As they Revel in the Joys of Renovation

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It’s not always as much fun as this – clambering about in a roofless wreck dating from the fourteenth century; a stone spiral staircase in the remains of the tower and an unsuspected vaulted cellar below, discovered when the termite specialist from the town hall fell through the floor into its entrance.

‘What bad luck,’ said the neighbour. ‘Fill that in quick before the archaeologists find out about it.’

My husband is a serial house renovator, beginning in the evenings after work  in London as a young man when his haggard looks on arrival at the Stock Exchange in the mornings prompted his then boss to counsel him not to be out on the tiles every night. Stifling the urge to respond that actually he had been under the joists he remained quiet and just smiled mysteriously when colleagues asked him how he managed to pull the birds so successfully.

He continued in France…..but there was an obstacle to progress.

The artisan francais.

In that time and in that place the artisan francais was the bodger supreme and the client did as the bodger told him as he, the bodger, was, after all, the artisan while the client was only the client.

You wanted a damp course installed for the new kitchen? Fat chance.

A. The bodger didn’t know what it was

and

B. The bodger didn’t intend to find out.

Instead, should you be rash enough to go away for a week the bodger would promptly dry line your kitchen instead thus putting out all your measurements for the units.

What with that and the habit of mixing up a barrow load of cement just before lunch and dumping what remained unused in the shrubbery it was clear that the artisan francais was not the answer to prayer.

Then a friend in the village – a Turk married to a French woman – put us on to a friend of his, another Turk running his own building business.

We had struck gold.

His estimates were reasonable and accurate; he knew what he was doing and he had an eye and a feeling for old buildings.

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He and his main men – the mighty Osman and the monosyllabic Ramazan – supplemented by the young men straight from Turkey, undertook the heavyweight stuff; removal of walls, replacement of roofs, replacement of rotten beams with RSJs, laying floors, making arches and doorways….our part was the follow up work; pointing, painting, puttying and grouting. Uncomfortable though they were, given the endless metres of tiling I had to grout the bogging pads certainly saved me from an attack of grouter’s knee – something which sounds as if it should have been celebrated by Rambling Syd Rumpo:

There were arts to learn…an RSJ does not look at ease alongside ancient beams: the answer is to enclose it in a plasterboard case, then mix up a gunge of glue and plaster which is slapped on with a liberal hand, combed to imitate wood grain and anointed while wet with walnut stain.

Sounds naff…looks good and certainly fooled every expert.

To restore limestone mouldings perished by the weather you could buy a powder called ‘Patrimoine’  – but it wouldn’t last unless you first applied Bondex to the site to be restored. And at that period you had to bring your Bondex from England.

Bringing old wrecks back to life was a joy.

Some we lived in, some we rented out, others we sold on straight away, but each was a pleasure.

When you can find this old lady, windows broken, water running down the walls,

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and restore her dignity

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You feel that all the work was worthwhile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Summer is icumen in…

Summer is indeed upon us: we might lack the cuckoo in these tropical climes but we certainly have the full range of farmyard animals referred to in the lyrics about us.

And, especially, we have Monty.

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From this little thing, rejected by his mother, he has now, some two years later, turned into this:

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Very much the patriarch with his family about him.

He took his time making the transition.

For a long time he hung about near the house doing guard sheep duties:

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But more and more he was drawn to the flock whence he came until he finally decided to take up residence and dominate them rather than us.

He has taken on the typical attitude of a ram…if it is in the way, butt it, if it isn’t butt it anyway… but still and always cuddles up to Leo, mild as milk.

Clearly, he does not forget who saved him.

Climate change is with us: the pastures are drying out early in the unseasonable heat, so thank goodness that we laid a lot of ground down to cameroun – a nutritious fodder grass – a few years ago  to supplement the grazing which means that the ewes maintain vigour and can support their lambs, unlike Monty’s mother who had arrived half starved.

We were supposed to be at the altitude limit for coconuts to fruit…but this year, not content with fruiting, they have started to germinate:

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Goodness only knows what changes we will see in the future…but, for the moment, as this song from the late fifties says:

 

 

 

 

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Here they come again…

 

The local elections are upon us…..February 7th is D Day and all the candidates are out trying to secure the confidence of the electorate. If confidence is the right word.

Cars flying party flags are to be seen in the streets…vast posters of the features of the candidates leer from hoardings – though those promoting one candidate in a neighbouring canton have been attacked by an aesthete who has carefully removed said candidate’s head from each one…..

There are not just party candidates…there are independents too.

In the capital the man who stood as presidential candidate for his party and then withdrew in mysterious circumstances has not been dismayed at being banned from standing for the party again for some years. No, far from it. His podgy features beam from posters funded by his personal election committee and only the least charitable of persons could give credence to the rumour that he has to get his hands on the town hall funds  in order to pay off the Mexican syndicate which funded his presidential run….

Just as in the U.K., the candidates are chary of trying door to door canvassing…too many people have pit bulls and those that don’t have machetes.

Wild promises are being made by our local heroes: more employment…roads  to be repaired…the erratic public water supply to be improved… which is generally translated as meaning

‘When I get into power the council will make jobs for my family and friends: sons of friends will be employed to carry out the necessary preliminary studies for road repairs which will take all the years of my mandate with no perceptible improvement in the situation and the only improvement in the water supply will be me, my family and friends pissing on the population from a great height.’

So, recognising that enthusing the voters is a lost cause the candidates have resorted to the tried and tested method of carrot and stick as exemplified in another neighbouring canton where those on low incomes applying for grants to build a house are given to understand that the outcome of their application will depend on the way they cast their  vote…

And don’t talk to me about the secrecy of the ballot….

I lived in a French village where the maire knew exactly which forty four people had voted Front National and thus also knew which car tyres to let down on the night of the election…and if France can  do it Costa Rica will not be far behind.

The social media are busy…publicity, of course, but plenty of accusations of dirty work at the crossroads too – some backed by proof, others solely relying on innuendo – which are inevitably subject to comments expressing shock that the person concerned has been so lost to all sense of decency that they could even contemplate publishing such material in the period before an election….the said comments usually being followed by others pointing out the family relationship shared by the person making the comment and the person commented upon in the initial post.

You will note that I have given examples only from neighbouring cantons….

In our own dear canton, of course, all the candidates are as pure as the driven slush…

 

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Happy New Year

Thank you for your company over the past year…no one could wish for kinder, better informed, more interesting visitors.

So…a toast, ladies, gentlemen and others (you know who you are):

Here’s tae us

Wha’s like us?

Damn few

And they’re all deid.

There will be no first footing here….men walking about at night with lumps of coal and bottles of whisky being a rarity….but there is Black Bun and as the New Year arrives I wish you and your families all that you could wish for yourselves.

 

hogmanay

 

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Merry Christmas

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Labour saving Costa Rica! You plant out a poinsettia and you have it for life…

Pots? Humbug!

Wishing you a merry Christmas wherever you are, and thanking you for enlivening this blog with your comments.

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Hope on the Jobs Horizon for France

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France has chronic unemployment….in certain sectors.

If you are the ‘fils de papa” (well connected) you will have a non job which brings in the uckers for the rest of your life, whereas if you are the ordinary sort of chap whose mother did not cavort with her husband’s boss between the hours of 5.00p.m.and 7.00p.m. (le cinq a sept) in the interests of advancing her husband’s career then you are likely to be either unemployed or employed on a short term contract offering very limited social protection.

Are there alternatives?

Yes, setting up in an independent business. A one man band.

That has always been possible  and Sarkozy made it easier, but, France being France, only if the proposed business fits within the procrustean beds of recognised activities.

Severely restricted activities.

So you can imagine the rejoicing when a judge in South West France expanded the categories: a previously unrecognised activity has now been accepted – in jurisprudence  at least, if not by the taxman.

It all happened in Bearn…

Bearn…in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

Bearn…home of Henri IV, King of Navarre and France, who brought the country out of the Wars  of Religion by negotiating  when he could  – Paris  is worth a mass – and fighting when he must  – Battle of Ivry – but remaining always his own man.

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Given the said Henri’s reputation with the ladies it is always possible that the farmer from Bearn who gave rise to this case was one of his descendants as he too negotiated before taking action as we shall see.

Theft from farms has been a growing problem in France and this farmer, like most of his kind, had locked up what he could and nailed down what he couldn’t before setting off with his bulldozer to continue his activities as a guardian of the countryside.

On his return, he found that he had visitors…a couple in an old van who, despite the frustration of finding little that would not need a forklift truck to remove, had stuck to their task and were carrying off the battery from his electric fencing system.

The farmer negotiated. They idea was that they would give back the battery and remove themselves from the premises.

This is the Paris is worth a mass bit: no point reporting it to the gendarmerie as the likely response would be the Gallic shrug accompanied by an inspection of his bulldozer to see if they could fine him for something.

So his visitors started up the old van and turned for home.

Unfortunately in their haste to depart they ripped out part of his irrigation system…which is when the Battle of Ivry bit came to the fore.

He might not have been wearing a white plume in his hat but it was with a certain panache  that he revved up his bulldozer, pushed the van into the bed of a stream and, as his visitors took to shanks’ pony, reduced it to a total wreck.

You can almost see him spitting on his hands and setting off for a celebration where wine, women and garlic vied for pole position.

Some time later, however, he had a nasty surprise.

A summons.

His visitors had complained about his activities and the local prosecutor had taken up their complaint…..the farmer could not take the law into his own hands.

This would come as a shock to any French farmer, accustomed as he is to blocking the highway at will, dumping manure in supermarket car parks, raiding the said supermarket’s shelves for alien produce and burning imported lambs alive in the lorry which has transported them.

None of which activities arouses the interest of the forces of law and order.

So, off to court.

You do wonder, sometimes, about people….their ability to appreciate the nature of causality…

For example, in my little town, an elderly person whose custom was to offer pre teens an Ipad or mobile ‘phone in return for mutual display of genitalia was so annoyed when one pre teen ran off with the ‘phone before the display could take place that he toddled off  to the police station complaining of theft… and was very surprised to find a police squad on his doorstep a few days later, wishing to investigate his computer before carting him off to the jug.

Where he will, if so inclined, have time to meditate on the theories of David Hume while he plays billiards with the Mikado’s elliptical balls.

In the case before us, however, while the visitors had seen fit to complain that the farmer had done them material and moral damage they seemed to have overlooked the chequered history of the male visitor’s encounters with the law.

Which landed the said gentleman with three months in the jug.

If there is room in the jug, which is, at present, running waiting lists worthy of a three star Michelin restaurant.

His lady companion, however, was unknown to the judicial computer and after due deliberation the judge awarded her a derisory sum for the loss of her van…but a considerable sum for the fact that the loss of her transport had deprived her of the chance to earn her living.

Which is where we return to the expansion of employment opportunities in France….

If  thieving is now recognised as an activity worthy of the protection of the law then there are an awful lot of people ready to avail themselves of that  protection….entrepreneurs: no more hiding in the shadows, running around in clapped out vans….buy a BMW and put it down to the company……

Though perhaps she was an estate agent…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Drink, drink, drink…

Here is Will Fyffe, actor and music hall star, singing the song for which he is best known…’I belong to Glasgow’…ostensibly the tale of a man sure neither of his balance nor his syllables as he makes his way back to the bosom of his wife after celebrating the end of the working  week in the company of his pals.

Not, by the sound of things, that he would have passed the ‘Wee Deoch an’ Dorus’ test:

There’s a wee wifie waitin’ in a wee but an ben.
If you can say, “It’s a braw bricht moonlicht nicht”,
Then yer a’richt, ye ken.

Try it yourself and see how you do…

Still, his character’s fate at the hands of his wife apart, Mr.Fyffe’s character exposes the  atmosphere of the time: he and his kind, the working man, who made the country what it is (was) are treated with contumely by the rich who pass them in their motor cars as they weave their unsteady way home on foot..

Mr Fyffe’s character asks how those rich made their money: answer – from him and his kind.

He further asks what the rich actually do: answer- they ‘do’ (cheat) him and his kind.

Sounds familiar? Yes.

Nothing has changed? No….

There was change: the post war settlement of the late forties and fifties aimed to ensure acceptable housing, proper education and guaranteed health services for all, not just for the few.

It had its faults -but over all it produced a  society where the threat of destitution no longer existed should you be too young, too old or to infirm to work.

And then came Thatcher, who declared that there was no such thing as society.

Who deregulated financial services.

Who willfully destroyed core national industries in order to break organised labour.

And son of Thatcher….Blair…under whom Britain became the money laundering centre of the world, while the people his party used to claim to represent went to the wall: jobless and despised.

And now we have Cameron: no programmes to promote industrial growth, zero hours contracts and demonisation of the poor.

In the agricultural depression of the late eighteenth century the magistrates of Speenhamland in Berkshire decided to aid the poor by topping up their wages -the idea being to keep them from following the example of the French peasants whose revolution was going on at the time.

Needless to say, as the burden of payment fell on the very landowners who were underpaying their workforce it was not at all popular.

The modern way is to put up the wages of those who work for skinflint employers by finding it from general taxation – which falls less and less on the very rich thanks to cosy understandings with the taxman.

The modern way is to undermine family life by making it impossible to have what was once known as a steady job…

No wonder people take to drink….

 

And no wonder they effect the same betrayal of love and trust as did the ‘Student Prince’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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