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, 30 January 2010

An inspector calls

Compost heap on a frosty morning. The rising s...Image via Wikipedia

Down in la France Profonde, a little revolutionary spirit is stirring. At least two associations have been set up - if there are more the postlady can't know about them - to oppose authority - in this case, the water board - in the local sewage wars.

In the past the commune, the local unit of governmental control over the populace, had responsibility for waste disposal. As you might imagine, that meant that not very much was done about it at all. Local councils had more important things to do like refacing the facades of their buildings and replacing perfectly good but old fashioned office furniture with modern junk, in the intervals of initiating vastly expensive projects like buying up chateaux to house the childrens' play group.

One nearby town contented itself with using its' historic subterranean caverns for waste, which must have done a great deal to discourage archeology and research.

Any commune on a river thanked its' lucky stars and piped the whole lot away into the stream.

Elsewhere, the ditches were ripe in summer and fertile to an amazing degree.

However this is an environmentally conscious age so, given the chance, the communes happily signed over their disposal responsibilities to the water board and continued to modernise office furniture and buy up chateaux.

The water board, now responsible for both supply and disposal, included an obligatory charge towards disposal in its' bills, whether or not the property was linked to what might laughingly be called 'the mains'.

I can remember sewage stations being opened with great fanfare, only to find that in periods of heavy rain the whole shooting match would rise to the surface and flood low lying parts of the village and others which were and are flushed out into the river when it was in flood, as the debris on my banks bears witness when the waters subside.

It is not that long ago that the abbatoir in a local town was finally coerced into sorting out its' disposal and not before time. Upstream of me, in the next commune, there were times when, like Virgil as quoted by Enoch Powell, one could see 'the river foaming with much blood'. And other stuff. The last of the ladies who washed clothes on its' banks complained long and bitterly for years, but only the coercive power of prospective European legislation on clean water brought about any change.

The French are supine generally, crushed into inactivity under the burden of producing huge families in order to get the most from the tax system while attempting to make ends meet while paying the vast taxes required to support the social security system which enables......but then, to me, the whole French way of financing health and social security resembles something invented by Dr. Strabismus (whom God preserve) of Utrecht.

However, the hike in local taxes, necessary to pay for all the civil servants transferred from state control to local authority control, has made people rather more likely to raise their heads above the parapet, and the advent of the sewage inspectors has been the spark which has set off, not the powder keg, but certainly the fuse leading to it.

The theory is that these overworked gentlemen will proceed from commune to commune, inspecting every disposal installation or lack thereof, will certify it as being in the norms or not and will go on their way having trousered some 85 Euros, leaving some householders very happy and others facing bills for the installation of new systems which will leave them unfit for reproduction for some time to come, having been blown backwards bow legged by the size of the said bills.

I have already related mutterings from the next commune and the unproductive meeting with the head of the water board. Mark you, I cannot think why anyone thought a meeting would bring about progress. Meetings in France - participation in the democratic process - are occasions where everyone blows off steam and then higher authority tells them that no doubt the occasion has done them a world of good and that higher authority will now do what it was going to do anyway. Another manifestation of the theory that the state embodies the will of the people.

There has been no answer as to why, when we are already paying towards the costs of waste disposal on our water bills, we should pay again to have our installations inspected.
The qualifications of the inspectors have been called into question.
Their methods have been decried...messing about with bits of red and blue colourant does not seem very scientific to the French mind...not when it's paying for said messing about, anyway.
The wild and unjust variations as between installations.
The discovery that they are taking the word of - some - proprietors as to the state of their system and making no investigation at all.
The further discovery that they were given their own secret norms to follow...not more than 15 per cent of installations to be found unacceptable or the water board will come under pressure to provide sewage stations.

The associations have decided on a course of action.

Their adherents will be out for the day when the inspectors call.

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Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Lawless lawyers

LawyerImage via Wikipedia

Rachida Dati, once Minister of Justice in the Sarkozy cabinet and now exiled to Brussels as a Euro M.P., doesn't have a good press. Brought into power as a symbol of the inclusion of ethnic minorities in government, it wasn't enough to protect her from the spite of the legal establishment or, come to that, the spite of Carla Bruni, thus...Brussels..... where she has been documented as being fed up with the whole thing and, recently and fatally giving vent to her frustration by rudeness to one of the established French journalists covering European affairs.

For me, she has one thing going for her. In the shake up of the French justice system, my local court has been abolished, thus ridding the area of a nest of corruption. Oddly enough, it was supposed to have gone in December but has had a year's grace - I wonder why -and the staff who were working there in the heyday of its' misrule have been reassembled from their current posts to return to the scene of their crimes. I bet the paper shredder is working overtime.

Still, what drew her to my attention again was her attempt to be called to the bar as a lawyer. I don't know why I am surprised, this being France, but it seems that if you are important enough, you can be called to the bar without having undertaken any legal studies or obtaining any legal qualifications.

It explains a good deal about some of the lawyers I have come across - except that I had had no idea that they had come from the ranks of high French society. Especially the one who, my case having been won, telephoned me repeatedly to argue that he deserved a sweetener over and above his fee for having done such a good job. For some reason he was reluctant to put his request in writing.

I suppose that, France being a logical nation, allowing the well placed and ignorant to practise law is quite reasonable.
After all, the results appear to be based on who you know and by whom you are known rather than any sense of justice, so why not just be open about the whole thing?

And Rachida Dati? Her request for admission was put off. She had forgotten to close down a consultancy she runs which is incompatible with being a practising lawyer.

There are some things which you just cannot do in France. Especially if you are out of favour at court.
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Saturday, 9 January 2010

So what is classed as being of public utility exactly?

Ryanair AeroplaneImage by aromano via Flickr

I have only used Ryanair once, to fly to and from Stansted and I found it fine..
I was, it is true, travelling light and I had been able to book my ticket in advance, so the whole thing was delightfully cheap.

The staff were great at both ends of the journey too, despite finding some mysterious metal somewhere in one leg which makes me wonder if it is possible to inherit shrapnel with your genes.

I travelled from Poitiers, which is a bit off my regular beat, but it fitted with other plans, and, having enjoyed the experience I was thus dismayed to see in the local rag that there are threats to the continuance of the service.

Ryanair wants a grant of a million euros, I think, for what is euphemistically called 'marketing' to continue using the airport, the money, as always, to come from the consortium running it, who represent the local authorities. Thus, the money is to come from the public purse, a purse already pretty stretched.

Ryanair doesn't have a good press, so is this just another case of greed on its' part?

Well, the guy running the airport consortium doesn't seem to think so.

According to him, it wasn't Ryanair asking to use Poitiers, it was Poitiers asking Ryanair to provide the service and if they go, he can see no other airline who would want to take it on.
They have about 90,000 passengers a year, mostly British, and he points to the beneficial effect of the British who have settled in the area....houses restored, villages kept alive and commerce thriving on their custom, quite apart from the importance of the airlink in the frequentation of tourist sites and theme parks.

He bewails the fact that La Rochelle is a bit too close for comfort, with its' own plans for extending a service to Oslo, and that local rivalries, as so often in France, (that bit is my comment, not his...he's be off in the tumbril for that) come before regional strategic planning.

He's also suffering from a timing problem as he has just asked for public support for a line to order to encourage the trickle of Spanish tourists to become a flood like that of the British before them, so the Ryanair demand did not arrive at the best of moments for this poor man.

I have heard the howls from British immigrants when Ryanair decide to chop a route , and the counter howls of the self righteous who actually prefer driving on French motorways and eating at Buffalo Grills, proclaiming the folly of the first group in moving to an area served by a low cost airline. Perhaps the second group contain those who can afford national carriers too.

Especially with the economic gloom, state of the pound,etc., anecdotal evidence suggests more and more British are commuting to work in the U.K., so for those in the Poitiers catchment area, it would be a blow if the service is brought to an end. The prospect of a drive to Limoges or La Rochelle is not particularly inviting.

Local authority is keeping mum for the moment.

However, the guy running the consortium points to an anomaly.

There is a twice daily service between Lyon, Poitiers and La Rochelle which is fully supported by public money as being classed of 'public utility'.
Run by Airliner, there is about 60 per cent capacity on its 42 seater planes, and it gets 1.7 million euros in support money. The effect of this subsidy is to reduce the average price of a ticket from 700 Euros to 400 euros.
The principal users are managers of big firms - he quotes Alstom and Saft - travelling between their various sites, getting an indirect subsidy of 300 euros a time on their tickets.

So, Ryanair wants 1 million for running its 600 flights with 180 seats and Airliner gets 1,7 million do the maths.

I wonder which group of passengers bring the most economic benefit to the area?
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Friday, 8 January 2010

Looking back, not forward

french larkspurImage by your neighborhood librarian via Flickr

It has always seemed a sort of frowsting about month to me, January, with only the indoor plants to liven the scene.

Can't do much in the garden, too early to start off the half hardy annuals, and in these days of eBay there is no longer the anticipation of the box of seeds arriving in the post to cheer the winter day with thoughts of Nantaises Ameliorees or Bedfordshire Fillbasket. These days, little packets arrive all the year round, in response to impulse buying, rather than undergoing the annual ceremony of assembling all the seed catalogues and working through them for the definitive orders.

Arriving in autumn, the catalogues would have been hanging around for a couple of weeks, old favourites and a few newcomers, before a rainy dark afternoon would seem the ideal time to clear the table by the fire and lay them out for proper inspection. This, at least, was my way of doing things when in the U.K. but it survived only in truncated form when I moved to France.

M. Untel saw to that.

I have spoken of M.Untel before, defrocked gendarme, expert in all things bibulous and trafficker in untaxed wine,


but it was in his role of seed rep that I first made his aquaintance.

I was poking about in the barn in the first autumn after my arrival when a car pulled up at the gate and sounded its' horn. Repeatedly. The first honk got no reaction, but by the fourth, I was on my way to the gate, loaded for bear.

A large man, face an unforgettable shade of brick red, like the facade of Hampton Court, emerged, holding up a hand as if stopping traffic.

'You the foreigner?'


'I see you've been making a garden out the back.'

By the amount of cars that had stopped for a good gawp while I had been turning over the sods of couch grass, it was a wonder it wasn't headline news on French television. Some had even got out for a closer gawp.


'Well, you'll have been spending too much on seeds. I'm part of a co op...small gardener's stuff, you know, and I can get you seeds a lot cheaper than going to the shops. Robbing bastards, they are.'

The man had unerring sales skills. First, I love choosing seeds and second, I love saving money on something.

I invited him in for further discussions and he promptly plunged back into the car...for his catalogues, as I supposed. He emerged with, yes, the catalogue and assorted papers but also with a six pack of wine....uncapsuled bottles in a sort of galvanised milkman's pannier.

We headed for the house and cleared a space at the table.

'Where do you keep the glasses?'

I brought out two and he neatly opened a bottle. It had a sort of hollow plastic cap and he used a rifled plastic plug to get at the contents. He saw me eyeing it.

'Now this is fine for wine you don't want to keep...and a lot easier than putting in corks. Look out for a pack of these when you go you a fortune.'

Well, I wasn't at the wine bottling stage then, but I bore it in mind and later trial proved him right. I use them for my half bottles of epine...never last long enough to need a cork.

He got down to business. We discussed the nature of my soil. We discussed what I wanted to grow. He told me what I ought to be growing. He opened a second bottle.

He then showed me the catalogue. He made suggestions about varieties for this area. I made an order. He opened the third bottle.

He pointed out that I had not ordered any flower seed. I pointed out that I did not yet have a flower garden.

'You're a woman. You have to have flowers. Here, you get a free packet of flowers with your cardoons...take some larkspur and by keeping the seed you'll have enough to cover the whole place in a couple of years.'

He rose to go, placing the empty bottles back in the pannier.

'What about paying you?'

'When the seeds arrive. Never pay for anything in advance....that's something else you'll have to learn.'

He departed and I wondered if I had dreamt the interlude, before tottering out to sleep it off in the deckchair. I awoke some hours later, distinctly chilly, but not in the least hungover.

A few weeks later he returned, bearing seeds and the pannier. Luckily, this was a one bottle job, but I did say how surprised I had been not to have been hungover.

'Ah. That's because I'm careful who I buy from. Some of them lace the whole thing with so much sulphur you can even smell it. That's what does for you, additives! Buying supermarket wine as you do'....eye passed critically over my stock.....'you're just asking for trouble.'

Over the years, I began to look forward to his visits - official, about seeds and unofficial - he kept a close eye on my garden from his car and when he had a glut of whatever it was that I didn't have he would deliver a large carrier bag. And the pannier.

It was he who warned me not to go into town on a Friday in November and December, as the gendarmes were making up for lost time in handing out fines before the end of the year.

It was he who showed me how to change my land from being classed as agricultural to being classed as being for leisure purposes.

It was he who introduced me to vignerons, washing machine repairmen and wood suppliers. Thanks to him, I got local's prices, not rip offs.

He gave me the entree to local life. A great gift, and beyond price to a foreigner finding her feet in a wholely strange society.

My front garden was swiftly covered in larkspur and descendents of the first packet of seeds are still with me, many moves on.

I used to see him from time to time when visiting friends in my first village....older now, the high colour even more prominent against his greying hair, asking what I was growing, how was the soil, had I had rain......and always time for a drink.

Then, last time over there, my friends' neighbour dropped in for a chat and happened to mention that M. Untel was moving back up to the north of France, whence he had originated, years ago. His wife, that shadowy woman more rumoured than observed, had died, and he no longer wished to live where they had been happy together.

The neighbour was censorious.

'He must have led her a life, always drinking the way he did.'

I have no way of knowing. But to me he had always been a 'verray, parfit, gentil knyght' and I suspect he had been so to her also.


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Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Odious comparisons

stainless steel meat slicer ruffles ridgeImage by bijoubaby via Flickr
Our friends have just returned to the U.S.A. We exchange e mails. We are delighted that all is going well for them...then they, and we, compare life in the two countries.

The bank staff, still the people they had known before, were pleased to see them again and fixed their mortgage without a problem.
They could even have got a grant from Obama towards buying a house, in that they have not made a house purchase for three years.
They are refurnishing, refurbishing and have the delightful experience of helpful staff and cheap or even free transport of their purchases to their home. They even have guys to set it all up!
They bought a car. It was delivered to the door complete with a full tank of petrol. The same day. They have the garage owner's home number in case of problems.
They go shopping...guys pack their free carrier bags and take them to their car.

It makes me think about life in France.

First,the positive side.

In the days when we were running holiday cottages, we bought a fair amount of white goods from one of the major supermarket chains and their regular delivery guys could not have been better. They arrived when they said they would, unloaded, unwrapped and where posssible, tested the appliance before leaving.
Our relationship with them was good...we would see them when shopping at their branch, exchange news and, on the odd occasion later when buying something for ourselves that they delivered, it was always good to see them and have a coffee and a chat.

The supermarket had a first class after sales service as well...a man who lived about three departments away, who understood what holidaymakers could do to equipment and knew how to put it right. He also knew how to find the letting houses and knew where the keys were so we didn't even have to go out to see to things.
He rescued us when one holidaymaker decided to make a claim that her cashmere jersey had been boiled in our washing machine, by declaring to the holiday company who were acting as our agents that her claim just did not stand up. What she said had happened was completely impossible given the machine she was using.
A lovely man.

That, however, is about it.

I closed my accounts with Credit Agricole after experiencing their incompetence - an earlier post http://http// explains the whole murky business.
The staff changed at frequent intervals, the unfortunate young things had no experience with my sort of business and I had no wish whatsoever to be constantly pestered to buy insurance I did not need.
La Banque Postale have started to shift their staff about too...but I've managed to follow the financial counsellor I like to her new post up the road, so that's O.K. Just don't let anyone further up the greasy pole know that she is dealing with someone outside her area, that's all.

I don't buy new furniture in France.
My first and only experience was when I thought I would buy a bed. What I did not realise was that the price I had seen referred only to the base.
Mattress? Extra!
I'm only surprised they didn't charge extra for the little clips that held the two parts of the base together. Probably didn't think of it.
Even then, it was cheaper to take a car and trailer to the U.K. and return with better quality beds for less than just the base in France. So that's what I did.

I used to go to the depot ventes - the places where you put your unwanted goods up for sale and the boss takes a commission. At that time, French farmers were getting rich and discarding their family furniture in favour of nice clean formica, so there were some lovely items around, well worth poking one's nose into the shop if in the area.
These days it's the formica that's turning up for sale, so I've stopped looking.

Just general shopping could be an experience in my early days in France.

The weekly publicity for the local supermarket would be delivered by the Post Office.
Intrigued by an offer, I would toddle in on the first advertised day of availibility, only to find that there was no sign of the item.
It hadn't been delivered yet. It would be there tomorrow.
I had to skip 'tomorrow' but went in again on the next day.
It had all been sold. Yesterday.

Then there were the 'promotions'. Reared on the U.K. way of doing things, I thought this would mean cheap offers. No. It meant 'promotions'...something expensive that the supermarket hadn't stocked before which would disappear for good once the stock was sold.

There were cheap offers, but you needed your wits and your spectacles as by some strange chance the bit of the shelf marked as containing these goodies usually actually contained a similar item at full price.

Thwarted by promotions and special offers, I would head for the charcuterie counter where what was sold as smoked belly pork - poitrine fume - made excellent breakfast bacon...I've always preferred streaky.
As I didn't go in very often, I used to ask for a kilo to be sliced, so that I could parcel it up for the freezer when I got home.

Now, bear in mind that I have been waiting some little time behind ladies who are ordering two slices of this, four of that, oh and a little slice of pate, no, not that big, and, yes, a little slice of pate en, perhaps not, the farci poitevin instead since it's available for once, no a bit more than that........not just one lady, but several, and the woman serving has executed all these orders without blenching.
My turn comes, or, rather, I elbow yet another queue jumping woman away in best jumble sale style.
I ask for my streaky bacon to be sliced.
'You'll have to telephone ahead for orders like that!'

This was not the only time I had problems bringing home the bacon.
On another occasion, the same woman was dourly slicing my order when another customer arrived, asking brightly if she could place an order with the 'takeaway' section, for a party she was to hold.
Leaving the slicing machine, the woman not only brought the catalogue for the customer to see, but started discussing with her just what she would need for her party of twenty.
I walked away.
Hoy, Madame! What about this bacon?
Sell it to the customer you're serving. She can make devils on horseback.

I bought a slicer in the end. A real finger eater. The sense of freedom was wonderful, even if I did always manage to slice chorizo the wrong way, so it came out in long ribbons. Looked super on a buffet table.

Off to the fish counter. They have grey shrimp on offer at a low price. I ask for a kilo.
I've only got two kilos.
Well, I only want one. Where's the problem?
But that's got to last the week (!) and everyone will want them.
Well, everyone will have to make do with the one kilo, then.

Over to the fruit and veg section. Ladies are poking and prodding the produce with gay abandon. I pick up a melon to see if it is ripe.
You can't touch the fruit. You'll damage it.
I wave an arm at the company assembled, poking and prodding at will.
They know what they're doing.

It has to be said that the attitude towards a foreigner was unpleasant generally in this supermarket.
I was shopping with a French friend who went through the checkout ahead of me. She paid and received a lottery ticket to fill in.
I went through, paid, and did not receive a lottery ticket.
Why didn't you give her a lottery ticket?
She's a foreigner.
Why don't foreigners get lottery tickets?
They're tourists, they won't be here to get the prize.
She's not a tourist. She lives here.
She's still a foreigner.

I hear things are better now, but I transferred my purse to another supermarket in another town long ago.

Just thinking about it brings more and more to the surface, like scum rising from the chicken stock......the garages, the television repair man, the builder's merchant...there just seems to be no conception of good customer service as a commercial practice.

If you have a good experience it seems to me that it is rather because the person with whom you are dealing is pleasant and helpful. Go there the next time and as likely as not you get the surly colleague.

The French seem used to it.
I'm not, even after all these years.

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Friday, 1 January 2010

A one sided conversation in rural France

Penny In Action.Image by Runs With Scissors via Flickr

Late morning in a British owned house in rural France. The telephone rings.

'Bonjour...oh, it's you, Judy! How're things?'

'What, they've signed! Tim lowered his price, then?'

'Well, thanks, I did put a fair bit of work in on them in the time they've been staying in the know, kept telling them how your agency would get them the best price and all that.'

'Well, when you get your commission out of the agency, drop a little bit my way, won't you....for keeping them on message.

Yes, I know, it's difficult for all of us at the moment, making ends meet, but if we all give a little and cooperate, we all gain.'

'O.K. Judy, thanks for the good news.'

Skype is activated on the computer.

'Hi, Tim! It's me! Isn't this Skype calls computer to computer!'

'I've just heard the good people bought your place!'

'Yes, I kept them up to the mark and I'm so pleased that I was able to help you, I know things have been a bit difficult.'

'Mmm. But now you can get a new start in the U.K. with no worries. I know it was a bit less than you wanted, but it's not easy...I'm sure Judy did her best for you. She's such a nice girl.'

'What are you doing about moving your stuff? It's just that I know someone with a van who does a regular run...he could help out, but he couldn't take big stuff like your two sofas.'

'Well, think about would save you worrying about it if I fix it this end and put you two in touch. And, about the sofas, don't think I'm being pushy, but if he can't get them in the van, they'd be really useful in the main house here as the ones in the gite are getting a bit shabby and I could move what we have over there. It's so difficult trying to keep up in the holiday market...people want everything top notch, but it all costs money.'

'Yes, I know, they're Roche Bobois...well, let's see if they can go in the van and if not it I would really appreciate having them. It's difficult for all of us at the moment, making ends meet, but if we all give a little, we all gain. After all, at least you managed to sell.'


Back to the telephone.

'Hi, Steve, it's me! Tim's place is sold.'

'Yes, the pair who've been staying with me.'

'Listen, Steve, I don't know where they are - Judy didn't keep tabs on them, unfortunately - but if they make contact I'm inviting them over to drinks tonight and just want to make sure you're free.'

'Well, they may not get back 'til evening, so just be available last minute if necessary, yes?'

'Much better if you meet them socially...Tim's been using Mark for his building and plumbing, and there's a chance they'd just carry on with him, but if they get to know you...'

'Yes, Mark's a real shit. He won't co operate at all. Annie said she recommended him to someone and he refused point blank to pay an introduction fee. I mean, it's not the end of the world, ten per cent, and it's not as if you lose out, is it, Steve? It all goes into the bill for the client.'

'O.K., I'll ring you once I know. Can you ring round Howard and Jim and Esme for me?'

'Well, it's a chance for them too with a change of owner.'

'Right, I'll get back to you. Nice to be able to help.'

'Bye, Steve.'

Another call.


'Yes, fine. I forgot in all the excitement...are they using Maitre Plouc as their notaire?'

'Oh, that's great. Did you talk about the translations?'

'Oh, Judy! No! I know he thinks his French is good, but it's always best with a translator.'

'Well, probably best you ring him and get it sorted. I can be free whatever date and Maitre Plouc is used to me, after all. You got him a good deal on Tim's place, so he can afford the translation fee!'

'Fine, need to apologise...we all have blank moments!


Early afternoon, the telephone rings.

'Bonjour...oh, Tom! You and Angie have signed? I'm so pleased! I knew you'd do all right with Judy...I bet she really got a good deal for you!'

'Oh, that's a lovely idea, I'd love to go out to dinner with you to celebrate! I'm just glad I could help you.

Oh, but I've got a few people round for drinks around six...just catching up. What about you joining us for a drink...they'd be pleased to welcome you to the area and you'll get to know someone else other than me...'

'Yes, the Moulin would be lovely, such a nice place, almost as if you're in someone's private dining room. It's such a French atmosphere, but with London type dining...incredible! I know Sophie gets booked out sometimes, but I'm sure she can squeeze us in...would you like me to ring her? She knows me, after all, so she'll find an extra table if she has to.'

'Lovely. Are you on your mobile? I'll ring you if there's a problem and, thank you again. Dinner out will be such a treat!'

O.K., see you for drinks about six. I'm nearly as excited as you are!'



'Drinks at six, O.K.?'

A further call.

'Sophie, it's me.'

'Yes, hi, it's been a time since we met up. Listen, the guests at my gite are taking me out to dinner...hopefully at your place...'

'Yes, just the three of us.'

'About eight? Fine. Listen, Sophie, I've persuaded Izzy to have the engagement party at your place..if she doesn't call you in the next few days get back to me and I'll sort it. O.K.?'

'No, that's fine, glad to help.'

'Well, I was thinking more like three per cent...I don't want to be greedy, I know how things are. Still, it's not bad for a bit of PR work, is it? Have a chat to Adrian and see what he thinks.'

'O.K.,Sophie, see you later.


Six o'clock.

'Hi, Steve! Howard, how's the landscape gardening business going? Jim, Esme...good to see you! Your house management thingy is going strong from what I hear....I could do with a clear out here myself if you ever have the time. Oh, that's nice of know I like Monsieur Cot's wine.

'Oh, look, here come Tom and Angie..and they're bringing champagne!'

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