Monthly Archive for September, 2011


A couple of shiny SUVs were parked just off the track by the Garonne as I went by the other day. A quartet of elderly folk in expensive pastel summer clothes had set themselves up with optical equipment as shiny as their cars and were watching the birds. There’s not a lot at the moment since the migrants have hardly yet begun to move. They were arguing about something, speaking Essex. Since I had a bird expert with me, I offered his services. They had come down from Foix 40 miles south of Toulouse where they were enjoying comfortable retirement. They regularly made this run. My expert decided that the bird in dispute, inevitably at the edge of perception across half a mile of water, was a greenshank that had not fully assumed adult plumage. My companion was American. One man tried to take the piss out of his accent, and mine because I don’t talk Essex. Neither of us could be bothered to engage with him.
I have been recently puzzled by crap outside a French window. I thought it must be mouse but it didn’t look quite right. Someone said bat recently and I’ve just remembered and taken a look. There’s an inch-wide gap in the lintel and a small furry job with beady eyes was staring down at me. It seems to be alone.
My daughter twitters from London. Her latest post reads – Summer’s not ‘clinging on’. It fell asleep drunk in April and then woke up drooling thinking, ‘Shit, I’m late for work’.


Mind blowingly tedious day trying to pull together my accounts. I’m still British in tax and, so long as you pay something to someone, I am told that one is not hassled by either Revenue. I hope this is true. I still have a British address but HM Rev sent a questing letter to my accountant inquiring what I was up to and where I was. I heard from a friend that if you don’t mind your ps & qs, they tell you that they will forgo the pleasure of your money and hand you over to the French who are truffle hunting beneath any bush to find a euro or two to offset the potential shit that this government, like every other, finds itself in.


I had my new tyres fitted by my neighbour. I go down to hold his hand and pass him scalpels, scissors and clamps and bone up on the local gossip. One of the local expats is a serpent with a bad reputation. A man should have a new wife often. He shares a doctor with the sorcière and is told that she will certainly live to over 100.
A curiosity of local society is that people know absolutely everything about everyone in their own commune, but know nothing about those who live elsewhere. A village a few kilometres away is a foreign country and of no interest. Not for the first time I am struck by the similarities with the old Highland estates whose inhabitants were cleared or emigrated by the 19th century. Such folk shared this insularity and would also believe in sorcières.

Digestive bics

Many of the local supermarkets have ‘Anglais’ sections which can also be of interest to Ecossais. They carry things like baked beans, marmalade, marmite, golden syrup, jars of curry paste etc. I was in one this morning, in the Gers, the neighbouring department which is reputed to be heaving with a much more upmarket bunch of expats than us in the Tarn & Garonne. And the shop was certainly well stocked with tastes of Olde England. But there was a snag. Could I possibly bring myself to pay €1,65 for a smallish pack of digestive biscuits? They’re 60-odd pence in Tesco. Although I can devour them by the half dozen, buying at that price would hurt too much.


As far as I can tell the main breadwinners in the village are the women. I know my immediate neighbour is the one that collects, delivers and, until this month, looked after TEEM, who has just gone to school. He fits motor car dealing round this. The women commute and their men folk largely potter all day. But they’re not idle. One is has about finished tarting up his immaculate home and looks after a baby; another has built his family a house in a nearby village. He has just been round to see if I knew anyone who might want a new garden trailer which he has on offer. It lives in the barn which is part of his old house. I wasn’t interested in the trailer but I was in the vast landing net with a 6-foot span hanging on the wall. It was for silures – cat fish – and he drags it through the mud of the river bed beneath a flat-bottomed punt. About as dull a way of fishing as I can imagine.


My visitors departed miserable after seeing Scotland lose to Argentina in New Zealand. I could have told them the result. I gave up following Scotland at any sport after I made the discovery that they always lose when I’m watching but occasionally win when I don’t.
Another lovely lunch in the sunshine today. The temp is predicted to be 28-30 throughout the week. The constancy of decent weather remains a delight. You don’t have to worry about whether to wear a sweater, perhaps carry an umbrella or a raincoat. You know you can live comfortably inside or out depending on one’s preference. All you need to be concerned about is watering the garden and my plantings are all native and drought resistant. The odd one that keels over just shows lack of moral fibre and deserves its parched end.


We enjoyed an extremely high class curry last night. Such things do not exist in France. Their cuisine is, of course, the best in the world and since Escoffier did not cook such foreign muck, they’re buggered if they will eat it. Sensing an opportunity a friend has imported fresh spices from the UK and gave an exclusive tasting to gather opinions on whether such meals could be sold to the expats. Yes.
A eureka moment came when `I realised that houses inhabited by expats keep their shutters open to let in light; those lived in by the French have them shut to keep out – more rarely in – the heat. Most houses in this village are stygian, lit largely by electric bulbs of insufficient wattage, and rather unsettling. One has gone a stage further by totally insulating itself in greenery to the extent that only the front door shows that it is more than a bosky grove.


I await a couple of guests for a couple of nights. Such visitations have the bonus of forcing me to stir around the flora and fauna which lurk under beds or in nasty little corners of the kitchen.
A frelon came visiting very late, slipping in from the night as I put the dog out for his pee. The damn thing was in a bad mood and, of course, it was certainly not going back out into the blackness under its own volition. Swat a thing that size and you need a knacker to remove the carcass so I caught it beneath a glass, opened the door and swung it into outer darkness. It was back inside spitting and cursing before I could shut the door. But I turned out all the lights except those on the terrace, stalked it with a torch, caught it, ejected it and it stayed ejected.


I received a jar of well-salted beans from the sorcière. She wasn’t a happy bunny. The poor thing had come a cropper and hurt her elbow and her knee which was protected in a complicated brace. Her family were out of favour. They took her for granted, only visited when they wanted something, did nothing to help, left bits of car all over the place and, at the age of 91, she found it unreasonable to bend double to heave things in and out of the oven whilst the able-bodied next generation sat and watched. I tutted lots from which she seemed to derive some comfort.
I spent a couple of days driving an exhausted little Peugeot around whilst my ancient boat of a Volvo had its nether regions tickled up by my neighbour’s mate in his garage. I ordered new tyres next door on my neighbour’s computer which he will fit. ‘James, we are both bulls.’ I couldn’t think what he was talking about or, perhaps, who he had been talking to until I sussed that we were both born in May which made us Taureans. I see that I am also a wood rooster according to the Chinese calendar and am expected to like eating berries and lightly-cooked vegetables as well as having tendency to become fat.


Sitting in a garden recently doing what one does out here of a summer evening, a squadron of a dozen large raptors sailed by. I couldn’t work them out but a neighbour has just dropped by bearing a newspaper cutting. The birds were seen by others and were a flight of short-toes eagles chuntering towards the Pyrenees and thence to Africa. The neighbour lives a couple of miles away and is French so sustaining a couple of hours conversation on the terrace was quite bracing. He’s a retired academic from Brittany so at least his French was clear.
I learned a good few new French bird names but how for long they will stick, I cannot tell. I try to word associate where possible but remembering that a blackcap is une fauvette may well be too difficult. Fortunately it’s not a word I shall need to drop into conversation that often.