Monthly Archive for June, 2012


The postmaster takes a pride in smattering out his English. I explained to him the difference between England and Scotland and he said ‘You want independence, yes?’ I told him that there would be a referendum on the subject. He was dismissive. It will be like Corsica, he said. They wanted to be independent until they realised it would cost them money. It will be the same in Scotland. It all comes down to money.
The French government sent me another letter. I always hope it will be my Legion d’honneur but, like always, it was a speeding ticket, having been snapped near Paris. I went online to pay the fine and the site had been hijacked by somebody trying to flog some gizmo.


I sat beside an American at dinner the other night. As a supplier to the defence industry he was naturally very Tea Party. Obamacare was an abomination, he said. I asked if he was aware that US health costs as a percentage of GDP were the highest in the world and twice that of the UK? And that Americans died two years earlier than Brits? A generation ago he would have accused me of being a commie propagandist and I hadn’t Google at my elbow to rub his nose in it. The US is a very odd country indeed, its people convulsing themselves on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin and half of them still holding to that quaint Thatcherite doctrine that there is no such thing as Society.


Back in France, having clocked up just short of 3,000 miles without a problem. I’m of the generation that expects cars to break down and am pathetically grateful when they don’t, so I thanked it prettily as I drew up outside the house. The grimmest run is that down from Calais. It should take 9 hours but accidents on the Périphérique round Paris and the odd jack-knifing truck added a couple of extra hours to the trip. From 15 degrees on Skye to 35 here is quite a change.

My neighbour was at the window as I arrived. He had been into the house and opened French windows behind the shutters to allow a through put of air. ‘Had I got bowtoms?’ he asked. There lies the problem with my French. I can read and, if spoken slowly, can understand beau temps, but not in the accented gabble which is speech round here.


Just short of Skye today. I find myself downloading opinions on local economies and potential votes on Scots independence wherever I go. The economy in NW Scotland is in fine shape, I was told, But property is dead, even deader than France, and the tourists aren’t coming – cost of fuel? Olympics? Jubilee? Who knows? And that’s most of the local economy. I’d also put good money on a resounding ‘no’ for the independence vote.
Our part of France is pretty. The Highlands of Scotland when the sun is out and cloud shadows scud across the mountains is awesome. Such a day was today on the way south, The snag is that only 15 days a year are like that and the Highlands under curtains of rain are as miserable a place as can be found on the planet.
The system of subsidising farmers changed a decade ago. Now sheep have gone from the hills and bracken is spreading across the landscape. Politicians and their decisions have wreaked havoc with an environment which had been stable for half a century.

Dead Animal

Heavy duty Highland stuff yesterday. Six hours of meetings during which I resigned from most of the things from which I could resign, followed by a dinner with a piper skirling away in the background for much of the time. Perhaps I’m getting a little old for that sort of thing. It was one thing to give it my tuppence worth when I lived within a few miles from where it all happened, but it’s not really practical to do it from France. It may be heresy to state that the modern manifestation of clan culture may be a little kitsch. I had not been expecting to go to the dinner and so was able to don only two different tartans, one largely red and the other blue. I had no kilt, no silver belt, buttons or badges, no dead animal’s head protecting my balls or dagger stuffed in my stocking top.
But the Americans love the whole business.


In Perthshire today, doing the tourist rounds. I enjoy driving a battered car because people with shiny cars give you a wide berth. Driving one with French number plates gives even greater freedom as people cower into the verge when you approach, particularly if you pretend to drive on the wrong side of the road.
It poured with rain all yesterday but today it stayed dry and even offered some sunshine. The dog saw something lurking behind a car at Blair Castle and charged. He threw a serious wobbly when something showed itself to be a peacock, well used to dogs, which turned round, honked and shook its tail at him.
I had to give a report on Garth Castle, used by an American friend as a holiday house. A barn owl was nesting in one of the window niches and failed to notice me peering at it from an inch behind the glass against which it was leaning.
The area seems infested by Dutch people. It is not a pretty language and I rather missed French.


In the town where I was born but no yellow submarines – instead a succession of acquaintances bumped into, mostly gloomily reporting deaths. I’ve been coming and going for decades and each time the place, Stirling, seems more prosperous. I was here less than a year ago, but new supermarkets are springing up; everywhere looks neater and tidier; people seem better dressed. This is in the midst of what I heard described as the worst economic crisis for half a millennium. I did the rounds of some of the megastores. In one I nearly palmed off a 2€ coin at the check out. ‘You’d’ve got me 20 minutes ago before I was juiced up.’ And they really do seem to relish the job which is not so in France. So far it’s sunshine and shirtsleeves weather with much milk-white flesh in evidence.


The car made Calais without needing more fuel, a testament to the quality of its rebuilt guts. The single windy moment cam at an aire when it seemed to be leaking oil, but it was only condensation dripping from the aircon. It’s so long since that worked that I’d forgotten this was a byproduct.
Bizarrely I failed to see a single French number plate amongst those waiting to cross the Channel. Instead there were lines of ludicrous cars which had been at Le Mans for the carfest. It’s obviously an occasion for boys and their toys since women were very few and lots of manly banter, tattoos and large bellies were evident in the queue.
Engerland was festooned in footie flags and the inhabitants of London, through which the satnav weaved an extraordinarily tortuous path, were strikingly multi-hued compared with provincial France and the capital seemed much the richer for it.


I was treated to lunch at a smart restaurant up the road. The dish everyone selected was veal, but it turned out to be veal sweetbreads. Everyone bar me went ‘Yuk’ and left theirs so I was able to hoover up a gargantuan quantity. Result!
The place is normally patronised by haut bourgeois expats but the clientele seemed entirely French today, mostly multi-generational families
I make a run for the Channel Tunnel tomorrow. I asked my neighbour to keep an eye on the house and he has demanded a key so that he can save the day if water pipes explode and also bring the wrath of the clan down upon any ne’er-do-wells who may lurk. Due warning will be given by his dogs.


The car, which is a creature reborn was still suffering from a cross between a tinkle and a scratching rattle. Since I hope that it will travel long distances soon, I turned up at the garage without phoning in advance at 8am. The proprietor’s father had just opened up. He took the car on a test run which took so long that he may have had his breakfast as well. Then number two son turned up and number one. When dad returned, the car, and a rather startled Cato inside, was whisked into the air and all three of them fell on it.
The noise was a broken thingie inside a brake. The Volvo supplier was shut so no new thingie was available and a little high quality bodging was performed. By the time other customers began to arrive, the job was virtually complete. Number one son, who speaks English, was apologetic. ‘My brother and I decided that we had charged you about enough so we did not dismantle that brake to examine it last time.’