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.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Cry God for curry, Tesco and Saint George...

henry v of england Painting is in "The Ro...Image via Wikipedia

Jean Paul?

Is it safe?

Quickly.......that's it. We can put the light back on now, Clement....
What's the situation  Jean Paul?

Bad, Maurice, very bad.
The rosbifs are in control of the area...they've welded the gendarmes into their barracks......they've occupied the mairie...they've put up a notice...

What does it say?

I don't know. It's in English.

Isn't this typical! We get invaded and where are our leaders? Where are the gendarmerie? It's all left to us poor buggers on the ground to organise something to protect the soil of France!

Reminds me of 1940.....three weeks I spent in trains, being sent here and there...anywhere from the Alps to Lorient...while the Germans were rolling over the border in their tanks....

Yes, all right, Victor, but that was then and this is now and it's not the Germans, it's the English.

Worse! At least the Germans paid for what they can't be so sure with the English...look at poor Valentin!
Four times he repaired that window he put in...four times...and when it still leaked and he had to put in that stupid Velux the godon had originally given him to put it when any fool would have known that it wouldn't work and put in the bill for his extra time the bastard wouldn't pay him!
You wouldn't get that with the Germans. No, knew where you were with them...

Yes, Victor...probably shot.

Don't get him started, Clement...before you know it he'll be singing 'Marechal, nous voila' and painting 'Travail, Famille, Patrie' on the walls.
And what about the security services? Running around after everything in a turban and missing all this under their noses.
It's not as if there wasn't plenty of warning....

Yes, but be fair, Maurice...with all this terrorism about they've probably been recruiting Arab speakers....I don't suppose many of them understand English.......let alone look at the internet forums for the English in France.
And anyway, who'd take it seriously,anyway....the English taking back their old provinces! It's a joke! And you know how the English like their jokes! No one would take it seriously....

Well I'm taking it seriously! Having your country over run by foreigners....

Not all of fair, Maurice. We're just unlucky enough to be living in one of their ancient possessions....

I suppose you think that makes it all right!

No, but look.....they're trying to be reasonable.
Given all the legislation on equality, they have a point when they say that Salic Law should not have been applied in 1328, as France did not form part of the Salic lands, and so Edward of England should have been King of France and the whole country should belong to them now....excluding Roussillon Languedoc, of course, and Nice ...and Savoy...and the Jura...and Alsace Lorraine...

So they're being quite fair in only wanting back Aquitaine, Maine, Anjou, Normandy and Calais...

Fair! I've had enough of fair!
Look at them and their 'fair play'...their cricket...
What's 'fair' about trying to hit someone in the family jewels with a leather ball at one hundred kilometres per hour?
What's 'fair' about eleven on to one?

Look how sneakily they bottled up the chasse...the very people who should be out shooting them now...

Yes, where are the chasse?

Welded into their dog runs...that's where. There was a co ordinated attack on their houses with tear gas....they took their shotguns and welded them into their own runs...took the dogs too....left the poor buggers shut up with only a bowl of water and some stale crusts..
No, Victor...not the dogs...their owners...

Tear gas, Maurice? Are you sure?

Yes, look. Arthur brought round one of the empty bottles....look....

M A L T  V I N E G A R.

They threw the bottles through the windows and followed up. The chasse didn't stand a chance...

How did they get hold of it?

Ah, that's where they're sneaky....the authorities should never have let them start bringing 'shopping' from England in those white must have seen them in Benitierville.
They come every week or so and all the English pick up their goods from them rather than going to Super U or Leclerc...that's how they smuggled the tear gas through in such quantities...under the very noses of the gendarmerie.

What do you mean,'s all the fault of the Tourist Board?

Well, putting up those posters on the road

'Route des Rois d'Angleterre'

Gave the rosbifs ideas, didn't it?
Fifth columnists, the Tourist Board......if it wasn't for them we'd never have had the English here in the first place.

What's that noise?
Put the light out, Clement.
Who's there?

It's me...Jean Francois.

Oh, come in then. O.K. Clement, switch the light back on.
What's the news?

I've got a copy of the notice they put up at the mairie...the fish and chip van is giving them out...

The 'what' van?

The 'poisson frites' son has translated it.


They've declared UDI...

No shame!
Fancy trumpeting from the house tops that you have a sexually transmitted disease!

No, not SIDA...a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. They've declared independence from France....and from the European Union.

They're going to open a branch of Tesco....the English version of Carrefour....and 'Chez Antoine' will be turned into an Indian restaurant...

They go too far....

But there's something else, Maurice...
They're abolishing the Euro!

What? Abolishing the Euro!
Clement......give us all a glass of the Coteaux d'Aubance while we think this over....
Abolishing the Euro, you say?

Well, there might be room for negotiation after all...

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Friday, 26 August 2011

Danton and Patrie en Danger.

Morel voiced the character ObelixImage via Wikipedia
In the aftermath of the French Revolution, the monarchical powers of Europe went to war against this upstart nation, determined to crush these upwellings of liberty. France was endangered, its new armies stretched to the limit.

Georges Danton, leader of one of the revolutionary factions, was asked how the opposing forces could possibly be beaten. He replied

'With boldness, more boldness and continuing boldness.' (1)

France once again is in danger....of losing its AAA rating.....and the Prime Minister, Francois Fillon, as befits the son of an historian,  has taken Danton's words to heart.

As part of the austerity measures announced to make up France's deficit he has boldly announced that the VAT charged on the admissions to theme parks will increase from 5.5 per cent to 19.6.

Let speculators tremble.

Even more boldly, he has announced that there will be an increased tax on fizzy drinks - a double blow to the visitors to Disneyland and Parc Asterix - not only to raise money, goodness me no, but because the sugar added to these drinks leads to obesity.

Let Standard and Poor retreat.

And just when the parent who has rashly promised his tax efficient family of three children a visit to a theme park reaches for the cup which cheers and also inebriates he learns of the continuing boldness of Monsieur Fillon....a further tax on strong liquor.

Let bankers breathe again.

France is saved!

(1) Pour les vaincre, Messieurs, il faut de l'audace, encore de l'audace, toujours de l'audace et la France est sauvée.’

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Wednesday, 24 August 2011

What Madame does not understand is...

plates!Image by jima via Flickr
I was clearing out the crockery cupboard last week and found that the bottom plate in the pile of Limoges porcelain was cracked.
Goodness only knows...earthquake, perhaps?
I'll recycle it as a plant saucer, but it seems a shame...those plates have been keeping my food hot for a long time...plain white, a bit out of sync in places which is why they were seconds and put out as not worth decorating, but they suited me well.

Any thoughts of ignoring the cracks and using it for food were quelled at once by a vision of my maternal grandmother's expression at such a heresy.
She was very hot on cracked china...she would return from a local charity bun fight uttering the dire words...

'There was a cracked cup.....'

Since in her view the things that lurked in the cracks of chinaware were akin  to the beings inhabiting the Dungeon Dimension, as a child I always expected to see outbreaks of black death, bubonic plague, ergotism or at the very least cholera being reported in the next issue of the local rag......

'Bowls club struck by botulism'........

'Malaria decimates 'Mothers Union'.....

But I was always disappointed.

Since nothing seemed to occur to those who drank from cracked cups I decided to ignore her views on loo seats too and duly sat on the things rather than hovering above them in the approved fashion like a slip fielder waiting for a catch....until I went to France.

Iconoclastic I may be....downright daft, not.
One look at the average French loo in my time made me wonder if I risked ending up like the patients in the Billy Connolly sketch about the VD clinic, sidling up to the entrance hidden behind newspapers with holes cut for the eyes to a chorus of
'Filthy beast! Serves ye right!'   from the ladies living nearby.
Not that there was usually a seat, anyway. Wylye Girl has theories....

Still, emerging from the loo.....

I was catching up on  A Broad with a View's post describing her journey down to her house in the Quercy , where she mentions passing through the Limousin on her way to her enchanted kingdom.

I had visited the Limousin when I had made up my mind to move to France....I had narrowed down the choices to four areas and was making a serious attempt to make a decision, staying in gites for a few weeks at a time, trying to get a feel for the area.

The attraction of the Limousin? It wasn't hot and it was cheap. Not the most romantic of reasons to choose it, but heat leaves me like a clubbed fish, while spending more money than I have to is like drawing teeth.

I had explored parts of it before while on holiday...around Ussel and Tulle where every side trip seemed to reveal more relics of the old railway system....but in the cold light of winter, those grey towns seemed depressing...the plateau de Millevaches more like a dreich day on the Moor of I thought I'd try further up toward Limoges itself.

There was a lot for sale, but not what I wanted...either in a village which I knew I didn't want or so far out that every trek to go shopping would have involved a whole day....and property out in the sticks seemed to have far too much land attached to it while I wanted something manageable.
Beautiful countryside, but the housing just didn't do it.

Not even the best pork pie I have ever eaten and the local vin de paille could overcome the disadvantages, so I packed my traps and prepared to try another region.

Thus it was that I began to pass roadside stands and buildings offering Limoges porcelain for sale.
It occurred to me that I was likely to be passing that way but once, so I stopped and went to see what was on offer.

Clearly, what was on offer was seconds, rejected before decorating, I supposed, or just simply rejected, but there was a wide range of stuff, from soup tureens to ramekin dishes.

No mention of price, of course.....this was France.

I went for plates, and asked the woman in charge for a dozen.
She wrapped them up and I paid.
The price was certainly not seconds...well, not by the standards of buying seconds in the Potteries....but I wanted them.

I was just putting them away when the notion of passing that way but once returned to me....I'd better check them before leaving.

I unwrapped them one by one....every second one was cracked.

P.G. Wodehouse has remarked that one has no difficulty in distinguishing between a ray of sunshine and a Scotsman with a grievance...and I was certainly not resembling a ray of sunshine as I returned to the stand.

I would like these replaced, please.

Oh, no, have to take them as they come.

Well they didn't come from the pile I looked at....and how can you possibly sell cracked plates at full price?

Full price! What Madame does not understand is that the price she would be paying for the finished article in a specialist shop would be far higher...

This is a specialist shop. It says it sells Limoges porcelain. It doesn't say it is a shop specialising in cracked Limoges porcelain.

But Madame, you don't understand. You have paid and left with the merchandise. There is nothing I can do about it.

Yes, I have the bill. For plates. Not broken crockery. I would like plates.

Impossible Madame...the transaction has finished.

Not at all. Here are the cracked plates....I shall now take six that are not. No...don't worry..I'll wrap them myself...

I suppose I was lucky that she was on her own and that this was long before the age of the mobile 'phone, or I'd have been banged up in the gendarmerie station instead of bowling happily away from the Limousin, plates safely stowed in the boot.

But it was a precursor of what was to come over the years of living in France.
Transactions that one would think of as normal would turn into surreal all of which the common factor was that Madame did not understand....

Madame did not understand that the repairman who undertook work on her fridge while it was under guarantee would take it upon himself to scrap it without so much as a by your leave...

Madame did not understand that a builder who had been told to lay a damp course dry lined the kitchen instead while she was away thus mucking up the kitchen layout irretrievably...

Madame did not understand that a roofer who installed a leaky roof light assumed he would be paid again for replacing it with the velux originally ordered and paid for.....

And Madame will never understand why, when cancelling an insurance policy three months before expiry by registered letter as required by the insurance crooks, she receives a saucy reply informing her that she has to cancel the policy three months before the expiry date by registered letter......the said saucy reply dated one day after the three month limit.

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Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Costa Rica silent....

I really cannot fathom Blogger.

I posted on my other blog today...and it doesn't get posted to the people who follow it.

I've done all the usual voodoo....comments to pop up format....'yes' to post pages....edit and save as draft....take it off selected time to automatic and usually one or all of the voodoo elements works....but this time they don't.

And it's certainly no good asking Blogger.

So it's off for the wax and pins....unless anyone out there has a suggestion?

Sunday, 7 August 2011

So much for the croissants....

Croissant, of unknown origin, associated with ...Image via Wikipedia
Throughout my time in rural France croissants have haunted me....not that I wanted to eat them, you understand - one bite of greasy dough which leaves  industrial fat coating the inside of the mouth is enough to have the hand reaching for the oatcakes, and that goes for 'pain chocolat' too.

And if anyone mentions 'macarons' I'll be tempted to stuff one of the pastel coloured monstrosities where it won't see the light of day.
Your choice which end.

From this you will immediately be aware that I did not frequent elegant 'salons du the' in Paris - indeed, I am not sure I would have beeen tolerated in same, not being given to spending two hours in the morning applying make up with a trowel only to spend a further two hours in the evening taking it off with a chipping hammer.

Rather, my experience was in la France Profonde, where the local baker...or 'artisan boulanger' as he prefers to be known....fabricates razor edged bricks from ready mix dough while his croissants...if he bothers to make any...use more palm oil than the populace of a West African country undertaking the obligatory spontaneous celebrations on the re-election of their democratically elected dictator.

And as for macarons....

Guests saw it differently.
To guests, France equalled croissants.
So, at the start of the visiting season, I would hunt around for a source of semi-acceptable croissants and freeze a load as a back up, but inevitably, guests had been getting genned up on life in France and would insist on buying them at  their (my) local ready mix merchant with the result that the kitchen smelt of industrial fat as they reheated the morning haul.

Over the period of this blog I think I have managed to disgust and repel most of the 'living the dream' fraternity but just in case one or two are still lurking out there I should say that of course there are bakers who can make decent croissants.....that a decent croissant can be pleasant from time to time and that I'm sure the living the dreamers all have one of these wonderful bakers in their village......but I didn't.
After my first baker in my first village, who was still using a wooden trough to knead his dough and refused to make croissants, the rest were all ready mix men, hand in glove with the pharmacy for a cut of the sales of healing gel for the gums scarred and bleeding from the razor wire crusts of their bread.

So why, all those years ago when I was about to buy my first house in France, would I have given anything for a croissant?

Because I was starving, that's why.

I had arrived to sign the acte de vente only to find that the hotel I had planned to use was shut for the winter and that I was thus forced to spend the night in the car on the town square with the local police circling my car like indians round the wagon train..
Worse, although I had found a loo...of sorts...the town offered nothing to eat.

The town, in fact, was closed for the night, shutters bolted across, doors locked and lighting at a minimum.

I had had lunch on the way, but all that remained of my travel supplies was a cheese sandwich and a cup of coffee in the thermos and the only effect of devouring these was to make me feel ravenously hungry, so, having spent a night trying to haul the car rug over differing extremities in turn, the dawn could not have come early enough.
The car had that frowsty smell of human occupation so the cold damp morning air was welcome as I got out to stretch my legs and look for a cafe.
The sight of my reflection in a shop window was enough to send me straight back to the car for a comb while the moist chill reminded me that I needed a loo...and not the one of the night before.
I had a feeling that it had been better to have experienced that one under cover of darkness rather than be obliged to recognise the full horror of it in the dim light of morning.


The railway station, of course.
All stations have loos and a number of stations have cafes nearby.
I could answer the call of nature, clean myself up, change into clothes fit for meeting estate agents and lawyers and...get something to eat.


Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.

The station's amenities had declined sadly from the days when it formed part of the main line from Paris to Bordeaux, a status it had lost some fifty years back when the then minister responsible for transport was considering an alternative route and made an official visit of enquiry.
It is thought that being greeted by an angry crowd of railwaymen pelting him with ordure may have had some influence on the minister's decision, but, be that as it may, the station building was rather shabby and..more to the point...firmly shut.

Luckily, these were the days before the war on terror when it was unofficially recognised that one might need access to sites of use and interest...rubbish dumps, etc....out of office hours, so there was, as I expected, a section of the wire fence lying open and I gained access to the platform.
Equally, in those days, doors to public toilets were not thought necessary...there being nothing worth stealing I could walk through the open doorway to reach the facilities.

Armed with soap, towel ,toothbrush and toothpaste you would be surprised how quickly you can wash and change your clothes on a chilly February morning with no door between you and the elements, so I was back at the car in short order, looking for food.

Up the road, the grille in front of the Cafe de la Gare was slowly being raised in rythm with my hopes and I headed that way.
The man with the broom motioned me away.

Open? Now? What did I think?

He'd be at least half an hour. There were no customers at this time of day....

His customer went back to the car and drove slowly into the town centre looking and sniffing for somewhere serving at least a coffee.
One might have been, in the words of Para Handy 'Chust wan of Brutain's hardy sons' (or dochters), but a warm drink on a cold morning would have relieved the misery of being one of said hardy sons in the middle of rural France on a winter's day.

I stopped again on the town square, left the car and sniffed the air. Nothing.

I walked down into the shopping area. Nothing.

I walked back and found a faint whiff of something acrid on the air. I followed it to the far end of the car park.

There was a small cafe with lights on behind the firmly closed door. I pushed...and it opened!
I ordered my coffee and sat at a wooden table by the window, tired to death and wondering how I was to get through the day.

The acrid whiff came across in full force as the barman reached for a thick white cup, filled it with boiling water from his machine and ladled into it a good spoonful of something from a tin.

Instant coffee?
Something infinitely worse whose acquaintance would be renewed over the years when visiting elderly friends.
A blend of coffee and chicory root with the latter leading by several lengths.
Bitter. Coarse. Infinitely foul...but as Edith was later to tell me, much better than chicory root on its own.
I'll just bet.

It hit my empty stomach like a vial of vitriol.

Have you anything I could eat? A sandwich?

Well, the bakers aren't open yet.....but I've got a croissant from yesterday.....

Reader, I ate it.
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