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 23 October 2010

Here be dragons....

Here Be Dragons!Image by spratmackrel via Flickr
A blogger whose posts I follow with pleasure has suffered a mishap recently, having fallen foul of the Mummy Bloggers..or some of them..or one of them...hard to know what's what with the Mummy Bloggers.

I had heard of them, in passing, but not being a dedicated follower of fashion they had passed me by in my rural backwater.

Until the blogger I follow had trouble with them, or her, or whatever part of the gallimaufry had inadvertently been roused....

So I took a look.

Goodness, what an abyss opened under my feet!

Pictures of children at birthday parties with a ratio of more than two parents to one child which would indicate all divorced, separated or sex changed partners wanted pictures of the event...

Sad pictures of children eating a birthday tea surrounded by a sea of adults with cameras...

It reminded me of the father who had booked our main house for his holiday with his family.

He spent most of the time with his video recorder filming his sweet little girl playing with the ducks and their ducklings, collecting eggs with Mr.Fly, helping to round up the chickens in the evening...with never a thought that it would have been much more fun for his little girl if he had joined in rather than recording the French rural idyll for the delectation of friends and family on his return
Reviews of cereals you would not feed to a self respecting dog, given the contents....

Posts about how to communicate with PR people....whose clients apparently seek the cachet of being approved by the Mummy Bloggers.
Given the view of their offspring offered by their posts - to be fair this is not a representative sample, just me jumping from blog to blog - I would not base my launch of beasty flavoured soya animal shapes on the sample offered, but I suppose that's not the idea.
The idea is to get the Mummy Bloggers to talk about the product.
Which they do. 

Snarly, bitchy exchanges totally opaque to the outsider...almost French in their intensity...and the regular appearance of that worst bitchiness of all...
Of course, she needs help....
That phrase, to me, sums up what I found so off putting in the blogs I looked at...the sugary, false expression of concern while the knife goes in the back.

These blogs seem so self regarding, when their purpose, their leitmotif, purports to be sharing what it is to be a  parent, which demands so much self abnegation and which can give such joy.

Where is the joy in these blogs?
Missing. Gone AWOL.
There have to be other blogs, where people just talk about their lives and their kids, the ups and the downs, but following the trail I did, I didn't find any.

Given the bait of goodies,or invites, we might all be tempted to do product reviews and push our stats up...but when I learn that the summit of ambition is to have an award ceremony during a weekend at heart misgives me.

Is it really worth all the back biting to have a weekend at Butlins?

(I apologise for the italics...I pressed something which refuses to be unpressed, so please do not read added importance to the text thus italicised.)

Having surfed the surface of the genre, I think I can divide the participants into two groups.....

One...the Sir Jaspers, sure of their ground as middle class mummys...mummies?...and keen to enforce the line of those above and below the salt where it comes to the distribution of pushchairs, cereal samples and invitations to product launches.

The other...the 'she was poor but she was honest' group, who would very much like, like Israel Hands, to get their mitts on the  pickles and the wines monopolised by group one...and somewhat vocal when they don't succeed.

Going  back to the comments on the blog of the unfortunate offender, I was struck by the number of contributions by Mummy Bloggers who, while clearly having an I.D. for Mummy Blogging, preferred anonymity when making comments on the blog concerned.

What does this indicate about the world of Mummy Blogging?

That it can be nasty, brutish and short....unless you are a Sir Jasper.

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Friday 22 October 2010

Down at the dump

Trash cans in rowImage via Wikipedia
Looking at the school kids piling wheelie bins against the doors of their schools - don't French schools ever have back doors? - and in the Place de la Concorde in Paris, I thought to myself that they were lucky that they were doing this in the towns.
Out here, in the wilds, they would find that their blockade material would have disappeared overnight to provide rat-free feed bins for the chickens, who are feeling left out because the rabbits copped all the yellow recycling baskets.
We see things differently in the countryside.

The dustmen are most obliging....they will take just about anything, all hurled into the back of the van with a fine disregard for recycling...which saves too many visits to the dechetterie - the local dump.
Not that you're supposed to call it a is a recycling centre.

Well. it is, I suppose....
It's where the gyppos from the illegal gyppo camp recycle scrap metal into cash, totally unobstructed by the miserable jobsworth who works there who spends his time instead terrifying old age pensioners into dismantling the sofa they have brought in into its component materials for putting into the correct skips.

As you might imagine, we have had words.
He thought I should disassemble an ancient folding chair into fabric, plastic and metal components.
I disagreed.
He insisted.
I demurred.
The noise level rose to that of a local council meeting discussing sewage disposal.
He started flailing his arms about like Jacques Chirac's well known helicopter imitation.
I offered one finger upraised in return.
The gyppos stopped recycling and took on the role of mediation.

They would dismantle the chair.

All parties satisfied by this compromise, they dismantled accordingly, he went off to sulk in his hut and I threw my empty oil containers into the 'tout venant' skip in gross violation of Monsieur Jobsworth's policies.
He wants them stacked in a sort of bouncy castle next to his hut which is too high for me to reach, even by standing on the unsteady pile of concrete building blocks he has installed for the shortarses among us.
I am not a keen recycler at the best of times and I do not intend to meet my Maker with a broken neck and covered in sump oil just to make Monsieur Jobsworth happy.

Instead of the annual leaflet pointing out the error of our ways in not washing out our milk boxes and putting them on Tuesdays into box A while on Thursdays flattening sardine tins for box B - which may be appropriate for the big town whence these leaflets come but not for us where the dustmen come once a week only - I feel that more effort should be made to persuade French householders that their grass clippings would be put to better use in making their own compost heaps in their own gardens rather than using petrol to bring them to a tip whence more fuel will be used by the lorry that comes to remove the skip full of grass clippings to....well, there the trail goes cold.
Goodness only knows where it goes.
Probably on top of the Tuesday milk boxes and the Thursday sardine tins, knowing this area.

There's no pleasure in rubbish disposal these days....

The dumps used to be real dumps, surrounded by wire netting with holes in case the mairie was shut when you needed the key, and you could rake around at a Leclerc with no checkouts.
I used to keep an eye on the local cemeteries after the Toussaint, when families come to put pots of chrysanthemums on the graves of their relatives.
After a while, the council man of all work would come along and pick up all the faded and dying specimens and drop everything at the dump, so once I saw that the cemetery was back to its usual shade of grey I would be off with the trailer ready for the haul of flower pots...which were at that time nearly unobtainable in France without a plant in them already.

Other stuff could be found too, furniture, old tools, bits of bicycle, even a tombstone on one occasion....but never bottles. Bottles were never discarded. They were required for the bottling of wine bought in bulk from the vigneron and every house had its stack.

And you met people....the French and the British have different tastes when it comes to tip crawling, so there was none of the jumble sale aggressive spirit and many invitations to come back for a drink.

There was also a lot of asbestos roof sheeting there...dumped when renovating....which seemed to trouble nobody. Rural France was constructed with asbestos sheeting as anyone renovating in France can confirm.

Then recycling came in.

Councils decided to go for this in a big way.
They shut off their local dumps and opened recycling centres.
Fine if you lived near, a real pain if you did not.
Travelling miles with an unwieldy bed settee threatening to fall out of the trailer at any moment is not zen.

Then they decided that the new dumps could not take asbestos....and you had to have a specialised firm to take it down and take it away.
I never saw any of these firms at work, though I imagined chaps in NASA spacesuits moonwalking a la Michael Jackson, because of the astronomical prices they were charging to take away the roof of your chicken shed, so the first consequence of the recycling bug was that fly tipping rose to mammoth proportions and nearly every dirt track accessible by vehicle was lined with broken asbestos sheeting.

Not that local councils were unaware of the problems this caused.
I had bought a large building lavishly roofed in asbestos which was generally accepted as the winner in the 'eyesore of the commune' competition. Farms excluded, of course.
I wished to convert it into something more desirable, and the maire was all for it, not least because he lived alongside.
But the quote for removing the asbestos was  terrifying.
Clearly the firm concerned had not just bought NASA spacesuits but also the rocket to go with them and was keen to recuperate its costs.
As all the books about France tell you, when in doubt, consult the maire. So I consulted the maire.
He was an old boy wise in the ways of getting round inconvenient legislation and came up with the solution.

I'll get the gyppos to come and take it away. I reckon five hundred euros should sort it.

This being a tiny fraction of the estimate that had driven me to the armchair gasping for brandy, I thought it a good deal and authorised him to proceed.
In due course, the gyppo chieftain came to see me, agreed that five hundred euros should do it and offered me a price for some of the machinery in the outhouses.
The deal was done. I was happy, the maire was happy and I imagine that the gyppos were happy.

What, I asked the maire later, will they do with the asbestos?

Oh, they're 'sub contracting' on an estate some Belgian has bought, so it'll all go down as hardcore for the roads.

So that was all right then.

Recycling centres as such did not, at first, reduce the social element to dumping your rubbish.
The first employee was a cheery young man who unloaded cars and trailers for the elderly, sorted out plants from the green skip to redistribute to local gardeners...thus my iris alley...and practised his English on the British contingent.
Eventually he acquired a girlfirend from the south of France where he is now running her parents' restaurant.
We, in return, got Mr. Jobsworth.
But that was later.

At some point you would meet everyone at the recycling centre, from Annette busy smashing a vase before putting it in the skip so that no one else could use the monstrosity to Hubert pulling out the pieces to glue it together as it had once belonged to his aunt.
I was once there when there seemed to be an unattended bicycle propped up against one of the skips, but as I opened my car door, the son of the gyppo chieftain emerged from a skip and pulled his bicycle inside with him, to prevent it from being stolen. I rather liked that.
It was an alternative to the bar for doing business too....the cheery young man did not listen in as did the bar owner and you didn't have to buy a lousy Robusta coffee either.

It was there that Hubert met Mr. Poubelle.
Mr...not Monsieur...Poubelle - Mr.Dustbin - was English.
He had had a holiday house in the commune for years before retiring permanently to France, and his method of communication was to add 'o' or 'a' or 'e' to English words, interspersed with the odd 'oh la la!', and for some obscure reason 'quel con!'....all accompanied by gestures.
It says a great deal for the average person's good nature and adaptability that he seemed to manage pretty well, too.

He was always out for a bargain and accessed some places into which you would hesitate to put your walking the old boy from whom he bought wine at three francs a litre.
I like a bargain, but nothing on earth would have induced me to buy wine there.
It was certainly atmospheric.

You gained access via a yard where pieces of obsolete machinery made it look as though a few Martians from the War of the Worlds had just lucked out.
Then you went into the shed, where bits of tools obsolete by the time of the French Revolution were hanging awaiting repair under a thick cover of dust and cobwebs.
Finally you reached the 'cave', where ancient barrels leered through the gloom of one dim electric bulb liberally covered in more dust.....and you would be offered a tasting glass.
One of the ones that had once held mustard and which looked as though all the mustard had not been cleaned out before the change of use was imposed upon the receptacle.
At least, one hoped that the high relief streaks were mustard.

The wine was undrinkable. To call it vinegar would have been a compliment.
But as it cost only three francs a litre, Mr. Poubelle was happy.
But I noticed that he only bought there once.
Even Mr. Poubelle had limits.

There are those who would disagree with this statement.
Like the couple who gave him his nickname.

They were Parisiens who had inherited a house up the road from Mr. Poubelle which they used for passing the summer.
Mr. Poubelle had made their acquaintance  and they became quite the extent that they invited him to their daughter's wedding, which was to take place in the Auvergne.....but only after a high powered campaign mounted by Mr. Poubelle to the tune of he had never been to a French wedding before, etc....

Now, the French habit is to make hotel arrangements for guests, and, accordingly, the family had booked a small hotel near the village in which the marriage was to be celebrated.
The idea is that the guests pay their own hotel expenses while the family provide the vin d'honneur, the wedding breakfast and the dance with refreshments which inevitably accompany the ceremony.

Mr and Mrs. Poubelle duly arrived, enjoyed the civil and religious ceremonies,  and after the vin d'honneur settled into the wedding breakfast.....the first course of which proved to be prawns.
Not just prawns, but tiger prawns.
Mr. Poubelle set to with a will. He demolished his own. He stabbed more from the plates of his slower eating neighbours at table. He stood up and announced that if there was anyone who did not like prawns they could bring their plate to him.
The horrified mother of the bride had had enough.
She stood up and said

Yes, give them to Mr. Poubelle.

And to cap it all, he refused to pay his hotel bill, on the grounds that he was a guest!

The story went round the village and the nickname stuck.

On meeting Hubert, Mr. Poubelle discovered that Hubert had a surplus of wine.
It was only 'vin courant' for everyday drinking and Hubert had to shift a lot of it as it had had been badly made and was starting to fizz a bit.

How much?

Seven francs the litre. But're not to bottle it. It won't keep.

How much have you got?

Seventy litres.

I'll take it.

But it won't keep, I tell you.

Then I'll take fifty.

Seeing an answer to the bulk of his problem, Hubert accepted and Mr. Poubelle took delivery.

He bottled it and stored it in the newly redecorated (by Mrs. Poubelle, a dab hand with paintbrush screwdriver and hammer) kitchen.
Warm places, kitchens.
Bottle after bottle blew its stack until visitors reckoned it was like living on a firing range and Mrs. Poubelle announced that if she had wanted her kitchen painted red she would have done so originally.

Down at the dump, Mr. Poubelle encountered Hubert again.

That was some duff stuff you sold me.....I've lost about twenty litres of it.

Hubert knew when he was beaten...he gave the rest of his wine to Mr. Poubelle.

Who duly bottled it up but this time put it and the remains of the first load into the dining room, which bore a strong resemblance to an ancient crypt, being dark and dank.
The explosions were less frequent and it was too dark to see the stains.

Mr. Poubelle's cousin came over for a holiday in the August of that his caravan, which he parked in the garden.....and helped Mrs. Poubelle with a lot of the DIY in return for being fed and watered liberally...both the Poubelles were superb cooks.

He was a beer drinker normally, but readily took to wine and one day just before his departure Mr. Poubelle carefully uncorked one of his bottles from Hubert.
It came out of the bottle like Vesuvius unchained and the cousin was most impressed.

I've got a fair few bottles of this stuff, red'll never see it in's hard enough to get it here. You've been such a help, I'll make you a special price if you want some to take back. It'll be great for weddings and Christmas.

How much?

Well, it would normally be about twenty francs a bottle, but as it's you, it'll be a sort of thank you.

The cousin agreed and on the night before his departure Mr. Poubelle loaded the bottles into the caravan, refusing all offers of help in order, as he said to the cousin, to avoid accidents.
Wine was volatile stuff and needed experienced handling.

The cousin set off in the cool of the early hours, to get well on the road before the sun got up.
Warm places, caravans, when the August sun gets on them as they jolt their way over the roads of rural France, but the cousin drove happily on, deaf to the explosions behind him as he listened to his radio.....

For some reason, he never returned to Chez Poubelle for another holiday....but, as I say, he was really a beer drinker.
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Monday 18 October 2010

I think I'll go on strike too.....

Anti-Sarkozy Demonstration & Riots (33) - 06Ma...Image by philippe leroyer via Flickr
But there's a lot of competition for peoples' attention.

The analog television is going down at midnight...supposedly to be resuscitated as digital television a few hours later, but noting those ominous caveats about viewers depending on secondary emitters those few hours could stretch into days.

So for the next week everyone will be fiddling with their remote controls trying to recode the television and the DVD player, except for those over 70 or rated as being over eighty per cent handicapped who have the right to free assistance.....and will thus spend the next month fiddling with the remote control and the DVD player after the free assister has done his rounds.

Still, the lack of television will spare us from the verbal infelicities of our masters.....Rachida Dati confusing inflation with fellation and the Minister of the Interior - the one with a criminal record for racist remarks - threatening to bring in genital profiling!
I'd like to see how the gendarmerie go about that one....

Then there's the problem of petrol stations closing down....the shortages are spreading into the countryside and I bet that when the supermarkets run out that crook down by the bridge will put up his prices....not that it worries me, I have a central heating tank, but a lot of people still run petrol cars or worry about illegality - very timorous, the French.

It seems the government have tried to open up the refineries...well,round Paris using their emergency powers and ordering people in to work - except the said people say they can't get there because strikers are forming a human chain in front of the refineries concerned and they can't get through.
Very timorous, the French.

I don't think the schoolkids busy burning cars and blocking the Champs Elysees pose too much competition to me, though.....the school holidays start shortly and they won't be bunking off from that!

So why I am thinking of going on strike?

Tax. That's why.

One of Sarkozy's bright ideas for freeing up French business practice was to do away with the Taxe Professionelle. Wonderful!

Except that local government drew a fair bit of its revenue from the Taxe Professionelle.

Another of Sarkozy's bright ideas was to reduce the number of civil servants on the central government transferring them to local government....and its payroll.

Now, if you've eaten sufficient fish, you will immediately recognise that the combination of these measures gives rise to problems.

If you haven't, then open a tin of sardines, which is what Monsieur Attali should have done before writing a report on how to boost French competitiveness which proposed privatising pensions and putting up VAT!
Don't know where he keeps what passes in his case for  a must be away for genital profiling.

So, local government now have to work out how to make up the shortfall in their resources.

Make economies, perhaps?

Over their dead bodies! (I wish.)

The local versions of Monsieur Attali have seen fit to build new offices to accommodate all the new staff they have taken on and to buy land in order to build a new gendarmerie station at the very moment that what is laughingly called the gendarmerie service is being reorganised into different sectors and will be leaving the bailiwick altogether.

No, the shortfall will have to be made up from the property taxes...taxe fonciere and taxe d'habitation.

So unless I can sell the house, I'm facing two whopping bills next year, which is enough on its own to infuriate me, but what has made me incandescent is the following little detail......

The area is relatively poor, so the mini Attalis have decided to ease the burden of the property taxes by establishing exonerations and exemptions......wonderful!

Who benefits?

Blasted families with three kids!

You know...the ones for whom the supermarkets package pork chops in packs of five....the ones who don't pay any tax!

I've had a better idea than going on strike....

I'm going down to the illegal gyppo encampment that the bold gendarmes have managed to ignore since time out of mind and I'm going to borrow a chainsaw.

Then I'm going to the supermarket  to take station  alongside the meat counter.....

And anyone who so much as looks at a five pack of pork chops is going to be genitally reprofiled.
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Saturday 16 October 2010

What to do when France is on strike...

Description unavailableImage by Nocturnales via Flickr your transport.

There is one sure rule to follow when buying a car in France.
Always buy one with a diesel engine.
That way, when farmers or lorry drivers or Uncle Tom Cobley and all block the refineries and the petrol pumps run dry at the supermarkets, you can always fill up from your central heating tank.


I wouldn't worry too much.
The customs are too busy hanging about on the roads into France from Italy and Andorra in the hope of confiscating the knock off  Gucci handbag you bought on your holidays to be on the lookout for red diesel in your tank...and anyway, it's not worth their while to run checks as they would probably find most of those concerned to be farmers who cannot be touched under any circumstances, so, in my book, it's a gamble well worth taking.

Just remember to fill your central heating tank at the first signs of public unrest.

This will not help you, unfortunately, if you wish to leave the country from Charles de Gaulle airport which has currently managed to run its supplies down to almost zero....I can't see your pilot being very appreciative if you drive your car 'airside' and offer him a syphon and tube with the injunction to get sucking.

Try to avoid big towns.
Union leaders know they exist, and will doubtless soon have endless convoys of lorries circling their ring roads until they run out of the fuel they have been blockading in the refineries and just happen to break down on every major intersection.
By keeping clear of the cities not only will you avoid the lorry drivers, you will also avoid those streams of self righteous teenagers bunking off school for the day who have a tendency to get annoyed when you won't put some money in their collecting tins to pay for the post demo booze up.

Stock up at your local all your local supermarkets...for when their supplies of food run out.
The French have never managed to master 'just in time' stocking at the best of times and a strike of transport workers is no time for you to be testing their capacities in an emergency situation by looking for an aubergine for your imam bayeldi recipe.
History will tell you that the French do not excel in emergencies.
There is no handbook to follow.

So, having secured your supplies and locked the cap of your central heating tank against those who walk by night with tubes and jerrycans you can sit back and watch it all on the television like the majority of the French because, despite all the placards and shouting, physical involvement in protest is decidedly limited.

Why aren't they all out with their billhooks and pikes?
Because billhooks and pikes are no longer used by union members...and it is the unions who organise protests as part of the unholy tripartite process of negotiation with the bosses and the government which has bedevilled France since the last war.
The unions who represent a tiny proportion of French workers.

Think about it....why don't the unions send their lorries to blockade the employers' organisation HQ?
Or government offices?

Because they're all in this negotiation together, that's why and poodle does not eat poodle.

The schoolkids do not understand this...they think it's all about fairness, or jobs, or abstract they annoy the unions mightily by trotting off to stand outside MEDEF...the bosses' HQ, not understanding that they are thus introducing a snake into the jolly game of ladders that the grown ups understand.
If you have a twisted sense of humour, take a look at the facial contortions of a union leader congratulating the youth of France for their involvement while all the time wishing them at the devil, because their lack of understanding of the realities gives government a chance to change the pattern of the ritual negotiating dance.

If, however, you find that counting demonstrators on the television does not induce a well earned siesta...what else is there to do to forget that the country is at a standstill?

You can trust the British to some up with a solution.

A friend has telephoned me with the news that, over in Ste. Mere Maquerelle, Mrs X - translator truly extraordinaire - is starting a 'salon'.

Salon du the, salon de beaute, salon de toilettage...?
No a salon.
A proper salon.
A regular gathering where social, literary and artistic affairs are discussed....usually presided over by women.

It is a French invention, dating from about the seventeenth century and coinciding with the dominance of the royal court over the nobility....bringing them from their independence in their own chateaux to dancing attendance on the monarch at vast expense.
Having assembled these people, something had to be done to amuse them, so, apart from endlessly rehearsing ballets and suchlike, people would gather in the houses of ladies with literary pretensions to pass an evening exchanging allusions.....the salon is credited with civilising the French nobility, teaching them to spit out witticisms rather than phlegm and keeping them off the streets.

Now, I note that my friend saw fit to telephone me with this news rather than send an e mail.
E mails are fine, but no 'smiley face' can substitute for the whistle of incredulity or the sharp intake of breath that really juicy news deserves...let alone the evil cackle.

So why does Mrs. X's venture deserve a telephone call?

Well, she is after my time....I moved from St. Supplice before she moved into Ste. Mere Maquerelle....but I know the company she keeps, and still hear the local gossip via the friend who 'phoned me.
Mrs. X is one of the local 'helping hands'...that is to say hands which help themselves to the money of those they assist in the British immigrant community by looking after holiday homes, gardening, translating, etc..(.here.)
Unlike some areas, where there seem to be battles for dominance, the Ste. Mere crowd seem to have got their act together and sorted out a pecking order so that everyone gets some chance to have a go at the later arrivals, (here), so this 'salon' must have majority backing.

So what's she planning?

Well, said my friend, I've got the flyer here.
It says she wants to recreate a French cultural institution to help expats assimilate better to French culture even though they don't have good French. It's to explain cultural references to them in a light hearted social atmosphere to help them to integrate better.

So there'll be French people there?

Oh no! She thinks that might discourage people from coming if they had to speak French.

That's never on the flyer.

Yes it will be an all expat affair, to encourage participation!

So who's going to be helping people to understand French culture, then?

She is...with, according to the flyer, other 'local community leaders' like smiley face could substitute for the wild outburst of mirth at this point.....Paul the Perv......cries of 'No!'.....and The Performing Elephant.

Shrieks! Howls! Groans! How can laughter hurt so much!

I decline to further identify Y, Paul the Perv and the Performing Elephant...they are well enough known in their vicinity....but suffice it to say that their  joint and several knowledge of the French language and culture would not inspire confidence.
Not that they need the confidence of others...they supply their own in abundance.

But there can't be many new arrivals these days?

Oh, there's not been much of an exodus here, you know, and there are quite a few holiday home people coming over for good now they've sold up in the she'll have quite a bit of prey.

Are you going?

Well, I have to show my know how it is.

Why didn't she ask you to help out? Your French is much, no, of course, I'm getting slow in my old age, that's just why she didn't ask you!
Anyway, you can have some fun.

Not what I call fun.

Yes, just can ask her what things mean...tell her you've heard this phrase or whatever and ask what it means.

No, she'll twig I'm pulling her leg and you know how vicious she is.
But I could take Arthur. He doesn't care what he says to anyone.

Good idea. And she'll take anything from Arthur because he wears tweeds, carries a walking stick and has a big house.
Let's make a list.

Right.....Limoge (sent to Limoges).

And......mettre en placard....(put in a cupboard).

And what about beaufs, bobonnes and la bouffe?......(French archetypes and their food).

What about Groland?
Well, that will do to start with....get Arthur on the job.
Oh, but what I don't understand is, what's in it for her?

Well, that's on the flyer too. There is going to be wine and nibbles...done by Sophie...and there'll be a 'participation' of twenty euros.

In that case get Arthur to ask her what 'niq ta mere' means too.

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Tuesday 12 October 2010

Versatile Blogger award

Ayak, on Turkish Delight has kindly given me this Versatile Blogger Award.

I am most grateful to her, not just for the award, but for the confidence she has given me in wrestling with the way computers work...the help she has given me in solving earth shattering problems like how to copy and paste - don't laugh out there, that was the paste bottle and paper in my young day - and her readiness to offer a hand even when she is busy with her own life.

It's a great blog...too.....

The award comes with conditions...I have to tell you eight things about myself.


I'm not quite as grouchy as I seem.....

But I do have a ferocious temper.

The savage breast is best soothed by five days of Test Match Special. But it will make do on a One Day International if it must.

I detest housework.

I usually have a book in my hand, or in my pocket, or on the table, or (shame on me) dropped in the bath...

I love Belgian food.

I would like to see Blair arraigned as a war criminal...and quite a few others as well.

I  love Mr.Fly 'a la folie.'

So there you have it.

I would like to pass on the award to:

the Diary of Amy Rigby, which has opened an entirely new world to me, with style and humour.

Grumpy Old Ken, without whose round up no month would be complete.

Delana at Du Jour, whose ability to rise above it all sometimes astounds me

Tales from Clippy Mat, whose accounts of encounters with wild life still give rise to wild mirth...

and nodamnblog whose blog I appreciate for its compassion for animals, its regular Wednesday word...and its subversive humour.

No obligation on the recipients to fulfill conditions...the award is just a small way of saying 'Thank you' for giving me so much pleasure.

Sunday 10 October 2010

If you go down to the woods today...

Phallus impudicus4Image via Wikipedia

Look in the autumn issues of the magazines in France, and you will see pictures of mushrooms...artily arranged on the kitchen counter of a tarted up Provencal mas if it's something like 'Maison et Jardin', or barely distinguishable from the mucky hands holding them if it is more like the 'Chasseur Francais'.

You will see people emerging from woodlands...not furtively, in the nature of those who by some wild co incidence have just met a member of the opposite sex who happened to be wandering in the same woodland at the same time - probably looking for the common stinkhorn......but openly, bearing containers.

Some, the ones in smart sludge coloured 'outdoor' clothing, will be carrying  panniers...these are the eco conscious who think that this allows the spores of the mushrooms, dropping through the slats, to propagate themselves on the journey from the wood to their car - if they also want mushrooms propagating in the boot of their car as the spores fall through the slats on the journey home, well, good luck to them.

Others, wearing brightly coloured clothing bearing no distinguishable designer name anywhere about it, have buckets, or those disgusting plastic trugs sold by all self respecting French garden centres. They clearly have no wish to have mushrooms propagating themselves in their cars.
This is one occasion when the yellow baskets optimistically issued by local authorities for rubbish recycling will not be in evidence...too many holes. And anyway it would mean moving the rabbits.

You will wish to participate in this quintessential French pastime.....where to start?

By all means buy an illustrated guide to mushrooms and do a little preliminary research on what grows in which conditions and at what time of year, which will save you from looking for blewits in October.

Do not take it with you while you go mushroom hunting otherwise you will spend the time you should be using to pick them deliberating in a huddle over whether that one that Angie has just picked is a coulemelle or something nasty that will lay you low in revenge for you pulling it up.

Neither should you go to one of those mycological society exhibitions which proliferate in damp autumns all over France.
You will only frighten yourself.
I have been mushroom picking for years and they still frighten me.

You enter the salle de fetes to find that long tables have been set up with every sort of fungus the dedicated local enthusiasts could find, laid out and neatly labelled with latin names...and sinister indications of their level of toxicity.
For inducing alarming palpitations there is nothing like encountering something proudly labelled with a skull and crossbones which bears a close resemblance to what you have just eaten for lunch.

Every pharmacy will have large posters of mushrooms on display at this time of year and, in theory you can bring in your collection for identification, thus avoiding being brought in yourself for medication.
In practice, you won't learn very much as the modern pharmacist doesn't tend to be a mushroom fanatic and will just advise you to put anything that isn't obviously harmless in the dustbin...which is not the object of the exercise.
It was the stuff you weren't sure about that you wanted identified, not the stuff that was clearly edible.

Where I first lived in France, the village next door had a renowned mushroom fanatic in the pharmacy and in  the season it was a toss up whether there were more people carrying mushrooms in or more people carrying suppositories out.

One thing was clear...mushrooms had priority.

You could be in the midst of discussing whether  the Elixir of l'Abbe Perdrigeon for emotional shock was better in your particular case than Baume de Perou for the skin eruption following said shock or whether you should use both to be on the safe side except that in neither case would you be able to claim the cost back from social security... when a man with a bucket would enter and your skin eruptions would have to await the verdict on its contents.

You could learn a lot from the lecture that accompanied the spreading of the contents onto the plastic tray used out of season for weighing babies.
Gills, rings round the stems, bulbous or straight stems, colours, all had their significance and no collector got away without undergoing a brief examination in what what he had been told, so it was no wonder that there were no fatalities in that pharmacist's bailiwick.

I had picked up my mushroom lore from Gerard, who discovered the oyster mushrooms growing on the poplars at the back of my field and who believed in the value of a practical demonstration of what grew where....thus it was imprudent to pick mushrooms on the verges as they picked up lead from passing traffic no matter how edible they might be could tell the false panther from the real by breaking the stem and looking for the pink threads.... which ceps were worth gathering and which were not worth bothering with.

Thanks to him I ate decidedly suspicious looking stuff with no ill effects, but there were still little quirks to learn.

If you were susceptible...and it was as well not to experiment to find out whether or not you were...eating shaggy caps and drinking wine with the same meal would have you carted away in an ambulance, so it was best to gather them just before eating them for breakfast.
Mark you, thinking of some of the gentlemen of my acquaintance, there was no guarantee that they had not drink taken at no matter what early hour of the morning, so I have to suppose that they were just not susceptible....or avoided shaggy caps on principle.

If you are looking for field mushrooms, they can easily be confused with the yellow stainer, which is unpleasant rather than toxic. The trick is to scratch through the skin and look for a yellow tinge...but if you miss it it's not a disaster. Just try cooking them and you'll have a pan of yellow liquid...sure sign to chuck them out and try another field.
Something no one locally will touch are the big horse mushrooms...distinguished from field mushrooms by the slight smell of anise on the cap. I've eaten them for years with no ill effects and benefit from local lack of enthusiasm to fill my buckets and then the freezer.
Puffballs are super when young, sliced and cooked in butter....but the best of all are the coulemelles, parasol mushrooms, growing in clusters in open woodland.

They are, for me, the queens of the mushroom family...rising pale and elegant from the autumn leaves around their base to take home for immediate consumption with butter and parsley....and to resurrect from the freezer as a garnish to chicken through the wild, cold months of winter.

I don't know who you can find to help you learn about mushrooms....some people are very careful to guard the source of their supply, particularly if it happens to be in the enclosed grounds of the chateau up the road where they have no right to be...whereas others are delighted to share their passion.
I suppose you just have to drop onto the right person.

But there is one thing I do know.

Even if you take a pannier, do not wear sludge coloured outdoor clothing.
Follow the example of the plastic bucket merchants and wear something bright, because the mushroom season coincides with that of the chasse, short sighted gentlemen who think anything that moves is one of the specially reared pheasants that their association has released the day before to provide them with 'sport'.

Even they know, however, that pheasants are not bright red or yellow and that they are forbidden to shoot at parrots and canaries, so wear something bright and your backside will be safe from a peppering of shots.....

Wear sludge and as you leave your hospital bed you may well be humming to yourself that well known French folk song

'Nous n'irons plus aux bois.....'

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Saturday 9 October 2010

Facebook, Bin Laden...and 'outrage' ...2

"French Law"; "En Danger De Jus...Image by umjanedoan via Flickr
I suggest you read the post made by Maitre Eolas on the subject of the chap jugged for expressing himself on Facebook.

It will be good for your French, it will make you laugh like a drain...and it is a first class exposition of the law on the subject.
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Friday 8 October 2010

Lambs and Wolves

Bad WolfImage by doug88888 via Flickr
Recently there has been an unpleasant case.

An elderly man was found guilty last year of sexually abusing a girl some time ago when she was still in her teens and was sentenced to a spell in prison.

This summer, she was shocked and surprised to find him walking the streets of her town, free as a lark.

Had be been granted early  release?

No, he had never been sent to prison at all.
He had never tasted the French equivalent of porridge.
Nothing had happened to disturb the even tenor of his days.

He was, it appeared, too old to go to prison.
He was, it appeared, too ill to go to prison.
The judge responsible for sentencing had not been able to find time to consider what else to do with him.
So he was free.
He had never received the punishment awarded him.

While she was still trying to cope, not only with what had happened to her but also the dreadful experience of going public with it all, he had been getting on with his life, untouched by the  hand of the law.

It was rather a shock.

She .....rashly...went to see him, together with a friend.
Words were exchanged, words led to blows and some damage done to his garden as they left.

She and friend were, of course, arrested.

She agreed to accept a new sort of court appearance...'.comparution sur reconnaissance prealable de culpabilite' - CRPC - which was introduced a few years ago to get cut and dried cases through the courts quickly.
In appropriate cases, if a person acknowledges their guilt, they are interviewed by a prosecutor who proposes a penalty. A judge then either accepts or refuses the proposition brought before them.

She admitted the facts and was awarded ...given the special circumstances of the case....a one month suspended sentence.
She was told firmly that society could not tolerate individual acts of vengeance.

What is happening to the man who abused her?

Well there will be a later hearing to determine what she must pay him in damages for her outbreak.......and the judge responsible for finding an appropriate punishment in view of the claims about his age and health will try to make time to see if putting a tag on him would be all right.
I'm not holding my breath.

Years ago, there was an unpleasant case.

A gang of farmers were demonstrating about the price they were receiving for their meat at the abattoir.
As part of their demonstration they set fire to a lorry.
The lorry was full of lambs from England, all of whom were burnt alive while the farmers cheered.

The farmers were interviewed by the gendarmerie.
The dossiers were sent to the local court where, mysteriously, they disappeared from view.
No one seems to have made any enquiry as to why this case never came to court, although the farmers involved boasted openly of the power of their judicial connections.

Of course society cannot tolerate individual acts of vengeance.
That is why we have law and judicial institutions, to keep the wolves from the throats of the lambs.

But when the wolves are welcomed into the fold of  the judicial system....where are the lambs to turn?

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Tuesday 5 October 2010

Facebook, Bin Laden ....and 'outrage'.

Facebook logoImage via Wikipedia
I gave myself a bit of a shock, recently.
A blog I follow seemed to be in overdrive...every few minutes it would spit out references to other blogs and, Pavlovian bitch that I am, I looked at them and others on their blogrolls.

I have thus subjected myself to a photograph of a couple of roses wallowing in a vase, gushings about French breakfasts, French bloody markets, French sodding croissants, and while I'm on the subject, gathered from other unwise clickings of the mouse, a complaisant apologia for the appalling neglect of French hunting dogs and any number of other horrors, all masquerading under the heading of French life and culture.

For goodness' sake, get your nose out of the pain brioche and smell the acrid Robusta coffee!
There's a whole other France out there beyond the net curtains that only stretch half way down the window.

Just look at the national response to Bin Laden's sooner do British and American governments tell their citizens not to go to France because someone will blow them up in the Paris metro than the train drivers announce that they are going on strike.

No trains, no terrorist attempts. French logic in action.

Good job France has alert, public spirited strikers, because I don't think the gendarmerie have the time to hunt down terrorists, anymore than they have the time to hunt down French born 'travelling people', burglars or anyone causing real problems for French citizens.

They are not likely to be under attack themselves, after all, locked into their stations as they are and guarded by a recorded message on the answerphone at the gate which states that they are not available while they peer at you through the net curtains that hide their activities from the public who pay them.

And with 'vigipirate' in effect as well, they will even have crash barriers outside the entrance so that you have to get out of your car some distance away and walk through the rain to get the thumbs down from the answerphone, while they peer at you etc.....

What are they doing in there?

They're looking at Facebook.

It has occurred to them that the modern French have become degenerate.
Instead of giving the gendarme a mouthful, face to kepi as it were, when given a ticket for speeding at 31 kilometres in a 30 kilometre zone, the new breed of Frenchman holds his tongue, goes home, and expresses himself on Facebook, thinking thus to spew his bile without running the risk of an arrest for 'outrage'.

The new breed of Frenchman reckons without the new breed of IT savvy gendarmerie.....skills honed on years of playing solitaire on the station computer....
As a gentleman in Brittany found out when, having expressed his views fully and frankly on Facebook  following an interview with the gendarmerie, he was hauled into court and given three years in the jug...for 'outrage'.
The gendarmerie had followed him on Facebook.

I don't suppose the gendarmerie thought this up seems to me that the bit of the French population that is employed spends its' leisure hours on Facebook bitching about its' bosses, while the bosses spend their working hours inspecting Facebook for any unfavourable mention of themselves or their enterprises in order to sack the employees responsible.

I am eternally thankful that I could never fathom Facebook.
It would have had me locked up in the Chateau d'If years ago.

Still at least I haven't written a book.

If you want to laugh...and then look at your tax bill and 'Absolument de-bord-ee!', which describes the experience of a young woman working in the 'international relations' department of the Aquitaine Regional Council.
For 'international relations' read 'getting money from the European Union'.

She describes her working life....
Making the 'work' stretch out over the time available in which to perform it while maintaining an air of activity....
Licking the boots of the monkeys higher up the tree...
Learning one of the arts described so well by P.G. Wodehouse's Mr. Mulliner, that of being a 'nodder' to the bosses...
And being careful not to upset the hopeless and helpless family connections of prominent local figures who had been found jobs in this department to keep them off the breadline at  public expense.

Unfortunately one of the monkeys could read....and she has been suspended on no pay for ten months.

Jobs for the boys is one of the great institutions in the land of liberty, fraternity  and equality.

The big wheels have the liberty to use the fraternity of their mates to install their useless offspring on a footing of equality with those who had to work hard to qualify for the job.

I saw a television programme about this some time ago...when a presenter solemnly explained that these dumbos were ideally suited for the posts to which they were appointed, because they had grown up among important people and had thus osmosis?....the talents and experience necessary.

So that explains Prince Charles, then.
And Jean Sarkozy.

Still, let us give thanks for the striking train drivers in the fight against terrorism because the only chance the gendarmerie has of finding Bin Laden is if he falls into a road trap while being driven by one of his wives in full winding which point she will be given a fine for not being in full control of the vehicle.

But as long as he keeps his mouth shut he will be all right...unless he expresses himself on Facebook later.
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