Sucker

I touristed round Toulouse with a visitor a couple of days ago. The high-ish spot was the Winter Fair in the main square but there were more riot police than patrons. It takes a special person for that role, one capable of doing sod all except for lounging about in a van indulging in jocular badinage with his mates. A day of nothing is the result desired.
The village odd job man is indisposed. Consequently I found myself on top of scaffolding in front of the church finishing off coating the timbers in gloop to preserve them. There is also a pile of rubble in the sacristy that needs to be removed, so the maire and a couple of his disciples, including me, must parade in the near future to remove it before we decorate the building for Xmas. It began to look as though removing the fallen leaves that build in great drifts in inappropriate places might fall to a back up team, but the regular ground maintenance gang turned up with a splendid home-made sucker stuck to the back of a tractor and hoovered them all up. Alas, the mulberry inside the garden has yet to be dealt with. This year I shall hack off more limbs to try to discourage it, but some must remain to screen us from the grandson’s industrial site over the hedge. He has accepted defeat, I believe, in his attempt to build a house there, but can do the same right in front of his house. This will be less hassle for his neighbours – even if it ever happens.

Cosset

The most unpopular politician beyond France is, of course, Trump. Change the ‘is’ to a ‘was’ and it’d be Thatcher. Yet Fillon wears the badge with pride and the polls put him alongside Le Pen for the second round. Le Pen would trash France’s reputation. Fillon’s policies would trash the beloved welfare state. I reckon Valls is in with a fighting chance. However there are black swans everywhere these days. One certainty is that the world will be different in a way not yet foreseen by the time of the election. So who knows?

I was due a boring visit to the doc recently and went in to book an appointment. This is a fatuous exercise in itself and I always take a thick book to while away the waiting time. On this occasion I was grabbed and hustled straight in front of the doc, a young female rather than the usual. I explained my mission; she tapped away on the computer and I waited for my prescription. No. I next had to lie on my back and she palpitated my belly and my calves – a new one on me. Next she took my blood pressure and listened to my heart and told me to take deep breathes as she stethoscoped my lungs. I was a bit ginger about this as I didn’t want to disturb the detritus of 50 years of tobacco smoke that lurks in there somewhere. Then she tapped at the computer some more, fired questions at me about ancient medical events on my file and enquired if I had the exact €23 required for the consultation. I could only produce three 10-euro notes, so I put them on the desk and we looked at it. Had I been vaccinated against flu? I said yes and looked at the money some more. Could I go out and get some change? I need to go to the tabac anyway. No, it was unnecessary. So we sat. After another five minutes I had established that she came from Toulouse and wished to improve her English. I also found out that the filthy cold I picked up after the vaccination likely came about because I failed to cosset myself for a few days after it when the immune system is struggling back to full speed. And we sat some more. Then it dawned on me that she was an apprentice and need the proper doc to sign off on the consultation. He turned up eventually and I was out two minutes afterwards.

Casserole

I grabbed a handful of grapes in passing and managed to spit out the punaise just before I crunched down upon it. A shame, really. I might have discovered an interesting new flavour to add to a casserole.

I was all set to shin down through the hole in the floor that was found in the next village to pull out the treasure, but the householders did a recce and found nothing but great quantities of concrete that had been poured down preventing access to anything interesting that might have been there. I think that is the common course of such discoveries.

The servants of the state are not easy to deal with if you are an expat. It was well known, for example, that if you had to face authority about cars or driving the sous prefecture in Auch was where to go. There the staff was relaxed and sometimes even helpful. In other places the letter of the law was applied and the letter of the law can go way beyond Z. It may be the 50th UK driving license that they have seen that needs to be converted, but a French translation, costing €40, can still be required. Sometimes a new clerk appears and the word soon goes round if they are easy going or sticklers. I have been told that the extension of the state of emergency has turned them all into jobs-worths. The local tax office is said to have undergone such a transformation but on my last visit rolling on my back and offering my tummy to be tickled produced a surprising success. In the UK such people need to be reminded they are civil servants. Here they are gods that need to be worshipped if you are going to achieve the result you want.

Vulgarian

A friend in a neighbouring village got rot underneath a bathroom on the ground floor. It needed to be ripped up. By peering through the joists they have discovered a couple of rooms and a corridor beneath to which they have no access. And they can see another level below that with at least one room with a closed door. I think it’s where the Templars hid their treasure.

The smallest dog lost its toy. She had actually left the thing in the garden but was convinced that it had been confiscated and hidden in the bowl that holds all the dog treats. The bowl was put on the floor to show her. She sniffed and was crushed with disappointment when it was not there. This dog would ignore a meal if it clashed with toy time. OCD? Simple obsession?

A neighbour travelled to Montauban to vote for Sarkozy in the Republican primary and is most upset by the result. Her other half is on the political left and thinks he’s a crooked vulgarian but fully respects her right to her own political views.

Ignorance

35 turned up at the memorial to mourn the dead on Armistice Day, followed by drinks and nibbles in the salle de fetes. The names of the dead are read out each time and I now know them by heart. I recall an American marvelling at the string of Macs on a war memorial in the Highlands. Where he came half the names ended in -stein or -wicz and the Scots ethnic consistency amazed him. Here it’s the same. The influx of people from Italy and Spain came between the wars and all the dead from this village have obvious French names.

My computer started misbehaving a few days ago. My first port of call in such circumstances is Google, which informed me the problem was caused by a flaw in the operating system that required much heavy lifting to sort out. By chance I discovered that the real cause was a faulty keyboard that was mentioned nowhere as a possibility.

It’s a pity that Americans speak English because it allows us to appreciate the full horror of Trump. The French have their trans-Atlantic news filtered by the language and their interpretations seems much less stressful. I know people who never follow current affairs and consequently live their lives in blissful ignorance.

Quorum

We trotted through a Council meeting, only just with a quorum. A few of our members have fallen by the wayside, usually because they’re unwilling to sit in the same room as a fellow legislator. The maire likes his expat members. Because of our inability to follow the nuances of the language we tend to keep our mouths shut and wish to hurry things through to get to the wine that always concludes our deliberations.

My neighbour took the car for its MoT and the one necessary part required before it passes will be fitted in a couple of days. When I first came here he couldn’t wait to sell me something shinier, but I resisted and now he shares my desire to keep the thing rumbling on for as long as possible. He was talking about its chances of getting through the test in four years time.

We did a trip of 30 minutes through three villages in the mid-afternoon. Not another vehicle was on the road._dsg6868_dv

About forty punaises were nestling behind one of the shutters. These days I can hardly be bothered to brush them off the arm of a chair. They are very amiable insects, if a little stupid. You just have to be careful not to squash them. I was told that this year there are very few tiger punaises. I’ve ever met one or two without incident, but the natives say they squirt you if they’re riled, and they have a short fuse.

Kite

imagesAn exotic new entry in the ornithological I-Spy book, a black-winged kite. I saw one sitting on electricity wires in Portugal and couldn’t identify it. In the last few days I’ve seen another a couple of times just west of the village. It’s one of those birds that has extended its habitat from Africa to the Iberian Peninsula and is now in France. Another such bird is the cattle egret that is now in southern England.

‘A good book?’ asked a neighbour.
‘Modified rapture’ I replied. ‘It’s been written by a friend who’s asked me to review it.’
‘He lives in Fife?’
‘Mmm…no.’
‘It was sent from there. I saw the cardboard parcel in the recycling bin.’

At the moment I’m trimming the laurel hedge round the garden to try to keep it from taking over. It had reached the stage of being so high and thick that I couldn’t reach across it with the hedge trimmers. My neighbour suggested I pay €150 and use the professional team that tidies up round the village, but all expats are poor these days. The hedge is producing a gargantuan quantity of clippings. Currently I’m dumping these on unused ground behind the garden and hope that all will be mashed up when the professionals’ tractor flails its way past with the mower, but I think this may be breaking the rules.

Today is when relatives of the departed trek to cemeteries to lay chrysanthemums by their tombs. In a recent white-line blitz, the village has installed a pedestrian crossing between the parking space and the burial ground to prevent the totterers from being squashed . Very few of the old families buried there still have kin in the commune, but folk come from all over.

Bog

A large farmhouse down the road has been bought by a young French couple with a child on the way. Such houses are normally owned by retired expats. They are large, cold and draughty but have lots of room for grandchildren and space to insert a swimming pool. The natives usually can’t wait to get out of them and into a bungalow. But it turns out he’s an employee of EDF, the electricity provider, and this means he pays 10% of the price that the rest of us would be charged to heat the place.
A neighbour a couple of house down has a problem with his septic tank. Ours leaks sweetly out into the lawn and the only evidence is a patch of very lush grass. His erupts into a noisome bog that is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Money needs to be spent upon it and he is refusing to pay for it and says repairing it is the responsibility of the commune. An expert says a sewer should be laid along the back of the houses and we should all connect to it. Those whose systems work have the power to say ‘nuts’ and have done so. The power that is – on holiday at the moment – is going to issue some fierce legal thing to make the mucky neighbour sort things out himself. There’s little fall from his house to the bog. It must be possible to make it back up and leave him no choice.

Trumped

Largely as a consequence of school holidays I’m home alone in the village. I have been told to be ready to defend it against nefarious visitors and ensure that I lock my door if I go out, something about which I am very lax. I have also to feed three extra dogs and a hamster.
I am told that one of the advantages of being an expat is that one can re-invent one’s past far away from those who could tell it otherwise. I don’t think I have met any such but I may just be rather naive. I know of three ex-members of the SAS, for instance, but they were trumped by a man I came across who had banged Bardot. I once had an encounter with Jackie Kennedy but it doesn’t compare.

Humdinger

In this part of France we moan about the plastic covering the fields in summer to grow melons. Where we stayed in Portugal is on the edge of a delightful dell, plunging down to a stream bordered by immense eucalyptus trees. Beyond that hectare after hectare is covered by estufas, plastic greenhouses growing raspberries and tomatoes that are tended by immigrants; most seemed from the Indian subcontinent or Nepal. We threaded our way between them and looked into one that was growing tomatoes. Inside in the stifling heat the workers wore goggles, masks and hazard suits. One of the greenhouses held shipping containers that had been turned into living accommodation. The growing medium is plastic bags filled with some material that allows the plants to root. Great dunes of used bags surrounded the greenhouses and these are fed into furnaces that provide heat in winter. It does not add to the aesthetics of the countryside or to outlook of the scattering of large houses, mostly owned by the rich from Lisbon. Another consequence is the decline of open country for the wildlife. When a fruit tree is ready to to be picked, our hosts are usually beaten to it by 20 or 30 azure-winged magpies that descend and strip it. They’re lovely birds, confined to this corner of Europe.
I erupted into a humdinger of a cold soon after we arrived, my first for a year. I’m told it had nothing to do with the flu jab I took a few days beforehand. The matriarch remains in hospital. Her kidneys work only if she is given a particular drug but it sends her blood pressure off the scale.