All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Saturday, 8 August 2009


{{Potd/2005-02-28 (en)}}Image via Wikipedia

You know how it come back from your holiday, the hall is full of ominous envelopes and the cat has been sick somewhere it shouldn't.
Well, a few local maires know how you feel. They have returned from their rainy July holidays to find that things have got out of hand in their absence from their communes and that they need to take up the burden of government again in double quick time. It's probably worse in that the sun is now shining, just to reinforce the misery.

One has travelling people problems. The obligatory camping ground designated for their use was clearly held not to be adequate for the twenty two cars and trailers which descended on the area in his absence, so they rammed open the gates of the football ground and installed themselves on the pitch. The state of play will not be improved this season by all the maneovering on sodden ground while the party set up their encampment. The travelling people obviously felt that the football ground was destined for their has electricity - illegally attached to the twenty two trailers to operate the satellite dishes and associated technology which enliven the wandering life of the traveller - and water, hot water, loos and showers. Clearly much more satisfactory than the camping ground.
Now, best not to enquire what the maire's deputies - the adjoints - did about it because whatever it was it did not work. I suspect that they decided to look the other way or to go on holiday themselves, but I do not know.
What alarmed the maire was the magnitude of the electricity and water bill facing the commune as a consquence of the occupation and the likely bill for damage. He knows what they can do on the camping ground, remember and visions of replacement sanitary ware must have been haunting his dreams. He went to interview the chief and received the clear message that the camping ground would not be receiving a visit. The band were very well where they were. The maire went on a tour of his commune and eventually persuaded someone to let them use his field....conveniently far from the village. He returned to the football ground and described the attractions on offer.
'No.' The chief shook his head regretfully. They would like to be accomodating, but they had already reconnoitred the field in question...and it was out of the question. There were snakes. Further, they had taken the precaution of getting permission from the Prefecture to stay where they were for a further week in the absence of appropriate accommodation elsewhere.
I suspect that this maire knows when he is beaten and will be going round the village urging people to check their locks and bolts and nail everything to the ground until the travellers deign to move on. He will probably also be inspecting his slush fund to see how he is going to pay the utility bills and reinstate the loos.

Far down in the south of the department, where the sun has been shining, another maire has returned to a problem. In his case, he went out to take a stroll round the village and found that the pretty stone bridge in the centre no longer had a function. The river running under it had dried up.
This isn't the first time in recent years, in fact it is becoming more likely than not that the river will run dry in summer, and the maire has had enough. He has made an official complaint that someone - 'x' - has made improper use of water.
Now, we all know who 'x' is, or, rather, are. X is all the farmers irrigating their crops in the dry weather....the maize, and the sunflowers so beloved of the people advertising their holiday homes in rural France. For some reason which escapes me, like the rest of the claptrap involved with the Common Agricultural Policy, farmers are encouraged - paid - to grow these crops on ground and in conditions totally unsuited to their culture, which means that they need to irrigate. Which means in turn that the rivers dry up.
In recent years, a certain caution has entered the world of irrigation. While on one hand the European Union is encouraging the practice of growing unsuitable crops, on the other the European Union is about to enforce the cleaning up of rivers, and ensuring their survival. France has already had a delay accorded, but doomsday approaches...2015 is not that far off and at that point, rivers have to be flowing and have to be clean.
Prefectures have been more and more cautious in issuing licences to irrigate, but, considering that they started at 'do as you please', they haven't restricted irrigation to any great extent. We, ordinary people, can be told not to water our gardens and can and will be denounced to the authorities for so doing, businesses operating car washes can be shut down for the duration, but the farmer carries on regardless, spurting water over his profitable crop.
Further, the rivers have to be cleaned end to the delights of raw sewage poured straight into the stream and thus the attempt to inspect every septic tank in France.....another lost war in my view. An end too, to the nitrates leaching from farmland into the watercourses. This in particular causes much sucking of teeth, as it means asking farmers to change their habits, and it draws attention to the damage they are doing not only to the countryside in which they operate but also to the water needed by the towns for their populations.

The air is changing slowly in France....people are beginning to question the privileged position of the farmers and growers in a way which would have been unthinkable even a few years' ago. The only people who ever attacked the farmers were the ecologists, while everyone else stood by, disapproving of these wild extremists. Now that it is beginning to dawn on people that their water supply is in danger, there is more vocal support for the need of reform. Especially if the European Union impose fines on France - yet again - for its failure to provide ample and clean water in the beds of its rivers.

So, if you're just off on holiday, rather than returning, make the most of your won't be seeing so many in the future.
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  1. Bjr Fly! Thanks for swinging by La Maison M-J...we (T-hub & myself) just read your latest blog...and oo la la la cannot even BEGIN to imagine the rants I've had on this very subject! They just finished construction of one of the 'gens de voyage' camping sites near us (which led us to research the history & laws regarding the issue). The sheer ludicrousness & audacity of what has been put in place is's like all the people in the country are basically paying for a whole population, that contribute nothing & take everything, to live across France. I am a generous soul, giving at every turn, but this one, this one makes my blood boil!! Looking forward to checking out the rest of your blog! (sorry for the comment rant :) )

  2. Normally sunflowers aren't irrigated - the water jets bash the stems around too much. We can keep those.

    But don't get me started on maize.

    Oh, you have.

    How many people are aware, I wonder, that maize carries practically no subsidy? Why then is it grown in such vast acrage?

    France produces about 13.5 million tonnes of maize per year, which I think is about 5th in the world. Almost all - about 98% - goes to livestock farming. Maize requires little labour between planting and harvesting, and provided it is given plenty of water and fertiliser it will grow to vast yield.

    The use in livestock farming is to provide for the ever-growing demands for cheap dairy and meat.

    One of our neighbours irrigates constantly. One field of 100 odd hecteres is like a paddy, but it is far easier and cheaper for him to water to a schedule than to send out a minion to cheack whether it is necessary, so he probably wastes 50% of the water he sprays.

    Drives me mad.

    Others are better - a good friend of mine has started installing water probes and is making a real effort. Not because anyone is paying him to do it, but because he thinks it is the right thing to do.

    But it isn't just France - and it isn't just the EU either; it is pretty much every developed nation that seems intent on screwing up its environment for cheap food: in France it's maize, in Spain it's greenhouse crops, in the US it's an endless round of soya and maize, in Holland it's pigs. The UK seems content to become dependent on imported food because farming is "so last century" and the whole wrold has gone mad.

    Food policy has to change and people have to be convinced that eating a greater proportion of primary crops - grains and pulses - and a bit less meat and dairy is sensible and prudent.

    I'm not advocating mass vegitarianism - mixed farming is too effective for that to be a sensible option in my opinion - just a more balanced use of land.

    But I doubt many people will listen.

  3. Hi Fly,

    Thanks for posting about this. It is fascinating. Every so often we have considered moving abroad - France, Spain, Italy (I speak all three languages) but something always stops us. Life is not perfect anywhere is it? I will show this to hubbie as he is very interested in farming and food issues. We cannot believe the UK's attitude to farmers here "so last century" seems to sum it up as Jon in France has said.

    Sorry to hear about your man and the GB thingy. Will not say much about here as you may want to keep this private.

    Thank you also for your supportive comments over at mine about everything. This is just a long shot but you mentioned a cousin who used to work with Midland. Does he have anything to do with it now? This is the bank (in its new incarnation) with which we are battling. If he could put in a good word for us that would be marvellous. I'm wracking my brains for all lines of attack. I'm thinking about all my old City contacts and will be approaching those as well (hopefully).

  4. L.R. M-J, rant away...I do it all the time, it keeps the blood pressure down!
    The manouche question shows me what is wrong with France....they are violent, known to be violent and so are untouchable. Just try being a kid in the Paris suburbs....and then people are surprised when they kick up at the treatment they get.
    Your house in Paris looks gorgeous!

    Jon in France, I can't comment about places where I'm not asked to pay for their agricultural idiocies..except obliquely by buying the products. However, I grew up in a farming background...longer ago than I would like to contemplate..and mixed farming was a viable and reasonably environmentally friendly way of life, in my opinion.
    Sunflowers here are irrigated.....pipes spreading all over the fields...but what gets me wild is that the growers don't even bother to have them harvested properly...had the money to grow them, that's all that matters.
    The maize is subsidised...and used for silage. I don't know what you see in the Vendee, where you get more rain than we do, I think, but here the sheer incompetence of silage making is beyond belief. When they are using grass, they can't even get two cuts from it because it is too much trouble to check the fields. It is a vicious circle...subsidise the cattle you keep, so you keep as many as you can...subsidise the maize to feed you don't worry too much about the quality of your silage....the guy down the road from me has silage I wouldn't use as mulch, so I'm glad he sells his beasts to Greece and Italy and not on the local market. Rats running all over his farm...come back in the evenings and the road round his silage dumps looks like something from the Pied Piper of Hamelin! Make the b...s produce on an open market and most of them would be out of business in a year. Lazy, greedy and incompetent.
    Don't even think about animal welfare...tiny calves out in alternate rain and frost in the winter because he doesn't have enough stabling....poor breeding programmes so that the cows need veterinary assistance to calve...when they have suffered enough hours for him to decide to cough up for the vet. A broken leg on a Sunday has to wait until Monday, to avoid the weekend call out fee...and he's not atypical. There are worse. And he trousered thirty four thousand euros in 2008. Having just cleaned my glasses after the effects of steam pouring from the ears, I must just say that I think people...real people...are starting to listen. The problem is that our masters don't have to listen to us.

    Hadrians's Treasures, the whole farming fiasco revolts me. My father's family farmed in Scotland and if my grandfather could see what is happening now he would turn his face to the wall and die again. And as for paying the b...s to be stewards of the countryside, words fail me!
    The GB thingy is a real pain...and don't start me on the French health service as I might burst something vital and die while they discussed what they could do about it. His treatment has been a crying disgrace.
    The cousin has long retired on his well padded pension, I'm afraid, and he was never the sort of chap to help anyone except himself - I hope he's reading this, but that is probably one of the many skills he never achieved. If I can come up with anything, I'll contact you with my e mail address. We've had banks in our time....Lloyds TSB, Barclays, Nat West, Credit Agricole...I stick to the Post Office.
    The best of luck with all that's going on in your life. If it turns out to be anything like MS or GB then we have worked out some things that help. Just get in touch.