Monthly Archive for February, 2016

Banks

Last year the fields to our west were covered in plastic for melons. The crops were staggered but the first 20 acres had to be re-planted after everything was washed away and the last tranche was ploughed in as prices made a harvest uneconomic. This season we are promised wheat and sunflowers, which will be a lot more pleasant to look at. One never dare ask just how much herbicide and pesticide is used.
The neighbouring dog is sojourning with us for a week. It’s a nice little beast but demands much stroking to keep its confidence intact. The corollary is that the car had a gratis change of tyres. It’s done 240k miles and people are increasingly rude about its looks, but the worse its appearance the wider a berth other motorists give me.
With a roll of drums, the maire offered us tickets to the annual bash given by the bank. We’d heard about this and managed to find a good excuse not to go. Apparently hundreds of people sit down to one of those semi-institutional meals that are served on such occasions but first have to endure interminable self-congratulatory speeches. The inefficiency and primitive state of the banking system is one of the greatest causes of astonishment to incoming expats. I’ve been waiting for the best part of a month for a new debit card, which I will pay for, and this is in spite of having my personal adviser who fires unwanted emails at me. Lots of institutions seem able to take money from my account without a ‘by your leave’, but try to do an online payment and you need to make an appointment to see one’s man to have it approved. And it has to be the man in your particular branch. The same bank in another town treats you as a dangerous potential fraudster rather than one of their own.
Here the default sum offered by an ATM is €40. Press buttons and you get usually get them to disgorge €80. Ask for more and you can be told to piss off. In London airport the machine to which I gave my business would not let me take out less that £200 and £800 was on the screen for the asking.

Tartan

I have renewed my UK vote ready for the Brexit poll. Of course the ballot is secret and so will be my vote, but I am re-investigating the process of French naturalisation just in case the possibility of a negative result might be more than a pipe dream for Little Englanders. But if there is a no, then Scotland may float off from the Union and thus a shiny new tartan passport might do the same job for me as my current British one. Decisions…decisions.
12% of the permanent population of this commune is British, all retired. I can think of a couple of Iranians, a couple of Belgians, and I suppose another 10-15% of the housing stock is owned by foreigners who come out for their holidays or intend to retire here. At its height there were 6 times as many people living here as now and the decline has been remarkable steady since the population peaked a couple of hundred years ago. The natives welcome immigrants as they keep services and the economy alive, but there are still houses lying derelict or deteriorating round about. Unless he or she is in line to inherit a hundred or two hectares, it’s difficult to understand why a youngster with enterprise would seek a future here. I suppose folk who earn their living arting, farting or doing clever things through their computers could earn their living here but it’s bad luck on everyone else who can’t have the opportunity to live in so beautiful and tranquil an environment.
50 cranes have just flown over heading north. It’s not a bad harbinger of spring.

Mbps

The download speed for our wifi went from 2 mbps to 8 mbps overnight. There was no warning of this remarkably gratifying phenomenon where I would have expected Orange to announce it with a fanfare and a whacking increase in their bill.
The French flag which I spend much time unwinding that flies in front of the mairie disappeared. I informed the maire of this and he said that he would get in touch with the police. The natives are a bit funny about flags, though not a patch on the Americans, and I once saw the gendarmes descend on a British family that tied their boat alongside the bank on a canal because they were flying a skull and crossbones. The gendarmes were quite cross and got even crosser when they had difficulty in persuading the Brits that they were not taking the piss. An investigation of our missing flag revealed it sitting in a bush where the wind had whisked it. So the police were stood down.
It’s cold today and we are promised a frost tonight. Consequently there are 15 tits on the nuts and fat balls and four collared doves. I try not to get too friendly with the latter since I once ended up with a pair of them coming to sit on my shoulders every time I went outdoors. I fed peanuts to jackdaws in my Scots garden at one stage. I returned to the house some four years later to see what had changed and a jackdaw thumped down on the wall a couple of feet from me and looked hopeful.

Old Wars

I churn out articles on Scots history every month. I skim through the centuries and try to find a topic that would be interesting to research. There is an inevitable sameness about it. The characters change but behaviour repeats itself for century after century. One of the more depressing subjects is warfare between England and Scotland. For seven or eight hundred years the two nations sporadically fought against each other causing uncounted thousands of deaths, incalculable destruction of property and human misery that is impossible to imagine. And it is difficult to see how either country was the better for all the blood letting.
In the medieval period the Scots developed the schiltrom. This was a mass of foot soldiers that bunched together behind a bristling fringe of pikes and moved forward. It was the predecessor of the square that protected 18th and 19th century infantry from cavalry. The schiltrom worked quite well until the Battle of Falkirk in 1297 when Edward I’s archers flighted a few hundred thousand arrows over the top of the pikemen and destroyed the Scots army. At the Battle of Dupplin some years later, the English waited at the head of a valley and lined its sides with bowmen. The first schiltrom was stopped, the Scots sent in another. Some 15,000 Scots were killed and 33 Englishmen. The same thing happened at the battles of the Standard, of Homildon, of Halidon Hill, of Neville’s Cross. Each resulted in the deaths of thousands of men. It’s bizarre how the lesson never seems to have been learned. History shows that mankind likes fighting wars, but the Scots seem to have been particularly stupid in such instances.

Jobless

The village has employed an odd job man for the past few months. He’s good but I’m told he needs constant chivvying. If that wasn’t necessary, I suppose he’d be more than an odd job man by now. He’s done up the salle de fetes and has a six-month job before his contract runs out in re-pointing the walls of the church. Etiquette demands that we address him as Monsieur. It is not done to be on first name terms with him.
I wrangled three dogs along the Garonne yesterday, a bit more than an hour and encountered but a single exerciser, a huge red-faced man in Lycra with twin poles in the midst of a painful power walk. It’s a bit like the end credits to Dad’s Army. One animal strolls along like Mainwaring; another jumps and twitches like Fraser and the third potters on like Godfrey. Cato considered a yapping attack on the bloke but he became strangely entangled in his poles whilst navigating between a network of puddles, tripped and landed on his backside. He managed a sour ‘bonjour’ but the dogs gave him a wide berth.
The grandson has a new, really new, car that nestles amid his rusting wrecks like a swan amid moulting geese. It is said to have cost him more than €20k. Since he is jobless, there is no known source for such wealth unless he is being naughty with his granny’s bank account. It adds to the unlikelihood of him building a house over the hedge, which because of the slithery nature of the terrain would require deep and very expensive foundations.