Down Your Way

Having been somewhat under the weather recently I have taken to resting in the afternoons and, thunderstorms permitting, listening to BBC radio via my laptop.

Thanks to the time difference the Test Match coverage is over by lunchtime, so the whole range of the iPlayer is open to me….but I’ve been disappointed much of the time by the standard of what is on offer.
Perhaps I wouldn’t be so tetchy were I on top form, but it’s because I’m not on top form that I want to listen to something stimulating and informative.

Still, given that the bumbrushers to big business now running Britain want to reduce the BBC to a muppet show I suppose I had best make the most of what there is while it lasts.

Music – the alternative to the spoken voice – is somewhat curtailed since the arrival of the pups.
They have objections to counter tenors so Purcell’s ‘Sound the Trumpet’ is out…

As is ‘No lo diro col labbro’ from ‘ Handel’s ‘Tolomeo’….

The singer’s lips may not have the courage to utter, but the pups have no such inhibitions. Heads flung back they give it laldy with both barrels.

However they have no such objections to the song derived from the above; ‘Silent Worship’….

Unfortunately I do…much though I enjoy Thomas Allen’s voice I find the lyrics syrupy, so for now on the music front it is pups 15, me love.

What has astonished me is to find re runs of programmes I remember from way back….in ‘The Navy Lark’ Sub-Lieutenant Phillips is still to be found navigating HMS Troutbridge with his unique command of ‘Left hand down a bit’ which results inevitably in an unwanted encounter between several tons of moving warship and several more tons of immovable jetty to cries of ‘Everybody down!’ from the conniving Chief Petty Officer Pertwee to be followed by the wrath of ‘Old Thunderguts’ – Captain Povey.

A period piece now – Britain still had a navy when that series went out after all – and far from ‘edgy’, it is still a delight of comic timing and shines like a jewel among the clumping ‘comedies’ of the current era – as does the superb later series of ‘Absolute Power’ with its commentary on the backstairs of the Blair years.

But, joy of joys, they are broadcasting ‘Round the Horne’ again.
This had my parents in stitches when first broadcast and listening to it now it astounds me that the scriptwriters got away with it in an era when prudery ruled the airwaves.
Especially when you consider that it was broadcast on Sunday afternoons.

Older and more aware of the sheer misery suffered by a man straitjacketed by his society’s rigidity I can still enjoy Kenneth Williams‘ in his persona as folk singer Wandering Syd Rumpo

A lesson in how what you read into something defines yourself.

‘Gardener’s Question Time’ is still going strong, though the egregious Bob Flowerdew has long replaced the gentleman who prefaced all replies to queries with the statement that ‘the answer lies in the soil’, but one old favourite not so far repeated is ‘Down Your Way’ a programme which visited towns and villages across England interviewing local residents.
While my father refused to listen to it, denouncing it as a load of claptrap from town clerks and town bores I found it interesting. In an age where we did not travel much it was an insight into how others lived and worked….and in that pre Thatcher era there were still trades and industries to be described!

‘Down Your Way’ came to mind when I was reading an item in the local on line news: a gentleman has been giving a series of reminiscences of his youth in the sixties and locates the shops bars and dance halls he knew, together with the names of the adults and children of his time….with Violetta’s help I can place most of the shops he talks about – and found too that one of the kids with whom he ran about seeking tips outside the bars is my lawyer!

This sort of thing, oral history, brings the town to life for me….in the same way that the books of George Ewart Evans – ‘Ask the Fellows who Cut the Hay’ and ‘Where Beards Wag All’ to name but two bring alive the life of the East Anglian farmhand from a century previous.
Those who wish to be superior decry what they call ‘anecdotal evidence’…but it is the very life of history.

So, what anecdotal evidence has been happening down my way recently?

Well, things are winding up for next year’s municipal elections so the current bunch of gross incompetents are counting on the short memory effect by a bout of sudden activity.

The alcalde (mayor) has been out and about drumming up grants from state institutions to pay for the obligatory study which has to be made before works can be done to repair or replace the many bridges either down or in a dangerous state during the length of his administration.
puriscal bridge
By the time he has the grants he reckons he will be back in power for another few years and the bridges can be forgotten until next time.

This is unlikely to gain him many votes among the indigenous community at Zapaton whose road exit has not been repaired since the great washout of a year ago, leaving many elderly people prisoners in their houses.
zapaton

Mark you, he may not even be put up as his party’s candidate as well founded rumour has it that among the four up for the job is one who will be in the toils of the courts in short order, so painting the podium in the park in his party’s colours may not pay off after all.
park puriscal

Still, he may yet be of service to the community…
puriscal dustcart
Following the travails of the municipal bulldozer, the municipal dustcart has been out of action for some time…perhaps the added weight of the alcalde will encourage its compaction unit to work as it should.
Well worth a try.

And we have had visitors.
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A pair of black bellied whistling ducks.
They have been feeding with our lot for a few days now, so I’m in hopes that they will stay.
Unlike the alcalde.

45 Comments

Filed under community, Costa Rica, culture, elections, folk song, local government, Media

Liberty

The Greek people have voted not to accept the continuation of the economic slavery that their previous governments, willing and well paid tools of the international banks, had imposed upon them.

In the western world we look to classical Greece as the source of our democracy….as an example of resistance to tyranny…. however little the theory reflects the reality.

We remember Byron dying in the wars of independence from the Ottoman Turks in the 1820s…

We might even remember, if of a certain age, the betrayal of the Greek resistance by the western powers after World War II…

The rule of the Colonels….

In the era of the European union we remember too how the then rulers of Greece took advice from the international banking firm Goldman Sachs on how to fiddle the figures in order to be accepted into an organisation only too pleased to turn a blind eye to the obvious in the pursuit of a geo-political goal.

How – in compliance with NATO requirements – Greece was obliged to buy arms…notably submarines from Germany – for high prices when the bribes to Greek politicians are included.

How EU banks bought control of Greek banks – offering loans at rates of interest well above those prevailing in their home countries.

The new government had a mandate to prevent the ruin of Greek society….it has not been the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to dealing with the case hardened vultures of the IMF and the Eurozone, but this result shows that it has the backing of the majority of the Greeks most affected by previous obligatory compliance with EU rules by smaller states…larger ones, particularly France, seeming to have to have immunity.

But the Greek people have been given the chance to speak…and have spoken.

Their future will not be rosy…but they have risen against repression.

I hope that they will let us know how we can best support them.

62 Comments

Filed under austerity, European Union, Greece

Head in the Clouds

IMG_2765

This the view from the balcony this evening…..somewhat subfusc, you might think; not at all your idea of Costa Rica.

But this is the rainy season, and we are up in the clouds.

We have been in and out of San Jose all week for hospital and legal appointments – with a bit of light relief at a meeting of a writers’ group – and with impeccable timing just as we have alighted from the bus the heavens have opened, the Central American version of Thor has made a nuisance of himself and by the time we have reached the car we are like two drookit hens – and just about as voluble.

The road – the back road – to the house has become a river: two vast piles of hoggin dumped by the council in a gesture designed to mollify local residents sit just where they were a week ago as the council bulldozer has gone down with the lurgy yet again.
By the time the machine recovers from its latest malady various enterprising persons will have half inched the hoggin for their own purposes and the ritual dance will begin again.

Residents apply to the council for road repairs.
Council, sucking its collective teeth, declines to make extraordinary provision.
Residents – in greater number – apply again.
Council, relying on an old favourite of an excuse, announce that the bulldozer is out of action – again.

Now, each time the bulldozer is out of action it apparently costs forty million colones ($80,000) to have it repaired, and it breaks down every time it is put into service.
Thus, announces the council’s lawyer, it is best not to use the thing at all.

Residents, rising in their wrath, point out certain irregularities in council proceedings and payments to councillors.

The council produce the bulldozer.
It breaks down.

The dance resumes.
As a participant, you feel rather like Mr. Pastry dancing The Lancers…

There is something that you just don’t seem able to grasp…

Still, given the power of blackmail, things might improve.

The council has been showing its less attractive profile just lately.

One of its members took exception to the Peruvian couple who regularly play their pan pipes in the corner of the park by the taxi stand.
We remain in ignorance as to the origin of the incident – perhaps he had asked for and been refused a performance of the Magic Flute, who knows?…but the taxi drivers assembled in their shelter nearby saw him grab the Peruvian lady by the arm and in turn be felled by a well placed kick from her husband.
He was carted off to hospital with a broken leg.

Then the council’s lawyer published a letter on the council’s Facebook page announcing that those who wanted the installation of a Walmart in the town were thinking not with their heads – but with their livers.
This apparently curled a number of said livers and the lawyer has retreated under heavy pressure which centred on his relationship with a member of the family running the local supermarket monopoly.

And to cap it all it has been discovered that:
A…one of the councillors hasn’t attended a single meeting since her appointment:
B…said lady denies ever being a councillor
and
C…the witch hunt is up for who it is that has been pocketing her allowances.

The bulldozer might yet make a miraculous recovery.

We have had to leave the puppies rather longer than is desirable in terms of their socialising routine…..
IMG_2762

But they have clearly made their own arrangements and who are we to quibble..

The older dogs are doing a good job on the pair, working on the principle that if older dogs can’t do that there ‘ere, then neither can two upstart puppies

Yet some fine tuning remains to be achieved….
They happily accept collars and leads…but insist on carrying the leads themselves…
But they follow the terms of employment in the collier brigs sailing out of the Tyne as recorded by Hervey Benham, maritime historian of the East coast of England

Duff out
Dumpling home
Poop in the cabin foul weather.

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Filed under Costa Rica, local government, puppies, tropics

“If the French noblesse had been capable of playing cricket with their peasants, their chateaux would never have been burnt.”

The game of cricket and the music of the Rolling Stones have been two constants in my life….two separate threads which I never thought to see entwined: true, Mick Jagger did have a chateau in the area in which I lived in France and had links with the local expat cricket team, but as their captain was aware that I considered him to be a sycophantic snob of onanistic tendencies I was not invited to watch any cricket there.

chateau la rocheTheir team once played our bunch of antiquated British and uncomprehending French: they rejected the field in front of a lovely local chateau as being on a slope (I bet they wouldn’t have objected to the slope at Lords) and insisted on using the football pitch instead, set in the heart of the low cost housing on the edge of village, complete with canine calling cards and an open drain which had a magnetic appeal for our one and only cricket ball.

They played the game as taught by their coaches in their school and club sides in England.
We, lesser breeds without the law, played cricket in the spirit of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands where vendetta ruled supreme.

So bemused were they by the donkey drops, the underarm deliveries (it was after lunch) and our French umpire’s understanding of the Laws of cricket as translated by my good self that we won and they went home in high dudgeon.
Bad cess to them.

So imagine my surprise to tune into the T20 match(short form of the game) between Lancashire and Yorkshire yesterday only to learn that the fans of Yorkshire – that most dour of counties – had voted for the Rolling Stones’ ‘Start me up’ as their contribution to a summer playlist for cricket followers.
I might not have been surprised had their choice fallen upon the Lyke Wake Dirge…but ‘Start me up’….!
Cricket had undergone a sea change since the days of my youth.

It used to be a serious business….county matches of four days..Test matches (internationals) of five…
No music…no rituals: except when the Queen shook hands with visiting international teams during the Test match at Lords.

The players were normal men…recognisable.
doug padgettI remember watching a Surrey v Yorkshire match at the Oval: a bored and portly Yorkshire fielder – Doug Padgett – passed his time by trying to balance on the boundary rope. The section of the crowd in his area became more interested in his attempts to perform his version of an Indian rope trick than on the events in the middle – but nobody cheered, booed or commented on his prowess.
We unwrapped our sandwiches, ate our pork pies and enjoyed the spectacle with what the French would call British phlegm.

barringtonThen the powers that be decided that cricket was too slow….they dropped players like that prince of batsmen Ken Barrington….only to bring him back when his flashy replacements couldn’t stand up to the physical harm caused them by the West Indies bowlers.

Bowlers who bowled – or threw – at high speed, in an era when batsmen wore no helmets and their idea of protection was to tuck a towel into their trousers.
Look at the body of Brian Close after an innings against the Windies:
Brian-Close-300x284

But the administrators of the game knew that the bloodsport attracted crowds…and instructed the umpires that they were not to penalise the West Indies bowlers.

The rot had set in.

English cricket had had a semi feudal character long before when the Gentlemen (well paid amateurs) had managed to bring the Players (poorly paid professionals) under their thumbs in the nineteenth century.
No more could a group of players set up their own teams and tour abroad or at home.
There was money to be made…and the establishment moved in.

And where you have an establishment you have control. Should a player in a county side defy his masters he was out…..if he wanted to move to another team he had to wait to qualify for four years…four years in which his talents would atrophy.

Gone were the days when a bowler who turned up for the match gloriously drunk and proceeded to marmelise the opponents could suggest to his club committee that – given the results – it would pay them to pay him to go on the rantan before every game….

In the aftermath of the ‘Bodyline’ controversy that great bowler Harold Larwood was thrown to the wolves: not so much to satisfy the Australians – grumpy because their hero, Bradman, had been shown to have a liliaceous liver – but rather to ensure that the English amateurs who ran the home game would not be subject to the same tactics and skill in case their own talents were called into question…and with their ‘talents’, their control.

When I started to watch cricket amateurs and professionals often had separate dressing rooms…and on some grounds still used different gates on to the field of play.
On the score card an amateur’s initials were followed by his name, whereas for the professionals the reverse was the case..

So when a young man played at Lords and was described on the scorecard as F.J. Titmus the discovery that he was, in fact, a professional led to a public address announcement in the following terms:
‘For F.J. Titmus read Titmus F.J.’
Status was important.

Things changed over the years.
Kerry Packer showed the importance of showmanship and the power of television….
Players began to wear coloured clothing to play one day games….
Players associations raised their heads – and the income of their members…
Money came into the game in a big way as commercial television bought the screening rights…
Players began to be subject to training regimes….I gather that as part of their current contract they have to have their body fat measured with calipers: the mind boggles. If they had tried that on Doug Padgett they’d have been sending out for fresh instruments.

And now the administrators have another concern – controlling what is seen on the screen.
Septic Cola sponsors a series?
Then no other beverage’s cans should be seen to be consumed on the ground by the eye of the T.V. camera, so stewards ransack the bags of spectators as they enter.
Salmonella Sandwiches Inc have the catering contract?
Bang goes your pork pie.

And it doesn’t end there.
ken higgsI remember defying maternal warnings as to the inevitability of contracting piles by sitting on the grass behind the boundary rope at The Oval and watching Ken Higgs tear the Pakistani batting apart….you were part of the action, at the players’ level.
Now cricket grounds are supplied with stewards (for which read bouncers) ready to keep the paying public in its place – on flimsy bucket seats in lurid colours in the stands – when not otherwise engaged in picking up champagne corks which have strayed from the ‘hospitality’ boxes where the guests of Septic Cola and Salmonella Sandwiches booze the day away.

As evidenced by that long ago fascination with Padgett balancing on the boundary rope it has to be admitted that cricket – in its traditional form at least – has its languors…its ennuis…
There are moments when you can produce a book, do your knitting, attack the smuggled pork pie….or, if in high spirits, attempt community action.

You can play with a beach ball….until the stewards confiscate it.
You can start a Mexican Wave….unless the ground has been designed specifically to thwart you.
Or you can start to make a beer snake.
beer-snake_3327645b

Now…it has its drawbacks.
There are people who do not wish to have drops of warm stale beer falling on their heads and their apparel as the joints of the snake flex under strain.
The answer is simple.
There are grounds for which the ticket requests ask whether you wish to attend in fancy dress.
If you do, then you are put in one stand with all the other assenters.
If you don’t care to sit among groups of hairy legged air stewardesses, Vikings, Shaun the Sheeps and H.M. the Queen, whose frequent beer fuelled sallies in search of the loo will be greeted by half the spectators rising to their feet and singing the national anthem, then your seats will be situated with the book readers, the knitters and the pork pie smugglers.

Just add the beer snake option to the ticket…and the job is done.

Bit it won’t be.
Because the beach ball players, the Mexican Wavers and the beer snake charmers are just enjoying themselves: they are not coughing up more than the exorbitant price of their ticket – so they must be controlled lest for one instant the eye of the camera is diverted from the advertisements for Toxic Bank of Tax Haven which line the boundary.

Francis Thompson mourned the Lancashire cricketers of his past:

It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk,
Though my own red roses there may blow;
It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk,
Though the red roses crest the caps, I know.
For the field is full of shades as I near the shadowy coast,
And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost,
And I look through my tears on a soundless-clapping host
As the run-stealers flicker to and fro,
To and fro: –
O my Hornby and my Barlow long ago!

Shall I in my old age in exile in a land devoted to football be reduced to mourning

O the beach ball and the beer snake long ago.

61 Comments

Filed under commercialism in sport, cricket, Test Match

Mr. Magouille.

la_poste_logo_enseigne

A French friend sent me an e mail today.

‘Read the paper! Open a good bottle!’

So I turned up the local rag on line and found the item to which he referred:

L’ex maire de ‘St. Supplice’ definitivement condamne’.

Not, unfortunately, to the guillotine, but to a disqualification from holding public office for three years and a fine of seven thousand five hundred euros, in respect of an illegal use of his powers while maire of his commune.

As it was by then lunchtime I did indeed open a good bottle in celebration.

I had known this man…I bought my first house in France from him.

Well, not exactly from him as he was then disqualified from any financial dealings and everything was in the name of his wife.

The notaire, well oiled in the after lunch appointment to finalise the sale, had been discursive.

The gentleman had been involved in property speculations in the Var and had gone spectacularly bust. I was left with the distinct impression that while going spectacularly bust might have been marginally acceptable, doing so in the department of the Var…in the south of France…put the man beyond the pale.
Rural France, la France Profonde, may not be fond of Paris….but it is definitely agin the south of France.

He – or his wife – had bought a chateau in dire need of repair….the last owners, three maiden ladies known as the ‘six fesses’ – three bare arses – due to their parsimony, had finally given up the struggle to maintain life in the one room which was not dripping with damp and the property speculator had struck.

He had a plan.

By selling off the peripheral properties ( thus my house purchase) he had enough money to finance the initial repairs: he managed to make enough of the chateau habitable to be accepted by social services as a foster parent….and as the money rolled in the chateau was fully repaired – to be fair, he and his wife did a great job with the children they fostered – and he was regarded as a respectable citizen.
Not by me…I had had the benefit of the notaire’s indiscretions.

So much so that, with support from right thinking persons, he became maire of St. Supplice.

But the old Adam of property speculation was strong within him….

As so often in France, the local council owns a number of buildings in the commune.

In St. Supplice, it owned the building used for years as the Post Office…and when La Poste, in its eternal quest to reduce services and increase prices, decided to close down its office the council, with the maire at its head, put the building up for sale.

A value was determined by Les Domaines – a government agency which handles public property – and the game was on.

An offer was received from a Belgian resident of the commune.
The offer was rejected, although over the valuation arrived at by Les Domaines.

The maire authorised the demolition of some of the outbuildings of the Post Office.

An offer was received from a company owned by the son of the maire, whose capital depended on a loan to said company from the old dad.
This offer was under the valuation arrived at by Les Domaines.
It was accepted.

The Belgian gentleman protested.
The maire – on behalf of the council – replied that as the outbuildings had been demolished the value had been reduced and the offer accepted reflected the reality of the situation.

You have to realise, when dealing with anything in France that you have to follow the advice of the White Queen to Alice and practise believing six impossible things before breakfast….otherwise madness lies.

So while you might think that the reduction in value made the Belgian’s offer even more attractive, shifting the goalposts – or the outhouses – allowed the council to assume that it would have to accept a lower offer.
An offer made by the son of the maire.

The Belgian, not having been brought up on Alice, was not impressed.
He sued the council.

And, in particular, the maire.

The maire’s lawyer claimed that the maire had been badly advised.

The court was not impressed. The maire was disqualified from public office for three years and fines seven thousand five hundred euros.

The Belgian claimed consequential loss….the court refused to accept his plea.

The maire appealed.

The regional Court of appeal threw it out.

He appealed again.

The Cour de Cassation (Supreme Court in this instance) threw it out.

Collapse of stout party.

But having had a nap to recover from the good bottle which had been opened I turned the matter over in my mind again.

Yes, the maire had been disqualified for three years…dating from 2013. He’ll be free to stand again from March next year.
Agreed, he has had to cough up seven thousand five hundred euros…but – given that he (or his son) has bought the old Post Office for a song – that is chicken feed.

The Belgian, on the other hand, has been deprived of the power to buy the property.

The commune has been deprived of the extra amount which the Belgian was willing to pay for it.

Another triumph of the French justice system.

That wine begins to taste sour.

43 Comments

Filed under corruption, france, misuse of power

Cold Turkey

Mother was a very good cook…in the English tradition.

Her roasts were superb….her Yorkshire puddings rose like fairy castles…..her suet dumplings were light as feathers….and, recognising the innate viciousness of cabbage, she boiled it to death, its spirit haunting the house for an hour before lunch.

She could – and did – make strudel pastry; pulling gently at the ball of dough until it covered the sheet laid out on the dining room table.

Her boiled and baked puddings – spotted dick, jam roly poly, Sussex pond pudding, black cap, Saxon pudding, Bakewell tart – were a sheer delight.

Her cakes equalled those of her mother…her pastry was a dream, from shortcrust, sugar crust, to choux and hot water paste….

And then she discovered convenience foods.

Paradise lost.

It all started with a frozen turkey.

Normally we had had a goose from the farm…but the farm had been sold and mother had been seduced by the promises of the Irish milkman – the curse of Cromwell upon him – that the frozen turkey which he would deliver would be a revelation.

It was.

He delivered it on Christmas Eve in the afternoon – his round, you understand, having taken longer to complete thanks to the kindness of customers wishing to share the Christmas spirit whose aroma was thick about him.
By my reckoning that turkey had been on his milk float for at least ten hours but it showed no sign of defrosting…. on pulling off its coverings it resembled the glass mountain of the fairy tales of Andrew Lang – not just in its glossy appearance, but in its size.

In that period beef brisket joints were referred to as ‘oven buster’ as they tended to break loose from their ties and resume their original shape when cooked.
This was an oven buster of a different kind.
It was massive.

Father was out.
Luckily, as he had been decidedly sceptical about the delights promised by the milkman.

Mother and I looked at each other, at the turkey and at the oven.

Six hours to go until midnight when, by our calculations, the beast should enter the oven.
At all costs a meeting between father and the glass mountain was to be avoided.

We put the beast in the sink in the back kitchen and turned on the tap.
The water, while lapping the draining board, only came up to the turkey’s plimsoll line……this would never do.

The dog, arriving to investigate the turkey wrappings, gave us the inspiration.
Out in the shed we had the tin bath which we used for washing him…it was big enough to cover him once he had been wrestled to a sitting position, so it must be big enough for the turkey.

No sooner said than done.

Out to the shed, grab bath.
Drag bath into the back kitchen
Dog legs it to sanctuary under my bed.
Wash out bath with jugs of water and tip out into sink (turkey having been removed previously to glower from the groaning draining board.
Dump turkey in bath.
Fill bath with jugs of water.

Make cup of tea. Eye turkey.

By turning the thing every half hour we finally managed to extract the plastic bag containing the neck and giblets at a quarter to twelve: the oven was lit, goose pan found and the turkey dumped inside. It filled the oven completely, its parson’s nose touching the door.

Father returned in the early hours of Christmas Day having taken it upon himself to travel to the other side of London with friend to visit said friend’s cousins whom father had not met for years.
Doubtless drink had been taken at some point in his peregrinations.

We knew father had returned because – in an attempt not to raise the household – he entered via the door to the back kitchen and fell over the bath.

Somehow we escaped food poisoning that Christmas, and mother was on a roll.

Vesta dehydrated chow mien made its appearance.

Betty Crocker cake mixes leered from the cupboard.

And then she discovered frozen fish.

And tinned condensed soups.

And how to combine the two.

Supper time would be heralded by the a new aroma: that of a lump of indeterminate fish baked in the oven in a mix of milk and condensed mushroom soup.

Forget Proust and his blasted tisane de tilleul…..for years afterwards the whiff of cooked mushroom would bring back those days when food turned to ashes……

So when moving to France, shopping in the commercial sector of my local town – Chiottes la Gare – would often bring back those days….as there was a large factory on the edge of the sector turning fresh button mushrooms into canned sliced suede and on ‘cooking’ days the air was thick with the smell.

Mushrooms were relatively big business in the area, which was rich in the limestone caves ideal for the temperatures required in mushroom cultivation and the roads around were busy with lorries carrying mushrooms for processing and mushroom compost for improving the soil…..so much so in fact that the smell of mushrooms being cooked began to be identified with the town rather than with mother’s latter day cooking epiphany.

But alas….veni, vidi, vale….the mushroom factory is no more.

The parent company – Bonduelle – has shut it down leaving its one hundred and thirty eight employees out of work.

One hundred and thirty eight people – and the families who depend on their earnings – thrown on the heap.

A hard blow for a town which has just lost another major employer.

Jobs were initially offered at a plant in the neighbouring department – quite a commute, and no public transport, but people were willing to take it on. Anything is better than no job in modern day France because there aren’t any other jobs, search how you like.

But the jobs have not materialised, so the one hundred and thirty eight will have to fall back on the generous provision for those made unemployed.

Except it isn’t going to be generous.

The plant was owned by an agricultural co operative – France Champignon – before Bonduelle took a fifty three percent share in the co op and proudly placed a Bonduelle sign on the wall of the factory.

Now, the France Champignon sign is back because Bonduelle claims it is not responsible for the fate of France Champignon (despite its fifty three per cent holding).

What Bonduelle actually means that while compensation for sacked workers is generous in the industrial sector – Bonduelle – it is laughable in the agricultural sector – France Champignon.
Thus the changing of the sign.

A company which can swallow a fine of thirty million euros imposed by the European Union for rigging the mushroom market without blinking is content to fall back on a shabby device to cut compensation for employees sacked through no fault of their own and at the moment that is is refusing negotiations, its publicity air balloon sails over the factory: always a budget for publicity.

But where are the protests? Where the unions filling the streets with their members? Where are the politicians in their tricolour sashes, marching to support their townsmen and women?

Noticeably absent.

There is only a minor union presence in France Champignon/Bonduelle. The mighty CGT doesn’t deign to offer support, local politicians shrug their shoulders.
That’s just the way it is these days.

And the way it is these days goes some way to explaining why ordinary people turn their backs on the traditional power bases in France – venal unions who only represent eight per cent of French workers and couldn’t give two penn’orth of cold gin for the rest: equally venal politicians combining as many elected posts as possible to touch the allowances and pensions which go with them…..is it any wonder people listen to the message of the Front National?

As people in England listened to that of UKIP.

Both parties present themselves as alternatives to the current major parties while in fact they have the same structure, the same fault lines.

But when you feel that the life you knew is going down the drain you don’t look too closely to see whether your lifeline is fraying.

You grab and hope.

53 Comments

Filed under Food, france

The kindness of a fellow passenger in averting deep vein thrombosis on the flight to Madrid

I was at San Jose airport departures when I first saw him.
As I filled out forms at the entrance to the Iberia check in desk he appeared, asking the attendant if he could keep an eye on his bags while he went to the counter to pay his exit tax.
The attendant said that he could not….according to security regulations he had to keep his bags with him at all times. Unattended bags ran a risk of being hoovered up by the airport police and taken to a bourne from which no suitcase was known to return.
There was a brief altercation, but by that time I had moved on to the desk where my suitcase was whisked away with assurances that it would be sent through on my connecting flight while I – the paying passenger – would have to get the boarding card for my connection on arrival at Madrid.
Could they not ticket me through?
No.
But you can do it for the suitcase.
The Senora is not a suitcase.
Unarguable, really.

Past security – where the abandonment of the idea of passengers removing their shoes may be due to the cost of providing staff with gas masks – and off into the airport proper.
Expensive shops selling tat for tourists, even more expensive food and drink outlets and a cubicle offering massages which gathers hopeful looks from passing male passengers before their wives follow the direction of their gaze and urge them past the danger zone.

Boarding the ‘plane by groups…..
Welcome to our Platinum, Diamond and other assorted rocks customers who are welcome to board together with priority passengers….
So the freeloaders line up with the harassed parents with toddlers and pushchairs, while there is a Gadarene rush to the loos on the part of the rest of the passengers.

The even tenor of proceedings in the Ladies is disturbed by an elderly man in a pork pie hat who bursts in calling for his wife….their group is boarding!

His wife, to judge from her response, has other priorities….my Spanish vocabulary is extended, particularly when he rushes from cubicle to cubicle imploring her in the name of various saints and the Virgin to emerge, which incites other ladies to make known their views on elderly gentleman in general and elderly gentlemen in pork pie hats in the Ladies loo in particular.
He is ejected by an attendant: his wife surges majestically from her cubicle and begins to adjust her make up.

By the time I return to the waiting area my group is being called, and as I sit down to wait for the queue to reduce the man I had noticed at the check in line appears, trundling his trolley in the direction of the loos.

Duly boarded, my carry on bag shoved into the overhead locker, I occupy my aisle seat.
Other groups board; the window seat remains unoccupied.
A couple board with cats in carry on cages and sit in the centre seats.
A French man behind me starts to sneeze, claiming an allergy but does not, as he hopes, get an upgrade; just an exchange with a non allergic person further up the ‘plane.
The cats miaow.
A child wails.
Still no window seat passenger.

The stewards are closing the lockers when he appears….the man from the check in.
The window seat passenger.

He starts shifting all the bags in the lockers to make room for his as I stand to let him get to his seat.

Blast.

And a blast he was all the ten hours to Madrid.

If he wasn’t raking out his ears he was clearing his nose.
When he’d finished on that he started hawking into his handkerchief.
The man was an otorhinolaryngologist’s dream.
Or nightmare.

Then, by way of variation, he needed to visit the loo.
Three times before the meal was served.

I asked him if he would prefer the aisle seat.
No, he would not. He had paid for a window seat (on a night flight) and a window seat he would have.

After the meal service was cleared away the plane was prepared for the night. My companion visited the loo again and it looked as if he might settle down.
But there was yet one more shot in his overhead locker.
He got up to retrieve one of his bags..
He sat down again and, delving within, produced a plastic container and with the aid of the contents thereof he removed his contact lenses and cleaned both them and his eyes.
Then he put the whole lot away again.

As a kindly – and very handsome – steward had given me an additional bottle of wine with the meal I was ready for a nap…..but fat chance with the perpetual bowel motion machine inboard of me.
He was in and out of his seat like a dog at a fair…..interspersed with the ear nose and throat routine…..and the reversal of the contact lens procedure just as breakfast was served.

All he seemed to miss out on was colonic irrigation.

So it was that I was not in the best of tempers when landing at Madrid in search of my onward ticket to London, but Iberia, accustomed to the old Spanish practices of their network, have a counter as you disembark from international flights where such matters can be sorted, so, duly ticketed, I made the trip on the shuttle to the other part of the airport and found my connection to Heathrow in good time.

I could even catch up on my sleep as the coach from Heathrow to Southampton was caught in a traffic jam on the M25 for over two hours……which also gave me time to wonder whether I had been wise to turn down Iberia’s offer of an upgrade to Business class for five hundred euros on top of my regular fare.

What would I have gained?
Space, certainly, and a chance to nap, but five hundred euros just for that and a glass of fizz?

I don’t think so.

Not until I’m totally decrepit.

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