Monthly Archive for November, 2010

Jay

I now seem to be feeding a significant proportion of the tit population of southern France. They queue up for their turn and I really need a self-filling hopper and a bank loan to keep up with demand. Why is it just tits? How far does one have to go to attract anything more exotic? Actually a jay balanced itself on the terrace railings this afternoon and although as a species it’s pretty mundane, I’ve never had a chance to look at one so closely for so long. They are gorgeous birds.

My neighbour just popped round to remind me of a meeting this evening at the mairie to discuss the next-door garage. He’s also decided to sort out my insurance for me because he has a mate in this field as in every other who can do it at a discount. I put him off since I don’t have to think about things till the spring. I shall be grateful to him nonetheless since my language skills are well short of the detail necessary to use a price comparison website.

Dupplin Moor

I spent the day fighting to put the Second War of Scottish Independence onto the computer screen. Battle of Dupplin 1332? English casualties 32, the Scots 13,000. The result of 2,000 Welsh archers on the sides of a valley pouring arrows on the packed Scots army below. It’s difficult not to consider the leadership of both countries as a psychotic bunch of shite-hawks. Or were they the giants whose shoulders we stand on?

Blue & 8 outside today. One of the most striking differences in the weather here rather than Scotland is the number of windless days here. Today one could feel the bite of the sun on one’s face. It hasn’t rained for a day or two but the land still slips underfoot.

I have forms to fill in to say that the skylight has been installed. It has many baffling boxes and demands the signature of the architect. If this has to be done, I shall sign Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Creak

My neighbour took me down the road to admire his collection of a dozen or so motor cars this afternoon. Eclectic is the best word for it, varying through an immaculate 1976 BMW 630, VW beetles, a clutch of Citroen 2CVs, a Mini Moke to three similar vehicles made by Citroen. They live in a large well-equipped workshop at the edge of the village which is another example of the strangeness of the garage-building petit fils next door since he built the thing 5 years ago and then sold it. It would have saved him and everyone else much grief if he’d held on to it. Cars are not a huge interest of mine but listening to someone enthusing about his passion is always worthwhile. And, of course, it’s another chance to understand a little more about how life works in this country.

It’s still, clear and will freeze tonight. I feel extremely fortunate not to be stuck amid the snow fields of Scotland and even more so since this house is so comfortable when the weather is inclement. Yesterday, however, there was a sudden, loud, snapping creak somewhere and I had a vision of the entire building tumbling round my ears. For at least 15 seconds I found my trust in the place considerably diminished.

Waterloo

I’ve just had a cup of tea with my immediate neighbour whose sister was visiting from Cahors. The just-over-an-hour journey took her two as she said they had 5cm of snow where she lives. As one might imagine such weather is considerably more surprising and devastating here than it is in the UK. Very locally it’s been just dull and below 10. Underfoot the clay soil has turned to mud and I have been advised not to make a final cut of the grass in case I need to be pulled out. This seems a little alarmist. Go not far north from here and the winters are always more ferocious. I believe the wimpier expats migrate to southern Spain and Portugal after Christmas, but they will have been caught out a bit this year.

I spent a couple of hours this afternoon watching the film ‘Waterloo’. It’s not that great a movie but nobody has ever done battle scenes like it. Watching 17,000 extras from the Soviet army and half the horses of Europe dressed as French cavalry charging the British squares is well worth enduring the rest of the it.

Mice

I’m still caught out by the politeness of the natives. I realise I can now converse with the villagers without the need to shake hands since I think they know that it doesn’t occur to me to do it naturally but the first thing the gendarme yesterday did when I turned up in front of his desk was to stretch out his hand for a shake and a ‘Bonjour’.  Even more impressive was a brief showing at the back of the reception area by a very heavy-duty middle-aged colleague with a brush cut and dark glasses who flitted between doorways but still felt obliged to utter ‘Bonjour’ when he saw me signing the five separate forms. The actual shake is always a brief dry clasp without any need to pump up and down or squeeze.

The weather here is as unseasonable as it is in the UK. It didn’t rise to 10 today although the sky was blue. It’s forecast to go up to 15 next week which is more normal. The mulberry in the garden has begun to shed yellow leaves which may well be a foot deep beneath it in a day of two. At the first sign of wind I shall open the garden gate and hope that they find their own way out.

The dog now amuses himself by pouncing on mice on the verges as we amble down the road on our regular walk. He caught his first today. There must be hordes of them to support the huge numbers of buzzards and kestrels.

Flics

It’s taken half a dozen trips but I’ve finally discovered how to navigate my way through the maze of Blagnac airport at Toulouse and get out again. French signposting is generally good although they are uninterested in the numbers of the roads and guide you from town to town. But they have a sneaky habit of lulling you into a state of trust and complacency and then dumping you to endlessly circumnavigate some roundabout until you realise that there is no forwarding sign and you just have to trust to luck or intuition.

A neighbour transported me down to the gendarmerie and I handed over my licence till the 9th Dec. The guy behind the desk – diffident with bitten nails – was even younger than British policemen are these days. I face a fallow and unexciting fortnight, a chance to do some work – a fat chance, I suspect.

There was a windy moment just now when a large lorry with a load of gravel chugged up the hill to the putative garage next door. It paused and looked before doing a 7-point turn and going the way it came.

Tax and things

I must be enfeebled by this country. I developed a cold yesterday and spent the day is a state of dozy uselessness. The excitement was the delivery of central heating oil, a steal, I am told, at 70c a litre which seems to be about 10% higher than UK costs. Since I’m paying less than £1 a litre for fuel for the car, this seems a little odd.

Tomorrow morning I deliver my visitor to the airport at Toulouse and shall call into the gendarmerie on my way back to see if they will receive my driving licence later in the day for my fortnight off the road. I think I have found a good Samaritan who will taxi me there and back later in the day. One the ban is over it should take no more than a day or two to have French plates put on the car.

I’m still based in the UK as far as tax is concerned. Otherwise I’m pretty well French. It’s a case of doing one thing at a time and I shall next investigate the hows of tax and try to discover the implications.

Cahors

At last I got to Cahors today in order to discover if there was any record of a young man killed in a duel there in 1719 by his best mate with whom he’d had a minor disagreement. I tried a very smart library first that looked as if it had been set up in 1750 and undergone nothing but a little light dusting ever since. Its lugubrious keeper directed me to the departmental archives where silence was considered so golden that I was initially forbidden to voice my query but directed to a cubby hole where I could write it down. I was damned if I would do that, so shouted at them in English till one of the staff decided it would be easier to humour me. But no luck.

Cahors, though, is a delightful place with a Roman amphitheatre in the underground car park. An anti-government demo was in progress in the square which topped the car park which consisted of a white van playing very loud music and a few dozen folk standing around with banners. Nobody seemed to be taking much notice. A bus-load of gendarmes was parked nearby ready to take on the demonstrators. They had thickened in numbers to near a hundred when I came to depart but the police had gone.

A few evenings ago, for the second time since I’ve been here, this house stank of sewage. I had already established that it came in from the street drains and up a shower outlet which vented its waste that way. Now I realise it only occurs when there’s a function in the salle de fêtes across the street when the system is under strain. The shower is now redundant and I now use it to store wine so I have put duct tape over the outlet and hope the problem is solved.

Peewits

I am part of a deputation, I have been told, which will go down the mairie in the next few days to discuss next door’s garage. Since I do not expect to understand the nuances of what will transpire, I shall feel like a gooseberry but clearly a large and juicy one since my presence was said to be important. I have also been visited to confirm my partnership of the local buying group for CH oil as a delivery is imminently expected. I briefly swithered about living in the full country rather than a village when I was house hunting here, but went with the only half-decent house I was shown. Urban living has enabled me to become part of a community much quicker than if I had bought dans la campagne.

A couple of thousand peewits were sojourning on a spit in the Garonne a couple of days ago. The coots were paddling about in tight rafts of several hundred birds. In the midst of one of these conglomerations, a solitary grebe was towering above its neighbours. Although the binoculars I took are good, I couldn’t tell if it wore a puzzled or worried expression. The huge numbers of cormorants have gone and the mute swans are down to a couple of dozen rather than a couple of hundred.

Boppers

Last night, in aid of charity, the salle de fêtes across the street was filled with British expats who ate sausages and baked beans before listening to a rock band with a couple of female singers – again mostly expats. The maire and a few of his chums were the only French people present and they had a table at the side of the hall to themselves from where they could observe les étrangers at play. The rest of us sat along 3 trestles. It was noisy and the wine flowed. The demographic was as one might expect – 70% retired, 15% children and the rest their parents. This has to be an aide memoire for me rather than offer a full description here.

Today I did a bit of tourist guiding for my visitor. I’m afraid the high point, for me at least, was a close up of the nukes which were in great form rolling out thick columns of steam. I’m quite glad I don’t live too close to them. Their emissions are fun as an interesting feature on the skyline but within a mile or two they are utterly overwhelming. As one might expect they are a vital provider of jobs in the area.