Monthly Archive for December, 2017

Washing up

You realise the quality of the life you have led when you start to go deaf, or at least the TV is below your comfort level and you’re not concentrating that hard. “No dear. He didn’t say ‘Fuck a cold’. He said ‘button your coat'” All my mishears are either obscene or profane.
I was at a funeral Mass this afternoon, a packed house and lots of miserable descendants. You can’t ask for more. But the Catholic service is very foreign indeed. How could the priest doing the washing up after Mass have remained part of the liturgy? After the Russians, the French are the least godly nation in Europe but they turn out for funerals, the ancient ritual that has marked the departure of 50 generations. I agreed with the only Muslim present that the Catholic service was very hard.


A green Christmas makes the graveyard fat. The trouble is that Christmas is always green out here and so there’s plenty of business for the undertaker at the moment. There are also a remarkable number of people in the commune well into their 80s and 90s, most of whom seem very spry but they can’t last for ever. One of the recently departed has been shipped down from Paris so that he can join his kin in the family tomb. He’s in his coffin a dozen miles away until the funeral tomorrow but he’s not lonely since most of his relatives go to visit every day. He’s locked into a viewing room, but those who want to go have the combination to the door.
I’m not a fan of French death customs. The above-ground family tombs only hold so many coffins and older inmates have to make room for their more recently deceased relatives. Without worms to eat them up, corpses can linger far longer than if they were buried beneath the soil. I’ve attended one such reshuffle of the contents of a family mausoleum and it was not for the faint hearted. I investigated leaving my remains to some local medical school, which works a treat in the UK and saves one’s heirs much money. Here you have to pay to give your corpse away it and that made it seem rather pointless. I shall just have to be burnt and what’s left put on a rose bed.


Oh, joy! The UK passport will revert to blue. I read that it’s The Sun what did it. I feel sorry for anyone who gives a damn about such a piffling trifle. It would be more fun if Brits were fast-tracked through immigration if they wore blue plastic noses. I now have a French passport, curiously different from the UK one. For example it has personal details at the front rather than the back. The colour differs too. I also have a carte d’identité. I asked what the point of the latter might be and have yet to receive an intelligent answer but I am told to carry it wherever I go. It’s nicely laminated and my ID snap is quite fetching but it is bigger than all the other plastic cards I carry and will not fit in my wallet. I have a larger wallet that will take it, just, but that is too large for my pocket.
The village Christmas party was patronised by Brits, Belgians, Iranians and Portuguese. There were even some French. The latter are gloomy as there has been a significant death. The funeral will be next week in Lachapelle. I shall go, not only because the chapel there is by far the prettiest and most interesting place of worship for miles.
This site has received 593,282 spam comments this year. Quite bizarre.


I did the rounds of the commune with the maire to deliver invitations to the Xmas party in the salle de fetes. It’s a chance to find out who lives where and to hear something of their back-stories. A murder happened there when a guy found his wife in bed with someone else. That prosperous farmer went to jail for fiddling his taxes. And lots of shady shenanigans about inheritances. One track I had never noticed. A hundred yards with the grass in the centre a good 18″ high. In the midst of encroaching trees at the end was a building – half house, and half barn with its sides protected by plastic and chicken wire. We nosed round the side and a fat, very smelly Labrador came to say hullo. By the front door a magnificent cat stared imperiously from the head of a hand pump that had a ram’s head for its spout. An ancient lady with a shock of untamed white hair, bright blue eyes and armful of logs came out of a shed. She wore gumboots and lair upon lair of indeterminate clothing. Incomprehensible communication took place. It may have been Occitan or just a very thick local accent. We delivered the invite and drove carefully back down the track. ‘We must keep an eye her. She lives alone. She has no hot water and she cooks on a wood-fuelled range.’ I farmed in Devon forty years ago and by then nobody still lived like that.

We have some friends stuck in the UK for weeks with a sick relative. Their medication started to run low. They were told to sign on with a local GP but were turned away by two of them. Eventually they found out that the practice that serviced their relation was duty bound to take them on. They were provided with a 4-page form to complete and were told to bring urine samples. Sod that. So they phoned their pharmacy in France. ‘Oh, dear! We’d like to help but if we sent you the usual stuff we’d have to charge you postage. That’s OK? You can settle the bill when you return.’


The commune picked up three awards at Flowery Village dinner last night. It’s an interminable evening, introduced with lots of speeches from the great and good who thank each other a lot. This year the management decided to pause the serving of the food – magret tournedos – and turn out the lights between courses so’s we could properly concentrate on the wildly inappropriate cabaret. The average age of the 400 audience must have been 60, so they gave us a drag act with blokes in sequins, bras and suspenders mooning their naked bums at us and miming to ‘Hey Big Spender’, etc. It was excruciating and we walked out when they turned out the lights again just before pud. I don’t know whether it was a booking error by the organisers or something the jerry French love to watch. It felt distressingly foreign.


The village is even more hushed than usual. Lucydog/Noisette’s owners are off for 10 days. She has a magnificent straw-filled kennel in a well-sealed compound. There she spends the day. She is fed twice daily by neighbours and at night she goes into the house. She even is taken for the odd walk. But this is not enough. If she hears anyone or sees anyone through the fence, she howls, long and loud. The grandson would howl curses back at her initially but even he realised this only encouraged her. So now we tend to talk in whispers and tiptoe. Our dogs cower at the idea of having her back to stay.

In 25 years, those of us still alive will be able to read the results of the Royal Commission on the Brexit Affair. Aside from Ken Clark, I can’t think of anyone that might be worthy of much less than stinging criticism. In a just world there ought to be a few treason charges around, although I suspect rank stupidity and incompetence may be a defence.


In 1688, the year that William of Orange took the throne of Great Britain, my 6X great-grandmother was was kidnapped by fairies. A Mrs Margaret Irvine, she lived in Highland Perthshire where her husband Alexander was a tenant farmer in Strathtay.

Margaret had just born a child, a girl, when she was stolen. The fairies took her from her bed and replaced her with a log of wood. They carried her to a bog just east of the summit of Farragon where they put her to work cutting peats and barrowing them up to the peak to dry. They treated her kindly, fed her well and took her back home a fortnight later where she lived happily ever after. The 16-inch spade that she brought back was long preserved as evidence of her harrowing experience.

An antiquarian James Kennedy wrote up her story a century ago. Hindsight might suggest that she was suffering from post-natal depression and took herself off, returning with a story – and a wee spade – that her husband might accept. Bears sometimes borrowed women in parts of central Europe, often those suspected of having a secret lover, for a few weeks or months. But these beasts had been extinct in the Highlands for centuries and fairies provided a more convincing as well as a more seemly explanation for such an absence.

There are no fairies round here in France. I’ve checked