Election Fever and Marriage a la Mode

CR presidential candidates

Election time in Costa Rica!

On Sunday people will be voting to send deputies to the National Assembly and electing a President.

There is plenty of choice…thirteen candidates….and no real way of knowing how people will vote on the day.  The polls show that an increasing number of those who intend to vote are not at all sure for whom to vote…..though there is a suspicion that those who intend to vote Liberation are afraid to say so, linked as that party is to institutionalised corruption, but will vote green and white, the party colours, once in the privacy of the booth.

Liberation’s candidate, despite being a front man for the Oscar Arias tendency – think mining concessions in protected areas – claims to be ‘a man of the people’. Well, given that his family let out offices to government institutions on the grand scale I suppose he is a man of the people who let out tower blocks…

The defeated Liberation candidate, an ex President who thought it wise to sit things out in Switzerland for several years after his term of office ended, obviously felt sour as he has been financing a noisy demagogue from a tiny party made up for the elections who wants to rule with a firm hand and is notable for announcing that female judges could only get advancement by giving senior male judges oral sex.

An indignant retort from senior female judges rebutted his claim but, as has been noted, only in respect of oral sex….no all embracing rebuttal has been forthcoming.

Then we have the evangelical whose wife speaks in tongues…the video on Facebook has been removed but not before it had gone viral…and a horde of more mainstream candidates.

No Screaming Lord Sutch for Costa Rica.

The local internet groups have been infested by paid ads from those wishing to represent local people in the National Assembly…an ex mayor proclaims that it is time for a native son to represent the canton, forgetting that people have far from fond memories of his mismanagement of its affairs when in power.

What has he done for the canton? Filled in the holes in the athletic track, apparently. So that’s where all our taxes went…

Another bright spark is using the slogan which brought the retiring President to power  – despite representing a rival party – in the hope that people will think it is more of the same….

And the omnipresent candidate for Liberation is promising water for all.

Water is a sore subject here. Thanks to dire mismanagement and neglect there is a water shortage, incredible as it may seem in an area alive with springs and rivers. So we have been treated to photographs of said candidate standing in front of waterfalls and crouching in front of water tanks…when asked on a ‘phone in exactly how he intended to provide water for all he said he would have to study the question with the Water Board, the very people responsible for the mess up….

But people here have other things on their minds…that public nuisance The Neighbour, he of the crisp white hat with the curly brim, has surfaced again.

He had been quiet, not to speak of invisible, for quite some time, given his problems with the various local Mr. Bigs  after losing their money in a casino, but he has emerged to public view once more…on the arm of a lady in her thirties who had consented to marry him.

To general astonishment as she is

A, half his age and

B, generally held to be in possession of her senses.

He had been seen a couple of times, driving round the Three Valleys in her company, but he had installed himself in her comfortable house on the other side of the town while waiting for the ceremony, following which, totally pie eyed and full of himself, he brought her on another tour to introduce her to those who were still on speaking terms with him.

A distinct failure of judgement on his part as she thus learned that the farms he had pointed out to her as being his were, in fact, those of the people whom they were visiting…

It is possible that the atmosphere had chilled somewhat after that, but The Neighbour, of course, had to excel himself.

A couple of days later he was eating the dinner she had prepared when he took a telephone call on his mobile from one of his barfly friends.

Yes, he bawled, he was set up for life now! It was like  having a free pass to a brothel with the food thrown in….

The food might have been thrown in, but The Neighbour was thrown out, on the spot, on his ear and his possessions thrown after him.

The marriage lasted five days.

The lady is breathing fire and loaded for bear.

Much more exciting than some bald bugger crouching in front of a water tank…!

With, hey! the dongle o’er the dale…

mysteryreaderinc.blogspot
mysteryreaderinc.blogspot

The name of the thing itself conjures up visions…or their auricular equivalents…of Benny Hill’s ‘I have got a hosepipe’ and Kenneth Williams’ ‘Song of the Bogle Clencher’, so you might imagine my astonishment when my request for internet access at an O2 outlet in Southampton was met by an offer of a ‘dongle’ from a very personable young man.

My flabber has rarely been so ghasted.

He produced his dongle. I was not impressed.
He persisted…he said it would do the trick… and, to my surprise, it did.

After a fashion.

I could read and emit e mails.
I could consult the net….but not all of it.

O2 was intent on protecting me.

I clicked on a dormant blog which serves me as an index.
Part of the blog title is ‘French Fancy’.
O2 had a hissy fit.

It needed to know that I was over eighteen before connecting me and, enough to make anyone north of the border clench their bogles, it also wanted one pound in order to undertake the registration.

Thwarted, I clicked on a current blog I follow…Chez Charnizay, a thoroughly respectable blog just as was French Fancy

Same result.

I suppose that a person brought up in the era when a Presbyterian minister could declare that the Champs Elysees on a Sunday lacked only the flames to make it hell might be aroused to frenzy by the mention of ‘French Fancy….

But…… ‘Chez Charnizay’?

The Price of a Haircut

minnewyork.com

As a young man, my husband was in the sort of way of business where a good suit, polished shoes and neat hair were regarded as essential (by his employers, at any rate).

He thus made frequent visits to a local barber’s shop, where more often than not he would be attended to by an even younger Greek Cypriot chap, not long over and working in his uncle’s business.
They chatted in the desultory way you do when someone else has clippers and scissors near vital parts of your head and when the chap started his own shop my husband followed him there.

The business prospered until, still a young man, he could fulfill his dream.
He sold the shop and returned to Cyprus to build a house for himself and his family, investing the proceeds to ensure he would never have to work again.
He sent a letter with photographs from time to time….he was living a happy life in the sun while my husband, having returned to the ministrations of uncle, was still elbowing his way on and off the Tube to the City.

Then a few years later the chap was back in the uncle’s shop, plying his sharp implements.

The Turks had invaded northern Cyprus…he had lost his property…lost his dream… and had been forced to come back to London to start all over again, living in a little flat on a busy road.
His children had to learn English, start new schools…his wife worked as a cleaner part time, and him?
He worked for uncle.

But only for a couple of years.
He saved his money, took a loan from uncle and started his own business again, building it up into a chain of shops.

My husband did not see him so frequently then as, having started his own business, he could avoid haircuts unless about to go fifteen rounds with the bank manager, whose complete ignorance of the field of business involved did not hold him back from telling my husband how to run it.
My husband’s uncles did not have the same philanthropic streak as that of the barber, unfortunately.
However, when he called at the main shop this man would always cut his hair…as an old client…and they chatted as they used to do years before, keeping in touch off and on when my husband moved away from London.

Then he did it again.
It took him longer as he wanted to be sure he would have enough to retire properly, but he once again sold his business and returned to Cyprus.

He built his house, he invested his money, his wife and children had a good life and he could relax.

The odd letter with photographs would arrive over the years showing the happy picture of a well deserved early retirement, though none since we moved to Costa Rica.

But today we had an e mail from an old friend of my husband….with news of the barber.

His money is, of course, in a Cypriot bank.
Almost sixty per cent of it has in effect been confiscated….thirty seven and half percent under one legal scam and another twenty two percent under another.
And the remaining forty percent?
He can have a few Euros at a time….can’t transfer it abroad….his dream of security for his family shattered yet again.

He’s no longer a young man yet if he has retained anything of his indomitable character he will be be trying once again to pick up the pieces….

But why the blazes should he have to?

Learning the Language


It’s not so simple, learning the language.

I remember learning to speak French in France…..I had ‘done’ French in school…in later life I picked it up again and had good reading skills, but living in rural France was an eye opener.
For a start all my neighbours spoke patois….

It could have been a disaster had my neighbours not also been kind and patient and had I not been introduced to a retired headmistress who wished to improve her English.
While announcing that in my spoken French I was clearly a woman with no past and no future, speaking as I did only in the present tense she told me not to worry.

Talk to people, listen to people…do what babies do…communicate…and one day what you’re hearing will be what you’re speaking.

She was right. I muddled along, read a lot, especially the newspaper in order to be abreast of the current scandals and one day I got there.
I spoke French.

And now I’m learning Spanish. Costa Rican Spanish, not the Castilian Spanish spoken by my husband.

I was talking about my language learning problems to a taxi driver….one of those chatty, friendly men who have proved to be superb teachers.

You’ve come to the right place to learn Spanish, he announced. Here we speak clearly; none of this limp wristed lisping in Central America!

He might have a point….but I suspect that at some stage in the colonial experience a Glaswegian element intervened as nowhere outside that jewel of the Clyde have I encountered a more pronounced glottal stop.

Ganado…cattle…is pronounced Gannow.

Cansado…tired…cansow.

I must be getting somewhere with the local version, though,  because when I bought a train ticket in Barcelona recently the ticket clerk replied:

Pura vida!

The watchword of Costa Rica.

And that from a Catalan……saucy devil!

But learning the language is one thing….how I’m using it is another.

Costa Ricans refer to themselves as Ticos….supposedly from their habit of noting affection or sympathy for something or someone by using the diminutive ‘itico’.

On the (mainly) North American expat fora, Tico is banded about readily when referring to local people or customs, usually in a somewhat condescending way….

A Tico house as contrasted to one built to North American standards….

What Ticos do as opposed to what the contributor does…..

And when the established expat human mosquitoes invite the newbies to  a get together to see how much they can  take them for you also tend to hear disparaging comments about Ticos.

So, though my Tico friends refer to themselves as Ticos…I feel inhibited from doing so from the way Tico is used by the expat groups.

I use Costa Rican…….Costarricense.

Then I’ll be with Costa Rican friends having coffee in the Teatro Nacional.

They’ll call the waiter over and address him as

Muchacho.

A bit like  saying ‘Garcon!’ to a French waiter.

But instead of peeing in the mustard for revenge, he takes it as normal and brings the order.

I can’t do that…or I feel that I can’t.

Yet when, years ago, we were travelling to Nicaragua, I didn’t find the same inhibition.

As we stepped off the bus at the frontier, a lady with a wad of immigration forms approached the passengers, offering to fill out the details for a sum of money. I said I could fill it in myself…but she still wanted money, despite notices all over the buildings stating that all formalities are free  of charge.

So at the entrance to the immigration offices…a Cecil B. de Mille crowd scene if ever there was one… I approached an unwary policeman and told him that the ‘muchacha’ wouldn’t give me a form.

He went off to the clerks at the desks and came back to say that they had run out of forms…but not to worry…the computer was working so no need to do anything.

So why did it come naturally to refer to her as ‘muchacha’ when I can’t call a waiter ‘muchacho’?

Is it that it was indirect…not to her face…thus not requiring respect?

Dancing in the streets at Chiottes la Gare….but only if it rains.

Let joy be unconfined! Sabrer le champagne!

As part of the shake up in the policing of France, responsibility for keeping the peace in Chiottes la Gare is being removed from the Police Nationale (the ones in caps with an office on the main road into town) and given to the Gendarmerie (the ones in kepis with an office next to the Lycee).

The commissariat of the Police Nationale will close….its occupants thrown to the four winds.
No, no such luck…they will be found posts elsewhere….but, as one opined soberly, these posts might be in – gulp – ‘les quartiers chauds’…the hot spots, the high risk, high crime suburbs of major towns…the ghettos for immigrants.

Well, if they are I don’t fancy their chances….they’ve got a quartier tiede…a lukewarm mini suburb…in their current jurisdiction which has hotted up very nicely under their control.
Where once the neighbours complained about loud music now they thank their lucky stars if they come down to find that their car has not been burned out.

They also have jurisdiction over a campsite for what are politely known as ‘gens de voyage’, ‘bohemiens’…known to the exasperated populace at large as ‘manouches’…the gyppos.
One resident took umbrage when the site caretaker asked him to clean up the area round his pitch which looked as if someone had lobbed a bomb into a used car showroom.
Outraged by this impertinence he started his chainsaw and chased the caretaker from the site….he later turned up at the caretaker’s house and threatened his wife and child.

Where were the Police Nationale?

Probably tucked away safely in their offices which, as they say, are open twenty four hours a day to enable people to lodge complaints while the Gendarmerie lurk behind locked gates, access controlled by an intercom on permanent answerphone.
Very true, but if they are too busy receiving complaints to go out to deal with what is being complained about it is no wonder that the populace regard them with a jaundiced eye.

They claim that they provide a presence on the ground….well, not when it’s raining. The first spot and they’re all back in the commissariat receiving complaints.

They claim that their action is social, as much as preventative…..as evidenced, I suppose by the experience of a young lady who, returning from a visit to her mother, her new baby strapped safely in the car, was followed by a police car all the way from the suburbs to her home in the centre, at which point they alighted and gave her a fine for having one brake light out.
She was unlucky with her weather.

Pause for appropriate music….

Local politicians will be, of course, sorry to see them go. Fifty officers and support staff…and families…will be leaving. Fifteen gendarmes will be replacing them.
I must take a look a the census figures to see if the maire is on a borderline between two rates of remuneration according to the number of people in his bailiwick.

But even if the maire does not suffer financially local bigwigs will mourn their loss….after all, they know how things are; how things need to be run.

They know that when an ex maire adjoint parks at the bus stop on market day they will issue a ticket and then cancel it. Appearances are saved…equality and all that…by the issue of the ticket; faces are saved by its cancellation.

They know that they are not to interfere with the social housing louts installed in the old town, where beautiful old buildings have been martyred to provide gimcrack flats for the ‘youf’ who have been displaced from areas of Paris where they spoil the ambiance for the bourgeoisie by parading their pitbulls and dealing in hard drugs.
Why do they not interfere? Because these properties are owned by the town’s bigwigs and they want no interruption in the rents paid them by the social services.

The Gendarmerie are a bit more unpredictable….they have rushes of blood to the head…and they are likely to claim manpower problems when drafted in by an ex maire to close a street to traffic while contractors unloaded materials to martyrise yet another beautiful old building in the town centre.
His beautiful old building, just like all the others on that side of the road.
The Gendarmerie might be prone to ask where was the authorisation from the council.
Not so the Police Nationale.
They closed the road.

I was interested, because I had bought an old house to restore in one of the side streets served by this road to which there was no access to take a lorry except through a garage on the road itself.

I needed to unload sand and gravel there…in quantity.

I went to the Hotel de Ville and asked for an authorisation. It would take at least a month, I was told.
In a month the Turkish building firm I had engaged would be on holiday…and time was of the essence as some of the work was urgent.

I consulted the builders’ merchant.

To hell with the council…his guys could unload the lorry right at the door blocking only half the road…they were experienced…they knew the town backwards.

I consulted the builders.

Yes, they would guarantee to have the materials shifted in twenty minutes if I would agree to them bringing two more men on the site for the job.

I rounded up friends.
Yes, they would act as marshals for the traffic.

We were away.

The lorry arrived on time and tipped the material accurately. Only half the road was blocked. The builders were busy with shovels and barrows in instants, the friends were at each end of the obstruction, explaining and apologising.
There was no problem…it was a quiet time of day….it was all going swimmingly.

Then the Police Nationale arrived. They parked their car alongside the diminishing heap, thus blocking the road completely.

You’re blocking the road.
Shovelling proceeds

No, you are.
Shovelling proceeds.

You’ll have to stop.
Shovelling proceeds.

Nonsense.
Shovelling proceeds.

By this time hooting has started from the cars at both ends.

You’re causing a public nuisance…listen to that hooting.
Shovelling proceeds.

No…that’s down to you. You can park in the side street and talk to me.
Shovelling proceeds.

You can’t tell us what to to.
Shovelling proceeds.

No…have to be a local bigwig to do that: then we’d see you hop!
Shovelling stops as voices are raised.

I’m warning you…this is outrage to a properly appointed officer of the French Republic! Where’s your authorisation from the council?
Shovels are put down to allow shovellers to give the scene their full attention.

I don’t have one, just like the ex maire for whom you blocked the road last week.
Shovellers close in a bit for a better view.

Don’t chance your luck!
Shovellers pick up shovels, scenting trouble.

I don’t have to.
Tahsin! Can you give me Osman and Ramazan a moment please?

Hefting their shovels, the edges silver and sharp as knives, they stepped forward, Ramazan built like a brick shithouse, Osman nearly double the size, stripped to the waist, bandanas round their brows.
They moved forward again.

Don’t you ever pull a stunt like this again!….

And the Police Nationale were off…or would have been had they not been blocked in and forced to listen to somewhat unflattering views on their probable paternity before making their escape.

I don’t give much for their chances in ‘les quartiers chauds’

——————————————-

And if you want a bit of fun, follow this link and see what the wonderful Coluche, founder of the Restos du Coeur, thought of ‘les flics’….and here‘s a link to the video if you want to try your French

Illustration from http://www.victorianweb.org.

It’s not all doom and gloom…..

versatileblogger111djmatticus of the matticuskingdom has been kind enough to give me the ‘Versatile Blogger’ award…..and following the Perpetua rules I shall be fairly relaxed about the dos and don’ts……

Not only do I thank the giver of the award – I urge you to go over to the kingdom and take a look for yourself….you don’t even need a visa.

 

 

Now…fifteen blogs:

Sandysviews is a must, and not only because he was kind enough to give me the same award elsewhere!
He writes about whatever strikes him…and writes about it jolly well…a real pleasure when a new post pops up.

roughseasinthemed blogs about life in Gibraltar, travels in Spain, politics, history, food…and geocaching which I hope I have spelled correctly. Oh…and Falklands memories too….

And while geocaching is in my mind don’t miss Ken Brownon ‘where the fatdog walks’…not just for geocaching – his secret vice – but for dogs and walking the hills (mostly soggy) of Scotland.
And when you take a look, gee him up for another post…even for a Scot his Hogmanay break is over extended and I want to see more photographs of Mabel.

Frightened of going into hospital and catching something worse than that with which you went in? Read Carrie Rubin’s novel ‘The Seneca Scourge’ and you’ll have the habdabs…..but her blog will have you laughing.

Pooch has one careful owner – status viatoris – now based in Italy, but who is currently writing about her early experiences…in every sense of the word…in Spain.
Unmissable. So’s Pooch.

And a word in your ear about Sue Llewellyn’s ‘A Word in Your Ear’. I’m not normally a fan of photography – probably jealous – but this is a beauty. A recent post on Flinders Street station has me going back continually.

Back to Bodrum gives a varied look at life in and around Bodrum in Turkey….with the bonus of archeology! How often a post will make me wish i’d spent longer there and done more looking around.

Croixblanches will introduce you not only to ‘Nowhere-on-Thames’ but also to a village in the French countryside featuring cannabis growers, German occupiers and elaborate roundabouts….

Before you grumble at your other half for losing things nip over to ‘Where’s My Effing Pony?’ and catch the work of an master of the art…The Artistic One…and his not at all suffering wife. They go to some lovely places…with or without his passport.

But don’t bother reporting the loss of your passport to the police in England: Inspector Gadget will tell you why…the inside story of policing.

And the inside story on the life of a magistrate ‘The Magistrates’ Blog’ may enlighten you as to the harm being done to a system of justice which used to be marked by independence…..

Something more cheerful? Then you need ‘Linda’s Lair’ where a great lady battles her depression by lifting ours with her videos and photographs…there’s some interesting architecture in there when the weather is fine enough for her to go out, as well as shrubs, flowers and – my favourite – ducks.

Emerging from his cave to chronicle his life and times is Adullamite who has a lot of stuff I like going on….troopships, steam trains…and a wonderful post on the difference if you marry a Scottish girl!

Brilliant photographs…even better text from Susie Kelly on ‘No damn blog’. Animals, travels, daily life…all seen from her own angle. And she writes super books, too!

And whatever else you do…please visit The Slog. 3-D bollocks deconstruction, to get a not-as-pubished-in-the-media view of what’s going on in the financial and political world.

We’re all doomed……so have a good read before you go!

A Muddle of Mentalities

costa rica phone lines www. happierthan a billionaire...

I suppose culture shock only exists if you have enough of a handle on the culture concerned to realise that it differs from your own…..and that culture doesn’t have to be foreign.

I remember being on holiday in Luxor years ago where my husband taught me to swim….well, to keep afloat…in the pool at the hotel.
There were not many guests in the hotel, but those around the pool seemed all to be British….middle aged couples and a few families with children, most of whom were in the pool, throwing balls about and enjoying splashing as much as swimming.
We were reading in the shade when we became aware that a little girl was parading round the surrounds of the pool and that in her wake people were gathering up their belongings and heading for the hotel.
Our turn came and we too skedaddled.
The little girl was pulling forward her swimsuit bottom and asking if we wanted to see her willy.

Whatever was going on there, it was certainly culture shock and we wanted no part of it!

Running recently between Costa Rica, France, Spain and England I had an exposure to different cultures – so brief in the case of Spain that I hardly had time to register more than that the cleaners all seemed to be of Arab appearance and the ticket clerks laughed and said ‘Pura Vida’ when I booked my train journey using my best Costa Rican Spanish.

In France friends told me of their troubles with their bank…..who did not take out the standing order which paid their mortgage and promptly took them to court for non payment.
They were lucky enough to have a tough minded retired Belgian lawyer friend to stand up for them as it was clear that the court was minded to ignore the fact that the bank had not taken the money in order to concentrate on the non payment……

How French!

And I have just read the latest episode in the dreadful saga of the Hobos in France blog…apologies, but I cannot get a link to work…which bears out my own and others’ experience of the French legal system…if in doubt lose the papers and if all else fails…lie.

Coming from a background of English law, it shocks me…but I have a nasty suspicion that the English legal system has now gone so far to the dogs in terms of accessibility that it is emerging at the nether end.

The Costa Rican legal system has…so far…been good to me and I do like the attempts made by the judge to reconcile the parties…..as far as possible from the English mindset where it is thought that if the parties have come to court it is because no reconciliation was possible and the court is there to try the matter.

But there is a general reluctance in Costa Rica to have an open disagreement….it is seen as impolite and uneducated to brawl and shout the odds.
You express your disagreement non verbally…by not doing whatever it is that the other party wants.

So I followed the Costa Rican cultural norm when considering what to do after a conversation with another immigrant who lives up on the mountain between us and the town.

He is an American, or, as I have now learned to say, North American, and is a lawyer.
He bought his finca from another North American, and became distinctly disgruntled when he became aware of the difference between the price he paid and the sum his seller originally handed over. In consequence he has become somewhat of a dog in the manger where his property is concerned.

I met him on the back road to town and, amazingly, he stopped his car and got out. He does not usually speak…I suppose as he isn’t being paid to do so he spares himself the effort.

Bypassing the usual courtesies he informed me that the poles bearing the ‘phone line which passes over his property belonged to him. A man had offered him a good price for these poles….but he would give me the chance to buy them, in order to be able to keep the ‘phone line.
Unimaginable…that he thinks I’m stupid enough to come up for that, and that anyone would even contemplate threatening to remove someone’s ‘phone access.
Not to mention that there are several others on this line…among them men with machetes…

My first instinct was to tell him to stuff the poles where the monkey stuffed the nuts…..but, being in Costa Rica, I smiled and said I would think it over.

Up in town I dropped into the ICE offices (electricity and telecommunications) and recounted my tale to Don Carlos on the desk. He telephoned someone in the back office who emerged, print out in hand, to demonstrate that the poles belonged to ICE and that any attempt to meddle with them would meet with disapproval.
He then attempted to sell me a mobile ‘phone to be able to contact them should any such thing occur.

So, sure in my rights, I did nothing.

But if he comes the old acid again I shall encourage Don Antonio to remove the copper cable whch runs over his land, carrying the power for the North American’s water pump.

Pura vida!

Proof Positive…….

carla bruni
If proof were needed, that the image of France is nowhere near the reality.
Here is Carla Bruni…..as an example of the propaganda about French women (yes, I know she’s Italian; that probably accounts for the elegance).

Just read the stuff and guff about French women in the foreign press; the ones who are always thin and raise well behaved, cowed children…according to these open mouthed journalists a French woman, it seems, can actually tie a scarf round her neck without strangling herself, find matching bra and knickers in the airing cupboard, and wears high heels if it kills her….alongside whom the wearers of old Driza-Bones, wildly assorted underwear and comfortable shoes are supposed to feel shame and inferiority.

So much for the image in the foreign press.

What about the image of women in France itself? In la France Profonde?

Next time you are beckoned into Henri’s private bar…..you know, the one he has set up in the barn out of earshot of his wife…..I doubt you will find the walls adorned with pictures of Carla Bruni…or of the female portion of what is known as ‘les people’ but there’s a fair chance, depending on the month of your invitation, that you will find this…..

from'girls1 mothais

or this…

from'girls 3 camembert

or even this…

from'girls brillat-savarin

All examples from this year’s From’girls calendar…published annually by the association Fromages de Terroirs to promote the consumption of local cheeses made by small producers.

Like the cheeses it promotes it is the perfect accompaniment not only to the wine which Henri will offer you but also the slightly doggy prurience of the conversation once you have eyeballed it.

Listen to Mother….

I should have listened to mother.

Years ago she had decided to visit me in France using Eurolines, the international coach service. This followed a visit coinciding with a French rail strike when instead of arriving at Lille by Eurostar and catching a connection to Angers she found that the Eurostar had decanted her in Paris at the Gare du Nord.

She worked out that she needed to get to Montparnasse station and headed for the Metro…which was also on strike. Never say that French workers lack in solidarity. So it was a taxi or nothing.

It looked like nothing to judge by the numbers waiting at the station rank, but pushing forward the British Legion badge on her lapel and sweeping ahead of her with her umbrella as if searching for landmines she marched to the head of the queue and commandeered a taxi, whose driver proceeded to try to give her a scenic tour of the French capital.

Not for long. A poke in the shoulder with an umbrella and a sharp cry of

‘Montparnasse, not Versailles!’

had him returning to the straight and narrow and mother arrived safely at her destination. She did not, she informed me, pay what was on the meter nor did she give him a tip. Given the queues at Montparnasse I thought it likely that he’d soon make up the shortfall, even if careful to avoid elderly lady passengers with umbrellas.

So, her next trip was to be by coach.

I came to meet her at Tours, where the coach stop was directly in front of the magnificent station building….I found a parking space and although the coach was late arriving it was pleasant to sit in the gardens nearby.

Finally it pulled in, the doors opened to emit a miasma of blue smoke and mother leapt out, grabbing my arm and hissing

‘Quick! the loo!’

I directed her to  station, persuaded the driver that I was to collect her suitcase by dint of recognising it, then followed her into the building, which always seems as if oversized for the traffic it carries, the main line trains passing it by, using the suburban station of St. Pierre des Corps. Still, the delightful tile depictions of the towns once served from here still adorn the walls, pleasing me as always while I toddled down to collect mother from the loo, only to find her arguing with the gorgon on the gate.

‘She wants me to pay for loo paper’ announced mother. ‘I’m telling her I have my own. Never travel on the continent without.’

‘This lady won’t pay for the facilities. How does she think they are kept clean…?

I coughed up, mother declined the sheets of loo roll huffily and the gorgon subsided.

Over a coffee in the pleasant bar at the front of the station, mother, less ruffled, announced that she would be returning not by Eurolines, but by train.

‘There are limits’.

‘What limits?’

‘I didn’t know when I booked that the coach was going to Madrid. It was full of Spaniards, smoking and playing loud music….including the driver. And I couldn’t use the lavatory.’

‘Was it out of order?’

‘I’m telling you. The coach was full of Spaniards….of course I couldn’t use the lavatory.’

Mother was of a generation that did not use public loos unless in extremis…and if forced to do so would hover over the seat, convinced that she would catch something unmentionable in a place not to be displayed even to doctors should contact be made. But what had deterred her in particular?

‘They were Spaniards! With all that absinthe and Spanish fly goodness only knows what you might catch!’

Spain, then, had been admitted to the list of nations of whom mother held a dim view, thus joining…

Poland – wartime pilots wearing hairnets and silk stockings (how the blazes did she get to know that? Enquiries found her as tight lipped as Ron Knee)….

Belgium, because as a small girl she had seen a First World War Belgian refugee wearing a wig, while everyone knew that Belgians had thick necks (my husband was  examined very closely as to the neck in disconcerting silence on first acquaintance)…. –

The U.S.A.,  thanks to Joseph Kennedy….

South Africa, because her uncle had served in the second Boer War….

and, of course,

France, where nothing more than the name need be pronounced to provide full and complete explanation.

I can’t claim the moral high ground here…I have plenty of prejudices. They just don’t coincide with mother’s.

But I do try to be wary of the stereotype…that handy device which removes the need to think about the person to whom you are speaking by submitting a pre programmed response.

We’d discussed this once when English friends had came to lunch, bringing with them their French architect and his wife. We’d all agreed that none of us were like the national stereotypes we had been brought up on and the talk turned to examples.

My father’s stereotype of the French was as follows..
‘Buggers let us down in 1914…buggers did it again in 1940…can’t trust them as far as you can kick them.’ He also used to refer to the French army as the Comedie Francaise. He applied the faults of the higher echelons of French society to the entire nation and regarded every Frenchman with suspicion, while as for the women….!

My tutor’s stereotype of the French differed from that of my father..
The French were civilised, concentrating on the good things of life, the leisurely lunch, the wine, the foie gras and indulging in sophisticated conversation in cafes about philosophy and literature.
While as for the women…!
While the two views are not mutually exclusive, they would lead their proponents to behave in radically divergent fashions to any Frenchman…or woman…they encountered.

It would not have occurred to my father that a war time generation Frenchman, having been conscripted, would have spent almost the whole of the ‘phoney war’ period being bussed from one garrison to another only to find his regiment in entirely the wrong place when the German blitzkrieg roared across the frontiers, thanks to the miscalculations of his superiors, despite the fact that my father spent a great deal of vocal energy on the idiocy of those responsible for having the big guns at Singapore facing the wrong way when the Japanese came visiting, a lot of his friends having gone into captivity as a result. I don’t think a post war generation Frenchman existed for my father…..his view was formed by two world wars and stayed in that frame.

My tutor thought that every French citizen was a Simone de Beauvoir or Jean Paul Sartre in miniature….if it is possible to be smaller than Jean Paul Sartre…..thanks to their education system which demanded an exam in philosophy as part of the bac…the French equivalent of ‘A’ levels. It probably never crossed his mind that the majority of French kids just about scraped through the ‘brevet’ – a sort of leaving exam taken at the age of 16 – and went on to manual work, because he had his fixed idea of French civilisation which firmly excluded anyone not from the leisured classes.

My own stereotype was based on the novels of Georges Simenon…..only to discover later that he was Belgian (no, I don’t know about the neck) and had his own twist on France!

Our friends’ stereotype was based on the French rural idyll….unspoilt countryside, the vendange and the  peasant in his blue overalls enjoying a drink at the bar. I know where that particular view came from…the magazines pushing property and services!

The architect was astonished by these stereotypes…none seemed to him to be how he thought the foreigners thought of the French. Based on what he had read, he thought that foreigners assumed that the French were logical, serious, hard working people with a glorious military history and unique civilisation.

I don’t know what he had been reading, but it doesn’t astonish me…you do read an awful lot, even these days, about France’s civilising mission in the world…. well, you do in France.

In his turn, he gave us his stereotype of the British. We had let the French down in two world wars and at Suez. We were pawns of the Americans and only joined the Common Market, as it was then, in order to let the Americans and Japanese in by the back door. We were unintellectual, operating on instinct, not reason, and, moreover, we had burned Joan of Arc.

Thank goodness we did not fit any of the stereotypes! Lunch would have been a disaster!

Mother did indeed round off her visit with a return by rail, fortunately uneventful, and I thought no more of Eurolines until this December when faced with the fact that Ryanair would charge more to carry my luggage than to carry me and that the coach would land me directly in London which would avoid heaving luggage any further than the ticket office to book a seat for my onward journey.

I booked. Uneventfully. This was, however, the only thing which went well until my arrival at Victoria coach station in London.

The first incident was my own fault.

I was staying with friends and on the day of my departure they had invited people to lunch. Having no wish to have a beautifully cooked lunch ruined by having to fend off impertinent and persistent questioning from one particular female invitee I decided to leave early and take a walk round Tours, followed by a supper in the bar at the station to fill in the time before departure.

The bus arrived, and took me across a soggy countryside to Poitiers where I hauled the luggage from the bus station to the train station and took a modern push me pull you to Tours….having to sit near the loos as there was nowhere to park the suitcases.

At Tours, disaster struck.

No left luggage facility. There was not, it appeared, the demand for it.

The clerk suggested leaving my bags at a cycle hire operation down the road from the station, so, hauling the bags round and through the chaos consequent upon installing a new tramline complete with discarded take aways and doggies’ calling cards I went in the direction indicated. It was closed.

I returned to the clerk. Would there be a left luggage facility at St.Pierre des Corps… the main line station? He could not say, not working there himself.

I headed for the bar. No, I could not come in with all that luggage. Security. What, then, am I to do with it? Go to the cycle hire operation down the road…..

Thank goodness I had taken sandwiches and water for thus it was that I spent eight hours in the unheated waiting room of Tours station with all the other fools who had thought that a station would have somewhere to leave your goods and chattels.

Thanks to the clerk…sitting in the heated part of the waiting room area…I had already learned that Eurolines no longer took up passengers outside the main entrance to the station.

No…..they now used a halt laughingly called ‘The Poplars’ nearly a kilometre away down a side road. By this time it was raining.

I took myself off to ‘The Poplars’ about half an hour before the coach was due, to give me time to check in, but found that the portacabin bearing the legend ‘Eurolines’ was firmly shut so sat in the bus stop with a Portuguese couple going to visit their daughter in Holland and a Roumanian violinist waiting for his daughter to arrive from Austria. We had a most interesting conversation about economic conditions in Portugal, Roumania and France which was just as well because the rain had become persistent, the cold was all pervasive and a heated conversation was the only warmth going.

A coach! The violinist went to investigate. Not ours.

A second coach. No, not that one either….

A third…Yes! We rose and headed for it to load our luggage. No problem. Then we tried to board the bus. Where were our boarding passes? What boarding passes? The boarding passes we were to obtain from the office…..

A shadowy female figure was just unlocking the portacabin.

We trecked back through the rain, the violinist took the keys from her to unlock the door and we were inside, only to wait while she fired up her computer and printed out a page upon which she could tick us off in pencil. We were given the boarding cards and returned to the coach.

What about the violinist’s daughter?

She’d be on a later coach, he said…but at least he could wait in the office.

The shadowy female figure had succeeded in locking it up before he could get there. He waved to us from the bus shelter.

As the bus started, the man in the seat in front pushed his into reclining position, squashing my knees….bang went any sleep or comfort, but this was only toughening me up for the horrors to come.

After a halt in a deserted car park to change drivers – why there? – passengers for London were chucked out at Lille station at 5.30 am, to stand with our luggage in the wind tunnel produced by the surrounding buildings, unable to get inside as the doors were not open.

It rained, the wind gusted….an employee turned up, shot through the doors and closed them again. Not until 6.00 am did they open and the troupe then divided into those too frightened to miss the connecting coach and those so desperate for warmth that they were thinking about taking the Eurostar.

I was among the latter, haring for the lift to the lower section and then for the loos, manned by the employee who had shot through the doors earlier. It was warm there….and I contemplated sitting on the loo for the next hour until the bus was due, but abandoned the thought and went out into the great chill of the concourse.

The doors above, once firmly shut, were now fully open, letting in great gusts of icy wind. Coffee was available, the usual disgusting robusta dispensed in French caffs, but such was the need for some warmth that I gave in and bought one. It hit my stomach like volatile spirits and I headed back to the loos.

C’est chiant, said the attendent. I agreed. This was nothing like ‘Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis’.

Up again, to stand in the entrance hall, rain now dripping through the roof on to the only seats. Coaches came and went. A whole tour party of Germans arrived and disappeared into the maw of the building. A local tour party assembled and departed.

Finally the Eurolines coach turned up…with no Eurolines sticker and nattily painted with tropical beaches and palm trees – the last turn of the screw. I thought.

Off again. For some reason I thought we were to make a ferry crossing, but instead we headed for the forlorn surroundings of the Chunnel…and more fun!

Luggage off, hauled through security with hulking young men watching weary passengers heave suitcases onto the scanner belt.

Passports. Loos.

Luggage on…but we were a passenger missing. Another hulking young man boarded the coach shouting

‘Bulgarian people.’

Dressed in uniform as he was and sporting the modern fashion of a shaven bonce I wondered if he was about to give a political speech but it seemed that he was looking for a Bulgarian person who could translate for their unfortunate fellow countryman who had just been stopped and searched.

The Bulgarian people disembarked, to return some ten minutes’ later with their compatriot who was clearly not at all happy in voluble Bulgarian. The coach drove into a sort of shoebox with little windows and we were off …back to England, home and beauty.

Never again…..not at any price…not to save any money…..will I use Eurolines.

Much as it pains me to say it, I should have listened to Mother.