Monthly Archive for May, 2017


Thunderstorms rumble; the rain lashes down and our visitors, like the dogs stare, gloomily out from the French windows. The only saving grace is that the wifi hasn’t failed so everyone can still peer at their telephones. One of our guests is a small boy and we give shelter to our neighbour’s son when he comes home from school and they relate to each other in reluctant pidgin. Much of the rest of his family went north for a few days to a wedding and returned with a lurgi that has confined them to bed ever since. Its main symptom is said to be foulness of temper, which means we see a lot of those who didn’t make the journey.
I am told the owner of the chateau has stopped paying the bills of the agent who looks after it for him. Among other things this means that the grass does not get cut and it’s now waist high, creating a fire hazard. The maire knows that I was once a farmer and have time to spare so I am to get on a tractor and mow when it’s dry enough. Last year innumerable deer and boar were disturbed and a cannabis plantation discovered in the undergrowth. The gendarmes were called to that but, with Macron intending to decriminalise dope, they may not bother to come if the cultivators have tried again.


I have always felt uneasy about the lack of truly ferocious French curse words. None of the ones I have learned seemed likely to shiver anyone’s timbers. But a recent fracas in the village produced one, the equivalent of two fingers but worse that I twice heard being discussed in shocked tones. I tried it out on the maire and he staggered back in appalled amazement – very satisfying. Of course I am too polite to put it down here, but a stamped addressed envelope and a small donation could elicit it.
Down to the mairie again for a meeting with our sitting socialist deputé whose seat is up for grabs in a couple of weeks. She was doing the rounds of the villages accompanied the maire of the largest town in the canton. She had a nice smile, did not object to a couple of dogs at her feet, nor a small boy flitting round the room with his fidget spinner. We all thought it a shame that the FN makes such a showing locally, and she pointed out that she could download money for her constituents as she could pick up the phone to her ministerial colleagues and they couldn’t. But there’s a new president and her colleagues will lose office. The poor lass has a battle against Macron’s candidate as well as innumerable others across the political spectrum.


I’ve just been down to the mairie where, on the instructions of the President, we furled the Tricolore and the EU flag to show solidarity with Manchester. The prime minister’s statement seemed odd to me because of her repeated use of the words coward and cowardice. Deranged, despicable, barbaric would be fine. But to blow yourself up does not smack of cowardice. Has the word shifted in meaning when I wasn’t looking?
We had one of those gift exchanges with the matriarch who tottered over to greet a visitor. She got a scarf; we received a bottle of wine, for which we gave a jar of marmalade. She won by producing two boxed bottles of perfume and a large jar of foie gras. The foie gras went in the bin as it had turned black. One of the scent bottles was half empty and the other one completely so. So we called off the contest.
A hoopoe is nesting within view of the terrace. I look forward to swarms of hooping infants. They lose their voices if they over-hoop and can manage no more than strangled squawks.


The grandson is still brutalising the wall adjacent to our hedge. He is demolishing it for some unfathomable reason. This is a bit of a bore since we rely on it to preserve our privacy and I may have to erect a fence since the hedge is not thick enough at that point. Most of his walls would keel over if you gave them a push, but this one, about six feet high, is reinforced by steel rods in great quantity that have to be angle-grinded down inch by inch before each concrete block can be removed. The maire watches him like a hawk waiting for him to offend against the social weal so that the gendarmes can screw him again. There’s some recently committed sin for which penalties are pending but I’m not up to speed on the intricacies of his offences.
Great quantities of hoopoes are around at the moment and a couple of them have taken to battling on the lawn beneath the terrace. They don’t seem to mind us spectating like Romans in the Colosseum and it does amuse visitors enjoying a drink and admiring the gently decaying chateau. This has had significant tile slippage over the winter and the main roof may soon go.
One of the diminishing ways I have of earning money is writing up Scottish clans. I have been given one to do and I find it is riven with dissent. It has two chiefs – or it could be three – none of whom are recognised by the authority on such matters, Lord Lyon, King of Arms. Its history is negligible but I think they are paying a magazine for the article, so I shall have to do some romantic mythologizing once I have discovered which faction is the one to write up. In Scotland you have to be a bit of a nerd to be interested in clans and things, but for the Americans, who have fossicked amongst their mega-great-grandparents to select a Scot as their root ancestor, it is a deadly serious business and one takes the piss at one’s peril.


The grandson was fined €45 for making noise a day or two ago. You’re only allowed to play with noisy machinery between the hours of 10am and midday on Sundays and, for the numerous Frenchmen whose manhood is determined by the quantity of power tools that they can employ, this is difficult. He was in mid-chainsaw when the gendarmes came through the village a few weeks ago and he continued to roar away when they stopped, got out of their car, and stood watching him with folded arms. I suppose he must have experienced a certain bleakness in his soul when he realised they were not going to go away and so he put down the machine and shouted at them for a bit. Alas! He was done. Yesterday he started drilling holes in a concrete wall just as the bells stopped ringing out 10 and continued until the angelus clanged out at noon but I don’t think his heart was really in it. The snag for him is that I don’t really mind that much and where’s the fun in getting up the nose of someone who doesn’t really care? He’s long been relegated in my head to the same category as thunderstorms as just an unfortunate force of nature that is part of the price for living here.
I trembled on the cusp of putting on short trousers this morning. It’s as significant s sign as the clocks being changed as a sign of the change in season, but I resisted. I always feel like a prat when I don them for the first time and the feeling lasts for a good couple of hours before I wonder why I ever wear anything else.


Le Pen won in the commune, but there were special circumstances. The dissidents, a sad crew, likely all voted for her, mainly because the maire sponsored Macron. To rub it in, there were ten scrunched up Macron ballots left on his doorstep while the results were being counted. After the count, it was my job to escort the maire to the regional centre that checks and confirms the vote. The radio gives the expected result at 8pm, while we’re en route. All the maires are present carrying their envelopes, festooned with seals and signatures with their tallies. I think I had to sign our bumph six times to agree that all was above board. They queue up and schmooze in front of a couple of very important gendarmes who receive the papers. There’s a very jolly, short, round lady who’s a bigwig in the Department that I meet on such occasions. The first time we were introduced, I kissed her hand and thenceforth we have been best mates.
And today we were on parade for VE Day in front of the war memorial. A reasonable turn out followed by nibbles and wine in the salle de fetes. Many smaller communes have ditched this ceremony, but we intend to continue and reckon €60 for a very smart wreath is a price well worth paying. The names and death dates are incised in marble. We discovered yesterday that one of the dates was wrong and the correct date on a label will replace it.

A voté

A break from the business of sitting in the mairie, supervising the vote. This time there are only two ballot papers, one saying Macron And the other Le Pen. Everyone takes one of each, enters the polling booth and emerges with one of them in an envelope. The voter then approaches the ballot box. One of the scrutineers presses the lever to open the slot to receive the envelope. It gives a little ‘ting’, the counter moves one forward and the scrutineer intones ‘A voté’. It’s all meticulously to the formula. If I was a voter in this instance, I would take care to be seen spurning the Le Pen ballot paper, but it doesn’t work like that. We had a barbecued lunch today in the mairie – and wine. The dissidents in the village came in a group to vote before we’d finished our coffee. Typical, was the general opinion.
One old farmer came in and said that he wanted to rebury his uncle in his family tomb. The uncle’s name was on the war memorial but nobody knew how he’d died or where he was buried. God bless Google. Uncle died of a maladie in Vienna in 1941 as a PoW. The death date is wrong on our memorial. His remains were interred in a cemetery in Strasburg, and this was the particular grave. So what’s left of him will be coming back, probably free since he died in the service of France.


The orage never was. It never is, at least not since I’ve been here.
This is going on outside the kitchen window. The dogs don’t like it a bit. And on the subject of the environment, our curious neighbour opposite has informed the maire that his garage over our hedge will be three storeys and stand six metres high. There is no law that can prevent him. But pigs don’t fly so I am unconcerned.
A fierce bout of social activity in the salle de fetes on Monday. The village schism necessitated a new committee for the local fete weekend. This was duly elected, although the new vice-president, a tolerant expat down the village, was not told of his fate until presented with the fait accompli. Then we all had lunch, rather better than usual – and whisky and wine. A hardcore re-assembled to polish off the left overs in the evening – and the whisky and wine.