Monthly Archive for March, 2016


We had a council meeting in which the past accounts and future budget was approved. There are something like 600 separate figures in them and I find them incomprehensible. I quizzed the maire about them. He wouldn’t go as far as saying that he hadn’t a clue either but we all rely on the clerk to tell us if they’re OK, and she seemed happy. Apparently many of the figures are entirely fictitious in order to fit in with what the auditors demand. Our main project, apart from a sterlisation progrom on the village cats, is doing up the impressive old presbytery, now seedily empty, and turning it into two flats. We rely heavily on subsidy but the departmental administration is locked in ideological combat and projects are frozen. It may mean we lose the deadline for the scheduled start and the network of money suppliers will break down thus setting things back years.

The first swallows twittered by yesterday.


La grippe has attacked the village. Having stabbed myself in the thigh with the vaccine a few months ago I hope to be immune. I used to trail into the village to get the infirmières to do it, but that took a good hour at an unsatisfactory time of day, a wait on hard chairs along with ancient sick people and finally an embarrassing hunt through my pockets in the hope of finding the handful of small change that was my personal contribution to the cost. And that was just to watch someone else stick a needle into me. I was quite happy to stab cows or pigs and even dogs, so there seemed no good reason why I couldn’t do myself, so I now do so. It’s not the greatest feeling in the world to poke a needle into one’s person and I tend to ease it in rather than give a brisk professional stab and am left with a faintly worrying bulge round the injection site that, so far, has dissipated over a few days.

If I was a gambling man I’d do a double on the failure of the Brexit referendum and the failure of Trump to become president. I doubt if I’d get decent odds. I did a bit of homework on the finances of Brexit and found that the Institute for Economic Affairs reckons that membership of the EU costs 3-4% of GDP. On the other hand the CBI says that there’s a benefit of 4-5% to GDP. So if anyone tries to make any economic argument, it’s bullshit because nobody knows.


My granddaughter was on tele this week, attending the service for the Commonwealth in Westminster Abbey. Between shots of the Royals, PM, Kofi Annan etc., the cameras picked her out several times yawning and fidgeting in the front row of the stalls. She won a competition at school to produce an artwork about the Commonwealth and this was the reward.

I wrote a biog of a kinsman named David Stewart who fought in the Napoleonic wars. It was not easy as I found his handwriting almost indecipherable. I was interested to read in a biog of  Sir James McGrigor this week I was not alone. They were friends and after the Battle of Toulouse in 1814 and Napoleon’s abdication, Stewart w02 DS hand copyas the first British officer to take a tour of jolly bits of the country – Carcassonne, Narbonne, Montpellier. McGrigor followed suit a couple of weeks later and his trip sounded pretty hairy as he kept falling in with chippy French officers. Stewart left a letter at Narbonne, whose maire was an emigré Scot, for McGrigor about his trip and advised him to avoid a certain hotel in Montpellier where he’d been ripped off – but McGrigor couldn’t make out the name of the hotel. Not until he’d decanted his luggage into the best hotel in town did it dawn on him that this was the one to avoid. He summoned the manager and told him that his previous British guest had given him a zero in Trip Advisor and that this was a shame since a good hundred British officers, many of them rich milords, would soon be beating a path to Montpellier. Stewart’s opinion was pinned up for all to see in the very smartest messes. The manager wrung his hands and virtually gave McGrigor a freebie in exchange for a better review.


In the shed at the bottom of the garden sits the oil tank. Up in the middle of the house some 30 yards away as the crow flies is the furnace. A pipe descends into the concrete by the tank and a pipe erupts from the floor of the boiler room. I have not the faintest idea of the route taken by this pipe but it must climb about a dozen feet beneath the terrace before entering the house. All things break and when this thing breaks the consequences will be dire.
Much the same applies to the bogs and the septic tank, which may well be a cesspit but I hope not. Flush and there’s a dramatic thunder of water through the house and the occasional sinister gurgle when one of the other lavatories belches and seethes in the pan. On those occasions I used give the whole system a run through for fear a blockage was being considered but I no longer bother. However if there were such a blockage I would have no clue what to do about it. There are no manhole covers to lift to find something proddable and I never look into the receptacle where everything ends up.
An expert came and assessed everyone’s sanitary arrangements a few years ago. She was appalled when she heard I hadn’t sucked the tank dry when I arrived. How could I put my shit in with anyone else’s? I think this was a French reaction. Visiting natives never need to use a bog and I wouldn’t think of using one of theirs.


Quite often there’s a flurry round the bird feeders, usually caused by one of the collared doves coming down and spooking everything else. Yesterday it was caused by a sparrow hawk that thumped against the window but failed to snag anything from the hanging nuts as it went by. It then sat on the terrace railing staring at me and carefully casing its surroundings. I fear it may have been looking for a sneakier approach route next time it came past. I eventually bowffed it and it took a good ten minutes before the tits came flooding back.
This house creaks and pops. I notice that some floorboards upstairs that used to be flush with the staircase have now raised themselves to form a mini escarpment. The staircase itself – chestnut and perhaps a century old – is the source of some alarming cracks and bangs and some of the risers have split themselves into spectacular patterns. The ground floor tiles are always on the heave. I suppose it’s caused by soft living since the building won’t ever have had continual occupation over a winter with central heating. It’s strange how anyone built a house that doesn’t seem to have a single right angle within it. I am a compulsive picture straightener and have to make distressing compromises when the ceiling and the wall slope in alternate directions. I have learned to keep my mouth shut if tradesmen quote for a job. Not till they start do they find that everything needs to be jiggery-poked in order to make it fit.


There’s no such thing as a building inspector here, which means that once your plans have been given the OK, it seems you can do virtually as you like. The grandson is re-applying for permission for a house across the hedge. His last attempt went wrong when it emerged that he’d have to drive piles deep into the ground to stop his construction sliding down the hill. This time the fact that proper foundations are necessary will be recorded but nobody will check and they won’t be put in. In fact any attempt to check would be trespass. Of course one could simply endure the hassle of living next to a half-arsed construction site and enjoy the subsequent spectacle of the result falling apart. The expert gives a guarantee that this will be the result. However the law states that a house must be insured and the insurance company will demand that everything is tickety-boo and this may be the saviour of our peace.
I used to live in Devon with a view towards Dartmoor from where you usually had a half hour warning when bad weather was due. Here, the warning time is a lot less, perhaps 10-15 minutes but there’s still time to take precautions when the ridge 10 kms away is obscured and the rain sweeps down towards us. Here we don’t do drizzle and you can watch the valley being swallowed up and the trees round the chateau begin to heave at the approaching squall before the rain starts bouncing off the tiles on the terrace. There’s a lot of it about at the moment.