You know you’re in France when…

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Even before you get there Air France is ripping you off.
Their menu…in sardine class…offered champagne as an aperitif, then wine with the meal.

What did we get?

As the ominous foil packets were dished out giving a choice between beef -which those accustomed to French beef declined with alacrity – or glue with pasta, only an offer of one or the other beverage…champagne from a long opened bottle on the serving unit or vin de table in a tatty plastic mini bottle.

Following a delay of an hour and a half before take off sitting in a stifling cabin on the runway while the flight attendents hid from passengers praying for the services of Gunga Din it was not the best welcome to France…but probably the most accurate of what was awaiting the sardines once decanted at Paris Charles de Gaulle….incompetence and indifference.

I had missed the ‘good’ train to my destination….so was obliged to take the afternoon train which at twenty five percent more on the ‘good’ ticket price wafted me halfway across France by train, followed by an an unholy scramble for the cross country bus which would take me a third of the way across France back the way I had come to the one horse dorp in la France Profonde whence friends would whisk me to a shower, food and a decent bed.
If I had asked for the scenic route I might not have objected to paying for it….but as I hadn’t I did.
Neither did I appreciate having to retrieve my cases from the bowels of the bus unaided by the driver…unaided that was until I opened the loo evacuation compartment by mistake. That brought him running.
The additional two hours on the journey didn’t do much to rejoice my heart either.

First, off to the bank to settle my affairs.
i needed to be able to make transfers from my online account. This, it appeared, required me to make an appointment to see an advisor in order to set up a gimcrack system whereby I would be forced to buy a mobile ‘phone in order to receive and despatch some code or other to verify that I was indeed the person making the transfer.
I made the appointment for 11 0’clock two days hence in the branch of the town with the station.

The next day, my friends having to rejig their schedule, I rang the bank to change the time of the appointment.
The usual codswallop…your call is being recorded for the benefit of President Obama…music of suicidal brightness… press 1 for incomprehenson and 2 for total oblivion…until eventually arriving at a voice.
I explained.
The voice replied that my appointment was for the afternoon of the day on which I was calling in a branch far, far away. The branch where I had originally opened an account more than twenty years ago.
How, I enquired, had this come to pass?
The voice replied that I had omitted to give my full details to the clerk when making the appointment so the ‘centrale’ had put things right.
When, I enquired, had they planned to tell me that things had changed?
If you’ve never heard a voice shrug you have never lived in France.

Then I needed to contact people who had recently moved house.
The number they had given me did not seem to exist, according to the voice on the telephone service.
A text message on their U.K. mobile raised no response….until two days later when they called to explain that they would be without telephone and internet for a fortnight.
They had only received the text message when out shopping where they could receive a signal.
The ‘phone and internet should have been installed on the day they moved house…but they had had to put back the move for a couple of days.
When calling into the ‘phone company’s office to rearrange things they found that
A. The office only existed to sell mobile ‘phones
and
B. When they finally made contact with the company they were told that as they had changed the date without warning the contract had been cancelled. They would have to start the process all over again.
So instead of settling things over the ‘phone I had to inconvenience friends by asking them to drive over…not a short distance.

Inflexible, infuriating….in France.

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I May Be Some Time…

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In the U.K. a friend who was a big wheel in a major accountancy firm gave me a rule of thumb for estimating the trustworthiness of organisations in which you might think to invest or with whom you were thinking of doing business.

If they had a water feature in the lobby of their head office they were either about to go bust or they were running on funny money.

On that basis, then, my regular lawyer is neither going to go bust tomorrow nor is he dealing in narcotics.

I take his office for granted…I grew up in a period when money spent on offices was regarded as sheer waste…so climbing a steep flight of steps to a labyrinth of small rooms around a landing where the lawyer’s office door is closed by a padlock when he goes to lunch comes as no great surprise.
It does to various visitors from Europe who have accompanied me.

They take one look at the wooden bench in the joint waiting area and decide to go elsewhere for a coffee while I conduct my business.

They don’t know what they are missing. Like all waiting rooms, gossip is rife, but only in a lawyer’s waiting room in Costa Rica have I seen a client rise to his feet and sing to entertain the rest of us when the television broke down.
Very good he was too.

I have been frequenting offices lately, as I am off to Europe and need any number of documents notarised, even, in some cases, given an apostille by the Foreign Ministry.

Costa Rican legal documents bristle with fiscal stamps, legal stamps, stamps for the preservation of national parks – you name it there’s a stamp for it, not to speak of the enormous gold stars applied by notaires – as if you had done very well indeed while at primary school.
Whether you can read the text underneath this gallimaufry appears to be irrelevant.

But it’s not all indoor work.

If you need an apostille, then the notaire’s signature has to be confirmed by the notaires’ governing body and as this entity lurks in the bowels of an office block out in the suburbs you get a little tourism thrown in.
You get even more tourism thrown in if your notaire has made a horlicks of the stamps as you then have to go to a bank to buy the appropriate digital fiscal stamps.
Half an hour’s wait to buy a one hundred colon (0.1324 of a British pound) stamp does not appeal to me, especially as no one seems to sing in a bank.
I prefer not to contemplate what you would need to do if the notaire forgot a national parks preservation stamp….probably go out to net an unwary sloth.

Still, by tomorrow all should be in order – as far as the documents are concerned anyway. My packing preparations are, as yet, non existent, apart from bags of coffee for friends.
What will the weather be like? The current heatwave, or a reversion to normality? What to take by way of clothes? Where in the name of the wee man are my comfortable shoes for the ‘plane?

I don’t look forward to a long flight, jammed in a seat and fed buns by the keepers, but far worse is the fact that this trip totally upsets my cricket listening plans for the summer.

It is, should anyone not be aware, an Ashes summer. England versus Australia. The big one.

My routine is to rise at three thirty in the morning, make a cup of tea and switch on the computer in time to hear the start of the morning session on Test Match Special, that gem of broadcasting so far unsullied by the BBC’s predilection for political correctness and paedophilia.

Mark you I did have quite a surprise when returning from letting the sheep out in the lunch interval to hear Phil Tufnell refer to a Duckworth-Lewis blow job….but it turned out to be a reference to fellow commentator Henry Blofeld jamming with the Irish musical group the Duckworth Lewis Method, so that was all right.

But what will I do when in Europe? I’m taking the laptop…but most of my business will be conducted in the hours of play – lawyers on the continent of Europe having no conception of decency.
I think it will be all right in England…the lawyer there is a cricket nut too and mother will be glued to TMS from morning to night, thermos at hand, but until then I shall have to resort to sitting up all night in the guest bedroom of friends’ houses with headset linked to the laptop, listening to a replay of the ball by ball commentary on the BBC iPlayer.
If there’s a plug.
If their computer is switched on all night.
If the wifi works.

It doesn’t bear contemplating.

The First Test has shown that this is going to be an exciting series…and where shall I be?

Stuck in lawyers’ offices.
In a heatwave.
With no water feature.

Hard Pounding

Jim Goldstein photography

One of the fixed tasks of the day is that of letting out the chickens and ducks, once egg laying duties have been performed, releasing the ducklings into their wired enclosure and opening the outer door of the sheep pen under the gaze of its ruminating occupants.

No problem here….it is dry and sunny, the water and food bowls can be cleaned out, fresh bedding laid, the ducks’ drinking water, full of wasted maize flour, fed to the tilapia and a return to the house for a cup of tea.

Another point of the day is far from fixed in the rainy season.
The point of feeding and banging up for the night all those enumerated above.

The sheep are no problem at all…..they will return to base bawling for food at a quarter to three on the dot as that is the hour when Danilo brings down swathes of sugar cane and camaroon – a tall red grass – and passes it all through the cane cutter.
On Sundays, Danilo’s day off, this is my job.

I am distinctly wary of that cane cutter….it sucks in sugar cane that seems as hard as bars of iron and spits it out in grated fashion into the trough.
Having no wish to turn myself into mince I switch it on, its roar echoing off the valley walls, and feed it the stems from a distance…being careful not to have any catching my hands or arms…and turn it off only when there is clear ground between me and it.

Rake the minced grass down the length of the trough, shut the outer door and leave the sheep feeding greedily.
Easy peasy.

Later I will return with a bucket of sliced bananas, at which point they will climb up me to get at the bucket while I’m trying to close the inner door and there will be an unseemly jostling for position around the two tubs during which I will make my escape.
With the sheep, you’re only the belle of the ball while you have the bananas.
When they have the bananas you are Cinderella at one minute past midnight.
I know people like this, but the sheep are less hypocritical about it.

So where is the problem?

More like what is the problem.

This is the rainy season. You can be reading on the balcony, the sun shining, soft breezes playing about you and then it will start.
The sky will begin to cloud over….this is when to put down your book and head for the feed supplies which you have laid down in the morning.

If you are lucky, you will return from the sheep pen just as the first drops start to fall and a curtain of cloud makes the valley invisible. You can hear the main force of the rain hitting the hill across the stream…just time to leg it to safety.
If not lucky, you will be imprisoned as a lightning bolt hits the field next door, thunder rolls overhead, and the rain does not just pour…it pounds down on the tin roof.

You can see it running down the drive in torrents…the drain from the house gutters filling the area between you and your base with water well over ankle height…

You can be an interested spectator as a gust sends coconuts flying from the tree onto the roof of the house, rousing the dogs to howling fury….

You can wonder if your husband has remembered to turn off the computer…

You can be assaulted by indignant sheep as the tubs are emptied of bananas…

The neighbour’s dog will sprint past you heading for your house….and, inevitably, the sofa. He resembles a drowned rat.

And that’s just the sheep.

The chickens will generally be hanging about if it is dark…they like to be inside and tucked up on their perches in less than clement conditions…but the ducks are something else.

First the ducklings.
You have left it as long as you could, hoping that the rain will stop, or at least become less intense…but the moment has come.
Up to the enclosure carrying food in one hand and bearing an umbrella in the other.
Ducklings object to umbrella and scoot round to the back of the enclosure under the passion flower vine in which you entangle your umbrella and roar expletives.
This attracts mother duck who has spent the day outside the enclosure and now wishes to return to protect her offspring – or, more likely, get more of the food than she would among the other adult ducks.
From the outside, she leads them round past the back of their house…where you cannot follow.
They sit, ten pairs of beady eyes watching you rave.
You go outside the enclosure and shoo them out of their lair with a stick rattled through the wire.
Mother attacks you….if you’re not wearing wellies you’ll have a purple mark for days as ducks have a sort of hook under the top part of the beak which gives rise to a sensation for which the word peck is totally inadequate.

Now for the ducks, most of whom are disporting themselves in the tilapia ponds among the flowering water hyacinths.
Down the steps, umbrella in hand, to find the spring at the bottom in full action and nothing but waterlogged ground between you and your prey.
You advance in a flanking movement to avoid the brutes legging it further down the garden and then doubling back up the hill through the rice.
You turn, you advance on them and get very wet as you use the umbrella as a sort of reverse bullfighter’s cape to encourage them to retreat from you up the steps while dashing forward to prevent the black one from making a jink to the side and disappearing into the papyrus.
From the papyrus no duck extraction is possible.

You get them up the steps…and find them huddled in the doorway of the duck house.
The broody has chosen this moment to manifest itself, leaving its nest to eat and, puffed up and hissing, is refusing to let any other duck pass her.
You leave the open umbrella in the gangway to prevent the ducks returning the way they came, seize the broody and cast her forth, while guiding the others in with your foot.
You shut the door.
You retrieve the umbrella.
The broody, furious, flies up to her nest above the door and voids her bowels.
Depending on your timing you are
A. Unscathed.
B. The umbrella gets it.
C. You do.

in any case you head for the shower.

So the race between yourself and the rain could be described as Wellington described Waterloo….
‘A damned nice thing – the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life’.

On a daily basis. For six months of the year.