Monthly Archive for December, 2011


Grey and wet today. I have mucked out the house in preparation for some people coming round tonight and dropped in on the neighbours and invited them along too. ‘What time?’ ‘Will there be food?’ There’ll be some but it may not last that long if the clan all arrive in their best bibs and tuckers. TEEM, very small, showed off the Spiderman outfit he received for Christmas and did much leaping between chairs.


I saw one of these in a field on the way to the airport. I knew there were a few unfamiliar breeds of cattle in France but this one took the biscuit. It looked no use for either beef or milk. And then I noticed a camel nearby and realised the circus was taking a break. I went round the airport twice earlier in the week seeking the way out. This morning I did it in one. It may be that after 30 trips I’ve finally cracked it.

An ambulance slipped into the village late last night with its blue light flashing. It was impossible not to peer out of the window to discover its business. It decanted the sorciere. She seemed OK when I saw her earlier in the week so she may have been returning from a clinic or even getting a Rolls Royce return from one of the local parties given for the benefit of ancients.


I was told yesterday that 800 expat families lived within the local canton. I think a canton is the rough equivalent of a district council area, one up from the parish council which is called a commune here. Anyway it’s a hell of a lot of expats and I suppose I’ve come across less than 50 of them. It is a little alarming when you go down a road, get lost, look for some native to point you on your way and, when you find one, he speaks to you in Estuary English. I have a theory that most of the people round here are French but I may be wrong. I met someone a couple of days ago, been here for nine years, earns his crust from selling stuff to the natives but still speaks hardly a word of French. It makes one wonder whether the ability to communicate through speech really was the driver that raised mankind from the apes. Grunting in foreign seems to get most people a hell of a long way.


I took my visitor round la ronde des creches. Last year the theme of the eight displays put on by local villages was capitals of the world. This year it was films. There are two games one can play. Spot the baby Jesus and his mum who are usually tucked away in some corner. And try to guess the film. Charlie Chaplin was quite easy as was a Spaghetti Western; Beauty and the Beast was a bit kinky and the Virgin looked understandably shocked. But most featured French films which is not a subject I know much about. They’re all pretty kitsch and the spirit begins to quail after you’ve viewed half a dozen of them but it’s a pleasant 20-mile potter round in the car and gives one a chance to go into the churches which are open for the occasion. One or two of these are well worth the trip. One of the nearest has well-preserved 14th century wall paintings which were only discovered during renovations a few years ago.


French and British nukes, I was told, are the safest in the world. They’re not bad in the USA but there’s an inherent tension between profit and safety which doesn’t exist if they’re publicly owned. In Japan, where my informant had worked – at Fukushima, no less – things are trickier. The problem lies in the national character. In the UK any small change which might take a week’s work is thought about for six months. All possible consequences are considered and ways of alleviating each potential problem is planned. Then they go for it and everyone is up to speed. But in Japan a consensus has to be reached for every action. Nobody will take individual responsibility for a procedure even if it has been previously anticipated. Which means that nothing can happen fast. If the Fukushima catastrophe had taken place here, the plug could have been pulled almost immediately. But the Japanese took a week until everyone agreed what should be done and, by then, it was too late.


This hamlet has approximately 25 inhabitants. I was told recently that there’s a secret tunnel, precise location unknown and built by God knows who, that connects up to another village topped by a castle some 5 miles away and that village may have as many as 50 people living there. Such tunnels have been supposed to exist in most of the places I have lived. One in Perthshire began in a hollow hill and was meant to be still stuffed with gold and muskets from Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Rising. Another dug by monks ran beneath Taunton. Such tunnels are a bit like UFOs. There seems to be an innate human need to believe in such things.
Christmas is chilly and blue here with the bird feeders in great demand. I had a lovely lunch with friends yesterday preceded by a walk by the Garonne. I go out again in half an hour or so and then dive down to the airport to collect a visitor for a few days.
I’m interested to see that spambots take Xmas off. This blog has received 17,000 such messages to date.

HMG pays my pension into a UK bank account. And I still keep almost all my money in the UK. Consequently I have to take an unhealthy interest in the £/€ rate. At the moment it’s about €1.20 to the £ which is about as good as it has been since I came out here. More experienced expats speak nostalgically of the days when the rate was €1.40 to the £ and one could afford to live more extravagantly. I checked up on historic rates recently and was astonished to discover that a decade ago the rate was €1.70 to the £. Today the UK economy is just as bad as any other in Europe and yet there’s been a devaluation of some 30%. We’d be a bigger shambles than Greece if we’d joined the Eurozone. We’ve certainly been doing something wrong.
But the King’s College choir still does Christmas better than anywhere else.


In winter, I have been told, thick fog can settle across this region and last for several days. If this is accompanied by frost the build up of ice can be very beautiful. There was one such fog this morning, the chateau invisible, utterly still and a feeling that the murk was just settling in. But it was gone a few hours later and the villages that sit on the ridge that makes up my horizon are mistily visible once more.
I exited the car yesterday, put my back out and cursed. It happens at intervals and these days means a week of discomfort and some awkward hobbling that can usually be helped with ibuprofen. It woke me up in the middle of the night, giving me an ominously hard time. This morning no trace of discomfort remains. Christmas, of course. Happy things abound.


My car tells me things. Little messages appear on the dashboard, bollocking for not putting on the seat belt, warning if doors are not properly shut and always chiding about a service being due. This message only disappears if one plugs into the computer of an appointed agent and I haven’t been near one of those for years. My heart always sinks when it tells me that one of the multitude of the lights at the back has gone. Some of the best years of my life have been spent sitting in the back of the car with the tailgate open trying to fit a new bulb into one of the impossible orifices provided. It’s akin to playing midwife to a sheep – going in blind, not at all sure what you’re touching and fiddling around for several minutes before coming out and repositioning for another go. This time it was a brake light and I sat a few yards from the sorciere’s grandchild as he did much more grown up things to one of his own cars. He kept up a continual murmur of conversation addressed to his vehicle. The only time he shut up was when I tried to join in. In the end I took the car to a mechanic and was pleased to find that it took him half an hour and some vivid French before he was successful. Part of my difficulty on this occasion was that I was trying to replace the wrong bulb.


The bottle of wine and the nibbles were consumed yesterday. I offered my visitors more but they refused. And then we sat – for more than an hour. There may be some subtle French way of indicating that no more entertainment was on offer and they were permitted to go but I do not know what it is.
I’m about to go under the dentist and have just returned from a preliminary look-see. The last dentist I used in Scotland still had gas cylinders in the corner and reeked of whisky and tobacco. Here they are into X-rays, computers and are young, female & trim. In Scotland the dentist before the last one saw ££££s inside one’s mouth rather than teeth. When he X-rayed, he put on a lead apron and retreated to the far side of the room, leaving me to hold the photo bit against my teeth. Here she held the thing in place herself and continued to bend over me as she clicked the machine.