Culture on the Low Road

folk-groups

With the cuts in public expenditure in France, local authorities are reducing funding for what they were pleased to describe as cultural events. While some were well worthwhile, bringing top class performers to areas which would otherwise have no chance of seeing them in the flesh, like the Nuits Romanes in Poitou Charente,  a great deal of it betrayed the belief of official, authorised and therefore paid culture vultures that people should be provided with professional dispensers of approved culture rather than being left to develop their own.

Thus a rural village where some eighty per cent of the inhabitants are over fifty finds itself lumbered with a hip hop band for the Fete de la Musique: professional ‘story tellers’ infest the St Jean midsummer festival – probably sitting in a yurt to peddle their meretricious nonsense – while the only reason that the Bernache et Marrons (new wine and chestnuts) fair does not figure half naked men in red tights swinging from scaffolding towers is because it can be decidedly nippy in November in the Loire Valley.

So, on the grounds of every cloud having a silver lining, let us rejoice that  with the need to find money to pay the salaries of all the local government employees whose jobs have been duplicated by local government reorganisation people can, with a bit of luck, get back to doing what they like by way of culture.

Walks through the commune, pumpkin fairs, local folk dance groups, bands and choirs, fireworks on July 13th, the fire brigade ball (guaranteed bacchanalia) and, in my old area at any rate, amateur theatricals.

Some months after moving to rural France, I had had a toothache which oil of cloves would not touch, so I needed the dentist. Papy, my nearest neughbour, told me that there was no need to make an appointment, just to go down to the surgery in the village and sit in the waiting room, so that was what I did.

Two gloomy gentlemen were already in occupation – for some reason the usual round of handshakes doesn’t take place in dental waiting rooms – and one informed me that the dentist was out but would be back shortly. I passed the time looking at posters of teeth.

The dentist returned. The street door banged against the wall, there was a strong smell of drink having been taken and a tall handsome man with black curly hair strode in…..his white coat liberally splashed with blood.

‘Sorry to keep you waiting, but I had a spot of bother just now…Come on Jules, let’s get these false teeth sorted!’

I think I was rooted to the chair in shock…otherwise I would have fled.

Georges, the other patient, turned to me.

‘Don’t worry, he had a problem taking a tooth out…it broke and he had to put his knee on Jean-Paul’s chest to get the leverage to get the last bit out. Bit of a shock for both of them, so they’ve just been over to the bar for a restorative.’

Don’t worry! What, I wondered would qualify as something to worry about? A broken artery, dislocated jawbone….If the tooth hadn’t been giving me such gyp I would have been away in Olympic record time for the one hundred yard dash – or whatever it is in metric. But it was so I didn’t.

Dentists have an unfair advantage. They stick needles in your gums so that your lips turn to wood and then make you keep your mouth open while they talk to you. You have no way of responding.

This dentist talked to me while finding and dealing with my problem tooth.

I was new to the commune. I was British. This was very convenient. He ran the amateur dramatic society. He was putting on a Feydeau farce. There was an English governess in it and none of his regular actresses could say ‘shocking!’ properly. So there it was. First rehearsal on Tuesday evening in the mairie annexe at eight o’ clock.

He had a copy of the play in my hand, my role marked in pencil, before I could mumble a word.

Shocking!

So here I was, my French far from fluent, with no experience of amateur dramatics since being in the chorus of ‘The Mikado’ while at school, being propelled onto the boards by a dictatorial dentist.

I studied the part…small, luckily….and the cues. I turned up at the annexe to the mairie and found I already knew some of the people there. Then the dentist arrived and things took off. He was a ball of energy and enthusiasm, a perfectionist and, inevitably, not only director but also leading man.

Like everyone else, I was pushed and pulled into place, was prompted and scolded and learned an enormous amount about staging farce.

Timing, timing and timing, keeping the action going, getting his actors to have a signature expression or tone of voice that marked them clearly for the audience, he was dedicated to getting his crew to give of their best.

It was all very convivial…there was always wine and cake at the end of the rehearsal, and I was included in the cake rota automatically which surprised me given the French suspicion of anything emerging from a British oven. I supplied treacle tart and to my relief it was asked for again.

I got to know people…my French improved dramatically…and I learned a lot about the commune as we worked.

Although amateur dramatics – like music – had always had a strong following in the area, until fairly recently these activities had been duplicated. Those who attended mass – known as ‘les grenouilles du benitier’ (literally ‘frogs in the holy water stoup’)  to those who didn’t – supported the priest’s theatre group and band and the others supported the republican groups.

In that village, the war between state and church had been such that – Clochemerle like – the public toilets had been set up next to the church on the main square……and were closed on Sundays! Respect for the church or a strong determination that believers shouldn’t be able to use the facilities?

The play was performed on the home ground first, in the salle des fetes and then toured neighbouring villages, always to packed houses and vigorous applause, two nights and a matinee a week for four weeks, the cast kept going by buckets of mulled wine backstage, dished out in an enamel mug.

It was fun, and I gladly joined up for several more years. It was always a Feydeau farce, there was always a place for a foreigner and in year two I even graduated to my own little round of applause as I entered, an accolade awarded by audiences to the regular players.

It came to an end, of course: the dentist left the area.

The lady from the chateau, whose cavities he had been assiduously attending to for some years, decided that enough was enough. She left her husband and, with the dentist in tow, moved to that Sodom and Gomorrah of the Atlantic coast, La Baule.

Shocking!

The last visit from the traveling circus took place in my time in that village…no lions or tigers,  but dancing dogs and the great attraction – the chicken that could count!

Not caring for the circuses I had not gone down to the trestles arranged in the square by the church….but I do rather regret not seeing the chicken tapping on the cards laid out on the sand.

Later, there was a new attraction – one which had nothing to do with the culture vultures.

It started with a man impersonating one of the iconic figures of French rural life..the old woman who ruled her family with a rod of iron: the show would start with this ‘lady’ roaring on stage on a solex, headscarf firmly tied under her chin, ready to wind up the audience with ‘her’ take on rural life: somewhat scatalogical and utterly hilarious.

Others copied….

These days the best known act is that of ‘Les Bodins’: much less scatalogical but reviving in its audiences memories of the old ways of rural life…set in a pastiche of a typical small farm of the not so distant past.

Here is an excerpt: you might not understand the words, but it is slapstick enough to be self explanatory given the title:

A dormouse has shat in the cheese.

High culture it is not…but neither are half naked men in red  tights.

As they Revel in the Joys of Renovation

IMG_20160201_185209.jpg

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

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

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

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

The artisan francais.

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

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

A. The bodger didn’t know what it was

and

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

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

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

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

We had struck gold.

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

IMG_20160201_185409

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

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

Sounds naff…looks good and certainly fooled every expert.

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

Bringing old wrecks back to life was a joy.

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

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

IMG_20160201_185555

and restore her dignity

IMG_20160201_185306

You feel that all the work was worthwhile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La Vendange

photopatrimoine.over-blog.com
photopatrimoine.over-blog.com
After a wet morning of picking coffee in a natty outer garment formed from two black bin bags I came back to the house and caught up on the blogs I follow…then fell on a post from Janice about the vendange in her area of France.
In an instant the red cherries of coffee high on their wands were replaced in my mind for the dusty purple grapes along the low wires in the vineyards I’d known so well.

I picked grapes with friends and neighbours all the years I was in France, with only a couple of gaps due to illness.
I have no experience whatsoever of picking on the industrial scale, so cannot comment, but the small scale job gave me a lot of pleasure.
For one thing, it was usually only one day, or one and a half and then perhaps another couple of days later, so it was hardly demanding in terms of time, the weather was usually good and the company excellent.

Papy’s middle son Jean asked me if I would help the first year….Mamie usually helped, but she was getting past it and needed to rest and another pair of hands would be welcome.

Now, this was the unscientific age of winemaking, wild yeast on the grapes, no idea of temperature control and the desired result a pink wine a bit on the sweet side to keep the family going through the year.
Accordingly, it was not necessary to stumble out in the dark before the dawn to take advantage of the coolest part of the day…we ventured forth in the afternoon, when the housework and the farmwork had been dealt with and the sun was approaching its’ zenith. It promised to be warm work, and it was.

Jean organised us.
Each person had a wide bucket and a pair of secateurs – so small that I found them difficult to handle and in future brought my own big gardening ones which were more suited to my paws.
I was put with Jean’s wife, to see that I knew what to do; we were assigned our rows of vines and off we went.
The object was to pick the triangular bunches of ripe grapes and, at all costs, not to include the round balls of immature ones, the secondary growths that an all too casual pruning had allowed to develop.
If they went in, the wine would be too acidic.

Most people squatted or crouched, but I found my best method was to shuffle along on my knees hoping not to encounter too many thistles or nettles…it must be a height question, or a lack of attendance at yoga classes on my part. Supple I have never been.
The technique was to place the bucket under the bunches you were picking so that they dropped neatly within and the challenge was to miss no bunch, while being aware that another pair of secateurs was at work on the other side of the plant and your fingers were in imminent peril.

We moved along and I was pleased that I could keep up with the others and not miss anything…Papy inspected each row, with crows of triumph if he found a bunch still hanging on the vine.
Conversation was brisk, the gosssip was hair raising and I was quite surprised to find how quickly the buckets were filled and taken to the trailer sitting behind Papy’s tractor at the edge of the field.
The women were grumbling that there should be someone in charge of the buckets to save them from having to get up and down and then stretch up to the trailer, so Papy was given additional duties which put a swift end to his inspection and crowings….he was too busy coming and going, his pickers keeping him busy.

The first third of the vines had been cleared when Jean called a break.
Papy, the man of the moment, was prepared.
He had the mustard glasses ready….the ones that you buy which contain mustard and then can use for drinking ever afterwards…and the bottles were brought from the bucket which had been hanging in the well….that cool, soft pink wine went down very well the first time – and the second!

Papy went off with the tractor and trailor down to the press but for us it was back to work on the rest of the vines and the afternoon began to turn into evening by the time we had taken our second break and were on the last stretch.

Papy had taken another load, and this was the last, so we all trailed after him down to the house to wash our buckets and secateurs under the tap in the yard, stacking them to dry and then washing our sticky and stained hands.

The modern – well, reasonably so – press was full and in action, a long cylinder which acted a bit like a syringe…the plate at the end pushing inexorably forward, but gently enough not to start breaking the pips, which would add a bitterness which was not desired, squeezing the juice out through the pipe at the far end into an underground concrete tank where fermentation would take place.

The last of the harvest had to go in the old press, a round wooden structure with a central screw where the levels were adjusted with wooden blocks, a long metal pole turned the screw and the juice poured between the slats onto the platform of the press, thence to buckets placed underneath.

We were all heading for home when Mamie appeared from the doorway of the house.
‘Don’t forget….we’re all eating down at Jean’s tonight….I always used to do it, but I’m just getting too old.’
It appeared that I was invited to supper, and, checking with Jean’s wife, who seemed remarkably cool for someone about to entertain the multitudes, that was indeed the case.
‘Should I bring anything?’
‘Oh….well, one of your salads would be nice. Jean liked that.’

I hared home, scrubbed my hands with bleach and tried to wash and change while racking my brains to remember what it was I had served when Papy’s family had last come to supper and, worse, wondering if I had the ingredients in the house.
It occurred to me that it would probably have been my standby…..tinned chickpeas, red beans and flageolet beans, combined with diced onion, black olives and parsley with a good slosh of green and tasty olive oil. Store cupboard stuff.
I put it together and included the batch of pork pies I had made the day before for good measure and was ready at the gate when Papy hoooted to take me down to the village in his old Renault van.
He and Mamie sat in the front and the rest of us crouched in the back with our various offerings, swaying in unison on the corners and combining to keep Papy’s dog from pushing his nose into the dishes.

The tables had been set in the courtyard of Jean’s house, lit by those bamboo outside lights that flare and cast shadows at their own sweet will, and the women were already setting out the dishes they had provided.
The whole thing was a glorious buffet, home made pate, rillettes, rillons, ham and charcuterie, salads, bread and cheese and, of course, wine.

We ate, we talked, we drank, and, eventually, we sang.

My best memory of that long day is the quiet courtyard with the tenor voice of Pierre soaring into the shadows and the warm full response of the chorus as we sang

‘A la claire fontaine.’

Victor…A Word…

john-piper-mosnac-dordogne.jpgOn a wet afternoon in western France a gendarmerie van pulls into the farmyard…its sole occupant gets out shouting

Hoy, Victor! A word!

Hello Jean-Yves! What brings you here? I’m in the barn…just a minute while I shut the doors and we’ll have a drink…

No, don’t shut the doors, Victor….it’s about what you’ve got in that barn that I’ve come about.

On your own, I see.

Yes, I’m trying to do you a good turn….let me see what you’ve got there. Yes, just as I thought!
Victor, you’ll have to get rid of it…put it back where you found it…and quickly.
There’s all hell to pay.
Everyone’s out looking for it and they’ve even taken us off speed traps and breathalysers.

Must be serious then!

Yes, it is!
Apart from you having stolen property in your barn…what the blazes do you want with a bulldozer that size? You haven’t got enough land to make it worthwhile – and how did you get it here from the new bypass anyway?

Ah! Typical!
Us farmers are getting robbed all ways…..diesel syphoned off, animals killed in our own fields, tools stolen, irrigation pipes nicked – even whole crops gone!
Look at that poor guy who had his whole field of garlic nicked….and the forty hectares of grapes that went missing overnight….not to speak of combine harvesters vanishing into thin air!
And where are the Gendarmerie? Breathalysing some poor sod who’s been out drowning his sorrows!

Well it’s not my fault….only a few more years to the pension, thank goodness.
It’s not what I joined for I can tell you…

No, I know Jean-Yves.
When you started there were still bars in your stations – and you were a hell of a lot nicer for it! I reckon that the rot started when they closed down them down.
You turned nasty about then…applying the law to people you knew…
Still, what I mean is that us farmers can have our stuff nicked left, right and centre…but let some big roadworks contractor miss his bulldozer – you’d think he’d got enough, wouldn’t you? – you’re all on red alert!
No wonder we’ll all be voting Le Pen in the elections!

That’s as maybe…but I can tell you that a big firm like Crapule gets a lot more attention in high places than you lot. Might be different if you were cereal boys…in the big league…but you’re not!
The firm thought the ‘dozer had been whipped off to Germany….like a lot of other stuff. You boys are lucky you’re not nearer the frontier.

Clever buggers, the Germans.

What do you mean?

Well, they worked out they didn’t have to have a war to get what they wanted this time….they thought up the E.U.
See, in the war they had to go round requisitioning…this way government – our government – does it for them.
They get cheap veg and flog expensive cars.
Bit like Vichy, really, but more efficient. Very hot on efficiency the Germans…

Come off it Victor! You’re not telling me the Germans are using the E.U. to nick combine harvesters and fields of garlic…

No, but they run the show, don’t they! Remember when Hollande got in and what he was going to say to Merkel?
Turned out to be ‘Jawohl’, didn’t it…
No, the E.U. lets these crooks from Transylvania in and they nick the stuff, take it to Germany and the Germans get it on the cheap…
Clever buggers, like I said.

Never mind all that! You’ll have to get it back there…or dump it somewhere…and sharpish!

Well, we’ve finished with it now anyway, so I’ll get Laurent to run it into Ste. Conasse tonight, dump it round the back where it’s dark. Just make sure you’re not out breathalysing between here and there.

No, all right…but who is ‘we’? You and Laurent?

No! There’s me, of course, and Jean-Antoine and Popaul…here, you’re not taking notes!

No, just interested to know what’s going on. That’s what policing used to be about…
So what the blazes were you three geriatrics up to? Put together you don’t have enough land to make that ‘dozer worthwhile…

That’s where you’re wrong!
It’s the eco tax…you know, the one on lorries that comes in in January. Going to be taxed by the lorry…tollgates going up all over the main roads…
Gerard over at the roads department in Benitierville put us wise! There’s going to be one between us and the abattoir! It’s only down the road…but we’ll have to pay as if we’d been coming from Normandy!

Well you weren’t thinking of using the ‘dozer to knock the tollgate down, were you?

No! We might be old but we’re not stupid!
We had a word with Olivier down at the abattoir and he reckons that we can get in on the back road from St. Ragondin round by les Deux Biscouilles without any problem.

But how are you going to get to St. Ragondin? You’ve still got the main road to deal with.

Ah. that’s why we wanted the bulldozer.
We’ve made a road across our fields to link up with the footpath that brings us out just this side of the village….where the old railway line used to be. A bit of hardcore in bad weather and we’re sorted.
So they can stuff their tollgate…we won’t be paying!
Eco this, eco that….just another word for tax!
It’s bad enough with their blasted windmills…electricity bill up through the roof…but a tax on going a few kilometres is a step too far!

Well, just get rid of it Victor…tonight! You don’t want anyone else knowing you’ve got it…the adjutant is up the wall!

Hang on a minute, how did you know to come round here?

Well, it couldn’t have been the manouches….they were having a face off with our boys with chainsaws at the campsite that night…..so the only other alternative was a totally irresponsible idiot…and that’s when I thought of you!

That evening, at the gendarmerie station, the adjutant answers the ‘phone.

Here, says a voice, I reckon you should know….

Know what?

Well, that windfarm at the back of Ste. Conasse…someone’s driven a bulldozer in there and there’s a hell of a mess….metal all over the place and the gyppos are carting it off by the truckload…….

The illustration is ‘Mosnac, Dordogne’ by John Piper.

You know you’re in France when…

libcom.org
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.

A Busy Night in Rural France

la Nouvelle Republique

Hello Victor! You’re an early bird today!

Well, I’ve been at the wine fair with Gerard so I thought I’d drop in for a glass…see who’s around…
Yes, a drop of Claude’s rose will do nicely….

No one here yet, Victor…probably still all at the wine fair! Claude didn’t enter anything, I see.

No…he doesn’t these days. Fed up with all these clever dicks making special vats for the judging from what he said last year when that filthy devil Patrick from Les Deux Biscouilles won a bronze for his Gamay….I reckon he bought that in from his wife’s brother over at Ste. Conasse.

Mark you, Victor, the whole wine world is going crazy….you know Zizi’s place?
Well, three young guys have taken it, split it up in plots under the limit to have to pay insurance to the Mutuelle Sociale Agricole and they’re producing all sorts of stuff the A.O.C. doesn’t allow and they’re doing well!
You wouldn’t believe the labels they put on their bottles….‘Les Cabernets sont au Fond du Couloir’….’L’Enfant Terrible’ but it sells like there’s no tomorrow!

Whole world’s going crazy if you ask me. Now the Post Office is going to deliver the post by drones…

Are you sure that’s not an April fool stunt?

It sounds like one but nothing would surprise me these days….
The drones will probably carry bombs to drop on those who haven’t paid their taxes….and talking of taxes, did you see Hollande on the box?

Did I not! I had it on in here and had to turn it off because the guys wanted to put a hammer through the screen! There he sits, like a turd on the pavement, telling us he’s going to see it through! All right for him stuffed to the gills on public money…let him try making it!

Oh, he knows how to do that all right! Years of double and triple payment as a politician…expenses galore….fiddling his tax returns…we’ll find out next he has a Swiss bank account!

Just like his minister for the budget…busy telling us all we had to make sacrifices and sitting on a pile in Switzerland…not to speak of some underhand contracts with the pharmaceutical firms.
And what’s the prime minister getting out of this project for a new Nantes airport?

It won’t be a camper van he’ll be using for his holidays in the future….probably a private jet on the new landing strip….
Here, give me another glass….

You sure? I’m not being funny but you must have had a few at the wine fair…and you know what the gendarmerie are like these days!

Not to worry; there’s no risk today. The police are getting pissed at the wine fair and there’ll be no gendarmerie out today.
Cheers!

Why won’t they be out? It stopped raining this morning….

Because they’re sleeping off being out all night at the supermarkets.
Didn’t you hear?
All the big supermarkets were targeted last night by the Young Farmers.
They blocked the entrances to the car parks and the doors with piles of stinking old straw…covered the trolleys too so you can imagine the state of it all after a night of rain.
Young Laurent was down there with my muckspreader…he said it was like the War of the Worlds…tractors, trailers, state of the art stuff out there working under the lights, dumping this filth…twenty or so farmers at each site, all starting at once….quite an experience for the lad.
He was too young to go when we blocked the petrol pumps a few years ago…

But what about the gendarmerie?

Oh, once the supermarket bosses saw what was happening on their security screens they went down there…and the gendarmerie turned up to protect the farmers from being attacked.

What…a couple of office slugs against twenty farmers….!

Very nasty these bosses….they can make very wounding remarks…
Anyway, that’s where the gendarmerie have been all night so we won’t be seeing them out and about for a while.

I suppose it was about prices?

Yes….the supermarkets are squeezing the producers until the pips squeak….especially the milk boys.
And not just them. Did you see that tanker that overturned last week? Full of Spanish goat milk!

Well, yes, but the cheese factory boss said it was a one off…the local guys’ production falls in the winter and he has contracts to fulfill…

I’m not so sure….I bet the Young Farmers would like a look at his books!
But anyway, this can’t go on, the supermarkets squeezing the suppliers like this….

Well yes, I suppose they’ve had to cut everything to the bone as it is.

Too right! And if they don’t get an increase in the milk price how’re they going to pay for those state of the art machines they’ve all been buying: that’s what I’d like to know!

Ah, Clement! Just up from the wine fair?
Let’s have a couple of Claude’s rose….

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.