Monthly Archive for May, 2014

Petanque

I was an assessor in the local polling station for the Euro election. We ticked off the voters as they came in, let them browse across the table holding 25 bits of paper each extolling the virtues of one of the candidates. They would take a sheaf of these into the polling booth and slip the one they selected into an envelope. Then they would approach the ballot box – clear plastic with a locked slot on top. I would press a lever, a bell would sound, a counter would change, the slot would open and I would intone ‘a voté’ as they dropped in their choice. It was quite good fun, a rolling conversation across all subjects except politics all day and a chance to meet shy denizens from the outer wilds of the commune for the first time. Being French, the greeting ritual for each voter took some time as they went round everyone present shaking hands or kissing cheeks. I heard of a local murder some 30 years ago. A wronged husband surprised his rival having breakfast in bed and took his head off with a shotgun.

Our poll closed at 6pm. We unlocked the ballot box – two locks, two separately held keys – and counted the votes. I signed my name on eight different forms to certify the truth and accuracy of the tally. The maire phoned in the result and then went off to the nearest town to hand in the boxes and forms to the Gendarmerie. We had a turn out of 63% and were one of only two out of fifty-odd local communes that didn’t put the Front National at the head of the list, choosing the Socialist instead.

We weren’t stupid. To hell with Brussels. The Left controls the local purse strings. When Le Grand Fromage of the department is dispensing state largesse to the communes, is he going to favour a place that voted for Le Pen’s candidate? No. Here we are, shining like a bright red star amid a sea of dark blue and we are short of a decent arena for petanque.

Frothers

The end of May and I’ve just put the heating on. Even the dogs are reluctant to go out and face the wind and the rain. There’s not much sign of improvement ahead and I face the prospect of going to Scotland next month without a tan, which will be thoroughly shaming.

The great fat envelope containing election propaganda jammed the post box this week. I’m afraid I dumped it before I’d studied its contents sufficiently to differentiate those candidates who were full-blown nutters from those that might not have been. I don’t want to vote for Hollande, nor any of the four parties to his left. But that leaves rabid frothers like Le Pen or the Cameron equivalent. I shall be on duty at the mairie on Sunday morning to supervise the election and shall seek advice from my colleague. She is the maire’s adjointe and seems to know lots about lots.

I am already in correspondence with the French and the UK tax authorities and now I have to contend with the IRS as well. I receive a pitiful amount of royalty money from the United States but it doesn’t stop them from sending me variety of forms to be filled in. The latest wanted to know if I were a disregarded entity – self-evidently not, otherwise they wouldn’t have sent me the form.

Feral

The heavy-duty agriculture round here calls for lots of spraying in spring and the remarkably healthy crops are a testimony to its efficacy. It means that the weeds aka wild flowers have a pretty rough time of it and are generally restricted to the roadside alongside those fields that received their doses on very still days. Then, just as I’ve established the presence of some plant that is new to me or looks worthy of inspection when it blooms, the fauchage tractor goes by and turns the verge to bowling green. There’s one patch of lizard orchids within a few hundred yards that I’ve only managed to catch in full flower once in four years.

A figure floats around saying that a female feral cat can have 420,000 descendants within seven years. There are two such matriarchs in the village. The one that lives in the drain at the bottom passes on a gene for a stumpy tail so its offspring are easy to recognise. Some publicly minded soul is said to dispose of many of the kittens when they are very young, so their numbers rarely exceed half a dozen. The other matriarch was bequeathed to the community by the sorciere when she moved to an institution and her grandson and a neighbour feed its issue. These are generally culled by vehicles since they cover an exit from the village that is hardly six feet wide between high hedges and walls. Cato’s favourite pastime, when he is allowed, is tearing up the village and scattering these hordes in panic. The matriarch lies on the pavement and hardly bothers to open an eye as he sprints past. She finds him a little bore and he finds her alarming because she can’t be arsed to run.

Patronomie

 

There was a meeting this morning with some high-powered functionaries to explore what can be done about the chateau opposite that has been peacefully crumbling ever since I came here. I think it’s wonderful, but nobody else does. An expert is needed who will list all its dangers and then say what has to be done about it in order to prevent trespassing burglars and nosey children from being squashed by falling roofs or timbers. Then we tell the Swedish owner and say that if he doesn’t commission the repairs, the commune will do them and flog the building to pay the bill if he won’t cough up. The functionaries weren’t that interested at first, but they were given a tour and their eyes started to flash and they started talking about la patronomie de la France etc, so I doubt that it will remain a crumbling ruin for ever.

 

The Electricity Committee had its inaugural meeting after the elections. I was very pleased not to be part of it and our representative endured the dullest three hours of his life while they elected the high heid yins, but then sat down to the most sumptuous banquet that he’s had in the country beginning with champagne cocktails ending up with vintage Armagnac via tournedos, smoked salmon, foie gras and different wines with each course. Knowing that it was paid for by the consumer, I think I would quite like to have gone. I should be attending a water meeting on Friday but it concerns selecting from multi-thousand euro tenders for repairs and improvements and I would be as useful at the meeting as an organ grinder’s monkey, so my apologies will be presented.

 

Sibling

The nightingales are now caterwauling day and night and the orioles have just turned up, so proper summer is trembling on the cusp. We are currently hosting the maire’s dog, Poonkie’s sibling, and this means we have three of the beasts resident and the sky is speckled with flying turds as these are flicked over the hedge from a trowel. We have to take care where to tread as the guest dog spends most of its waking moments rolling across the floor or hurtling round corners either pursuing or being pursued by its sister. It’s a holiday for Cato since Poonkie leaves him in peace.

The maire has designs on the chateau. It’s been abandoned and gently deteriorating for a dozen years and I look upon it as my personal folly. I had hoped to watch collapse into ruin before I shuffled off my coil but I’m alone in wanting this. The locals are scandalised by its neglect and meeting is to be called with the high heid yins to see if it can be bought by the department, if not by the nation since doesn’t seem to be an organisation like the National Trust in this country. The only contact with the building’s owner is through a stone-walling lawyer in Toulouse. I remain hopeful that it will continue to moulder. It’s not that interesting a building – 1840 is a guesstimate of its creation – and one can buy better chateaux round about for a tenth of the cost of its rehabilitation.