The end

I’ve been doing this blog for more than eight years – 300,000 words’ worth – and I reckon it’s time I stopped. It began as a way of reminding myself what happened and what struck me as odd or interesting about life in France compared to the UK. But France is now what is normal and something has to be very odd indeed before I notice.

There’s also a serious drawback to this kind of blog and that’s because I live here, which makes it impossible to mention much of what happens because it would cause offence. Perforce the most interesting and bizarre events have to be omitted or heavily censored. If you, dear reader, have been following it for a while and will feel deprived, I apologise. The site is paid for until next year, so it’ll still be here. Perhaps I may even add the occasional piece to it, if I don’t lose any more marbles.


I cracked and cut the hedge, a chore that took the best part of a week. That, and pruning the mulberry which has also had an excellent growing year, are the two gardening jobs I dislike the most. I never know if I can yet claim to be too old to do that sort of thing. I’ve given up on bungee jumping, tumultuous sex orgies and rock climbing, but I still have a vague notion of doing some scuba diving. The hedge clippings are beyond our boundary waiting for the tractor with its mower attachment that munches them up and scatters them across France. I flagged down the grandson and asked if he’d like me to clip his side of the hedge on our mutual border. ‘No. I like it and want to keep it as it is.’ I didn’t argue. For the first time this year he has done a little bit of work on his garage by erecting columns of rebar that look as though he intends to add another six feet to the block wall between us. I suspect he hopes I’ll jump up and down with fury, but the more we are sealed from each other, the happier I become.

The mouse season when the house is filled with sinister scurrying is drawing to a close. All that is left to endure is the smell as the casualties of the widely scattered poison decay. I used to employ traps but I became too squeamish after finding living victims with their faces smashed in. The suffering of others is much easier to tolerate when it’s out of sight.


We were invited to lunch, a barbecue. The table was in the midst of the mating ground of a group of white admiral butterflies. They sat on our heads, on our shoulders and waited for a female to come by with whom to copulate. I am no good at sexing white admirals but nothing seemed to turn up. What did arrive was a large bat and it certainly ticked the boxes. It darted about for ten minutes with all the butterflies hot on its tail. I don’t suspect any of them had their wicked way with it.

I’ve given up smoking once more. I do this quite often but have, so far, not managed to make it stick. The trouble is that I don’t try very hard because I decided that it’s probable that I will die of something and it might as well be tobacco. But I checked the age of my heart. It’s 95 according to the questionnaire. Sod that. If it’s that far gone, I see no point in trying to be healthy.


After eight or so years here, it seemed wise to obtain a French driving license. I have procrastinated till now because it means involving myself with the French bureaucracy. What triggered the desire was that, a, Brexit is looming, and, b, for another couple of weeks it can be done by post through some centre in Nantes. After that it will require a personal visit to the dragon ladies in the Prefecture in Montauban and that must be avoided at all costs. Their goal is always to spurn you because you are either insufficiently or incorrectly documented for the purpose and that varies depending on the judgement of the particular dragon that confronts you. So I have spent and afternoon gathering the necessary bumf and will dispatch it tomorrow with the faint hope that it will smoothly go through the system.

The laurel hedge that surrounds this property has grown prodigiously – more so than usual – and my spirit quails at the thought of cutting it. In normal years I teeter at the edge of disappearing into the thing in an effort to reach its more remote portions. This year I don’t think I’d make it. So I hope to importune the company that keeps the village greenery in trim and get them to do it. A problem is that I cannot access some of the hedge because it would mean entering the grandson’s property. And last time I asked he refused permission because he was cross with me. I shall try asking again and see if he has mellowed. We have had a very peaceful summer as he has a new job some 30 miles away and has hardly touched his construction site on the other side of the hedge.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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


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.