Monthly Archive for June, 2013


The cost of the chasse lunch has risen to €20 a head this year. Pater fam, recovering well from his back op, put his head through the kitchen window and issued the invitation. Politically it is impossible not to go so I look on the outlay as an addition to the local rates. Sometimes the food, all killed within the commune which makes its carbon footprint very impressive, is very good; at others one can feel like a hyena scavenging kills that have been lying dead in the midday sun too long.
Now that the weather at last looks set fair and I have reverted to my shorts, the orioles are fluting over at the chateau. They have a lovely call, identical to their relations in South Africa. There these bright yellow birds were anything but shy. Here they are almost always invisible, calling from the depths of the canopy. They are in the poplars alongside the Garonne where we walked with visitors this morning. It felt faintly shocking to encounter another primate who jogged past with a ‘Bonjour’ in a wobble of belly rolls and Lycra. The only obvious bird life on the water was gulls and the river is still muddy with silt from the recent rains.


It’s still a bit nippy. We had passing Brits for lunch yesterday who turned up in shorts and insisted on having their lunch on the terrace. The residents wore sweaters. There’s no doubt one gets soft out here. Gone are the days when I would happily strip off and swim in the North Sea if the temperature hit a balmy 16. Next week it’s supposed to hit a comfy 30 that is a bit more like it.
Kindling books is turning out reasonably profitable, certainly more so than doing nothing with them. After scrutinising my contracts, it seems that I may be able to put up two more since the firm that published them are very vague about electronic rights and have already breached our agreement by failing to render biannual returns. So I may see them in court. I scanned the first half dozen, but it took me so long to correct the typos that I might as well have retyped them myself. I’ll do that this time and it will keep me out of mischief for a week or three. But I will be faced with the temptation to alter the passages that make me blanch with embarrassment. I still remember 30-odd years ago my father’s delight in pointing out that I couldn’t spell paraphernalia. This time I’ll get it right and cock a snook at his shade.


I’ve got an appointment a week chez le dentiste till the end of July when I am fitted with a few new plastic teeth. The lass who does me is extremely skinny and I doubted she had the muscle power to extract what needed to be taken out. To reassure me, she rolled up a sleeve and demonstrated a bicep like Popeye’s. It was most impressive. She has horses, said my neighbour, which explained it. The bill will amount to some €1300, which seems extortionate particularly when I compare what was paid to standard medics the other day for rummaging around my innards. It was said to be a popular 16th birthday present in Glasgow to have all your teeth pulled out and replaced with dentures. My life would have been a lot easier had I been so gifted instead of losing them piecemeal over the decades.
The car has spent a lot of time recently bumbling down the motorway to the airport ferrying visitors. Last time I used cruise control the electrics threw a wobbly and I had to give the vehicle a kicking to sort it out. So now I don’t dare use it. Electrics seem an uncharted area of horror for the modern car and way beyond the ken of coarse mechanics that are the only kind I know. The car is approaching its quarter million miles and I hope it still has half its life ahead but I can survive without cruise control. I still have a single ignition key and shall have to be careful. To find another that works seems to cost some €300, provided you can find sufficient of a specialist to do the necessary programming. I may never get round to this.


I was told today that the French will not use the loo in someone else’s house. Unfortunately I have had insufficient experience to be able to verify this but it would be an interesting cultural difference. I was invited to a spectacle this evening, a dance exhibition put on by local school children. Although I was tempted, I’ve been to a sufficiency of such events in the UK to believe the difference would not be worth the loss of an evening.
Here one receives nuisance calls. There seems to be no way of barring them. I hang up immediately if there’s a delay after I answer because the delay is caused by the computer that takes a few seconds before it passes me on to an available salesperson. And a salesperson in sing-song French is not worth waiting for. I’ve just had such a call – 6.30 on a Saturday evening. This time it was a smooth-talking Brit trying to sell me his services as a money advisor if I asked him to drop in for a coffee. He must have been trawling the phone book looking for non-French names. I told him to piss off but my heart ached for him. What a ghastly way to earn a living.


Catastrophe, I was told. The restaurants are empty, the gites unbooked, the markets unpatronised, no tourists and that’s before one even gets on to the farmers. Heavy cloud and drizzle all day but at least the temp – 18/19 – is a few degrees higher than would be the case in the UK in such circumstances.
I spent part of the afternoon reading a 10,000 word manuscript written by the teenage son of a friend who asked for my opinion. A woman once asked me how she could find someone to give unbiased judgement on something she’d written. If she found such a being and she really wanted to be a writer, I advised her to divorce her husband and cleave unto him, or her. It’s a tricky business. All any writer wants to hear is that their work is wonderful. Otherwise it’s a bit like telling someone of their inadequacies as a driver or a lover. Or that their bum does look big in that.


Once upon a time, I would take the dog through a small wood first thing in the morning to collect the paper. On a doorstep half way would be a chessboard and I would make a move as I went by. After some time I discovered my opponent was making his moves with the help of a computer whereas I put in no more than 15 seconds of thought – less if it was raining. Consequently I set up one of the games at home that got to such a stage that I was bound to win. At which point he kicked the board out into the wood and we played no more.
What brought this to mind is that something faintly similar goes on beside my front door. I picked up a small plastic, spotty dog in the street a while back and absently placed on a convenient post beside the mailbox. It sat alone for a week until it was joined a by a dinosaur and shortly afterwards by a lizard. And they began to assume rather rude positions. I blamed my neighbour but he denied it and indicated he was well above such childish diversions. I doubt it could be the postie. There’s now a tortoise there as well and the dinosaur has disappeared, blown into the hedge I suspect. It was a stegosaurus and presented a high profile to any passing tempest. I now think it’s the fairies.


Thunderstorms and the collapse of the window of half-decent weather are forecast. The matriarch has covered her flowers in sheeting. I assume this is protection in case it hails and has left me anxiously wondering if I’ve got anything in the garden that deserves to be similarly cherished. If some cloud does a dump, it is likely to shift the terrace, which is awaiting the arrival of a yellow machine to take it to bits and rebuild it with the addition of a few drainpipes. It does give me an excuse to do very little indeed with a chunk of the garden for there’s no point if it’s all to be chewed up.
We circumnavigated the lake a dozen miles away this morning and dropped in on the sorcière. She’s now in a wheelchair but has a wonderful new set of plastic teeth of which I was very envious. One of the reasons I have always found her incomprehensible I had put down to the way her words split asunder as they whistled round her one remaining fang, but her full set made conversation no easier. I can understand how she may not make much sense of what I say since I suspect she’s very deaf and I’m not about to bellow bad French into a day room filled with slumbering geriatrics, but she says urgent things to me that mean nothing. She may be as mad as a hatter but I wouldn’t be able to tell. Fortunately a nod, a sympathetic smile, a box of chocolates and a lick on the hand from Cato seem to satisfy her.


Very domestic today and, mercifully, sunshine. I finally got rid of the upstairs orange, put down stuff found on eBay that should stop the rugs sliding all over the tiles & even played with money, in the sense that I communicated with my sweet accountant in Devon who says he will get HMRC to disgorge tax paid since I’m now a fiscal Frenchman. I’ve always resented money since it’s an essentially dead and abstract commodity and time spent concerned with it is similarly dead time. I once spun a theory that Stone Age man could have chosen a kiss as the basic unit of barter, which would have vastly augmented the subsequent joy of mankind. There was even another new butterfly but too boring to bother to look up.
I try to discourage visits from the little dogs belonging to my neighbour that patrol the village and bark at anyone who turns up. They gave Cato fleas once and I’ve never trusted them since. I have festooned the gaps in the gate at the bottom of the garden with unwelcoming netting to keep them at bay. I sat, rather thin-lipped, as their owner summoned them and we watched them from the terrace as they destroyed my defences and came waddling through. ‘They are terriers. They will come through anything.’ He knows I find them, like most of the village, to be a pain in the backside, which is why he keeps threatening me with looking after them when he goes on holiday. He came round later to apologise for encouraging them since he’d had a bollocking from his missus. By that time I had replaced and enhanced the barriers so I was quite looking forward to a rematch. He said that if he finds them dead, he would know whom to blame. There are many degrees of escalation but I’m still a way short of killing the little buggers.

White admiral



At a good lick, a sporty-looking little car puttered past the chateau . I asked my neighbour, beside me on the terrace, what it was. Motorcars would be his specialist subject on Mastermind. ‘A Thingy,’ he said. I’m afraid my brain is not capable of further precision. The Thingy was rented by local resident who’d had his licence taken away for being caught pissed. It’s not a car, although it quacks just like one; it’s a quadricycle and you don’t need a licence to drive it. Consequently the halt, the lame, the blind, the senile and the pissed can still go around crushing passers-by. I asked my neighbour if this might not be considered a little strange. ‘Yes. It is stupid. But this is France.’

With the sun out and a decent temperature, the valerian is now a blizzard of butterflies, most of them painted ladies. But there’s one I hadn’t clocked before, the southern white admiral. Curiously there are no bumblebees on the valerian but just down the garden is a stand of lamb’s lug in uninspiring flower. It is full of large bees, particularly carpenter bees, but is never patronised by the butterflies.

The first dog walk for a while this morning – round a large lake that was excavated 170 years ago to provide clay for the banks and base of the adjacent canal. Only one dog was belaboured by a passer by although several others took evasive action on our approach; wildlife and domestic fowls were unscathed, not even a Muscovy duck that chanced its luck. And there was little snarling discord amid the pack. A good result. The lake contains at least one enormous carp that surfaced with a resounding splash and sent foaming rings across the mirror-like surface.


More crap weather although it perked up sufficiently for us to be able to feed people on the terrace at the weekend. One of the guests was a visiting Scot and I was grateful that he got stuck in the whisky that tends to build up here since everyone drinks wine. Being a professional Scot he drank more than was advisable. It’s been a while since I’ve had a maudlin fellow countryman draping himself over me.
I am now robustly healthy, largely because I know that if I go to the doc with the remotest ache, blood will be sampled, I shall be scanned, ultrasounded and end up under the knife in some clinic an hour up the motorway. In many ways the UK system where you’re given a placebo and told to piss off has much to commend it. I still have to face the harvest of many of my remaining teeth in a couple of weeks, but I am used to dentists. If you were brought up on the water of Central Scotland, you have to be.
Granny’s removal from the village now takes place today but there are problems. 16 relatives will have to share the cost and none of them want to. My neighbour is in charge and he says the matter will end up before a judge who will force them to pay.