Stopcock

In Scotland, it was 15 degrees and we saw the sun for a total of four hours all week. Here it’s forecast to be 30ish as far as the eye can see. No contest. The pic is of me presenting the clan chief with some of his array of presents since it was his 80th birthday. Scots aren’t really interested in clans. It’s the Americans who are enthusiastic and keep the whole business flourishing.

We had dog sitters staying here while we were away. At 5pm on the Friday evening not long before they were due to arrive, a water pipe burst beneath the sink where the supply came into the house. I found the stopcock and found a plumber who could come out the following Tuesday. Then the maire showed up. ‘I have a friend,’ he said. The friend was here before 6pm. By 7pm he had left with a section of the pipe replaced for a charge of €40.

We have friends in Portugal. They have a lovely half dozen acres in the midst of a National Park, which they hope they have managed to sell after a couple of years of trying. When they came the culture and folk were rural Portuguese. Now they are surrounded by hectares of plastic greenhouses. Being temporary structures they don’t require planning permission and are left to rot when they become tatty and ripped plastic blows all over the countryside. The workers are largely from Nepal and the area now has lots of Nepalese restaurants and shops and the roads are full of small brown people trudging between their homes in shipping containers. It’s not what our friends signed up for.

Sticky

Scotland no longer feels like home, which is fair enough for it isn’t. I have discharged my duty by filling in fellow clansmen from the USA on our history and taken a couple of bus tours round clan country and to the Culloden battlefield. Our clan was centred in Pitlochry and that’s where we are staying. The coaches come into the town at 11am and from then on hordes of tourists from across the world process the half mile down one side of the High Street and then cross the road to go up the other. They are beguiled by shops selling tartan, woolly pullies and souvenir kitsch that make decent people shudder.

I know this part of the world well but one place I tracked down I had read about but never seen. At the end of 20 miles of single-track road across a field full of curious black cattle and by the edge of a loch lies a little burial ground. Near to it lived Marsali who was much too beautiful for her own good. A MacIntosh chieftain from fifty miles to the north hungered for her but she rejected him, married a local and had three sons in swift succession. A few years later her rejected suitor came raiding. He crossed the loch but Marsali was not at home so he killed her husband and dashed out the brains of her children on a boulder by the burial ground. The MacIntosh met a sticky end when the posse sent after him caught up and the marks on the fatal boulder where its members sharpened their swords are still visible.

 

Otter

We’re due in Scotland for a week, doing Clan things in the midst of lots of Americans. Sadly I have given away most of my flashy Highland gear to needy relatives, so I will not cut much of a dash amidst their finery. I once went to a ball in Blair Castle thrown by some ancient local laird. The kit the guests dug out was astonishing and very little of it was less than a century old – snarling otter and wildcat sporrans, tartan jackets dating from the 19th century, great baroque jewels pinning their plaids and lots of moth holes. I once had a dog that saw an American with a racoon sporran protecting his nether regions. He fell upon it with howls of rage and it was hard to prise him away from the terrified wearer.

A Scots friend stayed with us last month. I had a plaintive contact from him a couple of days ago. He had been given a parking ticket in Paris, which was odd as he hadn’t been near Paris with his hired car and it was parked in front of this house at the time in question. The maire was put on the job and he had good fun abusing the hire company and the guys that issued the ticket. He dictated a snotty letter for the appeal but didn’t hold out much hope. The French system does not allow for errors. He knows someone who was flashed at 145kph on the motorway – in his elderly tractor. He had to pay in the end.

Petanque

We had the village fete over the weekend. In an unprecedented development no hot red meat was served. There were rumblings that the natives might rebel when faced with mountainous salads instead but the 100-odd guests were complimentary. In the evening the very locals hoover up the remains in front of the salle de fetes, which is usually the most pleasant part of the day. Most people were very relaxed except for one person, drunk, wandering around stirring up dissention. I can get pissed with the best of them but I am grateful that I am not one of those unfortunate folk who become aggressive when they consume too much drink.

There’s normally petanque going on into the wee small hours, but it was just too hot and it didn’t happen. Trying to sleep presents a dilemma. Leave the windows open to try to catch a breeze when the outside temperature drops below 25 and you risk mosquitoes. A carefully placed fan can prevent them being able to settle and bite but you have to keep your extremities within the cone of the draught, which is not always easy.

Eyelash

After nearly breaking the dentist’s heart, I have functioning teeth. They came with a becoming lisp but my tongue seems to have adapted. I still have a very few, well-eroded gnashers of my own. If I had none at all I might never need to visit a dentist again and I’ve seen far more than my fair share.

Grandchildren came visiting and the best local swimming hole was out of action. We managed but it required a pair of budgie smugglers for one of them and he was not a happy bunny. I would not recommend the Cité de l’espace on a hot day and I don’t think I would on a cool one either. Space seemed mostly about garbage and how to recognise that it was Tim Peake’s eyelash from 2016 floating by you in the space station. The little jobsworth on security refused to let me in with my penknife and said I must take it back to the car. He thought it cheating when I put it beneath a nearby hedge and collected it on the way out

Personage

They know each other well. They kiss each other on the cheek when they meet. ‘But I will never do business with him and I always call him vous and not tu.’ This is far too clever for me. I never know which will come out of my mouth and I never notice what anyone else calls me. I noticed a mildly surprised reaction when I found myself tutoying the much gold-braided personage who shook my hand and made brief small talk when I became French.

The boar was a little chewier than usual at the chasse lunch, but the passing storms made it impossible to use the spit, which affected the quality. Such gatherings are often unsatisfactory because my French is just not good enough to fully participate in conversations and yesterday we were the only two Brits. I usually console myself by reckoning one only properly takes on board 50% of what one hears in English and make up the rest, but in French the proportion understood must be considerably lower. Mishear the initial subject of the conversation and one can be utterly lost.

I found myself in a Brexit conversation across a dinner table the other day. The subject of Trump also came up. And that was likely the end of a friendship.

Orsay

The village watched with great interest as the grandson erected an awning in front of his house, a little marquee, to cover the smart white car that is the most important thing in his life. The consensus was that it cost him €250. We considered the wind that can throw a gust of 110 kph when a storm comes through. He considered it too as he anchored the six poles with two concrete blocks apiece. A storm came through the afternoon after he finished putting it up. He was lucky that no gusts accompanied it but he had not counted on the rain that came with the thunder and lightning. Within a few minutes of the aerial plug being pulled, the awning began to sag with the weight of water. He and his missus rushed from the house, Himself in his Y-fronts, and poked ineffectually at the bulges but he was too late and they were too great. The legs began to bend and the roof touched the ground. With much yelling and bellowing the legs were dismantled and the cover was left lying on the ground until the downpour stopped. Then the whole thing was rolled up and disappeared inside his house.

The chateau improvements continue. Most of the roof is now watertight and the workers are now settling in the pool that arrived yesterday. This was prioritised to keep the long-suffering children sweet. A white Alsatian-type puppy has also arrived to be trained to maul intruders. It is called Orsay.

Plumb tree

The French are largely heathen, even more so than the Brits, and yet round here virtually every village has an ancient church, its walls covered by enormous, deeply dreary paintings. I have never noticed one that has been turned into a burger bar or converted into flats or an antiques warehouse. There’s even one on the horizon that had mostly slipped down the hill but it’s now being restored. The French don’t seem that interested in their heritage and the listing system for old buildings is nothing like as comprehensive as the UK’s. Nor is there an equivalent of the National Trust. Churches, like all religious property, were taken over by the state in 1905. If ours is anything to go by, they have become the responsibility of the communes. Ours may be used no more than once every couple of months for a baptism or a funeral and yet we voluntarily spend a large proportion of the village’s revenue to keep the building intact. I’m not sure why the difference.

‘Do you want to die in France or the UK?’ That’s a key question for aging Brits. I heard of an octogenarian with a pacemaker who has been back in England a year and has still not succeeded in seeing the doctor with whom he is registered as a patient. It’s not like that here. Drop in to the surgery and you come out with appointments with specialists for further examinations and drug prescriptions. I have 24 printed labels with my name on them to stick on the little jam jar when nursie sends off my blood to be tested. I never remember a single such test in the UK. Sometimes I feel like Gulliver ensnared by a myriad of Lilliputian medicaments that are said to be keeping me alive. Which are really worth taking? Does this one reduce the likelihood of a heart attack tomorrow by 3% or 60%? Does this concoction of peanut oil and African plumb trees really help me pee more easily? How much more easily? And is its benefit worth the hassle of spending an hour in the waiting room because the doc is behind time again to obtain it once more?

I have another week to wait for new teeth. I seem to have a bite like Jaws, so these one will be reinforced with titanium to prevent them become shards when I chew with too much enthusiasm.

Falsies

A daughter of the village had an 18th birthday party this week. A celebratory lunch was held in the salle de fetes for relatives and selected locals. Speeches were made and much wine flowed. I tried to work out who was who but both parents had new partners and new kinsfolk and it proved too complicated.

The new chateau owners were present and we went round there in the evening to examine the work carried out. I was told that the living space there amounts to more than 2,000 square metres, which means nothing to me. Himself’s computer was powered up so that he can run his business and a shower in the cellar has hot water. Some of the roof is now watertight and a machete has been hacking its way through the worst of the cobwebs. But with very rudimentary services, very limited power and very little furniture, it all looked a bit bleak.

I go to a new dentist in an hour or two and will spend more than €1000 on new plastic teeth. The last ones I had broke half a dozen times and this should not happen. I have had dreadful teeth all my days and if I’m lucky these should see me out. I’m distressed to see that NHS falsies are capped at £244.30 but it’s too late and too complicated to fly to the UK to be sorted out.

Carte

I can neither tell the sex of a collared dove, nor recognise individuals but there is one that now potters over the threshold into the house to check if there’s anything worth pecking up from the carpets. I assume it’s the same bird each time. The dogs ignore it but something caught and ate one the other day, leaving nothing but a sinister single clawed  foot on the bird table. I doubt it was a cat as the dogs terrorise any that dare enter the garden.

The government advises Brits living in France to acquire a carte de séjour, a residence permit, which ought to give some security after Brexit. This is obtainable from the local prefecture but a formidable quantity of supporting documentation is demanded. The government website has a list of what is required. It has also issued a different list to all the nation’s prefectures. And the prefecture has a list all of its own which is different yet again. One’s success really depends on the bureaucrat who confronts you. Some will carefully go though each document and refuse you because the translation of the birth certificate is four months old rather than the expected three. Others will make executive decisions and happily issue the carte even if many of the ‘i’s and ‘t’s are not dotted or crossed.

The company working on the chateau was founded in 1919 by the current boss’s gt-grandfather. It’s a sweet operation and has four of its workers on the roof at the moment. The owner will retire next year and the business will close down as nobody wants to take it over.