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, 25 September 2010

Molesworth or Fotherington - Thomas?

I used to have the Molesworth books...the tales of a small boy's survival amidst the perils of his prep school in the 1950s, written by Geoffrey Willans  - spelling mistakes intentional - and illustrated by Ronald Searle.
Goodness only knows at which point in my life I parted company with them...I suspect the intervention of a third party with light tastes and lighter fingers.....but their memory lingers still and is often aroused when observing the  current scene.

Molesworth is a realist, not deceived by witness his views on grandmothers...
'Grandmothers are all very strikt and they all  sa the same thing as they smile swetely over their gin and orange.
It is a grandmother's privilege to spoil their grandchildren... GET OFF THAT SOFA NIGEL YOU WILL BRAKE IT.'

Or on the concept of social change...
'This meant the Rise of the People and the People hav gone on rising ever since like yeast until you kno where they are now hapy and prosperous you ask them when the television programme is over.'

His antithesis is Basil Fotherington - Thomas 'uterly wet and a sissy', who lives in a cottage called 'swete lavender' and skips about saying 'Hullo clouds, hullo sky.'

When it comes to books, blogs, television programmes and newspaper articles about living in France, the Fotherington - Thomas view prevails.
People have come to France for clouds, sky and skipping about and that's what they are determined to others and to themselves.

The way they wax lyrical  - even about croissants - you would think that they had just clawed themselves and family from the worst horrors of Manchester in the time of Engels and arrive to kiss the soil of France exclaiming

'For  loe,  the winter is past, the raine is ouer and gone.
The flowers appeare on the earth, the time of singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.'

To which the Molesworth tendency reply
A chiz being a 'swiz or a swindle, as any ful kno.'

I came to France to save money...more than twenty years ago....based on a swift compare and contrast of costs in the U.K. and in France...based, at that moment, on property prices, access to a fax machine and the hindsight of many years of holidaying in the country.
Many  Brits had landed up in France before me, seeking a cheaper way of life.....Emma Hamilton for one...but I had no intention of living in a British colony...not that they existed in my time outside of the Dordogne...for the upper middle classes...and the Cote d'Azur..for those who thought that they were just upper.

I could earn my living via a fax machine...I could reduce my outgoings dramatically by selling my house in  England and buying one in France...and I thought I knew what I was getting into.
After all, I had been touring France for years...I read French well....I thought I understood the culture...

Poor sap!

I had a lot of learning ahead of me.

Luckily, I had good teachers....Edith and Alice,  Monsieur Untel,  Madeleine and many others, at whose hands and hospitable tables I came to appreciate the realities of France.....why unions in France were nothing like unions in the wasteful the health service system Mitterand's decentralisation of government was reinventing feudal wine was actually produced....why there was no justice for the average everything came down to tax...and how much misery was disseminated by that most characteristic of French sins - jealousy.

I learned to play boules.
I enjoyed the village walks and the village picnics.
I joined...under duress...the amateur dramatic group.
I was taught which mushrooms to pick and where to find them.
I've even counted votes in a Presidential election.......probably illegally.

I went everywhere I was invited. I had a great time. And I learned a lot.

The chief lesson was that France is a one way society....those at the top keep the rest in their place....and woe betide the person who steps out of line.
No risk of that for the Fotherington - Thomases. They swallow the myths of France hook, line and sinker.

In my view, to keep on skipping after living in France for more than a few years, you have to be blind, deaf and deliberately obtuse.

Or concepts like liberty, equality and fraternity mean nothing more to you than words painted over the door of the mairie.

Or you live in a self contained immigrant circle where your contact with daily life in France is limited to going to the supermarket where the only French words you have to use are 'bonjour' and 'merci'.

But if the Fotherington - Thomases are happy like that, why should it bother me?

It bothers me because this view....the only view presented in the mainstream media...leads people to come to live in France with very little idea of what actually awaits them.....and some get into deep water.
At which point all the Fotherington - Thomases point the finger and jeer.

I am with Molesworth's brother, Molesworth Two.

'Reality is so unspeakably sordid it make me shudder.'

So do the Fotherington - Thomases.

Thanks to Lo for picking up that I had muddled Searle and Scarfe.....I appreciate help like that!

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  1. Excellent post, Fly, and I quite agree with your last comment on my blog too.

    Anyone who retains the rosy view of living in France must be doing it on purpose. Quite agree with your observation about jealousy, and I'd add to that hysterical, especially after my experiences of this week.

    Apparently there was an absolute tidal wave of it and one over-excited person wanted to go to the mairie to sue me for racism I think, over the fact that I said the French had a knack for the nauseating. lol

    Oh critical truth, thou doth hurt. No idea why they give a shit what I think though. That has to be a first!

  2. Sarah, my French friends think the same way I do....fed up to their back teeth with little self appointed jacks in office, fed up with the amount of aggro...totally unneccessary get simple things done, but that's how life has always been for them.
    They're 'little people'.

    But the people at the bottom of the heap are usually nice.

    I reckon with what happened on your blog that the French lead such restricted lives, afraid to put one foot out of step with the herd, that the experience of power on the PTA went to their heads.
    You committed the crime of putting a foot out of line. The challenge was more than they could bear!
    How unFrench of you.

  3. Dear Fly.......thanks so much for revealing a bit of the truth about living in France. It will help me a lot and I plan to send your post to a friend who dreams of nothing else but moving to France.

    However, I must chastise you for misspelling the name of the brilliant illustrator of your Molesworth series.....he was Ronald Searle the most fantastic artist and illustrator of the 2oth century. I wish you still had those books....I'd buy 'em from you.

  4. The grass is always greener on the other side when you merely camp there for a week in the summer... it's a different story when you come to buy it and find it needs mowing every fortnight.

  5. Lo, thank you for picking me up on Searle! I'll change it on the blog.
    Rap myself over knuckles for not checking everything thoroughly!

    There's a lot more to living in France than going down the road for croissants every morning - particularly if they're made with industrial fat!
    Out in the sticks there is a great deal to be said for buying your baked goods from a supermarket.

    I'm a political animal, so things that make my blood boil may not do the same for others....

    Steve, yes, down with mowing the lawn...anywhere!

    I think people moving to another country spend the first couple of years as if it is an extended holiday - everything new and interesting -but at some point reality creeps in unless you want to hide your head in the sand.

  6. Hi Fly,

    I think that there's not much news in the observation that power corrupts. Perhaps France is worse in this regard than other European countries, but there are certainly worse countries in the world, and probably better also.

    I am wondering if the European courts might be of some use. You might remember that when the rules for E.C. members changed so that you could bring unlimited quantities of alcohol into the UK as long as it was for private consumption? H.M Customs' response to this was simply to decide, on the basis of the volume of wine you were bringing back, that they didn't believe that it could all be for private consumption, 21st birthdays or weddings on the horizon or not. They would then steal your car and sell it. This practice was declared illegal by a European court. (They called it confiscation at the time, but since it has been declared illegal, I think that the misappropriation of private property counts as theft in this case)

    For example how long would the French prohibition on the free speech of giving your full and frank opinion of an incompetent fonctionnaire survive in the face of a determined attack.


  7. Molesworth! I had forgotten him. How could I? Thank you for the reminder.

  8. Mark, the news about corruption in France is how far down the food chain it goes.

    Yes, I certainly do remember HM Customs and Excise's little tricks....we always used to wonder how Brother managed to return from his trips from Belgium via Luxembourg to pick up an estate car load of cigarettes and never have a problem.
    We used to suppose that they took one look at his fingers and agreed that it was all for personal use!
    However, I think it was more down to being an official in one of the civil service unions and knowing when Customs would be on strike.

    If the fonctionnaire was protected from verbal assault by the nature of his office, in my view the case would go nowhere....but that's just my view based on the EHRC and the jurisprudence of the ECHR.

    This post came about because of a sad incident where a very nice man has run into problems...believing all the F - T guff about which point the F - Ts are putting him down for being gullible!

    Rosie, thanks for an introduction to Spotty Dog!

    Molesworth came to mind because we were wondering what had happened to the headmasters and mistresses of our day and I remembered the school assemblies where our crimes were brought home to us collectively.
    The diatribe would always start with 'Some girl has....' and I remembered Molesworth's headmaster...
    'Some boy have...then a whole list of alternatives starting with blocking the drains with his socks...'
    So I went to look for my Molesworths....only to find them gone.

  9. I much enjoyed being introduced to Moleskin. Being an american, I'd never met him before.
    And you're right that most expats (even when they come with their jobs) have no clue what living in France is all about.

  10. Dedene, he is a beauty, isn't he?
    I just wish that people would take France as it is rather than go along with these myths, and keep out of the hands of the more exploitative immigrants...who don't like being called such.
    Expat sounds better, they feel.
    Those ceps on your blog made me want to rush out and go picking!

  11. The immigrant community you describe sounds repugnantly cliquey and smug.

    And your blog should be required reading for anyone thinking of moving to France!

  12. Pueblo girl, they do seem to be particularly poisonous...and the effect is that those who want to keep clear find themselves a bit isolated as they colonise every attempt to start up groups or just to have get togethers.
    I'm putting stuff together for the book, and the amount of material horrifies me, so I'm following nodamnblog's advice and just collecting it all...ready for culling as I go along.
    Wouldn't think it will ever get past an agent, let alone a publisher doesn't fit what they want to palm off on their readers.

    However, when its is done, I'll send the files over to anyone who wants to read them...but it won't be yet!

  13. Careful now Missus, don't let 'them' read this or you'll be lynched, well cyber-lynched at least. I have been many times by those who think that speaking the truth is tantamount to torturing a puppy. There have been quite a few 'it ain't all that' articles in the media recently and the comments from the F-Ts would be enough to make the Third Reich write in to the Guardian. I'm a Molesworth and proud!

  14. P(V)LiF, Ooh! I'll just go and find my flame proof underwear!
    I haven't seen those articles, unfortunately or I might have roused myself enough to join in.
    I am amazed by the energy the F - T's display in turning on anyone of the Molesworth persuasion, but there...we Molesworths are tough or we'd never have survived St. Custards.