Monthly Archive for December, 2015

New Year

They’re not your average mosquitoes that are still pottering about the house but tiger mosquitoes. I read they are vectors for yellow fever, dengue fever and something else nasty that I can’t be bothered to take on board. They’re baddies anyway. I zapped one last night but not before it had given me a welt on my finger.
The festive season proceeds gently. We enjoyed a lovely 70th birthday party that demanded one dressed up 60s style. I can’t remember what I wore in the 60s, so didn’t try that hard. Hogmanay was spent at our own salle de fetes with a dozen or so inhabitants of the village, low key, which is how I like after a lifetime of Scots celebrations. I recall being stopped in Edinburgh by a policeman on the night. He tapped on the car window. ‘Are you drunk?’ he asked. ‘Perhaps just a little,’ I replied ‘Well, so am I. Happy New Year.’


It’s certainly the season of good will. Replacing bulbs in the elderly Volvo is a task that can almost reduce me to tears. Two had gone and I was only half an hour into the task when the grandson opposite came across and did it for me. We’ve been exchanging cautious bonjours for a year now, but this is a striking development in our relationship. His cat has taken to sitting on the apex of his roof demonstrating that it is a rather cool animal as well as the bizarre nature of the weather that allows it to doze there for large parts of the day at the end of December.
There’s a rotten patch in the roof of the church that requires attention. The upkeep of the fabric is the responsibility of the commune and our part-time odd job man picks away at it when he has the time. The building dates from the 15th century and is always in need of some attention and the budget is very small. A regiment of 4-foot highly coloured plaster saints was languishing beneath blankets of cobwebs in the sacristy and the best have been scrubbed up and given space by the wall behind the altar. ‘It’s a place of worship, not a museum’ has been one comment but that’s a moot point these days. Even though they stir the vestigial embers of my iconoclastic Presbyterianism this surely where they belong.

Truck stop

We lost heart in the midst of the Ronde des Creches this year. It may have been the relentless ugliness of the scrunched up papier mache faces of the manikins, or the incongruous music that destroys the peace of some village square. Last year we did it with a brace of Americans in the fog and paused for lunch at a truck stop in a lay-by. We ate there again and it was a bit eerie – exactly the same menu, the same appalling lunchtime prog on the TV and the same cat lying in the same spot. But they do a good steak. Some of the prettiest villages seem to have far too much property for sale and many of their most interesting buildings need serious money spent on them if they’re to survive.
The lake round which we occasionally promenade the dogs before shopping has gained a couple of half-tame coypus. One was peacefully munching weeds a dozen feet the other side of a fence from the dogs and another was paddling and scarcely blinked an eye as we passed. They do not look particularly engaging creatures.


At least one of the village ladies was dancing on a table in front of the salle de fetes at the communal Xmas party, which shows the strangeness of the weather, and mosquitoes were even on patrol during the evening. Twice I found myself talking in French to Englishmen, one a newcomer who is a professional translator. Slipping back into English when something complicated needed to be said, I had a disconcerting moment when I thought I sounded like a braying idiot.
The usual gaggle of old biddies turned up. This is always complicated, as I never know which ones I am expected to greet with bisous rather than shake by the hand. I was treated as a likely mugger by one of them when I offered to hang up her coat. Social conventions are different here and I can still be easily caught out.
We have two farmers here who take to the skies in flimsy contraptions at the end of their day. The oldest, in his 80s, has just hung up his helmet and sold his machine for €15k. His rival, 15 years younger and just across the valley, still regularly joins the buzzards above the valley dangling beneath a powered hang glider.


IMG_20151217_153627Yesterday I was told that this house used to be inhabited by a scion of one of the big faming families round here named Glaude. His daddy was called Claude after whom he was meant to be named but the registrar made an error and put down Glaude on his birth certificate instead. Since you cannot change your name here, he remained Glaude all his days and everyone called him thus.
This machine on the other side of the back gate is busy laying a tarmac road. It stops a few yards further on. I’m not quite sure of the point of it, but it may be a good thing bar the fact that I must try to flick the dog turds a bit further to avoid decorating its surface. It’s being laid by a team led by the chief pompier. His first name is Alain and his surname is unpronounceable and begins with a Q. I think I’ll play safe and just call him Monsieur. His team have already been round taking €20 in exchange for their calendar.


The two of us representing the commune walked out of this morning’s water meeting. I had built in the expectation of being bored, even beyond the ennui of an airport terminal, but I hadn’t reckoned on the event being without any point at all. It transpired within five minutes of the start that our committee should have ceased to exist some months ago since the canton had amalgamated with its neighbour. The prefecture had sent a representative who told us that we were acting illegally since the care of water was now the responsibility of the new authority and no longer ours alone – or ours at all. That should have been that but our chairman and his cohorts argued that this was unfair, undemocratic and look at all the work we had done and still hoped to do. Jolly good, said the bureaucrat, but you are no longer in charge. I know…but, but, but. After an hour and a half of this we tiptoed out the door and left them to it. From there we went to visit the sorciere bearing choccies and Xmas cards. She was asleep in her wheelchair and proved impossible to rouse after rather more violent action on my part upon her person than was seemly in front of a roomful of watching geriatrics. We came to the conclusion that she had been chemically coshed for inappropriate behaviour, left our goodies in charge of a nurse and came home.
The Front National led the results in the commune’s poll, pretty depressing and it lost me a bet with the maire. The tedium of supervising the vote was broken at lunchtime when a van turned up with a three-course lunch in the boot. So eight of us sat down at the table where we normally deliberate and enjoyed a three-course meal featuring roast duck and two sorts of wine. Being France nobody interrupted us wanting to vote at such a critical time of the day.



We have new residents. A pretty grim house on the other side of the village from us that has languished on the market for 6-7 years has been sold to a couple from northern France. They are said to be middle-aged. I have yet to discover his inside leg measurement, but I am patient. All will be revealed in the crossfire of gossip that will take place in the polling station on Sunday when we supervise the vote for the 2nd round. But that’s after Saturday when the Christmas decorations go up and fairy lights are festooned across the front of the church. My height makes me a hot commodity and I find myself teetering more than is wise, often on a ladder above that old boy’s head.


A fellow across the aisle from me on the London-Toulouse flight stood up, turned his arse towards me and farted. I was tempted to demand that the police met him at the airport.
The maire is outraged by the fall-out of the first round of the regional elections. The left are saying that they won’t engage with the FN, which he considers anti-democratic and does nothing but hand power to them. If the socialists and the soft right worked together they could deny Le Pen’s cohorts power or at least considerably mitigate their more extreme policies. He says this decision will do nothing but boost the FN’s support in the second round on Sunday. But he still considers it unthinkable that the French could ever betray their history and elect an FN president.
A South African one rand coin looks identical to the €2 coin but is worth 3 cents. There seems to be an interesting business opportunity there.


Winter sunshine in South Africa? Fat chance. Nothing but mist, drizzle and occasional thunderstorms, but at least it’s not cold. This country has been enduring drought to the extent that it’s not been worth planting crops but, for sure, it has now broken. Eight kinsfolk have dropped by over the last couple of days and five of them will be in Europe this week. Any plane trip for me is a horrifying hassle but they flit about the world as easily as catching a bus.
Corruption here is a major problem with the high heid yins in the government having the stickiest fingers of all. The postal system is on the brink of collapse with a delivery once a week if you’re lucky. Race relations are generally good and the whites relieved that they are no longer responsible for the country’s problems. I’m staying in a gated estate still being developed with a golf course in the middle and a game park on its border. Zebras and impala potter around; bushbuck and duikers forage in expensively maintained gardens. This was the first house to be built when I first came here half a dozen years ago and it’s the smallest. The newer houses are mostly vast Kentucky fried mansions built by Indian and a few African tycoons. In spite two layers of security and 10-foot high fences, houses are still regularly robbed and woe betide a householder if they interfere. Even worse than thieves are monkeys. Go out and leave a window open and you can return to a completely trashed house with shit six feet up the walls.


I found myself on the far side of airport security in Johannesburg waiting for a connecting flight without any ethnic cash to buy a coffee. I enquired of the big cheese if there was anything I could do about it. She was willing to watch my luggage – ‘Just cos you’ve a nice face’ – as I went back through security to find an ATM. It wouldn’t happen in Europe where the first layer of jobsworths confiscated a couple of tins of foie gras.
The bird life here is remarkably vivid compared with France, but it was nice to be greeted with the familiar call of the hoopoe first thing. The swifts and swallows have also made it down here for the season and it’s a little incongruous to see the familiar species mixed with the exotica.
I wasn’t that keen on having an 8-inch long centipede pottering across the floor by my bed but a few days of 30 degrees and sunshine is compensation.