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 December 2010

Take down that tree house....Pericles doesn't like it.

Pericles' Funeral OrationImage via Wikipedia
You have been spending the winter break planning home improvements for next year and one project that interests you, now the children are old enough, is to build a tree house in that big oak at the edge of the lawn.

You look on the net for pictures and ideas, then, as enthusiasm grows, for technical details and potential suppliers of materials.
You settle on a design and place your orders, still on the net.

In late spring your materials arrive and you get to work...there are unforeseen problems but by mid June the project is completed and you stand back, well deserved glass in hand, feeling  proud of the results.

The children are delighted.

The summer visitors have been inviting themselves, as usual...the dates arranged by e mail...and the more adventurous want to sleep in the tree house. As the main house will be bursting at the seams all summer, you think this is a good idea and e mail back accordingly.

The first intrepid tree house lodgers arrive and all is going swimmingly until the arrival of the gendarmerie.

You have forty eight hours in which to take down the tree house.

Why? What's wrong? It's just a tree house for the kids!

Ah...but you have no planning permission, and anyway it is hazardous - just look at that rope ladder - and insalubrious - where is the loo? -  and you are lodging people in it, Madame d'Enculade saw them through her binoculars yesterday, so it has to come down in the interests of preventing unscrupulous landlords from taking advantage of disadvantaged people.

Further, this is no last minute have been planning to set this up for months.

Yes, of course, I was sourcing stuff on the net.

We know.

And the so called lodgers are friends who wanted to try it out.

We know.

How do you know?

Pericles told us.

Who the hell is Pericles?

Let us leave the scene and ask ourselves the same question.

Just who is Pericles?

Well the one that first comes to mind  is the Athenian politican of the fifth century B.C. who was responsible for enslaving the Greek colonies and lesser states under the yoke of his city in return for  'protection' from the Persians, responsible for the decline of his city by its involvement in the crippling Peloponnesian Wars against Sparta and responsible for the extension of voting rights in the city to the poorer classes.....just as long as they were not women, slaves or people with a foreign parent.
In other words, one of the fathers of democracy as we are taught to know it.

But he's dead, so it can't be this Pericles who is the gendarmerie's nark, their informant.

And it's unlikely to be Pericles, Prince of Tyre, as he seems to be all at sea and thus a most unlikely source.

So there must be another...and indeed there is.
Pericles is the information database to be set up in France by Loppsi 2.

Loppsi 2?

Something to do with flopsy bunny?

No. More like Mr. McGregor.
Legislation to secure the internal security of France.
Whatever that might mean.

What it seems to mean is that, using the suppression of paedophilia on the net as an excuse, the gendarmerie can decide...all on its introduce spyware on someone's computer for up to four months before being forced to involve a judge in the process.
The opinion of the gendarmerie is all that is required.....and given their interest in Facebook (here) I wouldn't give much for the chances of objective analysis when deciding whose computer to infiltrate.

You can picture the behind the never open gate and the net curtains, the gendarmerie gather.

Well, we'd better produce some figures...wouldn't do to look slack when the cuts are going on. Who have we got?

What about the ex senator...Sanshonte? With his interests you'd be bound to make a few discoveries....

Discoveries which we don't want to make. You're new here, you won't remember the job we had keeping that girl's father quiet....but if there's a chance of the Left getting into power in 2012 then might be handy....fine, go ahead but keep the reports in this carbon paper in the typewriter either.

So who else?

I wouldn't mind keeping my eye on my notaire...he's been sitting on my money for a month now....

No, I see what you mean...good idea...that's the notaires then. But no carbon paper either...O.K.?

So what about the foreigners?

Good idea, Lamerde! They could be up to anything! Even logging on to that subversive site French Leave...!
Or worse...Maitre Eolas!
And while you're at it, check them all out on Pericles...see if the buggers are paying their taxes or fiddling their healthcare, or if their kids have been backsquadded at school....

Thus the gendarmerie.....

Meanwhile as always with modern legislative processes, there is a core Bill, to which expedient measures will be tacked at the last minute...and Loppsi 2 is no exception.

Given the government's need to attract the Front National vote, measures aimed at non conformity with the French norm have been felt to be necessary so, attached to Loppsi 2 are measures which entitle a prefect...Paris's man in the evict people from housing which does not meet the hazardous, insabubrious, etc....which, while stated to be in the interests of tenants is actually aimed at squatters, travelling people and those who live in yurts.

I must admit that the latter are usually so self satisfied that I am almost with the government on this, but this is a purely subjective opinion  and must be overcome.

So, when you are planning that tree house remember...Pericles is watching you.

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Friday, 24 December 2010

What I'm missing this Christmas

Is what used to be the high spot of the winter fruit bowl....a juicy, perfumed Passe Crassane pear, the tip of the stalk dipped in red wax to avoid evaporation......

And a few bunches of Chasselas grapes cut from the vine when just ripe and left with the stalks in water and the fruit supported on orange boxes until Christmas.
Edith showed me this and it will be the first Christmas for years that I won't be eating fruit from my own vines.

So I'll just have to make do with pineapple and guava....

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Test Post

Just a test as Blogger won't allow me to put up page posts and have tried everything I normally do without avail

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party...

First day of 2008 at the Elysée Palace 2Image by Ammar Abd Rabbo via Flickr
President Sarkozy's party, that is......and we're not talking a knees up in the Elysee Palace while Carla sings to a small guitar....

In the rush to break your leg on the ice in the supermarket car park on the news that Birds Custard powder has been sighted on the Exotic Produce shelf of super U you might be forgiven for not noticing that next year is 2011.
You'll worry about that next week, when the remains of the turkey have been surreptitiously given to the dog and you're again risking life and limb in the Super U car park for the whisky without which no New Year can be said to have properly arrived and the Jagermeister without which no January 1st can be safely negotiated.

What's so special about 2011?

Because it's the year before 2012.  Presidential election year in France.

So next year, 2011, President Sarkozy will be passing among you, pressing the flesh, in his bid to win a second term in the Elysee Palace as the candidate of the right wing UMP.

It isn't only the individual voter he has to is also his own party whose barons now see what a mistake they made in putting a potential reformer of their quaint Spanish practices into power and have spent the last three years stalling any initiative he tried to make, thus bringing themselves and Sarkozy into opinion poll disfavour.
They would love to ditch him...and he knows it, so he's coming out swinging in 2011 to remove any potential challenger from the ring.

Thus flesh pressing.

Not any flesh it must be said.

Sarkozy will not be passing among you at the vin d'honneur for the retirement of the local fire brigade sergeant, for example...too much risk of encountering people like Papy, over ninety - so might not make it to the election anyway - dressed in the traditional male fashion of rural France - battered plaid cap with, depending on the season, one or two layers of cardigan - and smelling strongly of medicinal spirits.

It is felt that a photograph of the President with Papy would attract only a limited section of the potential  electorate....and there is also the risk that Papy might ask the President to do something about replacing the 'cattle crossing' sign down the road from his farm which was removed in mysterious circumstances in 1992.
Sarkozy is known to be testy under such circumstances....and Papy has form as well.

No, the flesh to be pressed will be that of sections of the electorate who normally vote right wing but who have felt aggrieved at the action or inaction of the man they put into power.
This is a risky project.....
Go near a farmer whose spoon has been removed from the gravy and he is likely to throw something that spoils a good suit.....likewise a fisherman whose ability to scrape the very floor of the sea clean of fish has been limited.

So this is where you come in.

If you are a British immigrant, you will be anxious to assist the man who  has offered to rush to the defence of British interests (here) with his aircraft carrier that can't leave port without the propeller falling off or the crew being short of Alka Seltzer.

You will also be aware, because all the books on living in France have told you so, that there is only one thing in France that goes down better than integration and that is ingratiation.

So here is your chance to show your gratitude and get on the local Prefect's New Year card list.
Don't ring him just yet, though...he will have things on his mind.

The Prefects...and police chiefs....of France will probably be on their knees solidly over the festive season
a) praying that the President doesn't decide to press the flesh in their bailiwick
b) practising to get their heads on a level with his if he does.

Why this reluctance to welcome the Head of State?
Because he is somewhat testy....and, like Papy, has form.
Fail to sort out his mother in law's septic tank problem (here) and bang goes the pretty uniform and the grace and favour're still a Prefect, because being a public servant you can't be sacked, but your future lies in a cupboard in Limoges, where you will also find the police chief who let demonstrators within shouting distance of the Presidential convoy and the Prefect who provided only tall people to surround Sarkozy at a photo shoot.

It doesn't take much to upset him.
You may remember the matter of the voodoo dolls.
These Sarkozy lookalikes (not far off for size, either) were covered in quotes from his election campaign and were sold with a set of pins to stick into the said quotes.
The President was upset.
He had sole rights to his image...he said...and these dolls were next thing to an incitement to he sued.
An appeal court finally decided that a ban on the dolls would be going too far, in the interests of freedom of expression.....but did ordain that the manufacturers must provide the dolls with stickers warning that sticking pins into a presidential image was offensive to the presidential dignity.

Goodness only knows what would be his reaction if someone were to manufacture a squeaky rubber Sarkozy as a dog toy.

Those dog owners who lived under the rule of Mrs. Thatcher must remember that best selling line...the squeaky Thatcher.
The sheer joy of watching a dog rip her head off was worth the price.
On good weekends I'd buy two.

I can't see Thatcher worrying about the dog toys...probably the only reaction would have been to buy a couple to sit in for her for at  Cabinet Meetings so that she could go off to handbag  the European Union...but Sarkozy is sensitive and it is this sensitivity and the consequences of rousing it which will be ruining the digestion of highly placed public officials over Christmas.......for the visits start in January.

Two a week.

Apart from  making sure that there is no snow, there are two main imperatives for the visits.
The President must be surrounded by vertically challenged people and the said v.c.p.s must under no circumstances heckle.

The British, as so often,  have the solution and once the visit schedule is announced, you may ring the Prefect and put him out of his misery.

Garden gnomes.

They're small....imperative one.
They don't heckle...imperative two.

They have many varieties so it will be no problem to find one that is felt to be appropriate......

The ones with fishing rods for meetings with whatever the Chasse, Peche, Nature version of the Front National now calls itself.....

The portly ones for the meetings with the Chamber of Commerce.....

The  ones holding rakes and wheelbarrows for meeting with expenses claiming local councillors....

I strongly advise you, however, not to offer the Prefect the version photographed here as the President might feel that some allusion was being made to his wife's private life.

I have seen gnome moulds for sale on Anglo Info, so this will be a way for all those auto entrepreneurs who thought they had got out of paying the taxe professionelle only to fall foul of the tax on the value of their business premises to start saving for next year's thrilling fiscal innovation.

So, forget the board games by the fire over Christmas......nip into Brico Depot for cement and paint instead and get the family on the production line.

Your local Prefect will be eternally grateful.

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Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Snowy scenes

Having just acquired an external hard drive I have been busy loading photographs onto it from the computer...I have lost the contents of too many computers in the past to risk it again and am inordinately pleased with myself for getting the thing to work.

Again, as with anything computer related which works, I am always grateful to Ayak, thanks to whose encouragement -  and instructions written so as to be understood rather than to totally mystify - I have now left behind the days of boiling my head and throwing heavy objects when faced with anything more complex than the capitals key.

Encouraged by my success with the photographs from the computer, I started to look through the boxes and envelopes of 'proper' photographs with a view to putting these too on the computer and then off to the hard drive, in case the tropical humidity gets to them one day and they turn into a mass of mouldy cardboard.

What a difference progress has made from the days of the Brownie and the snaps of people who seem to be either headless or legless....the costs of developing films of stuff out of focus...the light at the wrong angle...
Now I can see what I want to keep or discard on the digital camera and make a second choice when it gets to the computer and while I drooled at the possibilities opened up by the camera of one of our Belgian visitors, Anne-Mie - a Nikon D5000 which could zoom in and out and perform more tricks than a circus dog I think I'll stick to my little's about at my level of sophistication.
Press button ...take picture.  I can manage that.

Among the photographs were a few of my very first house in France.....some taken in summer with the swathe of  Monsieur Untel's larkspur running from the gates to the house and a couple taken in the winter against a looming sky...with snow on the ground.

Now, before moving to France I had never visited it in the dead of winter. Belgium, yes, in Ghent, freezing my feet to the ground while eating  frites with mayonnaise from a stand from which the ice had not melted despite the heat from the fryers, but not France.

As my first autumn ended, I was quite pleased with myself.
The house was reasonably draught-free, I had a woodburning stove and an open fireplace both with working chimneys and Jules had put me in the way of a trailer load of old barrel staves as well as the load of wood Monsieur Untel had negociated for me, so I was set.

I asked Papy about the winter.

Oh, nothing for you to worry're from England.

Wondering about the inchoate mass of supposition underlying that remark, but lacking the conversational capacity in Papy's patois to enquire further I carried on sawing up the barrel staves and putting off lighting the fire.

The autumn was golden and mild, ideal for beating the wilderness behind the house into a vegetable garden and it was not until just before Christmas that the evenings were chilly enough to make it desirable to have lit the stove in the afternoon for overall warmth with a burst in the open fire in the evening to make things cosy.
I found the remaining draughts, shut up the back door for the winter and stuffed fire retardant fibre round the edges of the register plates.
Things were going well.

Papy stopped on the crossroads and I remarked on the mildness of the climate for the time of year.

Oh, yes, always like that...haven't had snow for over ten years now...and then it was only for a day...

I remember thinking that all the stuff I had read about the mild climate of the Loire Valley - Atlantic weather pouring into it along the river to preserve it from the dreaded Continental climate - must have been true....which was about when, in early January, I woke in the dark hours of the early morning feeling like a leftover frite on the frozen cobbles of Ghent.

Never in all my puff had I been so cold.

It lasted for days...days when I realised that putting off insulating the roof until spring had been an error close to that of Hitler in not providing winter clothing for his troops invading Russia.

I moved my bed downstairs and blocked off the staircase.

I put pillows and duvets against the shuttered windows and boarded them in with packing cases.

I hung blankets against the doors.

I put more packing cases over the floors, where the chill was striking up through the tommettes.

I stuffed yet more cardboard round the water meter outside.

I moved a week's supply of wood inside to keep it warm and dry.

It felt like living in a dugout in Flanders...but without the whizzbangs.

Nothing moved post van, not even a tractor. Rural France had battened down the hatches.

I had started to worry about the wood supplies when one morning it felt milder and pulling back the blankets from the front door I stepped outside into a white world.
Snow had fallen, a heavy fall and I shot back inside for the camera.

It was while I was taking shots of the house that Papy passed again on the crossroads, his ancient Ami towing his granddaughter behind on skis which she was trying to keep inside one of his tyre tracks to maintain movement.

It was while trying to turn in time to take a photograph of such a sight that I tripped on the edge of the stone covering the water meter and measured my length in the snow, so that I have only memory to depend upon for the moment when winter sports came to St. Supplice.

Some days later, when the snow had melted, I met Papy again on the crossroads.

I thought you said it was always mild here.....!

Oh yes, it just get a cold snap now and again. Good for the crops...kills of all sorts of bugs and such.

Where did you get those skis from?

Up in the chateau, before he...with jerk of chin towards the chateau...took over. The six fesses used to go to the Alps every winter when they were young...I remember them driving to the station with the skis tied alongside the car.

You don't mean to say the six fesses (renowned for being as tight as a duck's arse) actually gave you them?

Well, no, of course not...but I knew they'd have no use for them...they were too poor to go to the Alps anymore..and it only snows here every ten years or so.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Gendarmes are cheap today....

GendarmesImage by caribb via Flickr
The less than edifying spectacle of the Bobigny Seven being sent down doesn't do much for the image of the police in France.

In short, these officers attempted to cover up injuring one of their number in a car chase by claiming that the perpetrator was the driver of the car they were pursuing.
They put their heads together, fabricated evidence and, having beaten up the designated victim, sought to charge him with the crime.

They have just been found guilty by the court at Bobigny and been sent the fury of their colleagues who have been demonstrating outside the court en masse, armed, as they are, to the teeth. is illegal to demonstrate wearing a mask...or burqua, come to that....but fine if armed.
After all, if it wasn't, the police would have broken it up, wouldn't they....?

You might think that higher authority would be pleased to have had some rotten apples removed from the barrel, but this is Sarkozy's France.....the Interior Minister, Monsieur Hortefeux, who boasts a criminal conviction for racist remarks, is shocked at the disproportionality of the sentences.

What lack of proportion does he discern?
The man they attempted to fit up risked a sentence of several years if found guilty.....these chaps received between six months and one year in the jug.

There seems to be an attitude on the part of authority that the police...and gendarmes (here).... are untouchable and unaccountable....a relic of the nineteenth century laws that made any employee of the state immune from prosecution unless his bosses in Paris agreed to it, the reason being that if people were allowed to prosecute the servants of the state the 'natural animosity' felt towards them would mean that they would not be able to take a step without the fear of prosecution.

It has a sort of French logic to it, I suppose.

Still, bad publicity shouldn't be allowed to cover up the sterling work done by the forces of law and order.....

Leaving the occupants of illegal gypsy camps to steal  anything not nailed to the ground for miles around while breathalysing pensioners on their way home from Sunday lunch with the family......

Refusing to come out to an incident of damage to a car and then arresting the complainant for outrage when he came to their heavily guarded fortress and was rash enough to complain to his mother on his mobile 'phone that they weren't interested in his little problems.....
Didn't their mothers ever tell them that listeners never hear any good of themselves, or did they take the maternal warning as an encouragement to up the rate of arrests for outrage?

Still, somebody loves them.

Andre, retired plumber, keen cyclist and president of the committee organising the annual cycle race round the local villages which attracts quite a few sponsored teams.

I was talking to his wife on Skype and she said that he is in despair about the 2011 race.


Because the price of the gendarmes is going up.

Suppressing the cynical thought that it was a bit much if the tariff for buying a gendarme was public knowledge  I sought enlightenment.

Well, for the insurance, there have to be gendarmes to control things....the sponsors' cars and all that...and the busier crossings.....

Interjection from Andre

Like when that godon of a rosbif nearly drove through the peloton!

Reference being made to the never-to-be-forgotten-by-Andre incident when  Mr. Poubelle, supremely self confident English expat, mistook the frantic waving of one of the race marshals for tribute to his status and, giving a royal wave, crossed the junction in one direction about two seconds before the first of the riders arrived on it at right angles.

As the rider said later
I could see myself in his car window...getting bigger and bigger....

And...wife resuming control of the telephone....they've been 2 Euros an hour for years and now they're going up to 12.4!

Only in France would a fee go up to something involving a decimal place...there must be one of those curses of France, a coefficient, in there somewhere.

And it'll be 20 Euros by 2014...Andre's had a circular from his association about it!

Well, that race has been going for years...but it's not a major event in the cycling world and it usually just about manages to break even, so an increase in the gendarme bit of the budget is going to hit the organisers really hard.
With local government already suffering the demise of the taxe professionelle and the influx of civil servants from central government to local government budgets there's not that much public money about for events, know it's serious when the local council won't pay for the vin d' it's no good Andre looking for an increase in the subsidy - he'll be lucky if it isn't reduced.
Local firms are feeling the pinch's not a good outlook.

I have an idea...but no one would take it's just wishful thinking on my part.

If the gendarmerie would nip out on a Sunday and instead of breathalysing pensioners start handing out tickets to the lycra clad perverts who ride their bikes four abreast on the main road so that you can't overtake them and are forced to watch their multi coloured backsides jiggling about for miles, and if the money so raised could go to paying the gendarmes for their presence at the cycle race then Andre and his committee would be happy and the roads of rural France would be free of that crime against aesthetics, the French Sunday cyclist.

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Thursday, 2 December 2010

Are you ready for the seventh of December?

Eric Cantona (Manchester United Museum)Image by edwin.11 via Flickr
Tuesday the seventh of December 2010 is when you can make a stand.

You are, no doubt, somewhat less than appreciative of government action which preserves the ability of bailed out banks to pay vast bonuses to the crooks they employ at the expense of the general taxpayer...who is, no doubt, suffering from the said banks' unwillingness to advance one kopek of the money garnered from said taxpayer to assist same in promoting its business affairs despite the general creditworthiness of the taxpayer concerned.

Eric Cantona has a suggestion.

You remember Eric Cantona...surely?

The footballer whose psychoanalyst suggested that he play football in England rather than in France after calling each and every member of the French Football Federation  'an idiot' at  a disciplinary hearing after throwing the ball at the referee on disagreeing with that august person's decision....he got a three month suspension rather than the one month normal on such abnormal occasions..
I reckon the panel was lucky he that he wasn't  carrying his football boots at the time of the hearing given his reactions to disappointment while he played for Nimes.

He then played in the English Football League with much success..the English are used to eccentrics...until, after being sent off for a foul that managed to attract a referee's attention, he encountered some antagonism in the crowd which he countered by a Kung Fu kick...

Subsequent media attention was countered with the quote

'When seagulls follow the trawler  its because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.'
This alone tells you that he was French footballer, not an English one, even though his family's origins are in Sardinia and that he, from an immigrant family, was a forerunner of the famous 'Black, Blanc, Beur, (Black, White, Mahgrebi) team which won the World Cup in 1998.
The team which was supposed to represent the triumph of integration of foreigners into French society.

Just don't look at the Paris suburbs since.

Well,since his glory days Cantona  has appeared in many commercials, has been a small part film actor and has produced a film himself.

Cantona has reacted to the economic crisis too....

He is of the opinion that the lack of  effective control of the banks...because the big banks control governments...has let banks, rather than governments control economic the detriment of the average chap.

Well the IRA could have told him that banks control governments years ago...recent experience just confirms it.

The IRA contested British control of Northern Ireland...and they took  heed of the  tenets of public international  law, which lays down characteristics which enable a state to be recognised as such....control of its borders, taxation, police functions - thus the kneecapping operatives and slush finds - but finding this not to be sufficient, they attacked the British mainland.

I have never been altogether clear which bombings were the work of the IRA and which were the work of British security services....and Wikileaks wasn't around at the time to enlighten me....but one of the few happy memories of the time was the picture of the cabinet ministers emerging from 10 Downing Street after the IRA had landed a mortar bomb in the garden of the Prime Minister's official residence, launched through the roof of a builders' van from a road nearby.
They all looked as though a swift change of underwear would have been in order and I remember thinking that a few more near misses might make them a little less happy to send poor people's children off to fight America's wars.

However, attacking civilians in pubs or government ministers in their bunkers brought no the IRA turned their attention to the City of London...home of the banks and the financial services industry.

Two bombs in the City was all it took to bring the British government to heel.
A more impressive demonstration of the power of the bankers could not have been desired.....

Until the round of bail outs in recent years.

Anyway, Eric Cantona has had enough of banks... their greed, their criminality and their deleterious effects on society.
Not for him demonstrating in the streets, though.
He, being French, knows just what a con that is apart from which he doesn't have a union to design the placards. (here)

He  has a much better idea.

If everyone were to withdraw their money from the banks, he says, the banks would collapse.
This would be, in the words of 1066 and All That, a Good Thing and Utterly Memorable.

He wants everyone to go to their bank on Tuesday the seventh of December and withdraw their ukkers.
The idea being that if everyone does it on the same day the banks can't play pass the parcel and shore each other up while waiting for governments to ride to the rescue once again.

Fiendishly clever, Monsieur Cantona....and you notice it has a very French twist to it.

I suspect that Monsieur Cantona is a customer of Credit Agricole....which generally does not open on Mondays.

So, get that mattress slit's hour has come!

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