Monthly Archive for August, 2018


After eight or so years here, it seemed wise to obtain a French driving license. I have procrastinated till now because it means involving myself with the French bureaucracy. What triggered the desire was that, a, Brexit is looming, and, b, for another couple of weeks it can be done by post through some centre in Nantes. After that it will require a personal visit to the dragon ladies in the Prefecture in Montauban and that must be avoided at all costs. Their goal is always to spurn you because you are either insufficiently or incorrectly documented for the purpose and that varies depending on the judgement of the particular dragon that confronts you. So I have spent and afternoon gathering the necessary bumf and will dispatch it tomorrow with the faint hope that it will smoothly go through the system.

The laurel hedge that surrounds this property has grown prodigiously – more so than usual – and my spirit quails at the thought of cutting it. In normal years I teeter at the edge of disappearing into the thing in an effort to reach its more remote portions. This year I don’t think I’d make it. So I hope to importune the company that keeps the village greenery in trim and get them to do it. A problem is that I cannot access some of the hedge because it would mean entering the grandson’s property. And last time I asked he refused permission because he was cross with me. I shall try asking again and see if he has mellowed. We have had a very peaceful summer as he has a new job some 30 miles away and has hardly touched his construction site on the other side of the hedge.


In Scotland, it was 15 degrees and we saw the sun for a total of four hours all week. Here it’s forecast to be 30ish as far as the eye can see. No contest. The pic is of me presenting the clan chief with some of his array of presents since it was his 80th birthday. Scots aren’t really interested in clans. It’s the Americans who are enthusiastic and keep the whole business flourishing.

We had dog sitters staying here while we were away. At 5pm on the Friday evening not long before they were due to arrive, a water pipe burst beneath the sink where the supply came into the house. I found the stopcock and found a plumber who could come out the following Tuesday. Then the maire showed up. ‘I have a friend,’ he said. The friend was here before 6pm. By 7pm he had left with a section of the pipe replaced for a charge of €40.

We have friends in Portugal. They have a lovely half dozen acres in the midst of a National Park, which they hope they have managed to sell after a couple of years of trying. When they came the culture and folk were rural Portuguese. Now they are surrounded by hectares of plastic greenhouses. Being temporary structures they don’t require planning permission and are left to rot when they become tatty and ripped plastic blows all over the countryside. The workers are largely from Nepal and the area now has lots of Nepalese restaurants and shops and the roads are full of small brown people trudging between their homes in shipping containers. It’s not what our friends signed up for.


Scotland no longer feels like home, which is fair enough for it isn’t. I have discharged my duty by filling in fellow clansmen from the USA on our history and taken a couple of bus tours round clan country and to the Culloden battlefield. Our clan was centred in Pitlochry and that’s where we are staying. The coaches come into the town at 11am and from then on hordes of tourists from across the world process the half mile down one side of the High Street and then cross the road to go up the other. They are beguiled by shops selling tartan, woolly pullies and souvenir kitsch that make decent people shudder.

I know this part of the world well but one place I tracked down I had read about but never seen. At the end of 20 miles of single-track road across a field full of curious black cattle and by the edge of a loch lies a little burial ground. Near to it lived Marsali who was much too beautiful for her own good. A MacIntosh chieftain from fifty miles to the north hungered for her but she rejected him, married a local and had three sons in swift succession. A few years later her rejected suitor came raiding. He crossed the loch but Marsali was not at home so he killed her husband and dashed out the brains of her children on a boulder by the burial ground. The MacIntosh met a sticky end when the posse sent after him caught up and the marks on the fatal boulder where its members sharpened their swords are still visible.



We’re due in Scotland for a week, doing Clan things in the midst of lots of Americans. Sadly I have given away most of my flashy Highland gear to needy relatives, so I will not cut much of a dash amidst their finery. I once went to a ball in Blair Castle thrown by some ancient local laird. The kit the guests dug out was astonishing and very little of it was less than a century old – snarling otter and wildcat sporrans, tartan jackets dating from the 19th century, great baroque jewels pinning their plaids and lots of moth holes. I once had a dog that saw an American with a racoon sporran protecting his nether regions. He fell upon it with howls of rage and it was hard to prise him away from the terrified wearer.

A Scots friend stayed with us last month. I had a plaintive contact from him a couple of days ago. He had been given a parking ticket in Paris, which was odd as he hadn’t been near Paris with his hired car and it was parked in front of this house at the time in question. The maire was put on the job and he had good fun abusing the hire company and the guys that issued the ticket. He dictated a snotty letter for the appeal but didn’t hold out much hope. The French system does not allow for errors. He knows someone who was flashed at 145kph on the motorway – in his elderly tractor. He had to pay in the end.


We had the village fete over the weekend. In an unprecedented development no hot red meat was served. There were rumblings that the natives might rebel when faced with mountainous salads instead but the 100-odd guests were complimentary. In the evening the very locals hoover up the remains in front of the salle de fetes, which is usually the most pleasant part of the day. Most people were very relaxed except for one person, drunk, wandering around stirring up dissention. I can get pissed with the best of them but I am grateful that I am not one of those unfortunate folk who become aggressive when they consume too much drink.

There’s normally petanque going on into the wee small hours, but it was just too hot and it didn’t happen. Trying to sleep presents a dilemma. Leave the windows open to try to catch a breeze when the outside temperature drops below 25 and you risk mosquitoes. A carefully placed fan can prevent them being able to settle and bite but you have to keep your extremities within the cone of the draught, which is not always easy.