoly for the area.

But this guaranteed custom was never enough for the chemist to lead la dolce vita.....there had to be lines of business other than prescription pills and potions to finance the winter ski break and the summer month in Reunion.

Waiting in Madame Goupil described the nature of the symptoms that had led her to consult the doctor, with sympathetic interjections by the chemist, his assistant and the other clients had the opportunity to appreciate the range of goods on offer....the 'parapharmacy' lines.

Any amount of help was available for that most French of ailments  'heavy legs' ....quite apart from shampoo, stuff for dandruff contracted by using same, herbal supplements, soap, and anti  ageing formulas whose price was guaranteed to put years on you just by looking at it.
The range could be vast.....and you had plenty of time to be tempted to buy as by now Madame Goupil would be into the genetic origins of her problems...vocally supported by those old enough to remember the indifferent health of her Aunt Leonie.

Chiottes la Gare has two supermarkets on the over the border in the next commune as the Chiottes council of the time didn't want it setting up in town as providing competition to established businesses.
Once they had discovered that even in the next commune it was quite capable of knocking out any and every business, they decided that they had better have one on their own territory to be able to cop it for local taxes.
Thus two supermarkets, one closer than the other to the town centre.

Chiottes la Gare has more than two, given the size of the place more have been authorised by the appropriate authorities.
It should have had one less, but the gentleman in question is the son of the man who at the time was maire of the town and senator for the department, so the protests by the existing monopoly holders went by the board.
This is the exception referred to above. String pulling by those who know where the bodies are buried.

One of the Chiottes chemists decided to close up the shop situated in the old town, stating 'economic reasons'.
These may be understood to be the enormous taxes imposed by the Chiottes council on businesses in the area over the years  together with the reluctance of even established customers to enter an area where scum from Paris snort coke and patrol the streets with their pitbulls when emerging in the late afternoon from the 'social housing' which is what the wonderful historic buildings of the centre have become.

Why not buy your corn plasters in the morning?
You might slip up on the dog turds.

So, the said chemist thought it a good idea to install the business alongside the nearer supermarket, which was  about to expand. Clients could do their shopping and pick up the pills at the same time.

But the said chemist did not think fit to discuss the idea with the supermarket franchisee...who had ideas of his own.

So the shop was built alongside the supermarket.....but could not be accessed from the supermarket car park....the franchisee alleging that this would involve danger to his customers as they would have to cross the road used by delivery lorries.
Let no one even think for one moment that he changed the proposed layout...

Parapharmacy lines were always a very profitable affair and now that minor cuts have been made to the list of snake oil cure alls previously available on the public health service, those profits are even more valuable than before, so you can imagine the reaction of the chemist to the news that part of the supermarket's expansion involved setting up a vast parapharmacy section.....
A bit more than 'Zut, alors!' I reckon...

The egg basket would have been looking a bit fragile....

The chemist defiantly states that only chemists can run parapharmacy goods....nothing to do with their monopoly, but down to the trust people have in their advice.
The chemist recalled that the other supermarket tried a parapharmacy section years ago and it only lasted a short this new one is also doomed.

Up to a point, Lord Copper.

Times have changed from the days when people really believed that they had better service and quality from individual shopkeepers - though ironically that may now be the situation - and like doing all their shopping in one place.
Given the current belt tightening all round, cheaper prices are appreciated as well.
I suspect that the supermarket parapharmacy section will do well.

I don't think the chemist has too much to worry about either.

The chemist for whom an exception was made has applied to set up a satellite business....alongside the same supermarket.
Having, one supposes, kept the franchisee in the picture.
Clearly he imagines that the extra trade from the supermarket clients will outweigh the effects of their parapharmacy.

However, times have changed.

His father has now retired from politics and is occupied in manoeuvres to avoid regurgitating some of his ill gotten gains......
Son and chemist, although on the Chiottes council, is in opposition and even if his party win next time round a career politician is slated to be maire....

Thus no one in the appropriate authority can see any reason for making another exception and have told him that such a subsidiary would be too far from his current shop to qualify as a satellite.

The chemists can get on with it....I gave up on them long ago....
Ever since they stopped selling Baume de Peru and the Elixir de l'Abbe Perdrigeon....
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Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Thursday, 1 September 2011

The new Highland Clearances - Rachman style.

Highland Clearances (detail)Image by gillfoto via FlickrHow would you like to live on a farm which your family has worked for 120 years, for which you pay your rent, in full and on time, on which you pay council tax.....and where your landlord has removed the electricity supply, your water is polluted with e coli, and the main house is classed as uninhabitable, because the landlord refuses to make repairs?

How would you like it that the landlord, having reduced the house to that state, can have it declared uninhabitable, with the result that you have to move out in 28 days to council accommodation...a B and B somewhere in town... with the news that should you resist, your children will be taken into care avoid them having to live in a house rated as uninhabitable?

Can you believe that this is happening in a first world country in the twenty first century?

Read Gentle Otter's blog about her life in rural Perthshire, then please write to the Alex Salmond at


 and let him know how shameful it is that Scotland's devolved government could once again be described as 'a parcel of rogues in a nation' in that it allows this to happen.

If you have any links with the media...please use them.

We don't want more families singing a modern equivalent of the Canadian boating song

    “From the lone sheiling of the Misty Isle,
Mountains divide us, and the waste of seas;
but, the blood is strong and the heart is Highland,
and we in dreams behold the Hebribes.
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