Monthly Archive for April, 2014

Defibrillator

The village has received a defibrillator so that we can start hearts that stop. It is said that the instructions that come with it allow people to use it without previous experience. There was some discussion about where it should be placed. Down near the road through the village would leave it vulnerable to vandals. The other councillors looked at me, the oldest member, and decided to stick it on a wall directly opposite our kitchen window. I may train it to jump start the car, which needs a new battery, as well as my heart.

I am the council’s delegate on the water committee. I was told I’d find out what it was about when I went to the first meeting. There were twenty-odd other folk there. We elected our officers. We are responsible for supplying drinking water to about a dozen communes. We send delegates to another committee that distributes water to another three groups similar to ours. It comes from a well and the river and is filtered and pumped, in our case, to a water tower that supplies another two towers. We were shown a diagram that outlined our network. We were told that one tower was in lousy condition and we needed to spend €100k on it. In addition the main supply pipe was steel, was corroding and needed replacement. By using gravity for most of its route we could save money by replacing it with PVC and putting in a new reservoir. Some of us were appointed to examine tenders for the work.

We use Saur, a huge water conglomerate that also operates in Scotland, to run the operation. Why, I asked, are the communes involved at all? Just tell Saur to deliver potable water to every household and give them a very hard time if they don’t – in fact the system as it operates in the UK, I think. The answer was that France is a democracy and it’s the elected representatives who make the decisions, even if they’re clueless. Fortunately I am not on the electricity committee that meets next week.

Bees

Under the gaze of the President and a 2ft white bust of Marianne, we passed the village budget last night. There’s a bit of a hole since the tenant of the community-owned house has not paid his rent for a year. The machinery of the law has been invoked and then we can take a look inside and see what sort of state it is in. I think the bottom line is that the back rent will be paid by the state since he has no money. We agreed to thin the community forest and to sell the wood at cost to the natives and give it free to the needy. We can also give money to the needy, but there’s nobody needy enough to merit this largesse at the moment. We agreed to buy flowers to beautify the village and to enable disabled access to the salle de fetes. Two of us said nothing because we didn’t speak French well enough to be sure we understood what was going on and three because they were the youngest present and, perhaps, intimidated because they were in the presence of their betters. The maire called round afterwards to ensure we knew that his birthday was coming up and to moan because much of his week had been about sorting out a colony of bees that had taken over the house of an elderly resident of the commune. I found myself volunteered to sit in the mairie to oversee the vote in the forthcoming Euro election.

Facture

The swallows turn up – and make a tours of the of the inside of the house to look for nesting niches – as do the nightingales and then the warm weather disappears and we’re back to dreich. I had tried to stop providing peanuts but the tits were not amused and battered against the French windows to demand I refill the feeders. The contents of peanut bin are coming to an end and are currently hatching a second generation of meal moths but I’m told the birds actually prefer the desperately manky results and I suppose it’s better to put it on offer rather than dump.

The car is now a teenager and is maturing nicely. It spent some years making a horrible crunching sound when it went over a speed bump but has got over that all by itself and now seems flaw-free. It’s always had third party insurance and now is virtually worthless. Every year when the insurance comes up for renewal I decide it’s time to shop around, but it renews itself automatically and to change companies you need to give the existing insurer two months written notice. This requires far too much thought and organisation so I never get round to it in time.

In fact, my grasp of my financial affairs has deteriorated significantly since I came to France. Health insurance, electricity, phone are taken straight from my account and the bank takes various obscure sums for unknown services whenever it feels like it. I observed two raids on my account within three days from Orange recently. One reads ‘Votre Abonnement Internet – (compte : 0199309851 – Facture: B009t0704c1) – R Fr18zzz002305 M0032701438’. And the other ‘Votre Abonnement Fixe: 0563045466 – (compte: 0159976951 – Facture: 630 454664c0) – R’. Trying to work out what these are is way beyond my competence.

Reception

In his open-topped BMW, the maire whisked me this morning to a reception for all the maires in two cantons given by the Gendarmerie in the communauté de communes building a dozen miles away. I hadn’t realised there was such a layer of government where the maires made decisions with their fellows. 17 gendarmes were there, four were young women, perhaps 30 maires, and me. The maires of the two biggest towns wore suits; everyone else was in uniform or in jeans. I’d had brushes on traffic infractions with at least two of the gendarmes but one doesn’t acknowledge such a previous relationship in such circumstances.

The local chief, a melancholy soul with a large moustache who could only just button his jacket, introduced us to all the gendarmes present and gave a preliminary speech which told of local crime statistics and traffic accidents. Then his much younger boss showed us the broad picture and presented a certificate for something meritorious to one of his juniors. The two besuited maires then said a few words before we schmoozed, myself teetering the whole time on the edge of understanding, while gendarmes passed out whisky, and Ricard. Nibbles were crisps, olives and peanuts. My maire, a networker of real merit, was soon in deep conversation with the boss on the subject of cars, so I sidled up to be introduced and admire him. His hands were obviously deadly weapons and he could barely control the thousand-yard stare in his blue eyes. All the other gendarmes wore the badge depiction the arms of the Republic; he alone had a gold parachute. Clearly a man on the way up. The gendarmes all seemed rather sweet, the maires old.

Deniers

You can’t change your wifi password here, a bit of a bore when you try to give the 17-long assortment of letters and figures to a visitor and have to repeat – and repeat. You can’t change your pin number either on a bank card. And heaven help you if you try to close a bank account by shifting the money in it to another. At a limit of €3000 a day it can take a while. And why do you have to write down the name of the place where you sign a cheque? The little stones in one’s shoe here still seem a bit annoying. I suppose one is so used to such pebbles in the UK that they’re no longer noticed.

I’ve been to or fro from the airport five times this week. It prompted me to try to make sense of the sign off the Toulouse periferique towards “Les Sept Deniers”. What were they denying? And why seven of them. Or do they just wear rather coarse nylon stockings thataway? Rather pleasingly it is applied to an area for which the rent in Roman, sorry Gallo-Roman, times was seven denarii.

Promo

The postie rarely drops anything of interest into my box. It’s usually just promo material from shops I never wish to visit. This morning she gave me a letter from the UK tax authorities and one from the French. This is probably a new low.

I have a visitor who expressed a desire to see mountains yesterday so I let him decide where we should go. He plumped for Andorra. Indeed there were mountains, rather nasty ones to someone used to green hills whose summits you can stroll to with your hands in your pockets. These are either crags or precipitous slopes held in place by a latticework of ski lifts with a few dark specks slithering down the snow amid them. I hope never to return. Only 2% of the place is suitable for arable land, but most of that 2% is covered by indifferent building and roads. Those who don’t make money out of tourism or fiddling money fiddling operate horrendous duty-free retail emporia to attract the French who must run the gauntlet of guerrilla customs men on their return home.

Knees

IMGI almost put on shorts this morning but had second thoughts. It’s forecast to be 21 degrees today, climbing to 25 tomorrow. The big decision of the year is selecting the right moment for the great costume change. The first time I bare my knees I always feel like a screaming prat for at least an hour and then it feels perfectly normal for the next six months. I spent some time in Florida trying to find shorts that suited me. I like them to modestly brush my knees – the same sort of length as a kilt. But my legs are a good six inches longer than the average man’s and shorts are sized by waist rather than leg length, so I have difficulty in finding anything that doesn’t make me look as though I’m in hot pants. In June I shall likely wear a kilt and it is vital to have brown knees. These days a good Scot can fake it with dye, but this was impossible a couple of hundred years ago. The urban Highlanders illustrated are peering at each other’s limbs to check their hue prior to meeting George IV in Edinburgh in 1822.
I have two lawns to cut today but the steam from the nukes is thick and climbing high into the sky, which means it, will take some time for the overnight dew to dry off. Each cooling tower produces 450 litres of water a minute. Actually it could be 45 litres. I used to know which but I have forgotten.

Cherry picker

We had our first council meeting, elected the maire, dealt out the ministerial portfolios and had a celebratory glass of champagne. We were not part of the charge of the Front National since I discovered that we are UMP, rightish, but not frightening. I am, I think, Energy and the Environment. Our youngest councillor is Defence, which is very appropriate since he intends to join the army. He will command the chasse and station its members on our boundaries should we be invaded by our neighbours. We were each given a set of accounts to mull over and they’re even more alarming that their British equivalents. It appears that we have a budget that amounts to about €1,000 for each inhabitant of the commune, but how much of that is available for more than day-to-day spending has yet to be revealed.
I chopped the laurel hedge that surrounds this house’s plot yesterday and the garden is now in fighting trim for the season. I made the error of chopping it too early last year. If one gives it one cut in the autumn, it’s meant to be good for a year so I’ll have another go at it at the end of the summer. I shall soon need to either buy a longer ladder or hire a cherry picker since I have to stretch too far to reach its more remote extremities and can easily subside into its inmost parts and find it difficult to extract myself.