Railway

We have a railways policeman in the commune. Beyond the boundaries of the rail network, he has no more than the powers of the ordinary citizen and, unlike the gendarmes, he has to check in his gun when he leaves work. I would have thought it quite useful to have someone around with a pistol and trained in its responsible use in case of emergencies, but I was told it would be unnecessary. Quite apart from the chasseurs, many of whom have considerable arsenals, the countryside is awash with illegal weaponry from the last war, all kept well oiled. One chap was found to have had 27 guns, from Lugers to machine pistols, when he died.
We attended a meal in a neighbouring village to celebrate the arrival of summer. The belief that the French are moderate in the consumption of alcohol is belied on such occasions. After we devoured the spit-roasted lamb and when the atmosphere was well on the way to becoming raucous, my neighbour, a comparatively recent arrival in our commune, told me that he sculpted in clay as a pastime and pulled out his phone to show me. I thought this – Victor Hugo – was pretty good. One wonders how many others hide similar lights under bushels.

Risotto

Heaven be praised! That was the last election for three years. Sitting in the mairie in the heat waiting for our few voters to turn up is soul and body sapping. The commune ancients hang around for a bit of company and a gossip, but my French is not up to interpreting most of what they say. I doubt it ever will be. My job during the count was pulling the ballot slips out of the envelopes. I observed that LREM voters simply folded their votes in half. Those for the FN scrunched them three or four times. We had one empty envelope and one where the voter had gone to the trouble of sourcing and enclosing a blank slip. Rather than a couple of bottles of wine and calvados, we made do with a single bottle at lunchtime – prawns and a risotto – but we had a fridge to keep the drinks cool.
The kestrels have abandoned their nest. I think the female went AWOL, probably hit by a car. This was the third year in the nest hole that had produced 8 chicks. I hope one of them use it next season.
The village gardening group is all British and it’s going to be a struggle for it to keep any colour alive until Judgement Day on 3rd July. Chances of a good result were marred when the tractor mowing the verges ran across the most impressive bed. I don’t think I’ll be allowed to attend the very fat dinner that is put on for the contestants this time. I only squeezed in on a cancellation last year.

Biomat

We had a large octogenarian, red-headed Scots visitor for a few days. He found the best way to cope with the heat was to consume a couple of glasses of wine and doze peacefully in front of a fan. We did a few of the local sights. In one village the only other people foolish enough to be on the street at midday were a brace of pilgrims. My companion doffed his Panama hat at them with a flourish and said bonjour. ‘I bet that gave them a fright,’ he said comfortably.
A large tanker turned up to empty the septic tank, the first time such an event has occurred in the seven years I’ve been here. Normally a patch of grass on the lawn, nourished from the outflow, grows lush throughout the driest of periods but it went brown. The expert had to smash the concrete lid of one tank and told me everything was jammed solid and on the point of erupting and his visit was just in time. The outflow is blocked by a ‘biomat’ but by the time that the 3,000 tank fills up again and flows out, it should have dried up and disappeared, or so he said.
The dog continues to confound expectations by getting better. I let him out for a totter in the square. He bowffed a cat and came trotting back looking smug.

Crash

The dog is gently on the mend, still well short of being bouncy but does not seem to be in pain. He will visit the vet tomorrow when his drugs run out and we’ll see. I think it may be a case of anti-inflammatories for the rest of his days. He’s 10 and already outlived his predecessor of the same breed.
We were all day in the mairie yesterday for the election and had only 28 voters, a 40% turn out. The sitting MP who had the wit to become a Macronista won 13 votes and the FN no more than 4. The gendarmes came by for their usual coffee and the Communists turned up to ensure their candidate’s ballot slip was on offer. Alas, he did not attract a single vote and he was not the only one. Our regular lunch finished with a bottle of calvados, not a good idea, and one of our scrutineers spent the afternoon snoring in an armchair. The temp was 33 and it’s not forecast to fall much for the next couple of weeks. The French were moaning about it as much as the British would. This sort of weather can be expected in late July and August, but it’s considered pretty outrageous in June. The village flowers need to be kept alive for another three weeks until the judges turn up to mark them for the competition and there’s not even a likely storm to give a break from watering.
British politics has become a depressing pigs’ breakfast. Nations should be like oil tankers, ploughing steadily along with legislators making gentle adjustments under instruction from the electorate every so often to keep things on course but, as with the US, boorish political vandals can crash a nation and make it look ridiculous in the eyes of the world all too easily.

Blink

The fluffy dog is on the blink, suffering from partial paralysis in his back legs. The vet has given various medicaments, but says that if there’s no improvement in a week the only solution is a spinal operation that would take many weeks of recuperation. I don’t think that’s an option. To put him through that might worth it from my point of view but not from his. The downside of dogs is the heartache when they die. If he doesn’t perk up, he’ll enjoy a chicken and liver dinner and the vet will visit just as he’s cleaned up the last morsel. From bliss to oblivion in a few moments would be the kindest treatment and, who knows, I might even manage it for myself one day – without the liver.
I stopped counting workers in a melon field after I hit 30. And this is just managing of the plastic that covers them. New teams will be needed when harvest comes. All agriculture used to be like that. Gangs of jolly villagers would come to reap the corn or turn the hay. I even did it myself on holiday as a child. In the middle of the day would be cider, bread and cheese and a bit of canoodling in the hedgerow with a damsel. Nowadays farming is normally the most solitary of occupations with endless hours stuck in tractor going to and fro. But the melon gangs – all men – don’t look as if they have much fun. The number plates on their rusty cars come from every country in Eastern Europe, which cannot make conversation that easy.

Albatross

There’s a castle on the horizon, in iffy nick, that is the ancestral home of a lugubrious Parisian. His father bought it in the 1950s after a few centuries of some interloper’s ownership and the family have been doing it up ever since. He’s in residence at the moment as the flag is flying – red with either a gold dragon or a lion but it’s too far away to be certain and I forget to look when I’m any closer. I think I’ve eliminated albatrosses from my life and I do not covet his.
Triggered by the noise of the mower cutting the grass behind the mairie, the first cicada of the year sounded off yesterday. It’ s been silent since for which I am grateful. It’s a toss up between the grandson’s drill across the hedge and a cicada when it comes to destroying the peace of an afternoon.
I discovered that Macron has given his backing to our sitting Socialist in the forthcoming election. I really hope she walks it. Otherwise we face an extra day in the mairie for the second round. But the Front National blitzed the village with a leaflet last week when she was here, accusing her of nepotism. I was told this was a grave charge, but it seems as commonplace here as it is the US.

Hazard

Thunderstorms rumble; the rain lashes down and our visitors, like the dogs stare, gloomily out from the French windows. The only saving grace is that the wifi hasn’t failed so everyone can still peer at their telephones. One of our guests is a small boy and we give shelter to our neighbour’s son when he comes home from school and they relate to each other in reluctant pidgin. Much of the rest of his family went north for a few days to a wedding and returned with a lurgi that has confined them to bed ever since. Its main symptom is said to be foulness of temper, which means we see a lot of those who didn’t make the journey.
I am told the owner of the chateau has stopped paying the bills of the agent who looks after it for him. Among other things this means that the grass does not get cut and it’s now waist high, creating a fire hazard. The maire knows that I was once a farmer and have time to spare so I am to get on a tractor and mow when it’s dry enough. Last year innumerable deer and boar were disturbed and a cannabis plantation discovered in the undergrowth. The gendarmes were called to that but, with Macron intending to decriminalise dope, they may not bother to come if the cultivators have tried again.

Spinner

I have always felt uneasy about the lack of truly ferocious French curse words. None of the ones I have learned seemed likely to shiver anyone’s timbers. But a recent fracas in the village produced one, the equivalent of two fingers but worse that I twice heard being discussed in shocked tones. I tried it out on the maire and he staggered back in appalled amazement – very satisfying. Of course I am too polite to put it down here, but a stamped addressed envelope and a small donation could elicit it.
Down to the mairie again for a meeting with our sitting socialist deputé whose seat is up for grabs in a couple of weeks. She was doing the rounds of the villages accompanied the maire of the largest town in the canton. She had a nice smile, did not object to a couple of dogs at her feet, nor a small boy flitting round the room with his fidget spinner. We all thought it a shame that the FN makes such a showing locally, and she pointed out that she could download money for her constituents as she could pick up the phone to her ministerial colleagues and they couldn’t. But there’s a new president and her colleagues will lose office. The poor lass has a battle against Macron’s candidate as well as innumerable others across the political spectrum.

Scent

I’ve just been down to the mairie where, on the instructions of the President, we furled the Tricolore and the EU flag to show solidarity with Manchester. The prime minister’s statement seemed odd to me because of her repeated use of the words coward and cowardice. Deranged, despicable, barbaric would be fine. But to blow yourself up does not smack of cowardice. Has the word shifted in meaning when I wasn’t looking?
We had one of those gift exchanges with the matriarch who tottered over to greet a visitor. She got a scarf; we received a bottle of wine, for which we gave a jar of marmalade. She won by producing two boxed bottles of perfume and a large jar of foie gras. The foie gras went in the bin as it had turned black. One of the scent bottles was half empty and the other one completely so. So we called off the contest.
A hoopoe is nesting within view of the terrace. I look forward to swarms of hooping infants. They lose their voices if they over-hoop and can manage no more than strangled squawks.

Fossick

The grandson is still brutalising the wall adjacent to our hedge. He is demolishing it for some unfathomable reason. This is a bit of a bore since we rely on it to preserve our privacy and I may have to erect a fence since the hedge is not thick enough at that point. Most of his walls would keel over if you gave them a push, but this one, about six feet high, is reinforced by steel rods in great quantity that have to be angle-grinded down inch by inch before each concrete block can be removed. The maire watches him like a hawk waiting for him to offend against the social weal so that the gendarmes can screw him again. There’s some recently committed sin for which penalties are pending but I’m not up to speed on the intricacies of his offences.
Great quantities of hoopoes are around at the moment and a couple of them have taken to battling on the lawn beneath the terrace. They don’t seem to mind us spectating like Romans in the Colosseum and it does amuse visitors enjoying a drink and admiring the gently decaying chateau. This has had significant tile slippage over the winter and the main roof may soon go.
One of the diminishing ways I have of earning money is writing up Scottish clans. I have been given one to do and I find it is riven with dissent. It has two chiefs – or it could be three – none of whom are recognised by the authority on such matters, Lord Lyon, King of Arms. Its history is negligible but I think they are paying a magazine for the article, so I shall have to do some romantic mythologizing once I have discovered which faction is the one to write up. In Scotland you have to be a bit of a nerd to be interested in clans and things, but for the Americans, who have fossicked amongst their mega-great-grandparents to select a Scot as their root ancestor, it is a deadly serious business and one takes the piss at one’s peril.