Mortified

The maire is mortified. The largest number of votes in the commune was cast for Le Pen. She received 42% of the vote. Macron was second with 26% on a turn out of 76%. It’s a long day in the polling station. There’s another day of it for the second round and, in June, two more days will be taken up for the election of deputies for the National Assembly. It seems unnecessary to have two rounds for them, but unless one candidate gets more than half the votes in the first round, then a second round takes place.
People trickle in one or twos to vote and linger for a good gossip. The dissident faction in the village, all nine of them, turned up in a mob and we looked at them sourly, knowing such knuckle draggers would all be voting NF. The clan patriarch has aligned himself firmly against them and made his feelings abundantly clear even though half the of them are his own descendants. One dissident works for the enterprise that is digging trenches for the cables. He had a 50-yard commute but made the error of whingeing about the maire. Consequently he was removed from the job and now has to commute daily to Toulouse. I don’t listen to the Archers but the drama in this community seems like a crude caricature of what goes on there.

Turmoil

The Theipval Memorial with its 77,000 names of missing soldiers was visited on a bright blue day. Not another soul was there, the only sound being wreathes clattering across the marble in the wind. Gt-uncle’s grave was eventually found in cemetery 78 of the 250 on the Somme battlefield. The ghosts there should be legion, but it’s just depressing.
We returned to local turmoil, not just the great machines lumbering round the village burying cables, but political turmoil. Two members of our council have resigned. One will not be missed, the other was a pity, but was too closely related to the first to stay on. We still have a quorum but it’s nip and tuck and the possibility of a by-election looms. There’s a meeting tomorrow to discuss staffing the mairie for the election on Sunday. The hours look like being long with so few councillors.

Franleu

We’re near Le Touquet for a few days doing war sites where various kin had a horrible time. Today was a village called Franleu where my father was wounded and captured in June 1940. It’s a pretty little place as seemingly unpopulated as every village in France. His battalion was surrounded by the blitzkreiging Germans and besieged there for a day. The only apparent legacy lies in the churchyard that contains 27 war graves and those of four civilians who must have been caught in the crossfire. Only one is unidentified, a lance-corporal known unto God. My father was left behind when the battalion retreated and managed to escape and return to Scotland via Gibraltar by Jan 1941. As is so often the case, he never talked about it. Tomorrow will be Theipval and then home.

Lollipops

The tree pruners have done their thing and left lines of embarrassing naked lollipop sticks on the way into the village, but there’s no peace. The team burying the electricity cables has replaced them and they have a good half dozen machines that clatter, roar and heave all day. At some point they’ll turn off the power for the great switch over but we’ll get no warning. They will telephone to tell us about it, but the phone is never answered because it’s usually a cold caller.

I’m told that melons will remain a major feature of our local agriculture since the melon tycoons have bought up most of the land round about. At least they have to rotate the crop and I believe next year they’ll be across in the Gers and we’ll ne surrounded by maize and sunflowers. Fortunately all the plastic is out of our sight – just. We should be spared when they decide to build the semi-permanent plastic greenhouses that cover great tracts of land in Spain and Portugal. I’ve already seen a few colonies between here and Bordeaux, but they need flat land and that hardly exists locally.

Frites

The hoopoes are back, but I haven’t noticed either swifts or nightingales. It’s the latter that announces that summer is here. The kestrels get frightfully excited when the need to copulate overwhelms them. This year they have shifted their nest a dozen feet to the left. Perhaps the identical hole in the wall they had been using became just too disgusting after three years of occupation.
We have been told to block off our diaries for our stint in the mairie supervising the first round of the forthcoming election. The most important matter to be thrashed out was what we’d have for lunch. The polling station may be unique in France in that it doesn’t shut during that sacred hour and a half. We have to keep our ears open, but nobody round here is ill-mannered to come to vote then. Pizza was the first suggestion but I demurred, pointing out that we ate confit de canard and frites last time and I don’t like pizza. We have settled for a chicken from a nearby farm with a good reputation.

Terminal

I did a drop and collect at the airport yesterday and had a couple of hours to wait. Security was provided by paratroops strolling around in bands of four. Much to the airport has been closed off and one wonders when, if ever, it will be back to normal. And how would one design a new terminal today?

The car alarm began shrieking away outside the house for no good reason – locked or not. I googled and found it may be caused by keeping coins too near the gear stick. It sounded like voodoo but I emptied a redundant ashtray stuffed with coppers and the car has remained silent since. I have been told that the biennial health exam for cars is going to be considerably tightened next year. Mine staggers through the current check, but it will have to be re-done before next April if it is to survive for two years afterwards.

Dune

We have a guest who expressed a desire to see the Dune de Pilat at Arcachon. So we bundled to dogs in the car and did it. Never, ever again. Once you’ve seen one heap of sand you’ve seen them all. The steps up to the top were closed off which meant one had to climb up the sand. Both dogs decided this was a bad idea and demanded to be carried. Three-quarters of the way up, I had a road to Damascus revelation. I was too old to behave like this and didn’t have to, so I came down ignoring the hordes of sneering school children that infested the place. It was also outrageous that the thermometer was at 27 and that the car park exit refused to accept my card for a single measly Euro and wouldn’t take cash and wouldn’t lift the barrier. I was pretty thin-lipped by the time we drove away.
The fields north of the village have always been popular for growing melons, but this year the hectarage covered in plastic is three times more than I’ve seen before. There’s a farm track we walk the dogs down to an old farmhouse set in a bosky couple of acres that is an expat holiday house. They are in for a nasty shock when they next turn up since they are entirely surrounded by plastic. Apart from the aesthetics, theirs is the only possible place for the workers to pee or eat their lunch with any shade or privacy. The only positive is that the harvest will not need to be trundled through the village on strings of tractors. But there may be more melons further afield that I have yet to spot. It’s the least pleasing crop to have around, unless you’re a melon farmer.

Gibbons

There are 42,000 Grand Electors in France. They are the Great and Good and sponsor candidates for the presidency. Most of them are maires and most remain inert. But ours was one of the 1829 sponsors of Macron. Fillon got most with 3535, Le Pen a mere 627. It augurs well and if our boy does good, he will be reminded of his sponsor. It is odd that so many leading politicians these days seem actively unpleasant. Macron looks rather a petal, but we don’t yet know him very well.
Our tree chopping gang are functionaries, employed by the department. Their days start at 8am, but that’s when they report in to their yard. They arrive in the village about 9 and take some time setting up shop. They get a bit of work in till lunchtime and manage to get in a bit more afterwards before they have to pack up their kit in time to knock off at their depot. They wanted the village’s electricity supply cut for a week, but it’s been haggled down to five hours on a Friday morning. I once watched, transfixed, when a similar team descended on a street near the British Museum. They and their chainsaws swung like gibbons from tree to tree. The remains were fed into shredders and they were gone in a couple of hours.

Diversions

The two main routes into the village are lined by 80 plane trees, all in rude health. Today the bi or triennial pruning has begun. The job will likely take three weeks and diversions will be in place for the duration. The pruning and its cost has depended on dextrous work on the maire’s telephone. The longer I live in France, the more I understand that who you know is what makes things happen. It may be the same in the UK, but perhaps I knew nobody of influence there, so never encountered similar networks. Here I came across it with my first speeding ticket a month or two after I arrived. I wrung my hands for a day or two before seeking advice. ‘Why did you not come to me straight away? I could have contacted my friend and it would have been annulled.’ Bullshit, I thought to myself. But I am an innocent no longer.
The simplest daily dog walk is along a farm track a few hundred yards down the hill from the village. This year it will be taken over by melons. Great swaths of plastic are being laid out across the fields by teams of immigrant workers. These people keep the countryside functioning and it’s hard to understand why Le Pen has so many rural supporters when the need for them is thrust in one’s face. ‘I couldn’t live on a farm,’ said a neighbour. ‘The poison from all the sprays is very dangerous. Here in the village we are safe.’ I could do with a bit of local spraying to keep the mozzies down but it might be more effective if a householder a few doors down the street did something to stop his septic tank erupting in the field behind the mairie. He thinks the commune should pay for the repair. The rest of us don’t and things might eventually turn ugly.

Poison


We sat outside a cafe on the first warm evening of the year while Scotland was comprehensively filleted on a 10-foot screen inside. A mournful 50 year-old riot policeman told us he was probably going to lose his job since he had been caught too many times pissed on duty. A grim life, he said, but very well paid. He spends time stuck in barracks in places like Corsica waiting for chances to beat up those who trouble the state and there’s nothing to do but drink. You can’t hold on to a wife since you’re away too much for unlimited periods. Since he fell down some stairs and hurt himself in front of his commanding officer, he’s been suspended. His employment prospects were bleak. Everyone knew that you hung on till retirement because the benefits and pension were so good. An ex-CRS man must have sinned in some spectacular way and nobody would hire one.
A rat came to the bird table, a first. The mairie holds a crateload of poison and some this has been placed on top of the oil tank in the shed, which seems to be its route into our property. I don’t mind rats but others do.