Monthly Archive for December, 2012

Skian Dhu

It is such bliss to be back in my normal environment. France is blue and beautiful out there and the tits hang in swags from the bird feeders suspended just outside the French window. Bar the dog’s penchant for leaping onto my belly, there are no snakes in this Eden. Even wine has not lost its savour and I have taken care not to read too much small print on various boxes in case it warns that it may clash with their contents.
My only dilemma is how far to go in dressing up like a cartoon Scotsman when we go next door for this evening’s Hogmanay repas. There are two or three children there and I may have to show up with an ancient rusty skian dhu with a deerhorn handle and persuade the little ones that the stains are the blood of Englishmen. I can’t be arsed to wear a kilt – my knees are neither brown nor hairy at the moment – but I could shove a rather smart belt on the top of trews and stuff the dagger into that. They wouldn’t know that this was not the norm. Madame is apparently cooking up something light but delicious.


If my wicked past ever caught up with me and I was sent to the slammer for a few years, I had long been comforted by reports that the ghastly boarding school education that I endured would enable me to do my porridge with the minimum of upset. At least so said Archer, Aitken and similar malefactors. But eight days in hospital brought me close to gibbering dementia. I kept telling myself it was better than being dead, but it felt like a damn close run thing.
My blessed regular visitor told me at one point I had 12 different packs of chemicals hanging from the coat stand adjacent to my bed dribbling drugs through three separate holes drilled into me. I couldn’t read; there was no wifi, and all that worked was an endless supply of DVDs. Every minute felt like an hour and when I managed to persuade them to provide me with a chemical cosh to try to get some sleep, the stuff took effect at midnight and wore off an hour later.
Being the holiday season, I must have enjoyed the ministrations of the best part of fifty different nurses, some sweet and some not – like the profession the world over, I suppose. They reserved the prettiest one to shave every hair from my body – including the two that have adorned my chest for many a year that proved I was a real man. There were two plusses. The first was the bliss of realising that there was a tube handy to do all the work when I needed a pee and the second that my French proved adequate most of the time.
I’m now wearing a corset and am shortly to entertain a district nurse who will inject things into me and will continue to do so for the next month. And next week I go back to see the man that my neighbour calls my butcher. He told me rather gloomily that we communicated in Franglais but seemed happier when I complimented him on his fluency in the language. I shall have to thank him prettily for saving my life. Is a box of chocolates an adequate recompense?


I’m due in hospital in a few days for an operation and have peacefully resigned myself into the arms of the French medical service. It seems to know what it’s doing and takes great trouble to explain things to me. I’m afraid I don’t understand all of it, but I don’t see that I have to.
We went round to my neighbour’s house yesterday for a 10th birthday party – vast amounts of cake and sweets washed down with champagne. The chasse had been in action earlier in the morning and the clan chief was still fizzing with adrenalin as they killed half a dozen sangliers just beforehand. He told me that they count the amount of game by going round with a searchlight on the back of a pickup in the wee small hours. I can’t believe it can be that accurate, but this commune is said to be home to some 45 boar, nearly a dozen more than is recommended. There won’t be a shoot of the land round the chateau this season. It’s a reserve and a cull requires a letter of authorisation from the Prefect of the department and he only issues one when sufficient numbers of local farmers moan about the damage the animals are doing to their crops. This year they seem content.
My neighbour, whose wounds from his hernia op have almost healed, pops round every morning. ‘Oh! You are still alive.’ He professes to be worried about my immortal soul should I fail to be in this condition when he calls and says he will find a curé to take my confession. I have told him this will be unnecessary as most Scots traditionally look on Catholic priests as little more than good fuel for bonfires.

Oil drum

A visitor was dropped off at the airport this morning and we came back cross-country rather than by the motorway that has become my custom route although it costs about €13 and probably uses more fuel. The time taken is virtually the same, but the hassle factor bears no comparison. The low road passes through dreary village after dreary village; you jerk through stop signs, chicane across roundabouts, bounce over innumerable speed bumps and wind round countless hairpin bends. It’s a dementing journey. In one of the villages we made a detour from the road that skirts it and crawled towards the church, just to see if there was a redeeming feature. There wasn’t. But in the middle of one of the few narrow streets sat an old woman on an oil drum, wearing a Welsh witchy hat and a cloak against the drizzle. She was in full slap with a cigarette dangling from her mouth. I caught her eye and she gave me an enchanting smile.
My neighbour bought an old Volvo estate car for €2, drove it for four years and sold it on for €1700. I can see why he looks hungrily at mine. He has been telling me I should buy some fancy machine with a right-hand drive from him for two years now. He rotates his car for the day through some half a dozen of the choicer specimens in his stable and he was flashing it at me again yesterday. As usual I told him to piss off. It’s unfortunate to observe that his knowledge of inappropriate English has grown far faster than mine of French.


The chasse is in very full swing. Everything is in season and you must be careful not to squash a hunting dog or some doddering old farmer with a shotgun when you go round a corner. The countryside here has wildlife, often pretty spectacular, wherever you look simply because the natives love shooting it. Stop shooting and there wouldn’t be a boar, deer or anything else for miles. I don’t know the figures of the back foot, but this community, which puts down a hundred or so pheasants, might be allowed to kill six boar and eight roe deer in the season. And though you can shoot skylarks and song thrushes, the season is carefully worked out and, I suspect, you’d be dead meat if you misbehaved and thus threatened the sport of your neighbours. It’s always uncomfortable for bunny huggers to understand that the huggable only exist because folk find it fun to kill them.
I was engaged in conversation by two old buffers this morning whilst getting the car through its MoT. They were talking about rally cars and I didn’t understand a word of it. But I must have grunted in the right places because they fared me well like an old friend.

Silent bloc

Since I am an expert on a tiny patch in the very large field of Scots roots, I sometimes receive emails from folk doing family research. They’re usually Americans, often Mormons, who are black affronted when I tell them, as gently as possible, that what they are convinced is true is bullshit or unproveable. I had one yesterday that was different and the author seemed to be a doing a good and careful job, so I googled him. I was most impressed to find that he’d written a book on pterygotid eurypterids. I didn’t know what they might be either.
The car failed its controle technique. Something called the silent bloc was at fault, but it had created the need for a new set of tyres and was rather expensive. To be fair the vehicle now proceeds without the strange clunks and groans that used to be part of its progression. It will soon become like the axe that chopped off Queen Mary’s head, which is completely original, save for two new handles and a replacement head.


My heart was checked out yesterday. I turned up to the clinic where a tattooed young man stuck various electrodes to my chest and passed over the resulting print out. Dead easy and I went to the desk to pay the resulting bill. I was told to do this downstairs on the way out. There I was hijacked; they shoved me in a bed, shaved my rude bits, wheeled me down somewhere, hacked a hole in an artery, stuffed me full of dye, snapped like buggery, then made me wait four hours till the hole they’d made healed sufficiently to change the dressing before I was permitted to leave some seven hours later. I wouldn’t have minded if I’d been warned that this was to happen but it all left me in a rather ratty mood.
I am told that the top-up medical insurance that I took out when I realised that I could soon find myself under the doctor is actually going to work in time. I am booked for carving a few days before Xmas and shall now order a single room and any frills I can think up. I shall be languishing there over the festive season which, although hassle in one way, relieves me of other hassles in another.


After a dozen years of use the monitor I attach to the computer turned lilac and died. The supermarket up the road sold a substitute for €80 and my life is transformed. I can actually see things on the screen now. Little things like that make a great difference to my quality of life.
After looking at it for the last couple of years I finally got round to organising some 6 ins of insulation in the loft. I’m told it’ll make the house toastie warm and save a fortune on fuel bills. It ought to give the mice somewhere cosy to live in the winter and deaden the pitter-patter of tiny feet.
Every so often I tour the garden with a trowel and heave turds left by Cato and visiting dogs over the hedge. When tossing them over into the neighbouring garage – still roofless with the walls undemolished – I’ve discovered that I can create a satisfying drumbeat if I manage to land one on the roof of one of the decaying cars that the sorciere’s grandson stores there. I now concentrate on trying to achieve this.


My neighbour is recuperating from his belly op at an indecent speed and already driving. I have admired his wounds. I spend my mornings trailing into town to have blood sucked out of me for tests by a variety of district nurses. The last one was in order to test my blood group. I have all sorts of bits of bumf, some even encased in plastic that declare me O Rh+, but French law demands such a test before any procedure. I suppose it’s sensible as well as being one of those work creation programmes at which the French excel. I pay the nurse €2.48 each time, a sum that can surely be scarcely worth the bother of collecting. They get quite excited if I can provide the exact sum. A very old boy waiting alongside me this morning was making some very strange noises that rather worried me until I discovered he was playing some ferocious battle game on his phone.
A rather fierce wood burning fire has crouched in the corner of this house since I came. I have ignored the thing, preferring to press a button to get the diesel flowing instead. But it’s been hovering round freezing the last few nights and I’ve fired it up and it’s quite fun. I mucked it out today and thee must have been half a pound of nails in the grate. As a good Scot, I should have preserved them for future use, but I didn’t.