Monthly Archives: May 2015

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.

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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.

55 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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Filed under travel