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I saw a report which made me laugh...then sigh.
A stonemason in the Rhone Valley took out professional insurance to cover his fledgling business, which cost him an arm and a leg.
He then discovered that other companies charged about half what he was paying and asked his insurers for a reduction.
You can imagine the upshot of that little initiative.
They had his money and they were sticking to it.
In fact, they sent him a bill, just to rub his nose in it.
Somewhat indignant, he bethought himself of what to do about it and inspiration struck.
Taking a large block of stone and the tools of his trade he wrote...or chiselled...a cheque in stone.
Everything legally required was there...names, amounts, order to pay...and he even took a bailiff with him to witness that payment had duly been made.
It can't be often that a bailiff has been asked to accompany a massive block of stone in an ancient van on a journey through the Rhone Valley, but I suppose it made a change from banging on doors demanding to seize the television.
The stonemason, the stone and the bailiff duly arrived....only to find that the insurance company's office had closed one hour earlier than usual.
This being France, clearly someone had denounced him!
Probably the journalist from the local paper whom he had summoned to photograph his arrival.
Disappointed, he asked the bailiff to witness that he had done everything in his power to deliver the cheque...well, short of flinging it through the window which would have resulted in the unwelcome attentions of the police, taking his statement from his hospital bed while he recovered from the hernia operation....and returned home, announcing that if the insurance company wanted their cheque they could come and get it.
Why do I suspect the journalist of being less than sympathetic?
Because he ended his report with the lugubrious statement that the stonemason would probably find that his bank would close down his account...for chiselling their name on the stone without their permission.
I expect he was on the bank doorstep first thing the next morning with a photograph as evidence.
The stonemason appeared to be quite a young chap, or I would have suspected that he had been inspired by A.P. Herbert's tale of the negotiable cow, published in the 1930s....the reported attempt of one Albert Haddock to pay what he regarded as an unjustifiable tax demand by writing a cheque on the backside of a cow of malevolent aspect...not forgetting the then obligatory fiscal stamp attached to one of its' horns.....and delivering the animal to the offices of the Inland Revenue...or the Inland Revenge as a disgruntled friend used to call it.
It is rare for an individual to express indignation in France...they go in for collective action - the solidarity bit - to make it more difficult for the police to pick them off and their employers to discriminate against them, though this relative safety cannot be relied on by bands of youths from the urban high rise estates when the police manage to outnumber them.
Gypsies, 'gens de voyage', 'manouches', call them what you will, are good at collective action, thus proving that they are, as they proudly claim, French and not foreigners.
In the recent events at St. Aignan following the shooting of a manouche by the gendarmerie, a crowd wearing balaclavas managed to take over the town centre, cutting down trees with chainsaws which, as one of them claimed, were lying unattended on the ground and breaking into and robbing the baker's shop!
Well, about three of them were taken to court and had their hands slapped. Thus the value of collective action.
I did see one incident of individual action when I had not long moved to France.
It was in the days when banks would have outposts in the villages....usually just a room...which would be open on one or two afternoons a week, as a service to local customers.
Given some of the customers I saw going in there I used to suspect that the banks had these little branches to prevent some of their less salubrious customers from lowering the tone of the branch in town, nattily attired as they tended to be in sagging trousers, vests bearing the signs of their last three meals and torn tartan caps.
Passing the village branch one afternoon on my way to see a friend I was astounded to see that a huge pile of manure had been deposited in the doorway....and that the bank clerk was waving frantically from behind the window.
Now, in a village where the eyes behind the shutters missed nothing, from the priest falling out of his car having drink taken to the unexpected sighting of Madame Machin wearing her Sunday best during the week, the arrival of such an unusual deposit could not have gone unnoticed....but nothing was stirring in the heat of the afternoon except the flies busy working the heap.
I now know that I should have ducked out of sight and continued to my friend's house by the back alley behind the church, but I was relatively new to France and did not know the form.
I approached the window.
'Can you 'phone the town branch for me?'
'Don't you have a 'phone in there?'
'No....the bank don't want the expense.'
'What shall I say?'..........Thinking that if I were the person at the other end of the line when some foreigner called to say that one of their clerks was imprisoned behind a pile of manure I would not tend to take it seriously, putting the whole thing down to a lack of familiarity with the language and an over familiarity with the bottle.
''Tell them Camille says to send Jean-Aymon and his tractor and trailer down here right away.'
'What about the gendarmerie?'
'They don't have a tractor and trailer.'
He gave me the number and I went to the call box by the mairie...shuttered and silent...to call his bank.
I told them what he had told me to tell them and there was a sharp intake of breath at the other end and then a pause while someone higher in grade was informed.
A man then came on the line, identified only as Claude, who instructed me to return to Camille with the news that Jean-Aymon had been contacted and would be on his way.
I returned to the window and gave the clerk the news.
Was there anything else I could do?
No, but I would be very welcome to open an account with his bank once he got the door open.
Awarding him full marks for a sang-froid almost British in its' nature, I went on my way to my friend, accompanied by a few hopeful flies keen for a change of diet.
She...and the gaggle drinking coffee and cognac in her kitchen...knew all about it, of course.
Apparently, there had been a falling out between the bank and Monsieur Lacroix, farmer and vigneron.
Unable to come to an agreement, Monsieur Lacroix had closed his bank account and then sent down his workman with a load of manure to close the bank door.
There was general agreement that this was not fair on Camille, who was not responsible for the actions of his superiors and who did not have access to a lavatory and that Monsieur Lacroix should have taken his manure to the town branch, except, of course, that even the local town police could not overlook a steaming heap of the best dumped in the main square,and there would have been unpleasantness.
There may be unpleasantness ahead for the stonemason, however.
Once you have signed a contract with a French insurance company, that contract is automatically renewed unless you cancel it...usually some three months before its' expiry date and by registered letter.
Not that they take much notice.
Eight years after cancelling with one company, their computer still churns out demands for payments and threats of bailiffs every year...that's how I can tell it's October.
I suspect the stonemason will find that he will be renewing the acquaintance of his companion, the bailiff.....when he arrives to bang on the door and seize the television for non-payment of his insurance policy.