Monthly Archive for July, 2010

Bugs

The concentration of insects here is remarkable. Any time I can lift my head and see at least a dozen butterflies flitting about the garden as well innumerable bees, wasps, hoverflies, moths etc., most of which are new to me.  We coexist very peacefully although I do make war on mosquitoes in the evening. My predecessors seem to have had nothing like such an easy relationship. Beneath the sink are a dozen cans and bottles, all dedicated to the slaughter of invertebrates, mostly ants. There are sprays, powders and curiously gimcrack traps and many of the windows had sad little killing pads stuck to them. Perhaps the ants go on parade later in the year and become a pain in the neck, but they potter peacefully around at the moment without impinging on my consciousness. Indoors I do sometimes come across a very fast moving long-legged centipede that looks a little ferocious but the last one that got stuck in the sink I tipped out the window rather than declare war on its species.

I got the day wrong for the village lunch, which is tomorrow rather than today. I am out in the evening, so  shall remain fairly abstemious. When one meets people here, the temptation is to go home and google them and it’s rare that they don’t come up. In my next life I shall be born John or Jane Smith which may be the only way to protect any kind of privacy in future.

On Monday the wall will come down. Then it will be a case of making good before a bog, shower and basin goes in. Depending on how much light will now come into the landing, I may have a suntube installed. It’d be a lot less hassle than a window since the walls are 18″ thick & won’t require the the maire to give permission which would be the case with a new window.

Retirement

Am I retired – en retraite? As far as I can make out this is a fairly tricky one, both in the UK & in France. Trying to get some form of health cover over here means I must deal with bureaucrats in Newcastle – and I’ve just clued up that I can Skype them rather than pay a fortune to France Telecom to listen to Vivaldi on their help line. If I work, it’s one thing. If I don’t, it’s another. I phone them every few weeks and vary my status but the buggers never send out the form they promise. It’s easier just to collect my own bits as they drop off rather than find a doctor to do it for me. Of course in France one can retire at some ludicrous age like 21, although they’re said to be trying to raise this to 22. But you can’t work again in the trade to which you devoted your working life. A farmer, say, is not allowed to farm or even sit on the back of a tractor. He can have a second career as a brain surgeon or anything else, so long as it has not the slightest whiff of manure about it. So if I admit to tapping at a keyboard, it appears I’m not retired.

The M le Maire has strung lots of Christmassy-type lights across the village in preparation for tomorrow’s lunch. I suspect this may be the governing party’s riposte to last week’s chasse lunch which was organised by the other side. Certainly my neighbour has shut up his house and disappeared, along with his flea-bitten little dogs, and he is definitely a leading member of the opposition. It will be interesting to see who turns out for it.

Politics

The Virginia creeper which laps greedily at vulnerable portions of the house and terrace is in flower. Today has been grey, breezy and largely 23, so I have been indoors and hadn’t really noticed it. They’re such scooty little flowers I probably wouldn’t ever have registered them at all were it not for the astounding number of honey bees it attracts. On the terrace just now they strike precisely the note of the vuvuzela – and not that far from the stadium

I have been told – on a dit, ie broadcastable gossip – that the split in the village is crystallised in its politics. Each side wishes to control the mairie. The current administration, the country party, is half way through what seems to be at least its second term of six years. In a community containing a declining 90 souls of which a substantial proportion will be beneath voting age or won’t vote at all, it must make an incoming floater like myself a commodity worth cultivating, for I can vote in the mayoral election as well as the Euro one. It cannot be the reason that everyone is so nice but it could help. I haven’t met anyone who has been surly in any way.

Eagles

A day spent on the terrace in front of the pooter with the electricity flicking off and on as the builder’s welding torch kept cutting the supply. I helped him heave the new steel beams in place before he stuck them together. He discovered that half the landing is covered by a false ceiling which, inexplicably, lowers it by 18 inches to hide a perfectly good ceiling above it which needs no more than a lick of paint. That’s going to come out. The only explanation for such work that he could come up with was that the people who put it up must have been very short and did not want to be intimidated by airy space above their heads.

Outside with binoculars by my side I kept seeing raptors today. Three harriers of some kind spent sometime wheeling overhead and then I watched a pair of buzzards harassing something that was significantly larger than they were. And the something is circling up there at the moment. It’s difficult to judge its height and therefore its size but it’s calling in a way that is certainly not buzzard. I’m lousy at identifying birds by their silhouettes unless they help by having characteristics like forked tails but I suppose it must be a golden eagle. Actually it’s not. Having played google, it sounds like a short-toed eagle although I failed to scrutinise its feet.

Church

A day of bangings, thumpings and drillings as work continued on the demolition of the interior wall which was once the divide between the living quarters of the house and its barn. It’s some 18ins thick and 9 feet long and runs straight across the middle of the landing, cutting out lots of light, quite apart from taking up room. It’ll be likely another couple of days work to get rid of it and I’ll see what the new space looks like and how much light is added. I may cut through a window if it’s insufficient. Then put in another bathroom and I’m down to cosmetics. Lots of new light fittings are a high priority which will likely demand a trip to Ikea, just the other side of Toulouse.

There’s another village junket on Saturday. This time it’s the fête locale with a repas champêtre beneath the plane trees. These must be an excellent idea. By gathering the residents in one place and adding food and wine, it’s a great chance to build up community spirit. This particular event is organised by the mairie and I went down there this morning – open Tues 9am-12 and Fri 2pm-5 – to log myself in and took the opportunity to borrow the key to the church and have a look inside. I haven’t seen a plainer or more simple interior so far, not unlike the Parliamentary churches in the Highlands from the early 19th century. It would be better left open to the rafters without a flat wooden ceiling. The most striking of its furnishings is a rather sinister handcart obviously purpose-built to carry in coffins from outlying places. M. Le Maire came at me in a determined fashion from behind his desk with a grim expression on his face, but it was just to shake my hand. I haven’t quite grasped the finer points of local etiquette. I’m told one should grovel a bit and call him M. Le Maire a lot, but the opportunity was not really there.

Cheese

I did the supermarket run this morning and, as usual, combined it with a potter round the nearby lake. There’s always an element of adventure when you drive round here since you’ll round a corner and, as this morning, find a barrier flung across the road and the sign route barrée because they’re tarring and gritting. Then you go off on a mystery tour on narrow lanes, past fields of sunflowers, melons, maize and garlic, through villages you’ve never come across before, climbing verges to avoid fellow adventurers and, just when you think you’ll be lost in the maze forever, you’ll be ejected back onto the main road a couple of miles from where you’ve left it. Fortunately the combines have taken a holiday, otherwise such detours would be a nightmare.

My intention of going foodie is not progressing. In Scotland I had a penchant for those instant microwavable meals which could be fairly disgusting if they weren’t curries and these could be pretty disgusting too. Here such things are in a different league. This morning I picked up three – lapin chasseur, duck and lentils and a seafoody job. Miraculously you don’t have to keep them chilled or frozen & they also only take two minutes to heat up. I do buy chunks of hen which I’ll shove in a pot along with onions, garlic and anything else that’s past its best in the veg section of the fridge, which I’ll chomp through over a few days – the latest version contains large numbers of the matriarch’s apricots – but I haven’t yet been to market or looked up a recipe.

The builder who turns up again tomorrow with a smart beam with which to replace the wall says the main reason he stays in France is the cheese. This I can understand cos it’s superb.

Repas

The programme for the repas had the timing wrong, so I was plucked out of the house by the matriarch shortly after midday to sit down for the blow out. And it was good fun, very friendly and mostly comprehensible. The French don’t seem to do formal dress round here at all, so there were lots of shorts and sandals. The whole thing was organised by the clan with the matriarch being the MC. The boar was surprising – extremely good, tender and delicate in flavour. I was filled in a bit on the very local politics. The village is split into two factions with the clan and its henchpersons one side and the rest on the other. It stems from a fall out for unspecified reasons at a fête a few years ago. The one man who could keep the peace died a few years ago and this is now left to the gendarmerie. The important lesson for a newcomer is to smile a great deal and fight like a rat to avoid taking sides.

I may be in trouble already in this regard. The festivities ended up with a tombola, run by the matriarch. I was late and all the tickets were sold so she made out half a dozen for me on scraps of paper. And they kept coming up winners with the loot – jug, a strange object for chopping vegetables & wine, being handed over with a great soupy smile. She retired home to re-apply lipstick and perfume during the middle of the festivities. They’re still going on organised by a skinny, decrepit DJ in his fifties with spangled t-shirt every glimpse of whom  amused my neighbour at the meal, a professional bodyguard, inordinately.

Cathars

Went to a drinks party last night beneath a ruined castle – very jolly. It was about 15 miles away in the Gers – department 32 which is considered more gentrified than 82, the small department of Tarn & Garonne where I live. We’re considered peasants and consequently don’t have to behave so well.

Back in the village the annual orgy des chasseurs is being prepared. Festivities begin at noon tomorrow with some sort of a lunch followed by petanque and we get seriously stuck in during the evening at la salle de fête which is virtually opposite my front gate. The building is pretty modern and seems to be used no more than half a dozen times a year. As far as I can tell every commune, however small, has one. I’m told that something like 120 people turn up for it from as far afield as Bordeaux and the Dordogne. The Brits have a reputation of drinking too much on such occasions but at a similar event a couple of weeks ago down the road, it was the French who disgraced themselves with too much wine. The weather has turned into pleasant UK summer. Tomorrow is predicted to be 24 with sunshine.

I’m reading a history of the destruction of the Cathars which was a admirably tolerant and gentle heresy which flourished round here for about a century from 1160. The pope declared a crusade against its practitioners and it was crushed with extraordinary barbarism, kicking off with the slaughter of every man, woman and child in the town of Beziers – 20,000 people. The monster who led the persecution was Simon de Montfort whose son is considered one of the founders of English democracy and called the first elected parliament. Daddy burnt people by the hundred or gouged out their eyes and lopped off their noses and lips before sending them on their way. It’s an extremely depressing tale because the baddies keep winning and getting nastier.

Wickedness

I was visited by the village matriarch bearing a gift of a box of apricots which had come down in the rain. The dog coughed as she entered thanks to the atmospheric shock wave preceding her created by her perfume, before it was overwhelmed by her chain-smoked cigarettes. She had three during her cup of coffee. She’s a very friendly old thing but  obsessed by the sorceress. Méchant, très méchant. Before her emotions got the better of her and, mercifully, her hissed imprecations – sotto voce and within a couple of inches of my ear in case supernatural forces could carry her voice across the road – became incomprehensible, I understood that the sorceress had a coven of three similar old bats in the vicinity. Amongst her sins is scattering nails to puncture local tyres and scratching cars as she hobbles by, quite apart from nicking jam from unlocked houses and flowers from gardens. The police had visited her the day before to give her a bollocking but the system can’t cope with wicked 90 year-olds. I showed her the ticket I’d been giving for contravening a stop sign. She padded next door to one of her offspring who has lots of copains amongst the police. Alas! I was too late. Had I come to her earlier the problem could have been easily fixed but it had now entered the system and justice would take its course. She’s still asking me to join her expedition in a coach to Andorra for cheap booze and fags next month. I’m tempted for the experience. We now bind to each other in a bear hug when we part.

Cricket

Lots of rain last night which continued into the early afternoon. With a grey, weeping sky, it felt just like Scotland. Most of the day the temp was 16, but then the rain stopped and it lurched back up to 22 although the sun has not come out.

Dark bush cricket

I’ve just been sidetracked by a large cricket which came through the window and landed on my lap in two bounds. I put it on the floor and introduced it to the dog who spent a happy 10 minutes playing with it before the insect regained the creeper and disappeared. The dog picked it up several times without doing it any apparent harm. With a mouth that soft I ought to train him to retrieve pheasants.

I had a French lesson this morning and came back expecting to have lost some more wall but the Man has stayed in his barn today, welding together a beam which is custom made to do the job required. Being conscious of the great weight of bricks it will need to support, I asked the builder if he had insurance if it all came crashing came down. ‘No,’ was the cheerful reply. ‘But it won’t, and if it did I’d likely rebuild your house for you.’

Second hand cars are very expensive here because the French hold on to their vehicles for an average of 7 years. Big shiny cars are usually owned by visiting Parisians. The locals have some contempt for such things, thinking it’s silly to waste money on an expensive new car when an old and battered one will do the job required just as well.