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 May 2010

I must get out more often....

French train system's warning to youImage by Ped-X-Ing via Flickr
Life, such as it is in deepest France where it seems to move with all the elan of treacle on emery board, is passing me by.

I realised this when taking a local trip lately, going into the town to take the train. Things have changed radically since my last encounters with the railway system when crossing France and when making my escape from the hexagon.
Neither event was all that long ago, either, so what winds of change are blowing across the local landscape?

First, on pulling into the carpark, I noticed the absence of a dear friend.
The portacabin, in which the harassed ticket clerk has been operating for at least a year despite it nearly being blown away in the great storm in March.
The storm which blew roofs off  houses, uprooted trees and had electricity supplies cut for days.
The day after, the clerk struggled into work, taking detours to avoid roads blocked by fallen timber, only to find an indignant lady on the doorstep of his bijou workplace.

Where had he been? He should have been open some time ago? Was this what he called public service?
He apologised.
Had madame been worried that she would be unable to travel? The first train - for which read bus service - did not leave for another ten minutes in which time  he could issue her a ticket.

No. But as there were power cuts and her television wasn't working she thought it would be a good time to drop into the portacabin and check the logistics for the family journey to a wedding in the south of France later that year.

Gently, he explained that as there were power cuts, his computer would not be working either, but he offered to look up all the options on his printed timetables if she did not mind it taking a little more time.

She bridled.
No, that would not do at all.
She wanted up to date information, so it was no use trying to fob her off with that old fashioned stuff.
What sort of an idiot did he take her for?

Being in the (semi) public service he decided it was best not to give  a transparent response to this particular customer request and she took herself off to join the vast queue at the one local baker who still cooked  in a wood fired oven and who wasn't too grand to make his bread by hand, while the clerk assumed tranquil possession of his domain.

Not only had the portacabin gone but the station had been repainted, while the swinging doors that always made me feel like John Wayne entering the saloon every time I went to buy a ticket had been replaced by sliding doors that opened on my approach.
Very sinister. French railways is watching you.
The plastic bucket type seating had been replaced by rather natty metal benches....clearly it has been considered that with all the improvements the public will not be minded to use them as offensive weapons when queueing behind the ladies who are seeking alternative thrills when their televisions don't work.

More to the point, our  push me pull you train, which was great once you had sorted out your ice axe and crampons in order to climb up into it, has been replaced by a modern push me pull you, which might well look as if a TGV has given birth to a midget but which has access at platform level.
If you have never travelled on a French train, you have no idea of the relief this change of access has accorded me.
No more flying trapeze work to load your luggage, no more ruptured tights....except once you glide aboard you discover that the French mania for complication has been too strong for common sense and that the whole thing is divided by steps into different levels and that, while there are two racks for bicycles, there are no luggage storage areas, so if you want to keep an eye on your baggage, you have to sit on a pull down seat by the door to protect it from the attentions of the third person to board with a bicycle who inevitably thinks his machine more worthy than your luggage of  the place lodged behind the toilets where it won't fall over.

There were already people waiting on the natty new benches.
Long experience has taught people to get their ticket early in case they end up behind the sensation seekers who want to book their summer holiday train in March at the precise moment that the one of the three trains a day is about to depart.
Among the travellers, three black men.
I have no idea of what PC term is currently in favour, so cannot use it. Not that I would if I did, to be fair.

Now, in that town, I was aware of only one black to find three black men in the waiting room was quite a surprise.
The social leaven must at last have reached deepest France.
North African doctors have become a commonplace at the local hospital, though not in the population at large, but black faces still draw attention.

With none of the modern qualms about whether or not to mention their presence the clerk explained to me that they were part of the consultancy engaged by the local council at vast expense to reorganise the diabolic mini roundabout system which has endangered life and limb in the town for the last three years, ever since it had been spawned by a previous administration with nothing better to do and European Union money within reach of its' sticky fingers.

Clearly the leaven has only a temporary shelf life.

The push me pull you drew in and disgorged its' passengers, among whom was a gentleman whose ruddy complexion glowed undaunted between a jaunty tyrolean hat complete with feather and sidewhiskers which had decided that 'side' was not enough and had thus extended their empire over the whole lower face.

Eyeing the passengers on the benches he stopped dead and delivered himself of a diatribe to the effect that he, long time inhabitant of Ste. Felicite en Terre, had never thought to see the day when not only foreigners but black foreigners would be infecting the fair land of France.
He, his father, grandfather and ancestors had fought to preserve a country and its values against adulteration by outside influence and cross breeding with outsiders.
He did not pay taxes to support foreigners in idleness while good decent French people worked their fingers to the bone just to scratch a living.
The country was going to the dogs.
France for the French!
Vive Le Pen!

And with this endorsement of the leader of the far right National Front he stepped boldly out into the car park.

As the doors closed behind him, we all looked at each other and without comment began to board the train as the inevitable last minute client approached the ticket office.
He wanted to check the trains for a place near Lyon - or about one hundred kilometres from Lyon - that he had read about in the local rag's weekend holiday supplement, but whose name he could not remember.

The doors opened again to reveal Monsieur Le Pen's loyal supporter.
He, long time inhabitant of Ste.Felicite en Terre, had somehow overlooked the fact that his home town was one stop up the line and that he had missed it. He needed to get back on the train which was about to leave.
But the would be holidaymaker had come up with several likely suggestions for the clerk to investigate and, in true French fashion, was giving place to no one....

As I say, I need to get out more often and see a bit of life.

Acknowledgement.  I am sure that I have dredged up the name of Ste. Felicite en Terre from a novel I read about Brittany, but I cannot remember the name of the author. Thanks to him, though, whoever he is.
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