Monthly Archive for December, 2013


We spent two/three days in the deep south near St Tropez and it felt as though most of the time was spent negotiating endless hairpin bends, often in the rain and the fog with the mistral trying to blow us off the road. We saw a very interesting monastery, fifteen miles into the woods and up the hills. Bloody enormous with no other building for miles, but rather than admire the architecture I was more interested in how they got the materials up there and how and why so many people bothered to besiege it and then go to the trouble of razing it only for it to be rebuilt. I used to think Cumbernauld was the arsehole of the world but, after failing to find a chapel with its interior decorated by Matisse, we travelled along the coast road between Menton and Monaco and my mind has been changed. Monte Carlo was obviously pretty grim beforehand but Prince Albert has permitted an enormous and incongruous skyscraper that thrusts up towards the heavens from the centre of the city. I hope the money he received was worth destroying what small aesthetic value was there beforehand. I was told the upper floors of the building will contain flats that will sell for up to €150m.
Today I tripped over a Volvo agency and enquired about replacing a second ignition key that has stopped working. It would cost €300 with no return of the money should the thing fail to function. Since the entire car is not worth that much, I shall risk losing the one I have and will abandon the vehicle by the side of the road should I do so, after removing the number plates.


There I was, looking cool at a dinner party, when I put my hand in my pocket and felt something small, hard and unfamiliar. A scrunched up scrap of silver paper, perhaps, or a piece of tissue that had gone through the wash. So I gave it a squeeze. It gave with a perceptible, mildly squelchy, plop – rather like a zit. My heart sank even before the stench of punaise filled the air around me. The squished insect was promptly incinerated but it took three days before the trousers smelt seemly. And I’ve decided I do find the smell offensive after all.

We did the Ronde des Creches in the middle of the day, a good time since the rest of the nation was scoffing turkey, or whatever a good Frenchman scoffs today. This year the theme was Jules Verne novels and it was disgraceful how many I had never heard of. The trouble taken by the nine villages that participate is impressive. But why did one had a foot-square plank of wood some dozen yards from the main display on which was tacked and old slipper with a hole in the toe and two multi-thonged scourges? Much of the interest comes from visiting places that one would never otherwise go near. I have never understood how come so many of them have such impressive and picturesque housing stock. Many seem to have been built in the 18th century but who paid for them? And who would have originally lived in them? At this time in year many had Santas shinning up the side. It doesn’t really work since most look as of they’d been hanged by being chucked out of the window.


A mild complication in life lies in that this house is name and numberless. My address is simply Le Bourg and this covers the entire hamlet. The postie knows where I live but deliverymen often take their parcels back home with them on the grounds that they could not find the house. In the UK the answer would be to ask someone but in France there’s rarely anybody around. Some days in the village you would think that the Rapture had been and gone and all the inhabitants were virtuous. I now give a short description in the address such as ‘top of the hill with blue shutters’ but this often seriously confuses the online delivery forms.

Three old ladies were buried here last week. I haven’t worked out whether or not the tolling bell that announces these occasions is controlled by the same omniscient authority that chimes the hour, and the half hour and the sixty odd other chimes that belt out at Angelus. I only know the names of one of the deceased. The others could have lived anywhere but were brought back to the ancestral tomb. But I must discover who they were as nothing could delight the sorciere more than news of her contemporaries falling off their perches.


Still, cloudless and 14 degrees. It’s not weather one can complain about towards the end of December.
I have pottered round the trees in the garden, hacking off this year’s growth and sawing off redundant branches that had begun to irritate. A great pile of debris is waiting to be removed when the clan patriarch parks his truck outside the gate. Various executive decisions had to be made in order to preserve a screen to hide the grandson’s building works. When I arrived here more than three years ago I was told that all traces of them would be removed and the land would be returned to a state of nature, but this is clearly not so and it may well be that he will put a roof above his concrete platform. It shows that stubborn refusal to abide by the decrees of everyone from the maire to the prefect and refusing to obey the gendarmes who come to enforce the law pays dividends. Short of sticking him in jail for life so that he cannot continue with his work, there’s not much that anyone can do. However I have never been particularly upset by what he has been doing and now we’re quite cordial when we encounter each other.
Voters have to register before the end of the month for the elections for maire next March. Politicking has already begun.

Douche ecossais

Une douche ecossais…eh? This is said to be a common French expression, translating as a Scottish shower. It means a shower that alternates in delivering cold or hot water. It can be used figuratively. For example if you win the lottery and trip, breaking your leg in a celebratory dance, then you have had a douche ecossais. It is said to originate in the practice of Scottish spas providing a hot/cold water therapy. You live and learn.
It’s still and mild at the moment, always with mist swirling about. It sometimes dissipates, and then fills the valley at odd times of the day before and coming up to shroud the chateau before thinning once more. The tits are hammering the peanuts. I bought a huge bag of them but some moth got in and made a huge mess. The web tells me they are still perfectly good as bird food and I’m taking that advice, but they look decidedly manky.


Taking the dogs for a walk is a bore at the moment, as it takes a good half hour to hack out the burrs that entwined themselves in their fur. Poor Poonkie suffers most. Today she stopped and whinged mid-walk. We took a dozen burrs off her on the spot and teased out another 20-odd when we got her home. They make large parts of France off limits. Round here there’s nothing like the network of paths and tracks within yards of one’s front door that I was used to in Scotland. It’s one of the few things that I miss.
I shall avoid the village Xmas party in the salle de fetes. It’s really no more than a chance to drink a glass or two of floc and observe what sort of presents our tax money bought for the children this year. The decorations have gone up, less gross that last year, and I haven’t noticed the usual plastic Santas clambering up the front of houses. But France is generally miserable at the moment and feeling poor. It is a blessing that my command of the language is insufficient to appreciate the gloom that must be churned by the media. Reading the UK papers on line is very depressing. It makes the country seem chippy, insular and sour.


The sorciere was in good moan. She hadn’t seen a doctor since she went into her institution, unlikely since she spent time in hospital. The food is disgusting, a lettuce leaf for breakfast the other day and they serve raw beetroot with no dressing at all. This is particularly hard since she has discarded her new teeth since they kept dropping out. She bared her great maw – jolly frightening – to show why. I noted that she had a good half dozen originals that still seemed good and stout, if a little yellow. Being deafer and now toothless she was particularly incomprehensible and the odd marble may have gone missing. She was born in 1920. Finding about olde times here is very difficult and she must have lots of interesting things inside her head, but downloading them is impossible.
The grandson intends to put a roof on his garage. The Prefect forbade this when he came to inspect the site, so the shit will hit the fan again. It may have done already since a vanload of gendarmes arrived in the square yesterday, but they went away again since the grandson was not at home.


My neighbour was muttering at me this morning. The motor on his aircon has bust. It last broke down two years ago and cost €5000 to replace. Last time the engineers told him that the blow up was down to the fluctuating electricity supply and there was nothing they could do about it. He tried to complain the EDF but they weren’t interested. Yesterday my electrics flicked off and on three or four times. For me the only bore is waiting for the wifi to sort itself out and come back to life and, when you see the sagging loops of wire that meander across the countryside, it’s a miracle we get power at all.
Three loads of concrete were poured today on the grandson’s plot today. He was working till 9pm in freezing fog last night to get the site ready. I stopped to admire after the second load had gone down. We conversed. He called me James. He agreed that he’d put in a lot of work, particularly since he’d done it alone. He intends to shift his wrecked cars, his wheel barrow and his pile of sand across the square when he’s done. ‘Well done,’ I said. ‘Carry on.’ Perhaps he’ll be my new best friend. I’m dropping in on his Granny in her jerry home on Saturday. She’s as uninterested in him as he is in her, so I may not mention his works.


We trimmed the little dog’s fringe. The difference is quite startling. Beforehand it was like trying to build a relationship with the head of a broom. Now a couple of bright black eyes stare you in the face and one no longer has to look for the tail to see which way round she’s facing. She’s house trained, sometimes comes when she’s called and her chewings have yet to do any damage. You can’t ask for much more from a puppy.
‘Tom Daley in relationship with man,’ said my newsfeed. I looked and found the item without interest, but I look forward to the day when the sexuality ceases to be of concern to anyone save the interested parties.