Stuffed

The maire has all his ducks in a row for money this year. We’re turning what used to be the priest’s house into two flats. That’ll cost €200k. Not much less is needed to bury all the electrics, which will piss off the birds that line the wires, and redo the street lighting to cut the electricity bill. Some of the money is coming from the department, some from the prefect, some from the region, some borrowed from the bank and a small amount from our own funds. Some of it will be paid up front and some in tranches over three years. The house is the only one that’ll bring in an income, but this depends on finding tenants who will pay the rent regularly and not trash the premises. This will not easy and the village has become unstuck on this in the past.
A hard Brexit means that the UK will fall back on the ‘framework’ of the World Trade Organisation. The snag about this is that there is no framework. To do business will require a treaty with each of the 164 members and it takes an average of five years to complete one. Once the UK has been told to get stuffed by the EU for ditching free movement, the negotiators will be awfully busy.

Keys

In London playing grandfather. What has changed since my last visit is the number of young women wearing heavy make up. Apparently it’s in case the need to take a selfie suddenly overwhelms them. We horrified ourselves at the Hunterian museum and fled when faced with a great rack of weaponry for going up one’s bottom and went on to the Wallace collection. We lunched in a restaurant on the 38th floor. Balls-achingly trendy, filled with beautiful people taking photos of each other, Chinese youths with western arm candy and Lamborghini keys displayed on the table, and one snake-like young John Travolta look alike with his shirt open to his belly button billing and cooing at his Chinese girl friend while her parents looked on disapprovingly from the other side of the table. Most of the waiters were hipsters who wear the same beard and flat hairstyle and are consequently difficult to tell apart.

Boot

A neighbour, out here at his holiday house for Christmas, went to the supermarket, opened the car boot and found a rat sitting there grinning at him. He put his shopping next to the dog in the back seat and, once home, dismantled the lining of the boot but found nothing. He left the lid open and a couple of times during the day, saw the rat sitting on the edge of the car sunning itself but the thing went back into hiding when he approached. He left a trail of tasty goodies down a plank of wood to the ground overnight, but the rat simply ate them and returned to its lair. He was getting a bit windy, being due to drive back to the UK and the rat was unlikely to have had its rabies shots, but he caught it out for a walk and managed to bop it with a golf club.
It froze overnight – just a bit, but it was enough to tempt the grandson to cut his patch of grass while it was still dark and then pressure wash the mower. He then heaved his washing machine to the side of his house, dropped the waste pipe into the village drain, brought out his washing powder and ran it through a cycle. He then pressure washed the machine inside and out, taking care to do the back to clear cobwebs out of the electric wiring. He hauled it back indoors just before dark.

Reduction

We have enjoyed a lot of yohoho-ing, often under chilly fog. Traditional village customs included the festive visit of the gendarmes to bollock the grandson who decided to bring a lorry into the village at 7am on Saturday morning and then start up his chainsaw. This is contrary to local bylaws and the matriarch, still pretty seedy, is next door. He was still chain sawing when the Gendarme Lala and a colleague turned up later in the day and continued while they stood around awkwardly till he’d finished. He denied it had been him. There aren’t ASBOs here, but something nasty will likely come his way next year. His long-suffering copine has suggested they move out of the village where he can annoy nothing more than the wildlife, but he wants to stay put.
A jolly addition to the village is a bloke from Lille. He enjoys his wine and his boar at the chasse lunch, but is said to be a Muslim – whispered rather than said, because French laicity means that it nobody’s business but his own and it is bad form to talk about it.
A large proportion of people in the commune are in their 80s, most of them retired farmers or their spouses. Their houses will be unwanted by their descendants when they die and the land is already sold or rented. Brits used to be the usual buyers for such properties but they are waiting to find out what or which Brexit will mean Brexit and houses are not selling. I’m told that to shift anything one needs to give a 40% reduction on the price of five years ago.

Jollity

I was summoned by the maire to accompany him to the departmental capital yesterday. I dutifully turned out in my comfy sweater complete with holes where cigarette ash has burned through and was told to go and put on a suit. So I obliged, as one does. We went to the extremely luxurious headquarters of the Conseil General, which seemed virtually deserted, and prowled the corridors, council chamber and offices for a bit before finding a seat and a functionary brought us coffee. Another couple of maires joined us and then we were summoned into a conference room where we were greeted by the Chairman and his deputy, the lovely circular lady who spent time on the terrace last summer admiring the chateau, and the chef du cabinet. The maires signed documents that would give us money for works needed in our communes. We were granted €80k. One of the others got €350k. Then a photographer snapped us – I have now learned to squat at the back on such occasions – and we all repaired to the bar. Very good nibbles and a couple of whiskies later, we returned home. I did wonder what I was doing there, but they were all very jolly and were disappointed that I had not come in a kilt. The reason for jollity was in the press this morning. At the last meeting of the Council before the Christmas break earlier in the day they had managed to comprehensibly stitch up a rival faction.

Gouter

The Gouter de Noel took place in the salle de fetes yesterday. We assembled at midday and chomped through puddings – black, white and brown – pizza, dried sausages of various kinds, sausage rolls etc. washed down with wine, to which most people always add cassis. Glitter was liberally sprinkled on tables and most of it ended up on those present. It has to be admitted that the half dozen expats drank rather more heavily than the most of the natives but there was no unseemly behaviour. The leftovers are distributed round the commune to be consumed by those too old or too sick to attend. There can’t have been more than 40 present, although that amounts to nearly half the population, but those with small children always attend as there’s an Xmas tree with presents beneath for them. I’ve lived in villages in the UK but none of them had such inclusive gatherings. Enmities are set aside and even the grandson was there handing out cheese and chatted amicably to the maire rather than hurling abuse at him when he is reproved for conduct unbecoming to the common weal. I was given a heavy sell by an ex-farmer well into his 80s who wanted me to buy his little aircraft which he’s decided he’s too old to buzz about in any more.
Train drivers and air traffic controllers can retire at 50. Gendarmes normally wait till they’re 55, although this reduces by a year for each offspring they have produced, five being the maximum number that is beneficial. Civil servants knock off at 55 although most people wait till they’re 62.

Scamper

The mulberry was duly hacked back and its fussy bits deposited in the village truck after we had unloaded logs from it. I had to upgrade my loppers a couple of years ago to cope with it and another upgrade is needed as some of the year’s shoots are 3″ thick. It might be better with a chainsaw, but loppers are so much more peaceful and reflective.
The maire has received a letter from a minister in Paris, the biggest of local cheeses, saying that he has asked the Minister of the Interior de reserver le meilleur examen to the request for naturalisation of a neighbour and myself and to report back to him on the result. Bloody hell. They do things differently here, but it is foreign country – for the time being.
One of the regular dog walks has become almost unusable because of the deer. There are often three hiding along the way and the dogs take off after them. The home pair are smart enough to know their limitations and soon come back after a scamper, but Poonkie’s sister who usually accompanies us is a simple soul and gets stuck each time in a high-banked stream some half a mile away and across a ploughed field.

Feast

Along with the rest of the great and good of the department, four of us from the village attended the Flowery Village award ceremony. The number that sat down to enjoy terrine of foie gras, the guinea fowl and all the expected starters, finishers and trimmings as well as two sorts of wine, was 700, split into tables of ten. One of the best restaurants in the area was in charge. I heard one estimate of the cost to the taxpayer of €20,000 – and that was just for the feast. At a guess some hundred prizes were awarded. Throughout the meal the stage was filled by a succession of immodest maires and their attendants, all grinning at the camera along with the Chairman of the Conseil General, which will later adorn the walls of mairies throughout the Tarn and Garonne. Much schmoozing went on. I failed to catch the nuances of a passionate political discussion whose protagonists were a socialist on the council and the sous prefect. Like me they were outside for a cigarette. The biggest cheeses stayed seated at their tables as a succession of lesser grandees knelt by their sides and whispered in their ears. I was not allowed on stage with our team to accept the village’s award. I was bizarrely head and shoulders taller than anyone else there and our maire said it would make us look ridiculous.

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.