Category Archives: life

Wish for an end to this plague of strangers*

*for our futures to remain local and for new road to be totally destroyed.

Edward – The League of Gentlemen

Usually, our walk along the road up through the ‘high’ bit of the hamlet (and also in another commune…) is without incident – hence why we have been doing this route a lot. It’s car-accessible, but in all my walks, about four men have passed in cars, and the only people I’ve ever seen were a rather odd looking non-local couple who I suspect were on holiday, and a man entirely in camouflage who said he was out shooting foxes.

old_route1

It’s a very frequent trot up from my hamlet to the high bit and then along deserted roads. If I’m feeling lazy, I can cut the route from just before D and end up just before G, but it’s my basic, go-to dog walk. It cuts along a little ridge and it’s either spectacular or bleak, depending.

Sometimes, I walk another route through the high bit of the hamlet, past my friend Lise’s house and down the hill. It’s not a bad route, but it’s a little short, at only 2.5 km. A few times, I’ve done a wider loop, that takes you through the village of the barking dogs, a small village where every single house has a barky dog, from the first old Bassett hound who bays at you, to the big mastiff who bays at you, to the tiny Papillons who yip at you. A few times, I’d done this walk with Steve and it takes you eventually to a dead-end path where I had an unfortunate falling incident and sprained my ankle. Unless you were prepared to hack through brambles and trees, it was quite impassible.

old_routeFrom time to time, I’d tried to navigate the bit from G up to the top road but it wasn’t happening and as the years have gone by, it’s got less and less accessible. You could walk from the crossroads just after F, take a right and walk down here, but you end up with a 5km walk home and it’s already a good 5km walk as it is.

Anyway, last week, I noticed a stile kind of thing in a field that used to home cows. I wondered at the marvel of this new path and where it had come from, where it went to and who had put it there. As far as I could tell, it just went into a load of bushes. But no! It leads to the G spot (sorry – but that’s the way it fell) and you can continue to walk down and round. The best thing is that it is a quick route over to the Quatre Vaux forest and that has always been a bit too far (unless you are Heston, as this is where I lost him and he ran home from – a good 7km) and now it’s made it a lot easier to get to. Hoorah!

So to celebrate the arrival of new road, I took the beasts out for a walk along it. It is indeed a marvel of a path, just where you’d want a path to be.

new_road

Now I just need a path from the G spot on this map (you probably think I planned it and I didn’t at all!) to the E spot to cut out the big dog leg up into the village and it’ll be a perfectly acceptable alternative walk. The new path, incidentally, goes from just before the D, where the other tractor trail comes in to make a T with the road, to the K spot.

IMG_0183

And the mystery was solved down through the stile. There’s a massive great big electricity box been put in and ERDF have been so kind as to put a path in. Doesn’t really make up for the mushroom-like wind turbines that are now everywhere round these parts, but hey ho.

Anyway, Edward had cause to be concerned. The first thing I saw when I walked down this new path was a plague of strangers (two) and they were definitely not local…

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Are you local? What Rural France has in common with Royston Vasey

In 2000ish, I caught the tail end of an episode of a ‘comedy’ on BBC2. In it, a black-faced circus ringmaster and his gibberish-talking “wife” had kidnapped another woman with the immortal line “You’re MY wife now!” uttered by his strange, whispery, creaky voice. It was perhaps the most disturbing thing I had seen for years and after the first episode I saw, I was not keen to return to it.

I think what made it worse was there was no canned laughter, which made it incredibly creepy. However, return I did, and it became one of the seminal comedies that forms the backbone of what I find amusing. Disturbingly amusing, in this case.

Apart from the loop-the-loop circus ringmaster, Papa Lazarou, butchered transsexual Barbara,  weird urine-drinking Harvey Dent, Paedophile German Choir Master Herr Lipp, Job Centre re-start trainer Pauline and her permanent enrolee Mickey Love, the pinnacle of the show for me was Tubbs and Edward, a pair of inbred brother-sister, husband-wife shop owners. Tubbs, an elderly dreamer of an old lady, intent on counting the ‘precious things’ of the shop, and Edward, her angry war veteran husband-brother, were so far removed from what you might have seen on a comedy before that it was little wonder the word ‘comedy’ seemed like a misnomer. Tubbs and Edward were like Deliverance meets The Wicker Man. 

The League of Gentlemen became such a part of my life that I even went on a kind of pilgrimage to Hadfield with Pete. We stopped at the roundabout zoo and bought a tin of spam in the shop on the high street. It was quite surreal. But it’s not like those Pennine towns need any excuse to be surreal. From Glossop to Sheffield, it’s all a bit Twilight Zone. If you come in by plane over from Europe, there’s just this great, hulking, dark mass that is the Peak District that stops Manchester and Leeds and Sheffield becoming one town. It’s quite primeval.

In this clip, Tubbs and Edward have killed a young hiker who visited the shop. It has my two favourite lines in: “Hello, hello… what’s all this shouting? We’ll have no trouble here.” and “We didn’t burn him!”

(and is it only me, or is it a little weird that so many British comedians like to dress up as frumpy middle aged women?)

Anyway, as you see from the final lines of the clip, Tubbs is terrified that more “strangers” might come to their shop. This is what reminds me a little of France. And it’s because of one word. Stranger.

In England, strange means weird, odd, bizarre, unnatural, different. And strangers are those who embody those quality – outsiders. If you look in the dictionary, these words are less pejorative and more diplomatic. Let’s face it though, “You’re strange” is not a compliment. It’s not called Stranger Danger for nothing. We have a less bizarre word for unfamiliar people. Foreigners. Everybody who is not from the British Isles.

But I never really thought about it until today. The French word for foreigner or foreign is étranger. Stranger. Thus everyone who comes from abroad is a stranger. You drive stranger cars and wear stranger brands and eat stranger food and speak a stranger language. Of course, here, it’s like foreigner. A kind of neutral word depending on who is using it and for what purpose. But it made me laugh. It mostly made me laugh because from now on, in my mind when I am thinking about it, I will intepret it as stranger and not foreigner. And the residents of France will become like an outpost of Royston Vasey, where if you aren’t local and your parents aren’t known, you are just a stranger.

Anyway, given my recent exploits, I am bien connu so that is alright. I might still be strange, but at least I am known.

Being lax

If the truth be told, when I’m lax in the blog world, I’m busy in the real world. Sometimes I manage both, but not often. Plus, sometimes, my life is dreadfully dull. I don’t want to tell you about the two and a half hours I sat in Honda today waiting for a new remote key fob only for them to decide it’s not the emitter, it’s the receiver that’s the problem. Cue another six-week wait and a two-and-a-half hour sojourn in a car showroom looking at new baby cars and wondering how on earth I could ever afford them.

Likewise, I can’t really say very much about my teaching today either. It’s a long teacherly day on Wednesdays. I go from early readers through to GCSE and whilst I love my job, it’s not exactly blogworthy.

Okay. It kind of is.

But it has another blog all of its own.

So between picking ticks off dogs (pleasant), cleaning up dog sick (even more pleasant) and dodging the storm showers and hail (seriously) it’s been a mundane week.

Plus, I feel kind of nadgy and I realise that Facebook is playing a game with me. It’s started to ignore posts from some people and post update after update from a couple of groups I’m part of – one of which is the auto-entrepreneur site – and it just makes me cross. I’m cross at French people for being more bothered about gay marriage, which should be a total non-issue, especially since it’s now enshrined in law, and about the only good thing Hollande has done, than they are about some dim bint called Sylvia Pinel who seems to have learned how to be a politician from who knows where.

I tried to think of a weak politician to compare her to, but I can’t find one weak enough. Give Sarkozy and Chavez and Castro and Thatcher their dues… at least you know what they stood for, whether you liked it or not. She’s been a politician since she was thirty and at thirty five, you can imagine how much she knows about business. To be in charge of something so important requires a whole lot more strength than she has. She just bends to the loudest, fattest, rudest shouter.

I know I’m properly French now, since I can gripe about French politricks. Still, it seems Hollande is intent on closing as many businesses as he can. He’s certainly not making it easy. He needs a pointy reckoning.

I saw this picture today (pôle emploi is the job centre and chomeurs are unemployed people)

580325_198712363616476_643142514_nSo you can see how a lot of people in France feel about Pinel’s revelation that the auto-entrepreneur scheme will be limited. I should have three years of taxes to show by then, so it’s less of a concern to me to prove how much, or how little, I earn, should I have to change regime, but it’s an irritation. Even in post-Special-Period Cuba, it was easier to open a little business. Can it be true that having a market stall in Castro’s Cuba is easier and more fiscally transparent than it is in France? No wonder mon pays adoptif had a right old ticking-off from the EU. I don’t want a bigger business. I don’t want to employ people. I don’t want premises. I accept that this means I work odd hours and sometimes all hours, but that’s a choice I make.

Anyway, a pointy reckoning is sought for Pinel as well.

It’s been raining like billy-O. Today, there were such heavy storms that rain came into the shop I was in at the time. The woman shrugged as I got dripped on. Yesterday, it hailed. Not big hail, but this is almost June. A pointy reckoning for the weather gods as well. This is kind of a good thing because my little camera has given up the ghost and I find it really hard to blog without pictures. I’ll get round to buying a new one when I have half a minute. I could get a cheap digital from the supermarket, but I want to check out the second-hand market and get a digital SLR. I haven’t used my film SLR for a couple of years and I miss having it so much. The things we could do!

The only thing to do is go to bed early and read. Warm bed, snoring dogs, bed socks and pyjamas are about the only answer to the cloud hovering over France at the moment.

 

Viva La Diva

Last night was Madame V’s annual Eurovision party. I inadvertently upped the stakes last year by representing Azerbaijan in a red sari scarf and green Moroccan shoes, along with blue false eyelashes. Mostly, you’re required to dig something out of your wardrobe since the teams are only announced late on Thursday, so that tells you a little about my wardrobe. Books and clothes. That’s all I care about. Well, not that I buy loads of either, but I don’t throw them away. Thus, I have a lot to choose from.

Anyway, the goal posts had definitely been moved this year. I set out for Madame V’s as the representative of Belarus, dressed appropriately. Appropriately meant like a drunk Minsk cross-dressing peasant in a fur-lined hat who’d accidentally fallen into a vat of sari fabric. Of course.

How else would you have represented the country??

I was wearing red and green as per the country flag. Unfortunately, this was not that far removed from last year’s colours, so I decided to go with the green wellies rather than the Moroccan slippers. Coupled with a red dress, a green top, a green scarf, a red scarf, a plate of quiche, a fur-lined hat and a fur-lined cardigan, I was every inch the epitome of Eurovision style.

However, I was outdone by virtually everyone there, from Mme V’s pencil moustache (she was France) to Rachel’s German-cross-dressing-transsexual-meets-1980s-French-housewife and Sarah’s huge fake green eyelashes. Caroline was particularly resplendent in bright-green tights and legwarmers (totally putting my electric blue tights from last year into the shade) complete with green wig and braces. It was an homage to all things dreadful. Never have curtain tie-backs, French housecoats and green pompoms found better use. I think I’m going to start collecting things for next year right this moment.

This year, we had scoring cards, judging the talent on their merits. For me, it was Romania, Greece and Ireland, but none of these three even placed. The winner was Denmark. She didn’t even have a giant carry her on stage. She didn’t have a dancing shadow man in a box and she certainly did not have a dress that was made up of flames. I was most disappointed.

If you haven’t seen Cezar (great Eurovision name) with ‘It’s my life’, it’s like Rhyddian meets Rylan. Nobody else did a falsetto disco anthem dressed as a camp Sauron surrouded by men in barely-there shorts.

If you haven’t seen Greeks in kilts doing full-on Greek dancing WHILST playing the trumpet, you haven’t lived. They’re a kind-of crazy Gogol Bordello meets System of a Down. They’re that crazy.

Finally, Ireland. They came in last and I cannot understand why. To be fair, I don’t think the judges rank contestants on their hot leather-wearing tattooed dancers. Bonnie was a disappointment, of course. England need to up their game. If we can’t beat a Maltese doctor in a waistcoat singing about investment risks then we’re doing something wrong. The Maltese doctor was very charming, that is certain, but it comes to something when out of our island we can’t even find some new talent. Malta only has half a million people living there, so England needs to take a lesson and reconsider its position.

Anyway, as a thank you to Madame V, I gave her a gift of one of the two amazing things I picked up at a giant vide grenier a couple of weeks ago. A Demis Roussos album.

And, for Natasha, representing Azerbaijan in a combination of belly dancing outfits donated by Sarah and Rachel, I gave her a gift of Nana.

Between Demis and Nana, does anybody sum up the kind of wonderful joys European music can bring?

Here’s Demis in all his glory with Quand je t’aime

And here is Nana singing Only Love.

Nana is pretty much the reason I didn’t wear my glasses in 1985, since, having dark hair and a bob cut, one bitch had already called me Fergal Sharkey and I feared for my reputation if it got out that I looked not dissimilar to Nana. Yes, even I bowed to peer pressure and bitchy comments as a youth. Unfortunately, nobody could show me a mirror into the future where nasty girls would be revealed for all their hollowness and superficiality. Rocking a bob in 1985 was not easy when you were surrounded with rich girls with big hair and perms. Now I wish I’d carved out a signature look like she did with her glasses and long straight hair. I’m kind of annoyed I didn’t spend more time thinking about a look that could last a lifetime.

Four cheeses and a sleepless night

I made a four-cheese quiche last night and I’m holding it responsible for my wacky night of sleep. Well, partly responsible. It was a good quiche, with blue cheese, goats’ cheese, mozzarella and Emmenthal. Much enjoyed.

But it troubled me later.

First I started with this dream where I was Carson Daly’s assistant. He tried it on with me and I let him. This gave me some trouble as he’s a bit of a man-child. Also, in my dream, he did a lot of lounging around in his underwear in undignified poses.

carson-daly

Then I was awake and could not get to sleep again. Something about that dream had disturbed me. I think it was Mr Daly himself, whom I have never found attractive. That and the lounging about in his underwear.

One of my chickens, Vera, had very purple wattle yesterday. They looked very swollen. I tried some internet research but as usual, I was informed that it could be anything from avian flu to a sting. The chicken could be dead by morning or might go on to live healthily. Who knows? I was so worried I almost got up in the middle of the night to check. I was wondering whether she would have died or if I’d have to put her out of her misery.

Then I was worrying about all the dead bees round my garden. There are a good few – maybe ten or so. I couldn’t work out what was killing them – pesticides in local fields maybe? – and I was worried about the poor bees.

Anyway, by the time I got back to sleep, it was time to wake up. So now I am tired and feel a bit hungover. I checked on Vera first thing – she was actually fine last night apart from her swollen purple wattle – and she was just as perky. I gave her a good feel-over and she seems fine. She ate her breakfast and hopped around the garden. Her wattle seemed less puffy and were red around the edges, but still the same.

Today, it is wet. Not as much as I’d like – the soil needs a really good soak – but better. It’s cooler too. That’s okay with me. It was 27°C here yesterday. Today we are pruning and maybe, if it rains enough, returning to weeding. I have resorted to plastic cups for things that need to go in. Definitely not enough plant pots! Still lots of things are inside as there are a couple of weather reports with low temperatures next week. I guess I could put them out if the soil gets damp enough, and put a cloche over them? I think I’d rather not risk it.

On the plus side, I’ve decided, in my late-night torment, where the clematis are going to go. Unfortunately, it will take some digging to get them in. It might even be a pick-axe job. We’ll see. Hopefully, I will get a better night’s sleep tonight.

Reader…

My garden is full.

Seriously.

I have 200 metres squared of vegetable garden and there is no room left for anything else. Although it’s not full yet, it will be in a couple of weeks, and I need more space.

So…

I’m torn between adding another vegetable plot or adding raised beds.

I quite like the idea of raised beds. Less bending. Also, less digging, less turning, less weeding. I can put down a layer of weed suppressant, some newspaper and some soil, and it is done.

If I dig, I have to clear turf first, then improve the soil, then weed.

And weed.

And weed.

Of course, there are some disadvantages. Raised beds can dry out more in the summer. I’d need to mulch like crazy. It’s been nine whole days of dry weather and the soil is already too dry to dig.

Normally, too, I leave quite a bit of space between rows and crops – rather than cramming them in. I suspect a raised bed might make me put more in and be more intensive. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Plus, I won’t be able to easily fork it over in the same way. It will be harder to clear and to do with big tools. I’ll not be able to rotavate, for example.

Not that I do a lot but I like the option.

I won’t have the usual problem that some of my plants will need a deep bed, because they will always be able to go in a deep bed, but that means I’m still going to have three or four raised beds, just so that I can rotate my crops.

The logistics are a little frightening. I need more helpXrs with power tools.

I think the garden last year was further on. By the end of April, virtually all my root crops were not only in but shooting. Here it will take a little time. Luckily, rain is forecast for the weekend, and lots of it, with fairly warm temperatures. This means I don’t have to worry about watering, and everything will grow like mental.

Yesterday was a busy day. Marcus put in a row of red onions, a row of leeks, and a couple of rows of kale that have been sitting about for a while. Shannon and I planted in a load of lettuces and I got busy with the mower again. I think I need a little tractor. I’m coveting a little tractor. The things I could do with a little tractor.

I introduced them to the delights of Pan’s Labyrinth and whilst they were watching that last night, I tidied up the pots outside. I bought a couple of penstemons a couple of weeks ago and put those into my perennial bed, as well as the gladioli and a pink cactus dahlia. I noticed the monarda is going crazy and the Grande Marguerites are huge as well.

Red & Frilly

 

I think this year there will be fewer annuals in my flowerbed. I’ve planted up some of last year’s scabiosa heads which are now seeding, as well as a couple of packets of zinnia and annual poppies. Most of the flowers go as companion plants for the vegetables… marigolds, zinnia, cosmos, sunflowers. I’ve not been so successful with delphiniums and tomorrow, I am going to stop off at the nursery in Montbron and see if I can find any.

Anyway, Mme V’s daughter is taking my guests to Angoulême today to see if they can find somewhere without a goat. Having heard that there are not one but two people who walk goats through Angoulême I think their chances of leaving Charente with a vision of a rustic citidel filled with eccentric animal-walking residents imprinted on their memories is pretty high.

I’m off to check my seedlings and see that they survived their first night in the wild outdoors.

Enjoy your Wednesday!

Piégut

I took my guests to Piégut market on Wednesday. I was hoping to take them to Rouillac, but it’s on Saturday this month and that’s a long day of work for me. Plus, I’d never been to Piégut market before as I usually work on Wednesdays, so it’s not somewhere I normally get to go.

I wanted them to experience the full-on French market. I don’t know why. Bury market is pretty similar. It seems to me that markets all over the world are kind of the same. French markets, though, give you a real view of French life. None of this Amélie and Chocolat business. You can get seduced by all the Chanel adverts and classy people and think that that is what French life is like, when really, it’s about aprons and bleus de travail.

Anyway, I was hoping it would not disappoint. I do drop-offs for the magazines at the Intermarché and Sausageland and I have to say it’s not exactly the highlight of my route (well, Sausageland is great – an English butcher’s) and I get the impression it’s for people who want to say they live in the Dordogne but don’t have the money to.

But… it did me proud.

Indeed, it even showed itself in fabulous colours.

I could kind of see why people might want to live there.

Sometimes, it must be said that ‘market’ in France can comprise five wagons. One will sell meat. One will sell vegetables and fruit. One will sell fish. One will sell flowers. The other will probably sell cheese. Some ‘markets’ are smaller than that.

However, I knew the lady from Chat Noir aprons does this market, so I expected it would be bigger and brighter than I anticipated.

And it was. By a long shot.

The remnants of last year’s festival still hang over some of the square. They look less weird now that winter has gone.

DSCF3312Luckily, right underneath, there was a guy selling French-style tabard aprons. Just like Mrs Overall.

piegut

You can see them on the right.

There were also lots of very French-style stalls that I was glad not to have missed. There were the good things – the fruit stalls, the bakers’ stalls with their huge meringues, the butchers’ vans, the rotisserie, the plant stalls – the bad things – the huge knickers, the underpants stalls, the weird tartan slipper stalls, the old lady shoe stalls, the oilcloth stalls – and the ugly things.

I love French markets.

I’d spend all day, every day marvelling at their treasures.

DSCF3315As you can see, it was quite quiet. I like this. It was busy, but not too much so. Plenty of people were buying, and plenty were waiting, but there wasn’t that feeling of being cramped and unable to enjoy what there is to see.

We sat at a café and had a coffee with the rest of the English and Dutch tourists and I tried to explain how to spot English people. It was quite easy. Mostly, we talk loud, wear bad shoes and have terrible haircuts and bad teeth. Dutch people are often the tallest in the crowd. I was surprised that two elegant ladies next to us asked me to take a picture and told me they were Dutch – they had the French look down well. The non-granny look.

DSCF3314The rotisserie man does well – he usually had a queue of at least six people. The man with the tools got to demonstrate his arsenal at one point, complete with an oh-so-French cigarette dangling from his lips.

If I could ask for anything for American tourists to understand, it would be the French market. The towns can seem so quiet and deserted until market day. I’m not sure it was the best example, because there must have been at least two dozen Dutch and English stalls and I’m pretty sure you could get away with zero French.

Still, if anything makes France all French, it’s the fresh vegetables – all in season of course. One lady had a huge display of mandarin oranges. It’s these kind of displays that make France so very French, especially with the uber-French attachée handwriting.

orange

Pollarded trees are a source of intrigue to my guests. I confess, it was only in 2006 that I came across pollarded trees, in Japan. I thought they were suffering from some kind of disease. However, I did see, which I had never seen before, a pollarded magnolia.

pollarded magnolia

A lovely friend of mine shares my love of magnolias. In fact, she loves them more than I do, maybe. She has one in her garden that has flowered for the first time. I need a magnolia. I covet them. Mostly, I covet the old ones, but you plant magnolia for other people to enjoy. It’s kind of an altruistic plant. By the time it is magnificent, you are long dead.

It’s funny, too, because the houses seem very different than the houses around me. They are much narrower and higher, and many have the brick and stone combination. It’s very reminiscent of the houses in Royan, so I guess it’s a fashion thing.

Anyway, we stopped for a baguette and frites at a roadside truck – I was sad the market didn’t have one, and someone is obviously missing a trick – and then continued to Oradour. Honestly, it was unexpectedly hot and we were a little unprepared. Still, we lived. Though I drank a litre and a half of water in the car.

Photos of Oradour tomorrow, then.

The delights of Charente and Charente Limousin

I’ve been trying to give my little helpxrs a taste of life in France. I figured it was the least I could do in return for their hard work and them putting up with my peculiar house and my peculiar ways. I always go to a place thinking that I should make the most of it, since I never know when I will be back that way again. This is why I went to a kabuki show in Japan (I just can’t explain the craziness that is kabuki) and it’s why I got up at 3 am in Brazil so that I could see the sun rise over the Amazon. So I try to help people as much as I can when they might not ever be back here again.

And it’s easy to miss the beauty of the region, since it’s a little sleepy backwater trapped between some of the poorest parts of France and some of the richest.

Not only that, I’ve been kind of sad that I’m not French and I can’t offer an authentic French experience. I need to get a tabard in nylon and put my hair in rollers. I already wear men’s shoes from time to time, so I’ve got that covered. So I am trying to up the Frenchness and we have had nights of Jean-Jacques Goldman and Jacques Brel (Belgian, but claimed by the French) and I have been plying them with French wine and French cheeses, baguette and French pâtés.

We’ve had a few trips around the area. I took them to the chateau at Rochechouart. My love for Rochechouart is undisguised and unmitigated. It’s my favourite, except where I live.

DSCF3285The castle kind of perches over the edge of an ancient meteor crater. Sometimes, I think I would like to live in a castle, but it must be terribly lonely.

We took a detour by St Mathieu and Piégut Pluviers – though Piégut always amuses me. I call it Pie-gut, not Pee-ay-goo. I think it should be proud of its pie-eating ways. Maybe someone could twin it with Wigan? I know Wigan is twinned with Angers, but honestly, Piégut makes more sense.

I was just headed up through Rochechouart and I was explaining about Oradour-sur-Vayres and Oradour-sur-Glane. We stopped for a little at Oradour, since they told me that it’s just an abstract concept to Americans – it must be weird NOT to be surrounded by history. I always felt for the people who lived just outside Passchendaele. How could you ever forget the blood shed under your feet? It must haunt your days.

Oradour itself is a nice little town, and it feels quite lively as towns go. How, though, could you live there and not remember the 642 people who were executed by frustrated Waffen SS troops?

As my Nana says, it’s not really a place to take tourists.

At the same time, though, I do think it’s important to remember that World War II was not just about the Holocaust, as it seems to be for most Americans, but it was something that affected just about everybody in Western Europe. It’s easy to get all political and preachy, so I will keep it free from comment.

Anyway, we have been doing more cheerful things, like going for bike rides around the area and we’ve been down to Angoulême. It’s not very exciting, for those not in the know. I think they looked at the cathedral and the museum and then headed off down the hill towards the bande dessinée museum. I’m trying to restore their faith in the place by sending them out with Madame V’s daughter. They found a goat and some chickens last time they went. I know there’s more to life in Angoulême than that.

It must be very sad to be stuck in the countryside when you haven’t seen anything of the cities around. I guess there aren’t so many people with big places in the cities, though. It strikes me that you could stay in a country and be entirely oblivious to the fact that it has any cities at all.

It’s also sad because France just doesn’t have the landscape that America does, though it is achingly pretty round here, so what it has to offer is its history. That is enough in itself, of course. I’ve decided that no vision of France is complete without a trip to a vide-grenier, a trip to a market and a genuine encounter with a man in bleus de travail.

I think overalls and jackets in blue are compulsory wear for most men in rural France. I’d be alarmed if I saw a man who didn’t have big pockets. If he isn’t in blue and he doesn’t have big pockets, he has no business in the countryside. No business at all.

Yesterday, I realised I was wearing a fetching combination of fleecy welly socks, my crocs, bare legs (splattered with mud), winter-white legs, shorts, a paint-splattered tee-shirt and I hadn’t combed my hair. That’s how we roll, country-style. I just need a tabard.

Do you think it would be a step too far to take them to Emmaüs?

A-wandering

I took advantage of a bright morning to take the doglets down to the forest before lessons started. It was utterly tranquil. True to form, there was nobody else about. I realised something though.

There are some days when a walk is just a walk. There are some days when it is a pain in the arse and I only go because Heston is foaming at the mouth. There are days when it is 3°C and raining heavily, with no chance of sunshine or a break in the clouds. There are days when it is too hot and I would rather be sunbathing with a book.

And then there are mornings like this morning.

We went a way we’ve not been for a while. The path goes along the Bandiat, and the Bandiat, like the Tardoire, had burst its banks and stayed over-full for weeks on end. Heston loves the water, but it ran the risk of dragging him off down towards the sea and so we stuck to drier paths. Plus, every soaking means a new tube of Advantix, and at 5€ a pop, it’s an expensive walk. That and the mud and the stink of wet dog.

Sorry, Heston.

If you didn’t smell so bad and make everything filthy, you could leap around in the water to  your heart’s content.

But today, the path was dry, some woodland body had cleared the path and on either side, there are masses of wild flowers.

They aren’t exciting or rare things, but they’re pretty nonetheless.

The first to come out was a carpet of wild anemones, Anemone Nemerosa. When we made our way down the track this morning, the flowers were still asleep, like lilac-cream bells, but on our return, they’d opened up.

Anemone nemerosa

The second was another ranunculaceae family member, lesser celandine. Completely absent on our way down, it was dotted here and there on our return. Some people say that it heralds the swallows, but all I heard today was the first cuckoo of spring. That’s always a good thing.

Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)The cowslips are also out in force in the area, as well as in the woods

Primula Veris - Cowslip

There are also occasional flashes of narrow-leaved lungwort, which are this amazing blue-purple.

Sunny May Day Back Corner

 

No doubt there are many others as well, hiding away there. There’s also one I haven’t identified yet that is virtually everywhere. I forgot my camera, though, which is one reason I’m relying on these great Flickr images. The other reason is that my photos just wouldn’t be that good.

So, with the cuckoos and the wildflowers, it’s definitely spring, cold as it is.

It’s nice to have those moments, though, where you realise you are in exactly the place you are supposed to be, and that, in that space, at that time, there is order and tranquility and harmony. I think I enjoyed that walk as much as the dogs.

Oh, okay.

Not as much.

The joyous abandon with which Heston launched himself into the river was a little bit past simple pleasure and seemed to cross the line into frantic delight.

Life is good when you are a well-loved doglet.

Different strokes for Different folks

It’s been a week of racism in unexpected places. First, Titan’s boss Maurice Taylor, writes an epic letter to the French government, which is ‘leaked’, accusing the French of working three-hour days and not being in the same league as China, competitively.

Then the French get all defensive about it.

As you would.

Nobody likes to be accused of laziness, and if laziness is anywhere, it’s not in the French private sector. Two-hour lunches, sure, but not laziness. French public sector? I could agree with them being lazy, to some degree. They’re bloated and unionised on the whole, and it’s because of that that French labour costs are among the highest in Europe. Industry is holding up a bloated civil service. Plus, it takes anyone in a sizeable workplace twenty minutes just to say hello to everyone in the morning what with all the kissing and being polite.

However, few places can compete with China in terms of competitiveness. That’s what happens in a non-unionised one-party country of vast human resource. If you want to be ‘competitive’, pay peanuts, abuse human rights and look to slavery as your economic model.

But… Titan’s letter could have been written to any begging industry minister in Western Europe, pretty much.

Though the French have taken it very personally and there are cries of racism from every corner. But is it? Well, it’s not. Not really.

It’s the kind of plain-talking, brutally honest, out-of-order speech of a egotistical man who got 1% of a Republican ticket in the USA and who gives a toss what he thinks?

Honestly, the best thing the French can do is shrug and admit that he’s a bit right and a lot of an imbecile. France can’t compete with China. Cheap is China’s USP. And France’s fat and sweaty union bosses have fought a long time for a two-hour lunch and high pay for their workers. In fact, they’ve fought long and hard for everything that makes France (and every other unionised country) “unproductive.”

Because, ultimately ‘productive’ often means flagrant abuse of everyone else’s human rights. If you don’t believe me, watch “An Inspector Calls” and read a little Marx.

But the first thing that happened was this uproar of racism against the French.

Hello?

The French must be one of the last nations on the politically correct boat. I’m not passing judgement on that. They just are. They’re about the only nation who feel like it’s okay to pass comment about everyone else in the world and that’s how it is. The Dutch? Don’t like how they congregate in villages and bring their own groceries when they come on holiday.  Chinese? Meh. Northern Africans? Black feet. (Pieds-noirs is still a term I hear in the supermarket about anyone from south of the Mediterreanean, although it originally meant Algerians). I heard all of these things when I was in the supermarket café.

Just this week, for instance, I read a comment on Tripadvisor about a restaurant near me. It’d be very nice, the comment said, if it weren’t for the English voices.

And then I read another one. A French woman in an English party had overheard the waiter in the same restaurant issuing a polemic to the chef about the bloody English at her table, thinking she was English too. How dare the English ask for wine before apéros?! Hooligans!

Out of fifteen reviews, five mentioned something negative about the English. Seven of the remaining reviews were by English people.

I thought it might just be that restaurant, so I looked at another very popular restaurant. One with an English clientele and an English chef.

Three French reviews. Very nice, they conclude, even if the chef is English.

I can just imagine the outrage if an Indian or Chinese restaurant in England had reviews saying “unexpectedly nice, despite the fact the chef is Punjabi/Chinese/Vietnamese”.

Part of the problem is, I know, that the Charente has a frustratingly high percentage of English-speaking residents (including American, Australian, Kiwi, Scottish, Welsh, Norwegian, Irish and even Mexican residents) and that it IS irritating to feel like you’re living in a ghetto of immigrants if you’re French. There are lots of English-speakers who can’t or won’t speak French. BUT… I’d like to think the English-speakers contribute more than they take. AND we are often the ones who keep restaurants running. Many would have dried up if it were not for truckers or chèque dejeuners or English-speakers.

Sure, many French people holiday here, and in Charente-Maritime. 70% of French people holiday in France. But then lots of other nationalities do too. Having spent some time last week researching the area for an article, I realised that virtually none of the tourist sites had English options; that means that if you are non-French-speaking, you just aren’t going to use the sites. There’s no reason in this day and age not to open yourself up to the rest of the world. Sure, when I travelled in Brazil, there weren’t many sites in English either, but that was 2003 and I met precisely zero English-speaking people on my travels.

France has one great thing going for it. Itself. It is the most-visited tourist destination in the world. That doesn’t include the 70% of the French population who visit here. That fact is France’s USP.

Yet it would seem that it goes out of its way to make it hard for English-speakers to visit and that, given the overt racism on Tripadvisor, it would prefer Dutch, Belgians, Germans, Spanish, English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, American, Canadian, Australian, Chinese and Korean people not to come here at all. From what I’ve seen, some French people feel it’s okay to go out of their way to use language as a way to isolate themselves from the rest of the world.

And that is not a good thing.

I know I feel the apologist coming on. I speak the popular English and I don’t agree with all the crazy political correctness in the UK. However, I know in the time before the doors open in England to Bulgarians and Romanians, someone somewhere will be ensuring that all our important social and legal documents have an appropriate version in Bulgarian or Romanian. I also know that should someone express surprise on a popular global review site that someone is a good chef despite their nationality, that would soon come to the attention of the masses who would decide that that is NOT okay to say that, not in public.

If it’s not okay for Maurice Taylor to be racist, making stereotyped, racist, generalised comments in private, how is it okay for many French to make racist, stereotyped, generalised comments in public and not receive the same level of challenge?

That is something I do not understand.