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.





Hope on the Jobs Horizon for France


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.

henri IV

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…












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’.
















A French Widow in Every Room

Recently, I have read two articles in the ‘Travel’ sections of ‘The Independent’ and ‘The Guardian’ dealing with visits to Costa Rica.

Brief articles, as those who operate these organs consider that their target readership resembles themselves in having the attention span of a gnat which has gained its culture at the knees of dwarfs who long ago fell from the shoulders of giants into the mire of consumerism.

I can’t comment on the choice of ’boutique’ hotels, but I jolly well can on the subject of Volcan Arenal, which figures in both articles.

This is Volcan Arenal….some ninety kilometres north of the capital, San Jose….


volcan arenal

Brooding big beast, isn’t it…..

It had been dormant for centuries before blowing its top in the 1960s, causing tremendous loss of life and associated damage then for years afterward made a spectacle of itself with its lava flows.

arenal lava

Needless to say,this gave rise to a tourist trade…the  heated waters from the volcano were tamed and privatised to form hot springs resorts while hotels started to be built to give views of the flows.

This went well for years, until the lava flows messed off round to the other side of the volcano. Those hotels which had been cashing in for years risked losing trade to the cheaper places which up to then had built their business on hiking and bird watching.

What to do?

Well,if in doubt, do nothing.

Just keep pumping out the publicity. After all, volcanoes are unpredictable beasts and if your guests have a blank night you can console yourself that the tour operators only bring them for one night and that the next lot will be along tomorrow.

And so it went on happily until, in 2010, Volcan Arenal shut up shop.

Five years ago.

You can still hike…watch birds…enjoy the hot springs….but no lava flows.

So why do those who wrote these articles – in 2015 – tell the readers of the two newspapers that the volcano is still active and that they can book hotel rooms to see the lava flow?

British Airways are offering direct flights from London to San Jose from next year….no doubt  there are people planning their trips to make the most of the price of a long haul flight.

It would be a pity if they booked a trip to Arenal on the strength of these two articles.

Yes, things can change rapidly in the sphere of hotels, restaurants and even natural phenomena,but if you accept money to write a travel guide – nomatter how short – should you not check your facts?

Costa Rica has so much more to offer than the enclosed beach resorts, the tourist coffee trails and the exploitative hippy ‘sanctuaries’….

I am quite aware that the travel section editors know nothing of Costa Rica apart from the advertising brought in when the article is punted around…but could they not ensure that basic information is correct?

If Costa Rica interests you,then the best source for places to visit is here: 

but if you want to be misled as to the delights of your destination then you can do no better than consult Hoffnung  on the Tyrol.

Thanks to WordPress I can no longer put up a Youtube clip..but Hoffnung’s claims of a French widow in every room promising enormous revelations seems a better bet than looking for lava onVolcan Arenal