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.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Stopping the Music

All over France the summer air is full of the clash of steel as towns and villages relive their past glories.....whether it's the dashing rapier thrusts of the duelling musketeers at Richelieu or the plate armour and broadswords at Chinon.

These are usually efforts put together by local people....but the big effects at the major festivals can be 'bought in'....jugglers, clowns, fire eaters and the inevitable people on stilts who excite the dogs.

These people...together with singers, dancers, actors, cameramen, soundmen and all the raff and scaff of the arts world usually work under the employment regime of 'intermittents de spectacle'...a special provision for people whose professions are notoriously unstable.

But a cold wind has been blowing in their direction.....the Cour des Comptes - a sort of national audit office - has noted that there is a whopping deficit in the scheme...and a great amount of fraud by both employers and employed.

Perhaps the police should take the threat to the wellbeing of the cultural classes into account when making their enquiries into the robbery at the medieval fair at Bitche in the Moselle.
A large scale event, all had gone well and on the last night the organisers were counting the proceeds.
Unfortunately they had not entered sufficiently into the spirit of things to surround their tent with men with chain mail and halbards so were taken aback by the arrival of several men in medieval costume armed with axes who demanded - and got - the takings of some 20,000 Euros.
Call for Brother Cadfael and track down the mountebanks!

We already have robber barons on the international scale, imposing tolls on every aspect of daily life, just like the medieval barons in their castles controlling the mountain passes....not surprising, then, that we have the descendants of the roving bands of mercenaries left high and dry by the dearth of employment in their speciality as the systems which supported them crumble.

But should the system which protects those who work in what might generally be described as the culture industry be also thrown on the scrapheap?
France is renowned for its support of cultural activities....classifies them, in fact, as cultural, not industrial - l'exception francaise - and subsidises them to a massive degree.

The Cour des Comptes has never attacked the notion of subsidising cultural activities, but it has frequently criticised the special regime for the 'intermittents'.

It claims that employers - including major television chains - deliberately exploit the system.
Rather than take on permanent staff officially, with a contract for a determined period (CDD) or a contract for an indeterminate period (that rare bird the CDI), they will take them on as 'intermittents'.
They pay them for twenty days, lay them off for ten, and then take them on again. The worker in the 'intermittent' system is then paid the ten days at full rate by the state.

But what of actors, dancers, for example, whose chances of regular employment of this sort are very poor?
They don't have to worry too much.
As long as they work for 507 hours in a ten month period  - some 14.5 weeksout  of 40  at 35 hours to the week  - they will qualify for full benefits to be paid for 8 months.
A much better deal than that offered to interim office and construction workers.
No wonder they don't mind not being paid for rehearsals by the theatre company....the state picks up the tab.

As it does at one remove in the festivals, events and programmes put on by local government during the year...everything from the Cannes Film Festival to the twice a year Market under the Stars in your local town, via music and art festivals and the theatre.

Local authorities employ people specifically to arrange these has all become a widespread industry.
A culture industry.

Now, while I know that the term 'men in tights' has been used to describe the staff of the Serjeant at Arms of the House of Commons,

I feel that I have a distinct preference for those men in tights as opposed to this sort of thing....

On display at a festival recently held in a village near where I used to live.
As Rolande remarked gloomily,

You can't go to anything now without half naked men swinging through the air and spoiling the fun.

She went through the various local festivals, noting that where once entertainment was provided by  the local musicians, towed round the commune  in a trailer behind a tractor, becoming more and more tuneless as they tucked in to the tables of wine and food set out by each hamlet, now some group or other has to be paid to provide entertainment....if, as she said you can call it that.

She strongly objects to some stranger clad in tawdry tinsel springing out out at her at an amateur painting festival and trying to get her to participate in some story telling exploit.
She says she is the one who feels exploited by the smirking smartypants artist.....the poor benighted soul who has to be helped to 'open up', to 'develop her potential'.

It's a good job they don't try it on Papy. 
He may be now well over his biblical years but any tinsel clad female performance artist lighting on him stands a fair chance of discovering a more literal sense of opening  up and development of potential, while the male variety is pretty well guaranteed a swift  swipe at his tawdries with Papy's stick.

Rolande, Papy their friends, me....we're all unreconstructed.
We like, and liked, things being done by friends and neighbours.....the dance being the folklore group set up in the area...the music being the local band and choir...the entertainment provided by the local maires and councillors after a well oiled communal lunch attempting the sack race...the local children parading with their chinese lanterns......people we knew, enjoying themselves with us.

What we don't like is some pretentious rubbish being foisted on us in the name of culture...and having to pay for it!

We deeply resent having theatre performances which are allegories of politically correct thinking about immigration.
We know about immigration.
Some of us are immigrants, some of our grandfathers were immigrants.
 Italian and now British names litter the telephone book along with Vietnamese and African.

We do not need a feminist statement of flamenco.

And if we need three men wearing papier mache donkeys' heads serenading us with guitars then we can train the councillors ourselves.

We have thriving cultural without subsidy.
We have top class speakers in their field willing to come to us for minimal expenses.
We can organise a coach to the big town for a concert or the theatre.
We can even find our way to Paris.

So any attempt at reform of a structure which inflicts an industry of the second rate upon us at public expense will be welcome.

Except it won't happen.

Like the barons of banking, the mountebank industry is seen as too big to dismantle....and the lovvies vote Hollande.

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Sunday, 29 July 2012

French villages. The Beautiful and the Banal.

The French television chain, France 2, has had a competition to choose France's favourite village from 22 preselected to represent the various regions of the Hexagon.....and the votes went in favour of Saint-Cirq Lapopie, in the Lot in south west France.

It seems that the mostly French voters had the same idea of what constitutes a favourite village as the foreign tourist....there have to be narrow streets, preferably cobbled, geraniums must be launched from every window and the place has to be gussied up to within an inch of its life while a chateau doesn't go amiss either....

So I suppose it was the possession of a well known chateau which tipped the balance for the Pays de la Loire candidate in favour of Montsoreau, alongside the Loire, though it has a dearth of geraniums, few cobbles and a main road running through it.
As for the own theory is that the monthly brocante market on the riverside is held to hide the true ghastliness of the place.
Visitors always want to go there...but not twice.
One encounter with a trader intent on selling you a so called Quimper chamber pot with an eye in the bottom at a price that has your own eyes watering is enough for even the most hardened tourist.

My vote would have gone to one of Montsoreau's neighbours - Turquant - even if its chateau isn't associated with the novels of Dumas.
It has two places where I used to buy wine, for a start - and wine had to be good to get me to travel miles to get it - though while this personal note would weigh nothing in the scales the vignerons' places of business certainly would.
The man who made one of the best dry white wines in the region had his cave in, literally, a cave.

You can see it above, last on the right, alongside the house. The cliffs overlooking the Loire have been hollowed out both for building stone and deliberately to create dwellings since far back in time and some of the caves contain decidedly sophisticated houses.
When I was first in France, no one wanted to live in them any more....they preferred a nice new breezeblock bungalow  in a they were going for a song.
By the time I left they had become trendy des res for Parisians and arty types with the dosh to pay the astronomical prices demanded.
My vigneron had lived through it all and just used his cave for storing his wine....the walls were black with the mould deemed indicative of a healthy balance of temperature and humidity and the wine was superb.
The other vigneron produced red wine and lived in the village. The houses on either side of the quiet road that leads up from the river to the vineyards above are built of the local stone and glow softly gold in the afternoon sunshine, wallflowers blooming red and yellow in the cracks in the blocks and the breaks in the crepi. There are even geraniums in summer...though only in window boxes.

And to my mind the chateau has a lot more going for it than the one at Montsoreau. That one has only the Dumas connection now that the museum of the Moroccan troops has moved out, while the chateau at Turquant housed Ben Bella, freedom fighter and the first president of independent Algeria in the six years of his captivity in France after he was kidnapped by French colonial forces.

So why do the French televison voters go for Saint-Cirq Lapopie?
Because it as different as possible from their high rise flat in town...and  from the village of their grandparents in La France Profonde.

For example...St.Ragondin.

The most banal village in France.

A square where there is a market once a month.
One veg stall.

Where the hairdresser has closed down for lack of custom.

The chemist could find no one to take on the business.

The dentist likewise.

And don't even think about putting out the umbrellas on the pavement outside the caff   'le Pot de Vin'...the local English would nick them.

So, enjoy the most beautiful villages in France...but don't believe that that they are alive.

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ll known

Wednesday, 25 July 2012


In the days when I was a commuter I used frequently to get back later than anticipated and rather than wait for a bus and then change for another, I used to walk across town to get home, thinking shanks' pony a better alternative.

It was a pleasant walk for the most part...a little window shopping to be had in the centre, tree lined streets leading to another parade of shops with a late opening wine store and deli and then the trek past or through the park, depending on the season and the presence or absence of the local idiot fringe, to find the dogs waiting to mug me as I opened the front door.

But the first part of the walk was different....just outside the station there was a series of fast food shops...some local, some franchises.... from fish and chips (run by a Chinese family) past Kentucky Fried Chicken, a kebab house, a burger bar and the one which never failed to amuse me....Spudulike.

I used to wonder if indeed I would like their spuds and usually concluded that, as the title implied I would, from sheer perversity I probably wouldn't.

And Spudulike came back to mind today.

I thought I would do a little housekeeping on the blog and start by tidying away the blogs that have ceased to appear.
Inevitably, I started reading them - it's fatal to let me near reading material if there is anything else to be done - and found myself wondering about their disappearance.
Some announced their departure, others slid quietly away, but I miss them all.

So they're still there waiting for another housekeeping day!

Then I thought I'd go through the blogs I follow generally, whether on the Google thingy or on e mail as the Wordpress blogs seem to be....and I found a few that, on reflection, I decided to drop from my list as I wouldn't be missing them.

The difference between 'missed' and 'not missed'?

I think it comes down to a sense of contact between the blogger and the reader.

Not just common interests, because thanks to blogging I've had all sorts of horizons opened up by people who do what they do with passion, who make me see things differently, or for the first time.

I think it is the sense of privilege that someone is letting you into their world, enhancing your own.

The blogs that I am going to jettison are frequently very informative and well written, but the common factor is their distance - as I see it - from the reader.
It is not just a matter of replying to comments or not, though to me that is important if only as a matter of courtesy, it is more my feeling that the blog is complete of itself....needs no dialogue, wants no dialogue....hears no tolling bells.

I don't often, but should, look for new blogs, as there is so much talent and warmth in the blogging world, but don't really know how to go about it.

I have started messing about on  Wordpress (thank you Perpetua!) in an amateur sort of way and have been startled by the acknowledgements aimed at getting an increased readership by a sort of scattergun technique....not one I'll be using!

There are various 'catalogue' sites too...but I have problems there, all of my own making.
I cannot get to grips with the ways in which they use categories. I am category autistic.
None of them fits my style of blogging - as far as I know - and the categories I try don't throw up what I am looking for.

So if anyone knows of a sort of Blogulike site....I'd be glad to hear of it.
I have housework that needs to be avoided....

Thursday, 19 July 2012

New brooms for old

While George Herbert might proclaim that drudgery may be divine if undertaken in the right spirit more worldly souls might  consider that cleaning ranks well down the scale of paid activity.
Not demanding, therefore not commanding a high salary.

How anyone can come to that conclusion faced with the differing care required by items of modern furnishing is beyond need good glasses, a science qualification and the patience of a saint not to speak of a cupboard in which to lock the cleaning stuff away from any curious child.

In earlier times all the child had to do was distinguish between lemonade and bleach when investigating unlabelled its mind would be boggled given the choice on offer.

However, one element of local government in France has recognised the value of cleaning and is aware of the burden of responsibility laid on the shoulders of its office cleaners.
After all, one determined assault on the computer keyboard with  a duster and away go the online catalogues from which the President of the Conseil General ( a sort of County Council) is attempting to choose his holiday....
Which will be taken in the company of his charming Director of Communications and will later  feature in the budget as a fact finding mission enquiring into models of local democracy in some warm and sunny French overseas possession.

Serious stuff, so the cleaner must keep her mind on her work.
No outside distractions.
No second job to make ends meet as she is paid only the  SMIC ( the minimum wage) at 9.4 Euros per hour.

So you may imagine the outrage when it was discovered that a local government cleaner had been giving a hand in her son's bakery shop.
She'd given him a hand one August.....though it could not be proved whether this was for the whole or only a part of the month...and she had regularly given him a hand on Sunday mornings....which could be proved.

The council gave her an unpaid period of suspension.
The cleaner asked them to think again.
The council refused.

It ended in the administrative court where the council was told that its refusal to reconsider was not valid because the appropriate beaurocrat did not sign where he should have signed....and the cleaner was told to pay the council 800 Euros.

So, point made.
You can't do two jobs if you are a council cleaner.

Surprisingly enough, though, the President of the Conseil General has three jobs.

He is Maire of his commune.
As his commune numbers less than 500 inhabitants he gets paid 646 Euros a month.

Should his commmune register 501 inhabitants he could trouser 1178 Euros a month which exlains the anxiety of maires of small communes to employ their relatives to take the census and the eagerness of said relatives to include any living person found in the limits of the commune on the day.
Suddenly, the foreigners are welcome.....Oncle Tom Cobbley inclus.

The payment rises with the number of inhabitants...the sum going up to a top whack of 5,512 Euros with, of course, this being France, the chance to round up this sum still further by being maire of a departmental  or cantonal capital (from 15% to 25 %)....not to speak of being in a tourist zone when a whopping 25 % can be added.

Oh, and there's the small addition of the expenses account given him by the commune....

He is, of course, also President of the Conseil General, for which he pockets 5,512 Euros per month and, as he lives outside the departmental capital, can claim free appropriate accommodation.

And, cherry on the cake, he is a Senator, drawing 7,100 Euros a month, plus an expenses allowance of  6,240 Euros and a  sum to enable him to employ staff of 7,548 Euros....which will meet even his wife's level of maintenance of her nails while typing his letters.
Not to forget the unlimited first class rail travel and forty flights to his constituency.
Oh, and the appartment in the heart of Paris.

Added to which he gets a pension package that would make your eyes water.
Especially if you are the taxpayer coughing up for it all.

But clearly, you are saying, he can't pull in some money like that plus expenses and's indecent.

Well he used to be able to, but no more.
His income from these posts has been capped at  8,272 Euros per month...except not all the income counts towards the cap....certainly not the expenses account and the staff money.

However, you rejoice, at least the state claws back the rest.

No it doesn't.

When capping first came in in 1992 the Senator (or  Deputy) could give the surplus to whomsoever he liked.....and did.
Like the proprietors of property they wished to buy.

Later, it was provided that the Senator could only hand over the surplus to another elected representative.....helping the poor devil to a better place at the trough.

One of Hollande's election promises was that in future elected representatives would not be permitted to fill more than one post.....just like the cleaner.
Now in power, he doesn't seem so keen to enforce it on his troops.

It might hurt their feelings...or their wallets.

It might make them feel that they are being treated like cleaners.....the people whose aspirations they claim to represent.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Rights for all

Commemorative engraving of the bicentenary of ...
The fourteenth of July has passed...President Hollande managed his first public engagement without being soaked...fireworks displays have been enjoyed (sunny south) or cancelled (soggy north).
The roads are crowded as  yet more people set off on holiday, escaping the latter for the former.
Summer in France.

While the British commonly think of the fourteenth as Bastille Day, it is in fact the Fete Nationale, commemorating the Fete de la Federation of the fourteenth of July 1790 - one year after the storming of the Bastille -  when  Louis XVI and his people swore to uphold the constitution (not yet written) and that great survivor Mgr. de Talleyrand, Bishop of Autun and shit in a silk stocking, celebrated mass at the altar erected on the  Champ de Mars.

The spirit of co operation did not last long, going down in the bloody confusion of the Terror, but something survived from the wreckage, even if submerged in French law until 1958, at which time the principles enunciated in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, passed in the National Constituent Assembly in August 1789, were declared to have constitutional value.

Not before time, in a world which, after the defeat of Hitler and his system, recognised that the legal and customary rights of individual states vis a vis each other needed reinforcement by a system of individual human rights vis a vis their states if the ideals of liberty as expressed in the eighteenth century French and American declarations were to have any validity.
Thus the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1949 and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ( now the European Convention on Human Rights) which came into force  in 1953, offering individuals suffering injustice recourse against breach of its provisions by national governments.

Children were given specific protection by the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, the latter insisting on the primacy of action in the best interests of the child, who is to be secure in his or her right to be brought up by their parents in a family or cultural grouping.

Which is, in the context of national law, where the solids have hit the fan in Germany recently.
The German constitution protects the rights of families and religious freedom, just as it protects the right to physical inviolability...all in the spirit of  post war humanitarian law and particuarly cherished given the history of the Hitler years.

So when an operation to circumcise a little Turkish boy went wrong, the prosecutor brought the doctor to court for doing harm to the child.
The court aquitted him.
The prosecutor appealed and the regional court in Koln decided that although the doctor was innocent as the state of the law was unclear they intended to give the state of the law as they saw it, which was that the right of the child not to suffer an operation which would have lasting consequences over rode the rights to freedom of religious practice.The parents could not give a legitimate consent and, in future, any doctor carrying out circumcisions based on any but strict medical grounds would be carrying out an unlawful act.
Thr child must be allowed to decide for himself whether he wanted this mark of religious fellowship on reaching the age of religious fourteen.

Predictably, both Muslim and Jewish community leaders have risen in their wrath.
This ruling, they argue, affects their right to enjoy freedom of religion and German politicians have been quick to reassure them that their right to circumcise their male children at whatever age they see fit to do so will be respected.

But should it be respected?

What of the right of the child to have his physical inviolability respected?

The whole tenor of humanitarian law has been to protect the vulnerable, but it has been couched in terms of protection against the state, seen as the only coercive force.

Yet with the rise of counter powers inside countries...ethnic, social or religious groupings....the rights of the vulnerable individual may need further means of protection.

The African Union's Charter on the Rights and  Welfare of the Child, of 1999, might offer assistance in its emphasis on measures to protect the child from social and cultural practices which affect the welfare, dignity, normal growth and development of the child.

The world has come a long way since 1789 in its recognition of individual dignity and the means to support same - though its practice is abominably wide of its stated aims - but a child needs special protection.

It is an indicator of how uncivilised our society is becoming that this question of a conflict of values ands rights will not be discussed, but dismissed in a cloud of prejudice.

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Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Yes, it's water, Captain Haddock...lots of it at les Tonnerres de Brest 2012

Captain Haddock, inspiration of all those who aspire to swear yet not blaspheme, can rest easy....there'll be rum aplenty - and wine and beer and even water - on the quays for the maritime festival 'les Tonnerres de Brest' beginning on July 13 and lasting through to the morning of the 19th when the assembled fleet weighs anchor to sail round to Douarnenez.

You enjoyed the Diamond Jubilee river pageant? Or you would have done if the BBC had not chosen to show us half witted 'celebrities' instead?
Then if you are anywhere within range of Brest, get yourself down to the waterside and enjoy the sight and sound of traditional boats from all over the world, from canoes to tall ships, showing you the sunny side of the great days of sail.

Should you be of Scottish extraction, you could download the sailing programme and position yourself on the shore to watch the fleets tacking across the Rade de Brest...but as a day ticket only costs fifteen euros, even a Scot might make an exception and pay up.
The quays will be humming with music, there will be food from most of the countries whose boats are present, fireworks at night.....and good public transport to get you there and back until the small hours of the morning.

Why am I so enthusiastic?
Because I went to the first maritime festival at Brest in 1992.....the first time the port admiral had allowed the public access to the naval base on the Penfeld River  for a celebration of French maritime history...and it was a blast from start to finish.
Twenty years later, this will be the first one I will have missed.

Britain has always had enthusiasts and bloody minded traditionalists who did their best to preserve traditional boats, but France had not been so lucky....the emphasis on modernisation had meant that if you wanted to see a traditional boat, your best bet was to go to a muddy inlet where the hulks would be laid up to rot..

Then in 1989 the team on the magazine 'Chasse- Maree' - named for the three masted luggers that took fish from boats at sea and raced to ports all down the Atlantic coast to get the best prices for the catch - started an initiative.

Bateaux des Cotes de France.

The idea was to encourage communities to restore or even build from scratch the boats typical of their area - and was later extended to classic sailing yachts and steam boats.
The objective was to have these boats present at a sailing festival in 1992.
A tough call.

But answered.
Here's Le Grand Lejon from St. Brieuc....newly constructed...

La Granvillaise from the bay of Mont St. again...

The pilot cutter Marie-Fernande from Le Havre...constructed from scratch...

And a favourite of mine, the oyster sloop Laissez-les-Dire from the Bay of Aiguillon...restored from her poor state as part of the challenge...

So many boats brought back to life or many communities renewing links with their past...and the gathering at Brest in 1992 was the triumph of the initiative, with the launching of Brest's own Recouvrance.
The festival has been held every four years since...getting bigger, attracting entries from all over the world and inevitably, becoming more organised and more commercial.

This year there will as always be the big draw...the tall ships....
The Cuauhtemoc from Mexico

And the Sedov, veteran of the Cape Horn Nitrate trade with Chili....

Among many others...and they're not just moored up to the quay...they will deploy their clouds of sail day after day in the approaches to Brest, an unforgettable sight.

There are replicas of historic ships....the Recouvrance herself, now doted with mast and sails...

And the eighteenth century privateer from St. Malo, the Etoile du Roy.....
Not to speak of the working boats, shown above....and so many more.
Classic yachts, Bantry Bay yawls - themselves heirs to the French revolutionary navy's attempt to land troops in Ireland - pirogues, name it, you'll see it.

But despite the way the festival has grown in twenty years the spirit of that challenge by Chasse-Maree remains...people proud to rediscover their maritime - and fluvial - heritage...and determined to enjoy the fun.
I shall be very surpised if there is not a gabare or two from the Loire, broaching their casks of Chinon wine under the flare of the fireworks while a skipper from the Old Gaffers attempts to persuade himself that
'Once aboard the lugger and the girl is mine...'

Les tonnerres de Brest draws its name from the cannon fire which would warn of the approach of the British fleet.....this year it will signal a welcome to all the maritime world.

Here's the official video presentation...and if you can't go this year, start booking your holiday in Brittany for 2016.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Prix Choc

prix choc!prix choc! (Photo credit: baklavabaklava)
The wonderfully named Direction Generale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Repression des Fraudes (DGCCRF) has come out with a new report.

Not the one warning clubs organising bingo nights that only club members can play unless the club's officers want to be hauled before the beak and sentenced to vast sums in that they did (probably with malice aforethought) act like the licensed gambling dens run by the Corsican mafia and let in all and sundry.
So bad luck, your bingo loving granny will be turned from the door if she lives in the next village...

Nor the one warning you of what will happen to you if you are unpatriotic enough to take your holidays outside the will be burnt to a frazzle by the international plug adaptor you have bought to enable you to recharge your camera batteries abroad......

No, this is the one which checked the prices on the shelf against the prices at the checkout in a representative sample of supermarkets.....and discovered that progress has been made since their last 2008.

How they managed to sneak that one past a government of the friends of Eddy Leclerc I'll never know, but it showed that there were anomalies in 52% of the stores against 54% this time.
Round one to the Eddy Leclercs.
However, while in 2008 7.5% of the items tested were erroneous, in 2012 only 7% made the target
Round two to the consumer organisations and bloody minded customers.

Still, the Eddy Leclercs win on points as the 2012 report shows that six out of ten errors were in favour of the supermarkets...who claim that this is down to human error.
Yes indeed, in the sense of  being less than ten out of ten.....four opportunities missed!

And what do the DGCCRF suggest?

That we keep a watchful eye on the till slip.

Thank you gentlemen.

When I was holidaying in France in the dark ages there weren't really that many supermarkets...though there were lots of mini markets....but by the time I had moved there things had changed and I have to admit to doing most of my shopping there.

I had the choice of two, equidistant from my house but in opposite directions.

One was fine, nice staff at the checkouts, helpful people on the food counters where meat was cut and served - no plastic wrapped packages then - fish scaled and cleaned and cheese kept at proper temperatures.
A sort of half way house between specialist shops and the hypermarket.
If I needed cheese to be ripe for the weekend, the cheese lady's thumb was better than an ex cathedra statement by the Pope.
The shelves were a bit of a muddle, but once I was used to it I could find the rice blindfold.

The other was distinctly different.
Apart from the patent hostility towards foreigners you needed your wits about you and your glasses at the ready.

It had several ways of inciting you to buy.

Prix Choc!
Where the only shock involved was yours as after sharp work with the remains of the mental arithmetic dinned into you at primary school you'd realised that buying the offer would cost you more than buying its component parts separately or in smaller quantities.

Offre Speciale!
So special that you wondered how desperate you would have to be to buy it.

And their favourite...
This meant that whatever it was it would never reappear on their shelves nomatter how much customer demand there might be.
They'd dropped onto something going cheap and that was you see it now you don't.

These notices would appear on shelves all over the supermarket and even after doing your mental arithmetic you still had to be cautious.

The price announced on the Prix Choc notice would be for a specific item.....which would as likely as not be found further down the shelf, so the pack of three tins of tuna pieces you thought you had bought would turn out to be tuna lumps infused with truffle juice - nothing less would have justified the price shown when you reached the till.

You would see temptingly large lumps of cheese on Offre Speciale.....but the price quoted  was for 100 grammes rather than the kilo.....a small detail left off the notice no doubt by human error.

And if something had slipped past your vigilance the hell up at the check out was beyond belief.

You were a foreigner, you didn't understand the monetary system......

No, there wasn't a different price on the shelf.......

No, there were no staff to go and check...and if there were you went with them just in case...

Can't you just leave it?
Yes, and the rest of the shopping too.
Which I did more than once to the audible disgust of checkout lady and the vast queue which had assembled during the preceding altercation
All right for me, I had only myself to please...but not so easy for a mum with kids trying to get the  ice cream home before it melted away.

So why did I go there?
Because it was in the town with all the tax and administrative offices I needed to visit and I was watching the petrol gauge even then.

But it can go the other way too....

Years later, when supermarkets had become hypermarkets, I used to visit one in another town, handily near the Bricodepot where I fought it out with French plumbing parts on an all too frequent basis.

The DIY store had very early opening hours to cater for all the artisans francais who were busy buying their supplies with the view to passing them off on their clients as coming from their professional suppliers at ten times the price.
They also supplied a brilliant buffet breakfast....good bread, croissants actually made with butter, ham, pate and super coffee.....
Have to keep the artisan francais happy.

Accordingly, I would go early, make my purchase, have breakfast and still be at the hypermarket just as it opened, heading for the chicken bread.

This was the morning after the day before bread....bread with an expired sell by date...ideal for the chickens and ducks.
There were huge sacks of the stuff for a ridiculous price.

I was not alone.
There were regulars, mostly active looking pensioners and after a bit I progressed from being included in the general 'M'sieur, Dame..' greeting to being given a regular place on the grid.
A great advantage, for as the chain across the entrance came down there was a dash worthy of Formula 1 racing down the main aisle to the bakery - and woe betide the employee rash enough not to dive for cover at their approach. They stopped for nothing.
They would arrive at the side of the bakery shelves and two young men would hand out the sacks, putting them into the trolleys, whose conductors would then shoot off down to the meat counter to see what bargains might be on offer there.
I would gather my two sacks of baguettes, buy one fresh loaf and a tartane - large and faintly brown - which kept fresh for days, then follow the horde to the meat counter.

One day the young men beamed at me and hoisted into my trolley one of the expected sacks of baguettes and one of tartane, fouasse and pain aux raisins - a sort of Chelsea bun without the icing.
Every one spanking fresh and marked with the day before's date.

You're a regular now.

I became a regular at the meat counter too, now that I realised what the game was.
Chickens, pork chops, even joints marked down by half as being 'last day'.....and best of all, the day I came across another quirk of the establishment.

Hunting on the pre packed counter for pigs' tails for soup I came across a pack of enticing looking lamb chops.
Five of cater for the tax efficient French family of parents and three children.
Marked at 0.01 Euro.

I wonder who they were intended for....

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