Monthly Archive for March, 2013


Putain de bordel de merde sounds nicer in French than it does in translation – whore of brothel of shit. It is a commonly used expression of exasperation rather than swearing, even by my neighbouring dowager. Similarly calling some one un sale con is much less offensive in French than it is in English. Va te faire foutre is piss off or even stronger. All these seem to be in general usage. But call someone a sale enculé, a dirty bottom, I am told, and the Eiffel Tower sways on its foundations. Swearing in another’s language is unwise as the nuances of meaning and situations can only be understood by those brought up in the culture. A Finnish girl I once knew told me that the most potent curse word in her language was perkele – with much rolling of the ‘r’ – which commemorates an ancient god. That’s a lovely word. I can’t think of a really naughty word in English that sounds anything other than downright ugly.


So long as the UK is enduring winter, I’ve a nasty feeling that we’ll be suffering the normal British spring here. It’s forecast to be a soggy 13 degrees as far ahead as the Meteo is prepared to go. I’m due for a visit to London to play grandfather quite soon and I shall wrap up in Arctic gear.
I’m also about to join the French tax system. I should have done this three years go when I first came out and settled, but the horror of facing another bureaucracy and one in a foreign language has made me postpone the move until now. But this year the Inland Revenue is going to shop all the expats who pretend they’re still in Britain to the French, so I have little choice. Digging out all the bits of paper that my UK accountant demands that I send him takes me days and there were always some of them missing. I now have an accountant who is based in Paris who is willing to act as nursie as I go French. He sent me an email outlining his demands. It took me no more than a couple of hours to produce all that he required. And he says he’ll charge half what I paid in the UK. Next year I should be able to do it all myself. I have a theory that the French bureaucracy operates differently from that in the UK. Here they like to sit surrounded by lots of paper, enjoy at least two hours for lunch and, so long as you fire enough forms at them with something – anything – written in all the correct boxes they remain content and don’t trouble their customers. In Britain they can get off their backsides and, as I have found out a couple of times in the past, be very snotty indeed.


The soul is desolate when you turn the ignition key of the car and nothing happens. This took place yesterday in a supermarket car park. The first step is to pretend it is not happening and try again. But the car was still dead. I pulled out the handbook and looked under troubleshooting but nothing was relevant. I then opened the bonnet and peered inside. It was full of engine as usual. I opened the fuse box but all seemed tickety boo. Then I turned the key again. Lots of electrics came on but the starter refused to turn. I went into the supermarket and tried to find a phone book. What’s the French for AA? But they hadn’t got a phone book. I seemed to remember that the car insurance came with a breakdown service. If so, the paperwork kept mum about it.
A couple paused to ask if I needed help and pointed out that there was a garage less than 200 yards away. So I went there. They were very sweet. A mechanic drove over the help, armed with things like jump leads. The car was still dead. He went away and came back with a mate. They beavered away for a bit without success. I went back to the garage. The receptionist refused to charge me for their time and phoned for a specialist electrician who turned up with a breakdown lorry. He couldn’t make the car work either so hauled the vehicle onto his truck and we rumbled the few miles to his garage. He lent me a car and I went home.
My neighbour saw the courtesy car and called round. What was the problem? I explained. Of course the garagiste was a friend. He got on the phone and a technical discussion took place. Had I a spare key? I had and it was suggested I return to the garage and tried it. 25 minutes later I was back there and the other key worked. So, somewhat poorer, I drove home.
I didn’t know an ignition key has a gismo built into it these days. And the gismo was bust. So I now have no spare key and I have entered the baffling word of car keys, transponders, programming transponders and all sorts of other bullshit that I would really prefer not to know about but is unavoidable if I do not want to be expensively marooned in a shiny but useless vehicle sometime in the future.


I drove past a field of sheep the other day and was surprised to see a bloke sitting on a stool staring at them. On the way back the stool was still occupied but this time by a woman. The sheep, perhaps 60 of them, had lambs and I can only think that the farmer and his missus were giving them a 24/7 guard to keep predators away. The hunting season has ended but the chasse has had a special dispensation to kill foxes. I asked a chasseur whether he’d had a good season. ‘Yes’ was the answer. ‘I shot three pheasants.’ I doubt that would satisfy the average UK merchant banker in the UK who is used to 350-bird days, preferably without getting his green wellies too muddy.
Spring is struggling a bit here, but not a patch on the problems of the UK. The farmers need a dry week to allow them onto the fields for those couple of magic days before the clay turns back into summer concrete. And I saw the first swallow.

Air force

I spent a couple of hours sitting on the terrace with a book in the sunshine this afternoon, which reminded me, not that a reminder was needed, why I moved to France. The countryside is looking lovely, The French air force made a few faintly interesting passes but far enough away not be irritating. The bizarre bulbous aircraft that carries wings for the Airbus to Toulouse lumbered across the horizon. A buzzard landed heavily on a tree a few yards off and spent 10 minutes looking for something to eat before flapping away and the tits continued to whirr down to the peanuts. I’m weaning them off this source of free grub for the summer. I gave the grass its second cut. The weather is going downhill again over the next few days but summer can’t be far off. The neighbourhood children get home from school about half four and today they were scootering up and down the street.


A pleasant day, so I went outside and frowned at some of the weeds. My neighbour, who knows everything, tells me that the gardening season doesn’t start until next week but I am not a gardener so reckon that I am exempt from such strictures. As well as being in the local oil-buying cartel and the CH service cartel, I may very well be joining in the insurance group. Local contacts already mean that the last serious car service came in at 50% less than the usual rate and I have learned to do virtually nothing without consulting with the local oracle first.
There’s a field at the edge of the village for sale. A guy who lives over in the Gers bought it as a speculation as building land some half a dozen years ago. Unfortunately it’s beyond the village sign and thus houses will not be permitted. He paid €15k for it and has put it back on the market for €45k. Three nearby properties had for sale signs outside when I arrived here nearly three years ago. The same three houses are still available. At least two of them have inhabitants. The other grows shabbier by the month.


Definitely the last fire of the year is now flickering away inside the wood burner. I am told that one’s fire insurance is invalid if one doesn’t spend €60 a year on a chimney sweep. This must be a racket. The chimney is an insulated steel tube; I can buy a chemical log that removes any combustible build up and, if all else fails, I can ask my neighbour who has a set of brushes to do it for me.

I had a phone call a couple of hours ago from a good English speaker asking if I’d mind if he put an invitation to a meeting in my post box. Odd, I thought, but I could think of no reason why not. I just remembered and checked the box. It’s from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, asking me to travel 30 miles to celebrate, if that the right word, the anniversary of Christ’s death, which it says took place after sundown on 26th March. I’m not sure whether I prefer a phone call to their usual visit but I’m afraid all such approaches will be in vain. But the caller deserves to be admitted to his particular heaven simply for being arsed to trawl through the telephone book looking for expats.


I saw the first hoopoe of the year, sitting looking very out of place on a patch of snow.
Habemus papam, said the cardinal. This was a worry to my teacher during my French lesson this morning. Why should the Pope be feminine? The gender of many French nouns defies logic and many of the natives seem as little bothered at getting them right as I do. However I would suggest that the Academie Francaise works to change the gender of the various female organs that are currently masculine and some of the very macho nouns that are feminine. My neighbour believes that there is no point in my trying to improve my French any further. I can now communicate and will never become properly fluent. He was ratting this morning, which consisted of dropping a couple of bangers through the drain cover into the village’s sewer. The noise was most impressive and is said to drive out the rodents. It certainly sent his yappy little dogs scurrying for cover, so I may in invest in some.


With the weather looking like being nippy over the next few days, I ordered a small load of logs. The vendor, pater familias of the village, has done his back in, but nonetheless he turned up about 8am and began wheeling them from his lorry to stack them neatly alongside the well. I’m still a little delicate but I felt I had to join him, still in my pyjamas that wished to fall to my ankles. He is due for a second course of injections on his spine tomorrow.
I have been trying to book a trip to foreign parts to visit relatives. It’s a loathsome business. I had to plough through the site four or five times before they would take my money. Then they decided I was a thief and a vagabond and threw my money back at me. I wouldn’t have minded that much, but they blocked my card and told me it would be 10 days before they would give a refund. It seemed pointless to shout at the Indian lady, but I almost advised her that it was unwise to address the caller by his first name, rather than ‘sir’, when he is an old fart with steam coming out of his ears.
Thanks to my neighbour I have joined the local CH boiler service group. The expert, who turned up a day or two ago, mildly freaked me as he had an uncanny resemblance to Tony Robinson. He told me the machine was filthy – not surprising, since it hasn’t been looked at for three years – but it now purrs rather than thunders and I removed the rodent corpses from its curtilage so it’s no longer crunchy underfoot there.


Various friends have lost various bits of their houses when the Autan gale swept down from the Pyrenees, blew with ferocity for a few days and then went away. It was sufficiently nasty for the authorities to have declared that it was a tempete and thus cut lots of red tape out of insurance claims. This house remained intact but the wind was very wearing and brought down a few trees round the chateau. Tempers notoriously fray under such conditions and they are said to be a mitigating factor if one gets cross and cuts the throat of one’s nearest and dearest. It was accompanied with a cloudless sky, which seems unnatural if you’re used to Scots gales. The only occasion I remember similar was on Orkney when I ventured outside and the specs were snatched from my nose. Fortunately the sun glinted off the lenses as they fell some 50 yards away; otherwise and I would have been in the shit.
I have spent four hours over the past couple of days sitting in the doc’s waiting room trying to clear up the dregs remaining from my gralloching over Xmas. The average visit length seems to be a good 15 minutes and the spirit does quail when you see half a dozen or more people ahead of you in the queue. I prefer the British system when you can be in and out within two minutes but here one can be shown the doc’s holiday snaps and discuss his tax affairs. I always arm myself with a thick book for the wait but everyone else seems content to gaze into space. I wonder whether they have a richer and more entertaining inner life than I do, because I tend to become angrily bored with such enforced inaction and waste of time. I felt the same as a child listening to droning sermons. My father would go to sleep but I could never manage it. Today the doc had no receptionist, but I could hand over my carte vitale when I finally got to him and my records popped up on his screen – except that some of the system was down and he had to make phone calls to get the info he needed. Come to think about, he did no doctoring at all. All he did was check on the result of tests I had done a couple of days earlier and apply the appropriate drug.