Pump

I did the rounds of the commune with the maire to deliver invitations to the Xmas party in the salle de fetes. It’s a chance to find out who lives where and to hear something of their back-stories. A murder happened there when a guy found his wife in bed with someone else. That prosperous farmer went to jail for fiddling his taxes. And lots of shady shenanigans about inheritances. One track I had never noticed. A hundred yards with the grass in the centre a good 18″ high. In the midst of encroaching trees at the end was a building – half house, and half barn with its sides protected by plastic and chicken wire. We nosed round the side and a fat, very smelly Labrador came to say hullo. By the front door a magnificent cat stared imperiously from the head of a hand pump that had a ram’s head for its spout. An ancient lady with a shock of untamed white hair, bright blue eyes and armful of logs came out of a shed. She wore gumboots and lair upon lair of indeterminate clothing. Incomprehensible communication took place. It may have been Occitan or just a very thick local accent. We delivered the invite and drove carefully back down the track. ‘We must keep an eye her. She lives alone. She has no hot water and she cooks on a wood-fuelled range.’ I farmed in Devon forty years ago and by then nobody still lived like that.

We have some friends stuck in the UK for weeks with a sick relative. Their medication started to run low. They were told to sign on with a local GP but were turned away by two of them. Eventually they found out that the practice that serviced their relation was duty bound to take them on. They were provided with a 4-page form to complete and were told to bring urine samples. Sod that. So they phoned their pharmacy in France. ‘Oh, dear! We’d like to help but if we sent you the usual stuff we’d have to charge you postage. That’s OK? You can settle the bill when you return.’

Drag

The commune picked up three awards at Flowery Village dinner last night. It’s an interminable evening, introduced with lots of speeches from the great and good who thank each other a lot. This year the management decided to pause the serving of the food – magret tournedos – and turn out the lights between courses so’s we could properly concentrate on the wildly inappropriate cabaret. The average age of the 400 audience must have been 60, so they gave us a drag act with blokes in sequins, bras and suspenders mooning their naked bums at us and miming to ‘Hey Big Spender’, etc. It was excruciating and we walked out when they turned out the lights again just before pud. I don’t know whether it was a booking error by the organisers or something the jerry French love to watch. It felt distressingly foreign.

Stupidity

The village is even more hushed than usual. Lucydog/Noisette’s owners are off for 10 days. She has a magnificent straw-filled kennel in a well-sealed compound. There she spends the day. She is fed twice daily by neighbours and at night she goes into the house. She even is taken for the odd walk. But this is not enough. If she hears anyone or sees anyone through the fence, she howls, long and loud. The grandson would howl curses back at her initially but even he realised this only encouraged her. So now we tend to talk in whispers and tiptoe. Our dogs cower at the idea of having her back to stay.

In 25 years, those of us still alive will be able to read the results of the Royal Commission on the Brexit Affair. Aside from Ken Clark, I can’t think of anyone that might be worthy of much less than stinging criticism. In a just world there ought to be a few treason charges around, although I suspect rank stupidity and incompetence may be a defence.

Fairies

In 1688, the year that William of Orange took the throne of Great Britain, my 6X great-grandmother was was kidnapped by fairies. A Mrs Margaret Irvine, she lived in Highland Perthshire where her husband Alexander was a tenant farmer in Strathtay.

Margaret had just born a child, a girl, when she was stolen. The fairies took her from her bed and replaced her with a log of wood. They carried her to a bog just east of the summit of Farragon where they put her to work cutting peats and barrowing them up to the peak to dry. They treated her kindly, fed her well and took her back home a fortnight later where she lived happily ever after. The 16-inch spade that she brought back was long preserved as evidence of her harrowing experience.

An antiquarian James Kennedy wrote up her story a century ago. Hindsight might suggest that she was suffering from post-natal depression and took herself off, returning with a story – and a wee spade – that her husband might accept. Bears sometimes borrowed women in parts of central Europe, often those suspected of having a secret lover, for a few weeks or months. But these beasts had been extinct in the Highlands for centuries and fairies provided a more convincing as well as a more seemly explanation for such an absence.

There are no fairies round here in France. I’ve checked

Maître

We gave a bed for the night to a 9 year-old neighbour. ‘How many teachers at your school? ‘Three.’ ‘Their names?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Don’t know? How can you not know? You can’t say Hey you!’ ‘No, we call them maître and maîtresse’.
I’ve been bouncing to and fro from the airport recently and usually during the rush hour. The airport was so clogged with cars on one occasion that the usual car park for picking up was solid and closed as nobody could get out the other end. The French are normally very good about giving space to allow other vehicles to insert themselves into another lane, but I had road-ragey abuse hurled at me. It irritated me to the extent that I nearly barged my way in front of a shiny, fat-cat driven thing that failed to give me the usual wide berth. My own car has so many scars that I am utterly indifferent about bashing into obstructions and people that cherish their cars notice and avoid me.

Worms

I collected a fancy certificate stating that I am a naturalised Frenchman. It’s signed by the prime minister and the minister of the interior and I was told the signatures were in their own hand, but – thank you Google – they’re machine written. It would be odd if they weren’t. The fonctionnaire who dealt with me was strangely knowledgeable about my case. It transpired that the maire had badgered her half a dozen times to ensure smooth passage of my dossier. I now have to obtain a carte d’identité and have fallen foul of the rickety website that sucks you in for page after page of form filling before dumping you with a ‘contact the administrator’ after 20 minutes of life have evaporated.
I should be cutting the grass. The days at the moment tend to start out foggy with the chateau invisible and everything dripping with damp. It clears to bright blue in the middle of the day, but not enough to dry the grass into a suitable condition. In fact I can’t be arsed to do it. Next week there’s a 17-degree day forecast and I may brave the worm casts then. It’s still spookily rain-free.

Passion

We had a good turnout for Remembrance Day at the War memorial – four Brits, a brace of Belgians and some 30 French, all from this commune. This year it took place at 10.30, which is worrying for Brits since we expect it at 11 and here our one-minute silence takes place whenever the maire finishes reading the message provided by the Minister of Defence. Then everyone repairs to the salle de fetes for a drink and nibbles. None of the village dissidents attend since they seem to feel that by being there it would show support for the maire and the current regime. I spoke to one resident, originally from northern France, who said that he found it remarkable that so many places hereabout were riven with dissent. It wasn’t the same where he came from. I think it’s the same in every small community or organisation. Round here many people have hardly ever been more than a couple of miles from home and all their passions are poured into this tiny society.

Blue

The dispute with the grandson over the hedge is ongoing. He says he wants to build a 2-metre concrete wall round his patch and put in a garden. At least I think that’s what he wants to do. It would be most unlikely to ever happen and would be barking mad even if it did, since the land there is on a 45° slope which means that any privacy would be impossible, quite apart from it being sheltered by woods on one side and our mighty hedge on the other. He could alternatively continue building his garage – 8 years in the making so far – or even start on the house for which he has planning permission. But once an idea settles in his mind it is fixed. I could invoke the majesty of the law to sort it out but that would cost money, initially mine and then his, and I’ve grown to become rather sorry for him. He is actively unpleasant but knows no other way to behave. Life is a continual, befuddling battle in which everyone is against him and he hasn’t the capacity to understand that his difficulties are self-inflicted.
Cato has put out his back again. I was warned this was likely to happen and I carry him around much of the time. I expect it’ll sort itself out and his enthusiasm for food is undiminished. If that fades I’ll know he is in real trouble.
I fielded an old lady in the mairie complaining that the little cross that marked the tiny grave of her niece in the cemetery had disappeared. No one knew why or when but it’ll be sorted. She showed me a photo of the 6-month infant – a blue baby – in its coffin and we mourned together for a bit.

Prune

The annual prune of the mulberry took place. Experience has taught that the job can be done in some three hours and the remains taken to the communal truck by the front gate and removed. This must be done before the leaves fall; otherwise they are trapped inside the garden and blow around in great drifts. I now need two sets of loppers. The spread of the foundation branches was trimmed a couple of years ago and the tree responded by producing shoots of prodigious thickness. Another couple of years and it will need a chainsaw to cut them.
I went round the commune with the maire delivering invitations for the Remembrance ceremony on 11th Nov. It was a peripatetic constituency surgery. What has the little iron cross by my great aunt’s grave disappeared from the cemetery? Will you act as go between as I wish to rent a patch of my neighbour’s land? Do I need planning permission to change my windows?
Summer ended the day before yesterday. At the moment 12 tits are at the peanuts in front of the French windows. The nuts have been stored over the summer and are riddled with moth larvae, which seem to make the nuts even more popular with the birds.

Conflict

We were visited by the surveyor who was the author of the document that declared that the wall between this property and the grandson’s belongs to us and cannot be interfered with by him. The poor man nearly lost his rag and stumped off after an hour declaring that it was impossible to have a rational conversation with our neighbour. I could have told him that beforehand. The upshot is that the grandson must make good the damage caused to the wall and reinstate the original boundary but I may have to start legal things to make this happen. I would warn him of this, which would ultimately save him money since he would have to pay the costs, but there is nobody who can get through to him. Since the start of our dispute he has not made any noise across the hedge and, since peace is our ultimate goal, sleeping dogs will be left to lie for the time being. The village dissidents have championed the grandson’s cause and threatened the maire with an all-out war. Bring it on was his response. Living in a community many of whose inhabitants revel in conflict is tedious.