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.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

It happened on the Ile de Re......A French Love Story

Plage ile de réImage by the yellowrider via Flickr

I am going to tell you a French love story.

A few years ago, a friend was spending August on the Ile de Re, that smart playground of the elite of France off the Atlantic coast.

She and her husband had bought their fisherman's cottage years before the island had become fashionable, but this was the first time she had come in August, as her husband had always preferred to take their main holiday in July, with at least one of their children.
But her husband had died the previous year and as one of her many small epiphanies of liberation she had decided to take this years' holiday in August, and on her own.

She had had a wonderful time...getting up when she felt like it, sitting up late to read, walking the beaches at twilight and eating what she wanted, when she wanted, either at home or in a restaurant.

One evening, she was annoyed to find that she did not have the beach to herself.
Ahead of her, stumping along, was a silhouette.
A man.
She resolved not to be put off by his presence and carried on walking, although her lithe pace brought her up with him faster than expected.
She was about to pass, not in the mood to exchange the normal words of polite recognition, when she caught a glimpse of his profile and called out to him, almost despite herself,
'But it is never you, Jean!'
And he, smiling, replied
'And is it you, Jeanne?'

They had not seen each other since their young romance had been blighted over forty years before but, as she said, it was not just their eyes that recognised each other on that beach on the Ile de Re.

They had been at teacher training college together in those pre-war days.
She, stepdaughter of a railwayman who had married her mother after the death of  her husband in the First World War.
He, son of a bourgeois family from a small town.
They had fallen in love and wished to marry.....but there was an obstacle.


His widowed mother controlled the purse strings and she would not permit her son to marry not only 'beneath him' socially but also to a girl who brought no dowry with her.

There was a further obstacle.


Mother was devout, regular in her Church attendance and rigid in her observance of religious practices.
What used to be called a 'grenouille de benitier'....literally a frog in the holy water stoup.
The free thinking daughter of one of those atheistic railwaymen was an unthinkable wife for her son.

Mother won.
Jean gave up his dream of marrying Jeanne.
They danced, for the first and last time, at their graduation, and parted, as they thought, for ever.

She started teaching, married and had three children.
When I first knew her she had retired as headmistress of the Maternelle, which caters for the three to six year olds in the French school system, and by the greetings she exchanged when out in the town it was clear that most of the population had passed through her hands in their time.

Her methods were brisk, it appeared, and her response to the occasional complaint by concerned parents that 'certain things' were happening in the playground would probably traumatise modern educationalists.
She would line up the little boys against one wall, command them to drop their shorts and underpants and then line up the little girls opposite, explaining that this....lifting a small penis with a pencil...was the only difference they needed to know about at this stage of their lives and that having received this information anyone removing their knickers on school premises in future would be severely dealt with.

Years after parting from Jean, she had read in a newspaper that he had become one of the deputy maires of a large town, but that was the only thing she knew about him....until their meeting on the beach.

As they talked, sitting on the low wall behind the beach, he told her that he too, had been a teacher, had married another of the girls from the teacher training who satisfied his mother's criteria...and that they too had had three children. His wife had died five years earlier.
She had inherited a house on the Ile de Re, and he had been holidaying there for years....but always in August.

Jean and Jeanne made a very happy couple. They both kept their own houses and moved from one to another.
They took foreign holidays...something she had always longed to do....and they had albums of the photographs he took of their travels and of the plants and flowers in which they both delighted.

He also started to keep a journal.
Every day he would write up their activities and the thoughts that occurred to him and every day he would also write part of the story of the years since he had been forced to part from her all those years ago, so that she could share the history she had missed.
They did not marry, so as not to change the arrangements they and their spouses had made for their childrens' inheritances.

Eventually, after some years, his health deteriorated.
He doggedly used the exercise bicycle suggested by his doctor in order to reduce weight, but it exhausted him to no avail.
Jeanne nursed him through his final weeks, in her house, until he died.

The day after his death, one of the daughters arrived with a hired van to take his possessions.
After all, he and Jeanne were not married. She had no legal claim on anything he owned.

The exercise bicycle....the clothes...the books....the photographic albums......and the journal.

His hymn to Jeanne.

After all, as his daughter said, the exercise books containing the journal been bought by her father, so they were now legally part of his estate and his family would decide what to do with them.

I told you that this was a French love story.

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Tuesday, 28 September 2010

So we'll go no more a-roving....

The Great VineImage by Steve Parker via Flickr
I little thought, last year, that it would be the last time I would ride the tractor out to the vines...clinging on to the wheelarch for dear life and reassuring myself that the jolts were good for the liver...if not for the living.
But Guy has sold his last parcel of vines and the old gang has broken up. (here)

I have picked grapes with one friend or another nearly every year since coming to France (here) and I will miss the fun, the gossip, the drinks breaks and the satisfaction of going off with the freshly pressed juice to make pineau the same night - before attacking my hands with bleach and my joints with Radox.

But time passes, we and our friends are getting older and it is now a question of whether we outlast our cellar or our cellar outlasts not only am I not picking grapes, I am not even 'doing' the wine fairs...the autumn promotions mounted by the supermarkets where you can buy wine to lay down...mainly well as everyday drinking stuff.

It used to be quite an operation.
First, thanks to the compartmentalism of France, you had to have friends on the other side of the departmental border with whom to exchange the publicity brochures in order to check prices and offers...there could be a difference of as much as 5 euros in the price of the same bottle...followed by a swift reconnoitre to check that the wine offered was not already on the shelves at a lower price.

The first time I went to a supermarket wine fair I found the wine I wanted and tried to attract the attention of the 'sommelier' in the black apron supposedly running the show, which took some doing as he was busy opening bottles for what appeared to be a group of his cronies.
I showed him the wine I was interested in.

Ah yes.
Could I taste it?
No, I could not.
But if it is O.K. I want to buy four cases.
You still can't taste it. It's expensive.
But I can taste the cheap stuff that's been oxidising in the open bottles?
What about those bottles you've just been opening? Aren't they expensive?
Yes, but these are well known clients.......yes, to judge by the purple noses and broken veins, I just bet they were.....

Well, in those days my French wasn't up to being more combative so I backed my hunch, based on the reviews, and ordered my four cases.

The chap in the black apron solemnly took my details and said he would be in touch.
He wasn't.

I got in touch with him and he revealed that for the whole of the chain of supermarkets of which his was but one franchise the total allotment of that particular wine was three cases.

So why had they advertised it?

It brings in customers.

What about my order?

Well, I couldn't have what they hadn't got even if they had sold it me.

French logic.
It would never pass an exam.

Consumer protection has improved since that time....they now have to state how much they have for sale in the publicity leaflet...but you still have to watch them on  prices.
I liked one particular Bordeaux, which had been stocked on the shelves before the wine fair and was then transferred to the fair for the duration.
It must cost an awful lot in man hours to move four dozen bottles from one shelf to another as the price had gone up by over 70 centimes by the time it arrived at its' destination.

It doesn't do either to go to a number of wine fairs in quick succession and then forget at which one you bought the bottle you like when you finally get round to tasting it.
This has led to a tour of supermarkets carefully bearing the empty bottle, to try to find its' colleagues.
If you are thick skinned, or dedicated, you can ignore the looks you are getting from other clients, but you need some facility in French to explain to security why you are to be found in the wine aisles with an empty bottle in your possession.
Most of them finally twig that if their supermarket doesn't stock it you couldn't have pulled it from the shelf and drunk the contents, but there are some so dense that only the intervention of management has saved me from being frogmarched through the checkouts to the applause of the multitudes to await the attentions of the gendarmerie.

The dear departed days of the wine lake used to turn up bargains for everyday drinking.....those bottles with five stars and a plastic cap could harbour some very nice stuff indeed, usually produce of Italy, but you never knew what sort of consignment had been delivered.
One sure sign was that the shelf was nearly empty, but that was a bit late to find out, so, if the shelf was relatively full the best idea was to buy a bottle, sample it in the car park and, should it prove to be the real Italian Job, rush back in and buy everything with corresponding serial numbers on the label.
If it wasn't, then you had something with which to strip paint.

I think the European Union are paying winemakers to turn their surplus into vinegar these days...I know winemakers who could turn anything they touched to vinegar...and proved it regularly in the stuff they sold to the it's nice to know they have achieved EU recognition at last.

Growing up in the U.K. before climate change, grapes were something that grew on the vine in Hampton Court, and wine was made from flowers, fruit and vegetables.
Before the French get all sniffy about calling these wine they should try some....I fondly remember wine made from oranges, from gorse flowers, from mangelworzels and from elderflower, though I could never master elderberry always turned out to have a metallic taste.

My first acquaintance with it was when of primary school age, when visiting my mother's mother.
She had elderly neighbours who were famed for their tomatoes - green house grown in those far off days - and their elderberry wine - supposedly of such strength that it would remove your socks at ten paces.
Every morning, nattily clad in striped pyjamas and slippers the husband would stroll from their kitchen door to the green house with an uncovered chamber pot in his hand, which was said to account for the vitality of the tomatoes and, according to my grandmother, the chamberpot played a role in making his elderberry wine too, though I never believed this as they did not have the air of a two chamberpot family.

At that time, insurance companies did not lurk in town centre offices, but sent out agents on bicycles to drum up business and to maintain it, once duly drummed, by weekly visits to their customers.
The man from the Pru called next door on his weekly rounds and I was in the front garden while my grandmother gossiped to a passing friend over the gate.

'I give him ten minutes before he comes he'll have had a glass of her wine!'

True enough, after some ten minutes the agent emerged and headed for his bicycle. I think if he had not attempted to put on his bicycle clips he might have been all right, but as it was he fell heavily into the privet hedge, heaved himself out again and rode away like a clown on a unicycle, his trilby hat neatly adorned with twigs.

The two ladies eyed each other meaningfully. Clearly the Pru would not be getting their insurance business.

From teenage years, I was allowed a glass of wine with Sunday lunch, although my father's preferred sweetish Penedes from Spain was perhaps not the best choice to accompany the roast, and as a student, having decided that I couldn't drink beer and stand up at the same time, I followed the hallowed route of Mateus Rose that we all brought to each others' parties.

Departmental wine and cheese parties were catered by Sainsbury, featuring hock and moselle, so it wasn't until I decided to learn to cook as an alternative to a diet consisting of boiled eggs or a Fray Bentos steak and kidney pie when the dibs were in tune that I started to take more of an interest in wine,  inspired by Elizabeth David and Patience Grey who seemed to think it abnormal not to be swilling something while at the trough.

A super manager at a Peter Dominic branch helped me along...a real enthusiast who loved what he sold and showed me what to look for in terms of quality regardless of the price of the bottle.

He also put me wise to the then widespread adulteration of French wine.....Rhones bolstered up with a shot of Algerian...the Red Infuriator as he used to call it....Bordeaux given a boost by something hefty from the Languedoc...and although all this is supposed to have been put a stop to, Andre who worked in the wine business for years, tells me that it still goes on, just the sources change.

Later, having made contact with the world of the function waiter, I was to discover what wine could really be like.
These chaps worked as freelances, through some sort of agency, at banquets of the classier sort, including the Mansion House and Buckingham Palace, serving wine.
There was some sort of percentage allowance for breakages on these occasions, and this percentage, carefully unbroken, would leave the premises with the function waiter, to be sold.
These bottles were not cheap.....but I have never since been able to afford wine of that quality.
Most bottles were labelled, first and second growth Bordeaux, premier Cru Burgundies, but the best, the stuff that had been imported in cask and bottled in situ bore no labels, just a mark of white paint on the bottle to indicate on which side the lees were to be found.

I certainly found nothing this good when I moved to France, nor could I have expected to do so, but in view of the technology in use locally they did not do so badly.

No specialised wine yeast was used...the wild yeasts on the grape were what did the job and they would vary from year to year...while a temperature controlled vat was something unheard of.
When wine yeasts did come in I had the privilege of witnessing their first appearance at a local chap's vineyard.
His wife had produced a baby's bath, and he was testing the water with his elbow to judge the right degree of warmth to encourage the yeast to develop.

Mark you, with all the financial backing and hi tech equipment at their disposal, the stuff the top rated winemakers make these days certainly can't beat what they used to produce when the idea was to make something to drink rather than something to trade.
At least the local guys have kept both the baby and the bathwater.

So no more trips on the tractor, no more battling round the wine fairs.........whatever am I going to do with myself?

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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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Thursday, 23 September 2010

Under the Radar, Under the Belt. Monsieur Pechenard takes the Piss.

French Police Taking A PissImage by wonker via Flickr
It appears that those speeding fines dished out by the police with their mobile radars could be illegal.

With all the intellectual brilliance for which the French claim to be famed, the form on which the details of your offence are laid out doesn't have a section stating how far away the camouflaged police car was when you were flashed.

With all the unthinking obedience to ticking little squares and writing in little boxes to which the French are accustomed from childhood, if there isn't a space, the information cannot be given. So the gendarmerie don't fill in what doesn't exist.

A court has found that the necessary information to make out the offence is incomplete, therefore the fines are illegal.

At least, they are in the Paris area, because in France there is no national jurisprudence until you get to the top of the system, so what might be illegal in Paris might be found to be legal in Provence.....all depends in which region you are verbalised by the guardians of what the French are pleased to call law and order.

Except that the French are growing less and less pleased to call it that.
The French are beginning to think that there is one law for the rich...and orders for the others.

Well, the French I  came to know when I first moved to France knew that...but they weren't the people with access to the media.
They were the 'brave gens'...that is to say, the 'little people', condescended to by their 'betters', the big farmers, the notaires, the guys who worked for the semi nationalised serivces like water, gas and electricity.
And, of course, the British immigrants.

However, there was no reflection of their lives in the newspapers..neither local nor national, apart from the obituaries and the photographs of the mechoui for the veterans of the wars in Algeria.
One had to get to know them at local events over a glass or six to get their view of life, which could be summed up in the oft heard phrase
'Nous sommes pour rien.'  We don't count.

Well, it seems these days that people other than the 'brave gens' think that they don't count either.

While their retirement age looks set to go up, they see the wealthy given privileged treatment by...not just the taxman, but the Finance Minister in person.
Madame Bettencourt, heiress to the Oreal fortune, even had the minister's wife to do her accounts, while Monsieur Wildenstein, personal friend of Sarkozy and fundraiser for the ruling UMP party in America, not only gets away with a lenient tax view on the value of the art collections he received from his father, but also collects the Legion d'Honneur.

While the government nibble away at peripheral tax advantages, they maintain the privileged status of gifts to organisations. You might, in your innocence, think this is fine...why should not gifts to charity be given recognition in your tax return?
Except that included in this category are the gifts to political parties...both the mainstream ones and all the starry host of little ones...who then contribute to the mainstream ones, thus evading the rules on the limits of donations.

The government is busy attracting international opprobrium for expelling Roms...while the major nuisance, the native travelling people....manouches, bohemiens, gitanes....continue to flout their immunity from tax or indeed any other control as they travel from one wrecked site to another as yet unwrecked in their top of the range 4x4s and caravans.

Send someone President Sarkozy's birth and you risk ending up in court......but Madame Sarkozy can have access to confidential police reports in order to feed her paranoia about possible rivals for the status of First Lady.

The draconian fines for speeding and the increased risk of losing your driving licence have been greatly resented, so you can imagine the public distaste when a newspaper revealed that a young man had escaped scot free when arrested for driving under the influence and threatening the arresting officers.

Was he Jean Sarkozy?..... here
Was he a 'travelling person'?
No, but someone with similar privileges.

The young man who, when called to book for drunken driving, threatened the police concerned with relegation to traffic duties, was the son of the national police chief, Frederic Pechenard.

And Monsieur Pechenard's reaction to the newspaper report?

The report is an attempt to upset him, and he is investigating how the journalists found out about the incident.

I have news for him.
The journalists found out about his son's little problem in the same way that Carla Bruni-Sarkozy found out about her rivals.....a policeman told them.
Only in this case the policeman was not called Frederic Pechenard.

I think it was the IMF warning of the risk of social unrest in France...and Europe the wake of the financial crisis caused by the lack of will of governments to make bankers bank rather than gamble with money which doesn't belong to them.
They might have a point.

Having to bite the bullet is one thing...having to pay for the bullet you're biting is something else, and it doesn't help matters when those at the top of the heap are seen to butter their bread in public while you eat stale cake.

Revolutions don't come from the 'brave gens' at the bottom of the social heap. They're too busy scraping a living to have time for such extravaganzas.

Revolutions come when those who have always thought of themselves as being a cut above the 'brave gens' find that their rulers lump them all together.....and treat them with equal contempt.

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Monday, 20 September 2010

The Ghastliness of Google

A vendreImage by airehaineo via Flickr
Some of us never learn.

After complaining about Blogger recently( here), nemesis overtook me in the form of the abolition of the automatic updating of this blog on other peoples' sites.
Needless to say, thanks to my numptiness, normal service has only partially been resumed and my apologies to those still affected.

Undaunted, or foolhardy, more like, I am now going to moan about Google, which will probably result in this being the last post ever seen on this blog as it is swallowed up in some black hole in the blogosphere in an act of  virtual vengeance.

I have my house up for sale and things are decidedly slow....apart from a stream of e mails from Nigerian government officials, bank directors and provincial governors who all wish to buy the house without first visiting it and give further proof of their trusting nature by offering to send me vast sums of money from which I am to subtract the price of the house and return the rest.

Now, given the strength of the Front National (1)  in this area, I would like nothing better than to sell the house to a Nigerian official, to whom I would offer a reduction in price on condition that when he goes to introduce himself to the maire he takes his wife or wives with him, all parties in national costume.
And that he has someone photograph the ensuing collapse of stout party.

Unfortunately, mention of a notaire, whose intervention is as undesired by myself as by the Nigerian gentlemen, brings an end to all these negotiations...and the house is still on the market.

For the notaire is not the only obstacle. There is something much worse to deter likely buyers.

Google Earth.

There is a farm across the road which raises the beef cattle who dot the surrounding fields when released from their hi-tech sheds at the back of the farm complex.
From my windows my view of the farm is the front part...the house and old barns grouped round the garden - and the tractor parked outside the front door at coffee time.
The new part...massive cattle hidden behind, except for one roof which appears behind the tiled roof of the old barns.
As farms go, it is not so bad.
It doesn't smell, it is generally not noisy and since European Norms have forced him  - under threat of losing his grants - to store his grain securely and remove his dung heap, its resemblance to Hamelin in the time of the Pied Piper is a thing of the distant past.

But to anyone checking out the house on Google Earth, the farm looks like an airfield capable of despatching squadrons of B52s to napalm the Loire Valley!
It looks abominable!

I know that I lost a well known american actor that way because he upbraided the realtor who had shown him the house on the web....and refused even to look at the pictures taken from the house itself showing the actual how many others have been put off likewise?

They must think that if a monstrosity like that is covered by the phrase 'the farm over the road', then what else will I have omitted to mention in the particulars?

Most of the property websites have a sort of 'tick the box' for features of the house and its area, typically including things like

'How long is the drive to the nearest beach?'
To which the  answer could be one hour and a half on a good day, three on a bad one and impossible if the lorry drivers/farmers/fishermen are blockading it.

Or are there tennis courts in the area?
Well, there are, both indoor and outdoor.....but where do items like this rank as against what there should be boxes in

'Is there an unhealthy number of expats in the locality?'
'How often does the fish and chip van come round?´

Answer to the first...yes, but smart work with chair and whip will beat them off.

Answer to the doesn't as the bar in the village is run by an adherent of the Front National who probably thinks that the deep fryer is just a high tech way of burning Joan of Arc all over again, so is not interested in hosting its' visits.
Let no one say that the Front National doesn't stick to its' principles.
The man is losing a potential fortune in sales of booze to the Brits who flock around the van like seagulls following the cross channel ferry.

What about
'Is the house situated in a wine producing area?', which would help the wine buffs
'Are there Michelin or Gault et Millau rated restaurants nearby?' to assist the foodies.

But the important factor is never mentioned...
'How far away are the gendarmerie stations?'

The house has a unique selling point only appreciated by those who live in rural France.
It is situated on the join in the map between two different gendarmerie areas, each reporting to a different boss.
Thus neither bunch venture out down here and you stand a fair chance of returning from wine tasting and dining out unscathed by the breathalyser.
Route map of small lanes and vineyard tracks avoiding the gendarmerie's known haunts goes with the house.

It is a lovely house in a beautiful setting and I shall be sorry to leave it, but it is far too big for us since we have  become decrepit and as we were refused planning permission for a smaller house in  the grounds...we're not farmers, you understand...common sense says we have to up sticks while we still have time to make a new life elsewhere.

But thanks to the ghastliness of Google, it could be a long time before it finds a new owner.

(1) Front National. Right wing party who believe that France is for the French. So do all the other political parties, but they tend to conceal this part of their programme.
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Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Scum rises to the top of the terroir

CAT combine harvesterImage via Wikipedia
I am not fond of the French farmer.

He pollutes my water, he kills my bees and he has his hand in my pocket, here, whether times are good or bad.

France is finally facing up to trying to balance its' budget, something successive governments have managed to ignore, and ministers have been charged to root round their cupboards to see what measures can be taken, after wheezes like moving civil servants from the central government payroll to the local government payroll have been exhausted.

As usual, however, vested interests have to be consulted and spin doctors employed to put the best face on things.

One of the vested interests, the unions who, with the government and the industry bosses, form part of the unholy trinity which reigns over French working conditions, have turned out their members by the many thousand to demonstrate against the proposed reform of the pension regime, which would raise the pensionable age from 60 to 62.

Already, the government is ready to 'make exceptions'...for those whose job is regarded as 'penible', which might be understood to mean that the nature of the job is such as to wear one down.

What it really means is that the unions can use this exception to maintain the early retirement privileges which their members already going on until 62 for train drivers, for example, or nurses.
The government had proposed a little hurdle for this particular 60 the person seeking to retire had to show that he she or it was twenty per cent incapacitated compared with he she or its' condition at the entry into employment.
Howls of fury.
Now he she or it only have to show ten per cent incapacity to qualify.
A swift examination of the liver after years of long ritual lunch breaks should suffice for that.

And guess which other interest group has been accommodated in like fashion?


Now, 'penible'...'wearing'..... to me means the life led by the inter war generation.....ploughing with horses or oxen, out in all weathers, cutting wood to keep warm, long before the wartime black market enriched those who participated and even longer before subsidies rained on their privileged heads as, with their dubiously acquired cash they became owners as opposed to tenants and assimilated to the bourgeoisie - thus qualifying for the good things the land of 'equality' reserves for the few.

No one in their right mind would seek the return of those whose bodies were twisted by labour, women old before their to call modern farming conditions 'wearing' is going a long way too far.

Mechanisation has seen to that.

The 'care' of pigs and poultry in their concentration camps takes little physical labour on the part of the aptly known as the 'exploitant'.
Feed and water on self dispense, automatic flushing away of the waste under the grids that serve as flooring...the only time physical work is involved is when they are sold and transported away.....the rural night air resounds with the lorries carrying them off to the Nacht und Nebul of the slaughterhouses.

More and more cattle are being kept permanently indoors, providing better returns, while their old pastures are turned over to hay and silage, maize and sunflowers....sown, weeded, sprayed and harvested by machine.

The cereal plains are crawled by air conditioned  tractors, where the driver might even be guided by gps while listening to music on Skyrock  Radio.

Boring, yes. wearing, no.

Perhaps it is mental anguish which is in question.

How will you get your hooks on your share of the latest sums to be thrown to you by the government, who seem to think that they are in a sled outrunning the wolves, throwing down bribes to retard the chase.
But when you're dealing with French farmers, their appetite is unbridled.....the bribe just gives the government time to assemble the next one before the wolves are howling at the runners again.

Thus the agriculture minister has just announced another 330 million  euro bribe....and still daren't visit the agriculture salon at Rennes for fear of flying eggs and physical attack.

How will you pay off your debt to the bank for the purchase of the latest all singing all dancing combine harvester which would serve to bring in your harvest and the harvests of half the farmers in the commune, but which, since none of you trust each other, you cannot buy in common to serve everyone.
It looked wonderful the last time you took it out to block roads in the town on a demonstration, but it has, at some point, to be paid for.

Not that this is a real worry. There are mechanisms in force to allow the banks to carry your debt for years longer than they would to oblige people in any other sector, so you can carry on regardless.

Is it then.....the ISF?

The Impot de Solidarite sur la Fortune is payable by those with a personal fortune of 790,000, shares, land, whatever, with a discount on the value of the principal residence.

Larger farms would easily come within the reach of this tax.....but, of course, they don't. They are exonerated.....until the farmer comes to retire!

Not to worry....let but the farmer...or any other person subject to the ISF.... invest 50,000 Euros in a company not quoted on the Paris bourse and the discount on the ISF will be such...according to a friend who was working out the examples offered by the taxman....that until he is mad enough to declare that he is worth over 4,000,000 Euros he will not pay a penny of tax......whereas if he declares 79,001 Euros he will be liable to pay 6 Euros.
The mind boggles...well, mine does.
I still find it incredible, but friend assures me she was sober, can count on her fingers and can read French.

So what is 'wearing' about the farmer's life? What entitles him to yet another privilege to add to those of

a) polluting his neighbourhood with chemicals.....

b) blighting the landscape with his industrial buildings....

c) invading supermarkets to check what meat they are stocking...

d) relative freedom to build a house anywhere on his land while the rest of us fight a losing battle with the planning department to paint our shutters grey in a blue shutter area...

e) a light tax burden....


f) the delight of messing up other peoples' arrangements by driving at a snail's pace through towns to register his displeasure at not having enough of

g) grants, subsidies, baksheesh, them what you will.
I call it money transferred from my pocket to farmers' pockets via government.

As far as I can see, the farmers' only claim to special treatment is that they will make a nuisance of themselves if they don't get it.

So what's new?

I am aware that, like Mr. Dick in David Copperfield, I have my King Charles' head...and French farmers are it.
I am aware that not all are greedy polluters...but a great many are.
I am aware that upland farmers have difficulties not faced by their cereal growing brothers....let them do something about the appallingly unrepresentative nature of the French farming lobby.

In fact,let the whole pot and boiling of them be made to live in the conditions that face less protected sectors...where if your business is badly run, or faces adverse economic circumstances, it goes down.
It might concentrate their minds and keep them off the streets.
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Sunday, 12 September 2010

Country goes to Town

La Fiesta au Moulin Rouge-03Image by Julie70 via Flickr
There are times when I feel like Heinrich Schliemann, excavating Troy and finding to his growing dismay that there seemed to be an awful lot more of it than he had bargained for.

It is entirely my own fault, too, just as it was his.
No one forced us to start.

When sorting out books and revues, I have a tendency to light on something I haven't seen for some time and take it off to read...leaving the box or shelf whence it was removed in the same disorganised state that it was in when I started. 
Which was why I started.

Finally returning to the task - as my father used to remark, like a dog to its' vomit - I then find something else to pick up and take away, so the process of sorting things out advances at a pace which would shame any self respecting sloth.

However, like Schliemann, I do make discoveries.

Thus, tucked into an acte de vente for a house sold in 2006, the coach trip company's brochure for 2005, offering everything from a bateau mouche on the river Erdre at Nantes  to a tour of Andalucia with the reassuring mention that a French speaking guide will accompany the tour from the moment it crosses the Spanish border until the moment it returns to the sacred soil of France. So that's all right chance of some dubious foreigner leading the tour astray with the offer of fabada and morcilla.

When I was of primary school age, my mother and her sisters would occasionally break the demented tedium of the school holidays by taking their collective brood for a day trip in the cream and chocolate coaches of Surrey Motors.
The sisters favoured Stately Homes, so we children saw acres of gloomy looking aristocrats peering down from walls, probably thinking that if they hadn't blown their riches on fast girls and slow horses their descendants wouldn't have had to let the descendants of the servants hall loose in the family side of the house.

There were lighter moments.....
I still treasure the image of the small boy balancing on a cliff in the Cheddar Gorge shouting 'Look Mum! No hands!' while his parent was hitching up her frock in an attempt to scale the rocks to get at him.
Not to get to him. To get at him.
In those unenlightened days I think it highly unlikely that he would have been congratulated on his derring do and invited to make a drawing of it for the pinboard in the kitchen....a swift clump seemed a more likely possibility to judge from his mother's expression.
And if she'd laddered her stockings I wouldn't have given much for his chances of sitting down for a while, either.

Not until moving to France did I come across coach trips again, and then only because I had been trapped by the dashing local dentist into taking part in amateur those proceeds of ticket sales that had not been spent on providing galvanised buckets of mulled wine while 'on tour' in the neighbouring villages were dedicated to taking the participants, friends and families to see a play in coach.

I was taken under the wing of Alfred and his wife Renee. He, limping from some unspecified illness in his youth, always played the manservant roles in the farces which were the staple offering, year in, year out, and his leer was famed over five communes. Not just on the stage, either.
He and his wife ran a B and the days before every B and B in France was run by a smiling Brit...and Renee ran a tight ship.
Alfred was kept busy in the garden supplying fruit and veg for her table and store cupboard and had to watch his Ps and Qs,  reserving his leer for the potting shed.
However, when Renee was called away to her ever-ailing mother, Alfred was in sole charge.

I had sent a friend there when he turned up unexpectedly at the house only to find every bed and sofa full.
He appeared, as arranged, at about ten at night, having had dinner with the rest of us and Alfred showed him to his room, which involved climbing a stone staircase up the outside of the house without benefit of light or handrail.
Relieved at making it in one piece, he was unpacking his toothbrush when there came a knock on the door, which opened to reveal Alfred with a bottle and two glasses.
Alfred descended and ascended twice more before they decided that they had made enough of a night of it and the friend retired to sleep the sleep of the just.
In the morning he descended the he said, the nearest he had ever been to self find Alfred showing him to the breakfast table.
Everything was laid up correctly....croissants and flute of bread fresh from Moniques' van....home made - and a large china hen.
Alfred removed its' lid with ceremony to reveal eight boiled eggs.
'Renee says I have to do boiled eggs for foreigners' breakfasts...but I don't know how you like I've done a variety...everything from three minutes to six and a half.'
'But which is which?'
'I don't know. You'll just have to try them all.'

They collected me by car,  together with another couple of waifs and strays and headed to the mairie where the cars would be laagered up for the day.
The coach was waiting and the dentist was counting heads, most of which were well covered in headscarves or caps, it being a nippy April morning.
The count finally coinciding with his list, and Monsieur Machin's daughter having run down the road with his pills for the day, we were off.
We stopped for lunch at a motorway service station which offered the usual fare of stuff that had been cooked at nine in the morning and had sat in trays ever since and hit Paris in the early afternoon, in time for a tour of the sights before being let out at the theatre.
We were counted again and led to our seats by a female usher who, it appeared, had to be paid for not letting us find our own way in our own time and settled down to enjoy the play.

Now, the dentist always produced Feydeau farces, all swinging doors and split second timing, and the play we had come to see was itself a farce by Feydeau...wonderfully acted, but it was clear that this one would never feature in our repertoire.
The major part of the action consisted in the leading lady continually swinging her leg over a chair back, thus inducing the other female characters to assume this to be the latest fashion and copy her.
Passing in review the leading ladies available to our dentist, I came to the conclusion that without even counting the bad backs, lacking some sort of assistance from a fork lift, not one of the elastic support stockinged legs would make it over a footstool, never mind a chair back.
Not to speak of the effect on the audience if they did.
The local hospital would be on red alert for cardiac arrest.

After the play, we were bussed to the Pigalle district, home of the Moulin Rouge, where some of the gentlemen whiled away the hour until our reservation at the restaurant in fixing their noses to the advertising photographs of semi naked women in feathers....Monsieur Machin popping a pill the while...while others saw fit to show their wives the old garrison buildings where they had done their national service - and the really unwary showed their wives where the girls they visited at that time used to hang out.
The expressions of the wives so informed resembled that of the mother about to claw her child down from the cliffs of the Cheddar Gorge.
Fortunately Alfred had done his national service elsewhere....and knew when to keep his mouth shut.

The restaurant had corralled us into a function room on the first floor, the aperitifs were generous and the food was good.
No Michelin stuff, which would not have been appreciated anyway, but basic classics and plenty of it.
The main course served, the waiting staff departed for the restaurant downstairs, leaving ample supplies of wine on the table.
Well, I thought it was ample, but others thought differently.
'Think we're a school outing, or what?'
'What's this, alcoholics anonymous? croix d'or?'
'I'll have a look round.'

No sooner said than done. A posse of gentlemen started opening cupboard doors revealing stocks of linen and other necessities of restaurant life until they found the door to the wine stock for the function room.
Bottles were passed out, opened and enjoyed and the waiting staff returned to take the orders for cheese and dessert to find tables boasting more bottles than they had left when they departed.
I was waiting for the explosion....but nothing....the meal continued through coffee and digestives and we left without the slightest sign of protest on the part of the management.

Back on the coach, I was given the seat next to the dentist, who was the nearest thing to a seductive man that I have ever met in France and I could quite understand why the wife of the chateau owner in the next commune was happy to avail herself of his asiduous attention to her cavities.
But the business with the wine was still puzzling me, so I asked him what on earth was going on.
Why weren't the restaurant staff furious?

He stopped me.
I had to understand something.
This restaurant catered for parties up from the country on a visit to Paris.
They knew their customers.
They quoted for a very generous allocation of wine, but, if it was all produced at once then it would all have been consumed long before the cheese arrived and people would have to order more individually which was a nuisance for the staff....and might be a bit embarassing for some of the customers, since not everyone was well heeled.
Thus the supply in the cupboards...initially to be set out by the staff after the main course.
However, groups like his had been going to that restaurant for years, knew that extra wine was to be supplied and where it was kept, so just helped themselves.
Suited everyone.

'Mark you, though, they won't accept bookings from the old age pensioners any more.'

'Why on earth not?'

'They loot.'

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Thursday, 9 September 2010

French, the language of diplomacy

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Prince...Image via Wikipedia
Talleyrand, nineteenth century French diplomat.
There are certain myths about France.....smartly dressed women, seductive men, good food, good manners....which means that you tell someone you live in France and they go all gooey eyed and start burbling about how lucky you are to live in this earthly paradise.

A quick look round la France Profonde might disabuse them somewhat.....the local notaire's wife in the dressing gown and slippers in which she passes her morning would be a good shoo-in for Mrs. Proudie at the breakfast table in 'Framley Parsonage' while her husband's seductive powers appear to be limited to seducing the folding stuff from your wallet to his.
Good, don't let me get started on andouillette and food poisoning from fruits de mer again as for good manners! I have never been on the receiving end of so much rudeness as I have experienced in France.

I used to like going to the big vide greniers...the ones involving a whole suburb of a big for the investment of time and petrol there was more chance of finding something among over a hundred stalls than at a village one of twenty.
Accordingly, we were heading for one that had been advertised, when we ran into signs for another on our route...that had not been advertised.
Experience had told us that even if an event had been advertised, there was no guarantee that it would be held so, just in case the one we were heading for had been cancelled, we thought we'd try the one we'd found.
By this time we had passed the designated parking area and were driving into the town.
The streets were full of parked cars, but we found a spot by the river which still had space and pulled up.

As we walked away a band of young men with red and white striped tape appeared and started marking off the river bank in front of the cars.
One of them called out to us to get our car shifted....this was a no parking area. There was to be an event with boats which would be arriving in four hours' time.
My husband replied that there were other cars there, and that, when we parked, there had been no tape...neither were there any 'no parking' signs, even on the crayon on cardboard variety.
In any case, we would only be about half an hour.

Now for what follows, a little explanation is in order.
This was a group of four young men.
My husband is a pensioner and at that time had not long come out of he even looked frail.

One young man ran over to us and shouted
'Do as you're told!. The parking area is over there.' Indicating the signs we had passed on the way in.
'Can't you read? Ignorant as shit! Get out of here!'

My husband repeated that we would only be half an hour, so we wouldn't be in their way and, besides, he wasn't up to the long walk from the designated parking area.

The other young men came up and one said that if we didn't move the car they would push it into the river.
My husband said that in that case the organisers would be hearing from his insurers and turned to walk away.

At that moment they made a rush for him and jostled him, shouting abuse...until a woman on the bank called them off...and they left us alone, threatening to report us to the gendarmerie!

Well, we had come to see what was on offer, so we carried on towards the stands....somewhat shaken up...only to see the gendarmerie van pulling up at a signal from the young men, who gathered round it, pointing towards us.

We went over, to find that we were accused of attacking them after deliberately parking in a no parking area.

Now, the gendarmerie does not like trouble.
Trouble involves returning to the station and unearthing the typewriter, so on that ground alone there was no chance that they would take up the complaint.
I am not so sure that the absurdity of four young men complaining of being attacked by a couple of pensioners would have saved us...this is, after all, France.

The young men were sent about their business, we explained what had happened and the gendarmes kindly suggested that they could best solve the problem by guiding our car into a spot reserved for handicapped drivers right alongside the stands.
The which they did.

'You don't want to make a complaint, do you?' asked one, with the air of a dog who sees the prospect of being back on the lead after a wonderful run in the park, and, so as not to spoil his day, we agreed that we did not.
There would have been no point to it, as the only people who would have been inconvenienced were ourselves and the gendarmes.
The louts would have gone untouched.

That's an extreme example, but it's not an isolated one.

I've had abuse from the counter staff of France Telecom....abuse from the driver of a car who was blocking my exit from my own house....abuse from young men in kayaks on the river which runs through the garden....abuse from the hunters busy shooting my rooks on my land - I've even been abused by a notaire! Twice!
And that's just the stuff that comes to mind.

Didier complains bitterly about the lack of everyday manners.
Gone are the days of the automatic 'Bonjour' on entering a shop.....the polite recognition of other people's existence.
Gone the polite 'Bonjour' from children to adults they encounter.
'It's everyone for himself, these days,' he grumbles. 'And they don't bother to hide it.'

I just wonder about this streak of rudeness in French doesn't seem to me to be just a recent phenomenon, more a manifestation of the nature of French society, where you spend your life making sure that you don't annoy anyone with influence.....and working off the resulting stress on anyone you perceive as being weaker.

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Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Bring back Lord Palmerston

Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston (17...Image via Wikipedia
The media are full of the demonstrations against the proposed pension reforms in France with crowds filling the streets of every major town, but I can't get very worked up about it.

There is nothing very exciting about French mass demonstrations. They are very well organised and each band of marchers carries its identifying poster.....the name of its union and the workplace from which the marchers come. The police march at the head of the columns so that they can't be asked to count how many people have turned up and a good day out is had by all.
The chanting isn't very inspiring, either, so the only element of surprise comes in the unofficial placards carried by the less regimented among the marchers......all sorts of clever stuff about offering retirement to Sarkozy, references to the ballooning Bettencourt scandal which involves the minister currently handling pension reform and the one I liked best, which just about summed up the mood of the nation....


Demonstrations of this sort do nothing to change things. They just demonstrate that the unions are good at turning out the numbers as part of their bargaining game with government.
It certainly isn't the nation in arms. The nation is at home watching it on the television.
Just about everyone thinks that something has to be done about funding future pensions, but no one agrees on what it is, when it should happen and who should be clobbered.
Everyone agrees, however, that it shouldn't be them.

I strongly suspect that one of the major reasons for not sacking Monsieur Woerth, the minister responsible for pension reform and well filled brown envelopes, intimately acquainted with most of the actors in the Bettencourt saga and up to his neck in showing the rich how to conduct vanishing tricks with their money, is that French pension reform has become the modern equivalent of the Schleswig Holstein question, of which Lord Palmerston is reputed to have said that only three people understood what it was all about...Albert, Queen Victoria's Prince Consort, who was dead.....a German professor who had gone mad...and Palmerston himself, who had forgotten all about it.
In this case, the only person who seems to understand it is Monsieur Woerth and that knowledge is what is keeping him in a job.

What I can get worked up about is the mysterious affair of President Sarkozy's birth certificate.

Someone in the benighted town which is being ruined and despoiled by its council and leading citizens referred to here felt he had had a raw deal at the hands of a couple of powerful civil servants, a councillor, and two lawyers.
Not unusual...this is France where such people make a habit of handing out raw deals to anyone who can't hit back.
To express his displeasure, the person in question sent copies of Sarkozy's birth certificate to the objects of his animosity.
Now, why shouldn't he?
It might sound daft, and I am still puzzled as to why the receipt of Sarkozy's birth certificate should be expected to make someone blench and call for the brandy bottle, but whom does it harm?

It turns out to harm the person who sent them.

One of the lawyers complained to the police with the result that all usual activities....following a woman driver round the town for forty minutes to hand out a fine for not having both brake lights working.....walking very fast the other way when the yahoos with pitbulls emerge from the lovely old houses that have been turned into slums.....avoiding the supermarket car parks when the gyppos are in residence....were cancelled and it was all hands to the pump to unearth the perpetrator of this heinous offence.

For offence it is claimed to be.

The lawyer claims...and the local prosecutor agrees....that the person concerned has usurped the identity of those to whom the certificates were sent by representing himself as being the people to whom the certificates were sent when he applied for them online...if you see what I mean.

That'll learn him to bother his betters.

This is the face of France you don't see referred to by the 'living the dream' wallahs.

The mean minded petty spite exercised by those with power.
The outrage that they feel when their power is challenged.
The lengths the system will go to to punish affronts to their dignity.

But there is something more to this than meets the eye.
I could be wrong as, not being French, I have never had occasion to do  this but I thought that when you apply for a copy of a birth certificate which is not your own, relating to a birth which took place in the last one hundred years, you needed to show some relationship between yourself and the person referred to by the certificate, as the latter is regarded as a confidential document.

Quite why a birth certificate should be regarded as in any way confidential in France where you seem to be required to produce one at the drop of a hat to prove that you exist I cannot imagine, but there it is.

So how did our gallant perpetrator manage to have copies sent to all these prominent notables whose identities he is said to have usurped?
What documents did he convince the appropriate authorities to send out the certificates?

I think we should be told.

But, as this is France,we won't be and the couple of civil servants, the councillor and the two lawyers can settle back in peace to watch the demonstrations on the television, as sure as anyone can be in this life that whatever happens, they won't be affected.

In France, their type never are.

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Saturday, 4 September 2010

He nothing common did, or mean...

Paul Schmidt, (center) interpreting between Ph...Image via Wikipedia
A great man died this week. Not well known outside his own area, but a man of his place and a man of his time.

Known to the children and young people of the schools he visited as 'the grandad in the cardigan' he was a quiet man with a story to tell who put to shame the professional 'storytellers' who infest the public sector of education and the arts......the exploitative children of the middle class who suck in the milk of public subsidy supplied by the people they insult with their puerilities.

He was a young man, helping his father with their own farm and the business they had lately undertaken, when the French government surrendered to the Germans in 1940.
While the government and 'le tout Paris' fled to the south to escape the fate of those they left behind, with little thanks and no recompense for the troops who died to secure their safe retreat, he was working in his father's vines.

The Germans arrived, their vehicles circulating as they wished on the roads under the high hill upon which he worked.
An intrusion he could not accept, despite all the appeals of Marshal Petain...the man who played on his reputation for killing less men than other French  generals in the First World war to bring France to its' knees in the face of the German Blitzkrieg which ran over the French defences like a knife through butter.

Marshal Petain, allied with the Catholic bourgeoisie who thought that the soul of France had been massacred when workers achieved not only the right to holidays, but holidays with  pay!

Our great man could not accept that 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity' had been replaced by 'Family, Work, Fatherland', the slogan of the Petain regime.
He had grown up in a household which held firmly to Republican Church schools, no interference by the Church in State class subjection.
He and his family were easy meat for those who envied them their improved position in society and the rise to power of the Petainists, the collaborators, gave the opportunity.

He and his father had sought contact with the local, vestigial, Resistance, and were given the responsibility of running the drops made by a Lysander aircraft from England...delivering radios and arms to help the local groups.
They and a few friends organised well, lighting the landing field they had chosen at the last minute, always conscious that the Germans manning the posts on the hills around could descend on the landing ground in less than twenty which time the gallant pilot had taken off again, leaving our great man and his friends to dispose of the bounty....often bicycles were their only means, riding through the dark lanes with radios strapped to their carriers.

But, of course, the they were betrayed.
By neighbours jealous of their farm and their business.
By neighbours who could justify what they had done because the people they denounced were people they had been taught to think of as contemptible, beyond the pale of the Church and not acceptable in respectable circles.
And those who had taught them this were now the people in power.

His father was taken.
He was taken three days later.
He was taken from a wife he had married only three months before by French policemen, and dumped in a French prison.

Thence he was sent to Buchenwald and, eventually to DORA the site where the V2s...the precursors of the moonrockets... were fabricated.

Theses V2s were aimed at Great Britain..and when they struck, the devastation was terrible.

The men forced to work on these monsters knew their devastative power and attempted to sabotage, one morning coming to work, our great man saw seven men hanging from a gantry, slowly strangled to death.
It is not only story of the officer's revolt against Hitler that needs to be told...but also the revolt by the hopeless, those slaves who had only once choice...slow death by overwork, or the bright spark of revolt..with the inevitable bitter ending.

He was lucky. He survived. He came home.

Home, where his wife had struggled against all the odds to keep their vignoble working.
Where he had to live alongside the people who had denounced him.
Where he could have pointed the finger.

He did nothing of the sort.
Knowing who he was, and where he had been  he did not approve of the backlash of the liberation, the settling of scores, the shaving the heads of those girls who had had German boyfriends...
He knew the loneliness  of being away from home, family and friends...
He knew the drear misery of life for girls in rural France..those without a penny of money to spend on themselves.
He did not condemn those girls.

What he did condemn was the fate of the children born of their relationships...plonked into orphanages by family pressure and brought up as third class persons.

What he did condemn  were the people who had collaborated actively and, at the last minute, had turned their coats to maintain their power.....and he condemned the political impulsion which supported these people.

Once home again, his  sole idea was to make his vines productive again.
But the locals had other ideas.
They wanted him to become maire of the commune.

There were a lot of communes where a new maire took over after the war, part of the effort to sweep under the carpet the Occupation years, and his commune was one of them.
A new council, too, to make a clean sweep.

As maire, he was returned time after time, but, as the years wore on, the old families who used to control the commune started to be elected as councillors again....but any dubious proposals would be crushed as he raised his head and stared steadily at the man concerned. There was a lot of history in that stare.

He was not a vengeful man, but he wanted to make sure that what had happened to him, and to France, should not happen again.

In a period when France was inventing the legend of 'every Frenchman was in the Resistance' he started visiting schools and talking to the children, from primary age up to the lycee pupils.

He warned of what happens when a nation becomes divided into interest groups who place their own welfare before that of the country as a whole.

He warned of the brutality that people permit themselves once they can stop regarding people as people. When they can replace the idea of  'a human being like myself' with a label.....'Jew', 'Gypsy', 'Handicapped', 'Agitator', which entitles them to treat those so labelled as they please.

Aware of the ease with which France pushes aside unpalatable facts, he started to collect the reminiscences of all those genuinely engaged in resistance, and with the help of others like himself, started a small museum which showed what had happened in the area from the German invasion in 1940 to their retreat in 1944.
Consultation of the archives was open to everyone...and most revealing.

For over sixty years he bore witness to what happens when a society forgets its' values.....and generations of children in his area have been able to ask direct questions of a man who had suffered the worst that life can offer and be helped to understand that ignoring something does not make it any less real while doing nothing allows evil to triumph.

'The grandad in the cardigan' has gone and with him the soul and conscience of the area.

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