Friday, November 30, 2012

Sad but true.

Sad but true. Madame Bay''s love affair with the swivel headed, lithium battery powered  hoover is over. Finished. Kaput. '' C'est ridique ! Une connerie " she tells me with a degree of passion that one wouldn't expect when discussing hoovers. There then follows a lengthy list of its faults . These seem to boil down to two key issues. 1) - It holds its charge for no more than ten minutes and 2) - it has the vacuuming power of an asthmatic gnat. Her final parting comment " I can't work with it " .

The electrician comes to wire up a light above the table in the small downstairs library. '' No need to bother yourselves. We know where everything is " they say matter of factly. They're gone in less than twenty minutes. Later ' the font ' notices that the light has been installed above the table ( as requested ) but not as you might expect above the centre of the table .

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Six in the morning. The shops at the airport already open. The departure hall decked out in tinsel and a forest of identical silver Christmas trees. On the speakers Bing Crosby singing '' It's the most marvellous time of the year " over and over and over.  Purgatory must be like this. Two and a half hours before the flight goes. A very bored Angus asks a lady sales assistant what sort of person would buy a seven foot tall teddy bear. '' Guilty fathers " comes the tart response. $2600 . That's a lot of guilt . Probably also a lot of guilt inducing  alcohol at the airport bar. At the shirt shop they sell Fez's. Angus wants to ask who buys them but thinks better of it.

Brad Pitt in an advert. A dead ringer for Zonker in Doonesbury. This is probably not the mental linkage that the Chanel ad campaign intended.

The word ' only ' prominently displayed in all the stores. Champagne ' only ' $220, shoes ' only ' $430, chocolates ' only ' $32. A man at the electrical outlet tries to interest Angus in a laptop. ' Only ' $3220. Angus says he'll think about it.

Angus finds there's an earlier flight to Toulouse. The first day of the new winter schedule. The plane almost empty , twenty people at most on it.  Same airline. Would it be possible to get the earlier flight ? The lady at the gate doesn't even look at his boarding pass. '' You can't change your flight. It's regulations. If you wanted to be on the seven thirty you should have booked yourself on it ". She's sitting under a sign that says " To fly. To serve ". Angus finds this wryly amusing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sausage Tortillas and bomb damage.

It pours and pours with rain . En route to the rendezvous with men in dark suits the incongruous sight of  a stretched pink Chevy full of tipsy young ladies. The start of office party season.  From the shrieks of laughter emanating from inside we can assume someones having a good time.  

No cabs to be had. A long walk in leather  soled shoes to the dinner venue in a fancy hotel on Park Lane. Near Piccadilly a Polish-Mexican Bistro . What would you eat in a Polish - Mexican bistro ?  Sausage Tortillas ?

The men in dark suits arrive wearing  dinner jackets. This is either because they've been watching too much Downton Abbey  ( " Isn't this the way you always dine in England ? ") or more probably because anything requiring a dinner jacket is IRS deductible. The wives all in black dresses, single row of pearls. The chairmans wife has three rows of pearls. Corporate hierachy.

Half of the serious men wear ' plaid ' bow ties and cumberbuns in decidedly un-Scottish colours and tones . Kind of tartan on an acid trip. Angus has the troubling thought that they look like a rather dour mariachi band. This is presumably not the intention. 

The gents washroom decorated with framed photgraphs of the hotel during the blitz. Scenes of blown out windows and shrapnel damage with cheerful captions like " the bombs may be falling but nothing stops the chefs souffles from rising ". Two German gentlemen read  the captions in silence.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Shortbread ice cream and the donkey

Angus sits down to watch Scotland play Tonga in the rugby championships. They lose 21-15. A pitiful performance. The pain of the loss made slightly more bearable by a plate of ice cream.  The packaging says its that traditional British ice cream flavour - caramel shortbread .

In the big red brick church Christmas has arrived. They've brought out the 14th century carving of the Flight into Egypt. Joseph stern, Mary asleep, the baby a plump combination of the two. Sternly asleep. At least the donkey looks happy. Despite wars, woodworm and revolutions it has managed to keep trudging along, an inscrutable look on its face ,  for nearly 700 years.  I'd like to think it'll be there for the next 700 years too.

Off to talk to folks in dark suits about fiscal cliffs. Back on Wednesday.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The saccharine bear.

Loic the gardener arrives at nine twenty. He plants three rose bushes then blows leaves into piles. These are then carefully added to the ever growing leaf mountain behind the barn. '' There'll be rain next week M'Ongoose " he says cheerfully.

' The font ' returns from London with a blue woollen jumper for Angus. It's supposed to be plain blue but somehow between handing it to the shop assistant and unwrapping it here in France it has transformed itself into a ' novelty item ' . The garment is emblazoned with a saccharine bear holding a heart. ' The font ' studies it for a moment and then says " perhaps you could wear it on Christmas Day ? ". Angus very much doubts it.

The store promises to send a replacement jumper. They don't seem at all keen to have this one returned.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

WD40, swivelling heads and the star.

First light. The old farmer arrives at the gate in search of a can of WD40. '' Salut, M'Ongoose, Salut ! I'm putting up the Christmas star ". In front of his garage door a chaotic tangle of wire, metal poles and coloured lightbulbs. Pilots on their final approach into Toulouse airport will soon have an extra navigational aid to help them on their way.

Back from the local market town to find the front gate open. In the downstairs hallway an effusive Madame Bay demonstrating the cordless, lithium batteried hoover to four of her friends. Identikit granny's - sensible shoes, dark coats and black hats. I catch the words '' new and unique ". They coo in unison as she demonstrates the swiveling head feature.

The street lights are on all day. Angus wonders if this is anything to do with the electrical cable that now snakes down from the old farmers roof to the recently installed electrical junction box by the side of the Salle des fetes. The Christmas star powered by municipal electricity ?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Festive preparations.

With Christmas  barely a month away a garish cardboard grotto makes an appearance in the local supermarket . A festive touch sandwiched in between the baguette stand and the sausage counter. Underneath a large ' Grotte de Noel ' sign a white plastic deckchair with a red velour cushion. Santa's royal throne. The magic of the season.

'The font ' heads back to London to do the Christmas shopping. '' Are you sure you don't want to come ? " . Angus is quite sure.

Madame Bay pops in for half an hour to try out the new hoover. '' M'Ongoose .C'est magnifique.  It makes me feel like a princess ". For a moment Angus thinks this comment might be ironic but there is nothing whatsoever  ironic about the sight of our saintly sepatguenarian waltzing contentedly down the hallway with a cordless hoover as a partner. My cords are gone at last I'm free !

Five in the afternoon  a delivery van arrives. '' I've driven a long way to get here "  says the driver . Angus thinks that's what delivery men are supposed to do but keeps this thought to himself.  '' Sign here, here and here. Print your name there ". ' Four signatures ? ' I ask . '' No. Three signatures and print your name there like I said " comes the brisque response.

Amid much muttering a cardboard box is unloaded from the back of the van . Indian spices . A delayed aftershock from ' the fonts ' cooking course in Delhi. Alien sounding ingredients.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Cold and bright. Down to the cafe under the arcades for the morning croissants, a cup of coffee and a chance to read the daily papers. Another EU summit. Another chance for the French press to berate ' Les Anglais ' . The term Anglo-Saxon , the greatest insult in the French language, liberally bandied around.  This time the argument is about money. '' Dishonest and undignified " the caption under a picture of the British Prime Minister.

Facing me on the church doorway an old medieval carving. Half dog, half fish or is it half rabbit, half fish ? Probably passed it a hundred times before without noticing it. Just goes to show -   Look hard enough and there's always something to make you smile.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The missing widget.

The new hoover needs to be assembled. Easy enough if all the parts are there. Impossible if they're not. A return trip to the electrical store for the missing widgets. 

'' Happy-Technologie ! " says the sign on the outside. This is a message that hasn't percolated through to the staff on the inside. 

' But Monsieur all the parts were there when you bought it ' says the middle aged lady behind the desk. She has clearly been to the same charm school as the Skoda salesman. We discuss the matter. Finally , after filling out a lengthy form, the hoover is replaced. A new box is brought to the checkout desk. The saleslady opens the box , rummages around inside and holds up a small plastic bag containing the truant nuts. She pointedly counts them. '' Voila Monsieur. All is in order. I've checked ". The '' I've checked '' part of the sentence is stressed. She glares at me in much the same way she might glare at a serial widget stealer.

Home to find another electrical store delivering the new dishwasher. '' There's nothing down here about installing it " says a young man with a clipboard. ' Oh yes there is ' replies an Angus who is increasingly wise to the ways of European workmen. The dishwasher is installed in silence.

Late afternoon. The morose garden lads return . They lay more turf and scatter more grass seed. The gardens resemblance to Gracelands grows with each passing day. At five to five they go.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Cordless freedom with maximum flexibility.

'' M'Ongoose ! M'Ongoose ! The hoovers broken ! ". Madame Bay advances towards me. In her outstretched hands a hoover wheel and shards of fractured axle.

So it is that an hour later ' M'Ongoose' finds himself in the local electrical supplier accompanied by an enthusiastic seventy something in a padded red and blue striped  housecoat , tartan leggings and  paisley turban. ( The turban is held together at the front by a piece of costume jewellery several times bigger than the Kohinoor diamond ) .

Buying a hoover is not as easy as it sounds. Or to put it more precisely buying a hoover with Madame Bay is not as easy as it sounds. Vacuum cleaners are taken out of boxes, road tested along the aisles, shaken to test their build quality. The merits of pull along versus push along discussed with the sales lady. Several models are rejected because of their colour.

Finally a vacuum cleaner is chosen. '' Are you sure ? " I ask  . Madame has chosen a cordless model with a Lithium battery. ' It's perfect and look - the manufacturer gives you €35 back ' comes the robust response. Cordless freedom with maximum flexibility. Madame Bay a marketing departments target audience.

By the check out counter a display of CD's. Assorted French crooners.  Madame Bay picks up a Johnny Hallyday album . She sings along happily to it , clicking her fingers and swinging her upper body from side to side as we drive the thirty minutes home.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Bongos, pan pipes and higher education.

The bongo players ' bongo ' until six. They then get in their cars and depart. Many of the male bongo players have pigtails and wear floral  drawstring pants of the type favoured by 1960's era new age travellers . Their wives are big on smocks and clogs. At lunchtime there is a solo performance by what is presumably a maestro bongoist.

In search of peace we head off to the Christmas market. The Christmas market is  the weekly  Sunday market with the addition of  stalls selling red and white Santa headgear . This year some of the headgear sports battery powered flashing lights.  Being Christmas there is also a Peruvian pan pipe band. The pan pipers have feather headdresses and play that Aztec festive classic " Cecilia you're breaking my heart " over and over and over.

We stop at a cafe to read the papers. The weekend ' Le Figaro ' magazine has a list of the best universities in the world. First place is awarded to the California Institute of Technology. The accompanying article notes that Caltech is run by a Frenchman .

Sunday, November 18, 2012

An early morning bongo.

The market quiet. Very quiet. One of the cheese ladies tells me that people aren't spending as much because of ' la crise ' . " VAT goes up again next year " added by way of explanation.  The cheese lady stresses the word ' again ' . Angus can't help but wonder what it will be like if the French government ever actually tries to trim its spending ? The cheese lady's husband  offers me some canned guinea fowl. ' It's very good '.

Sunday morning early. Very early. The village makes a little money by letting out the Salle de Fetes to various clubs and associations. Today the Salle de Fetes has been hired by a group of tomtom and bongo drum players. They arrive before first light and promptly start bongoing. ' The font ' gets up to see what is causing so much noise. ' Just a group of bongo players practising on the village green ' .

Another Sunday morning in deepest, deepest France profonde.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

What does it say ?

The new car is waiting in the showroom. Grey paint, tinted windows , dog guard and black interior. They say you can tell a lot about people from the car they drive.  This is anonymity on wheels. Not the sort of car that is likely to be stolen. 

' The font ' looks at the Skoda and wonders why the rear doors don't seem to match those at the front. Our new vehicle rather short on style. In fact it looks as if it's been assembled from a left over parts bin at the factory.  Being France the dealership presents us with a bottle of champagne for the journey home.

At the Rickety Old Farmhouse ' the font ' notices  no less than six scratches on the inside of the windscreen. Each about an inch long.  We'd thought they were mud splatters. ' The font ' takes the car back to the showroom. '' Wasn't like that when we sold it to you Love " says the salesman. ' Well I certainly didn't do it ' replies ' the font '. '' You might be right but you'd be surprised what people get up to in cars " comes the replyNonplussed  ' the font ' returns home - scratches in place.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The less said the better.

A late evening walk round the garden. The gardeners have ordered too much turf.  Rather than waste it the morose lads have laid it carefully round the base of an old holm oak in the courtyard. This patch of verdant lawn set amid the gravel gives the garden the air of a municipal cemetery. '' Well, we can't complain they didn't use their initiative " says ' the font '.

The Rickety Old Farmhouse has two kitchens. A summer one on the cool ground floor and a winter one upstairs. The electrician informs us that the dishwasher in the upstairs kitchen is  clinically dead. We head off in search of a replacement. Who knew there was so much technology in dishwashers ? ' The font 'reads the labels about washing cycles, energy efficiency and decibel levels. All the models on display seem to cost €1200 and have 25 cycles. Angus , who only uses one cycle, on and off , orders a replacement on the internet for a third of the price. It will be delivered on Tuesday. The firm promises to install it and remove the old machine. We shall see.

As for the Beaujolais Nouveau evening in the local restaurant ? . I'll let the menu say it all :

Plateau de charcuterie
Jambon persille a la bourguignonne
Cake aux oreilles de cochon
Joues de cochon en daube
Buffet des desserts.

Angus enjoyed the desserts. Pig ears cake! The culinary joys of life in deepest France profonde.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Beaujolais nouveau.

A miracle. Barring a two hour lunch break the gardener is here for a full day. He and the four morose lads lay turf around the palm tree in the courtyard , prune the limes  and reseed the lawn they planted a year ago. At five on the dot they load up their equipment  and go. They promise to come back next week to lay more turf  and plant the roses. '' It'll be either Monday or Tuesday. Maybe Thursday " says the gardener with studied imprecision. ' I'll put it in the diary ' says Angus. The gardener looks back blankly.

The post lady delivers a large bundle of Christmas catalogues. Seasonal bargains on ear defenders  , a fitted kitchen for €299, Father Christmas decorations ( Angus points out to 'the font' that the Father Christmas in the catalogue is a dead ringer for the Old Farmer across the lane ) and a reminder that the 2012 Beaujolais Nouveau is for sale in the local supermarket.

'' Oh " says ' the font ' . '' I've got tickets for tonights Beaujolais nouveau dinner at the restaurant in town". Angus grimaces. " You'll enjoy it once you're there. We don't want people to think we're recluses ". Between champagne drinking villagers and a stream of unscheduled French workmen Angus wonders how anyone could ever think we're reclusive. A chance would be a fine thing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

An end to prevarication .

The trusty old Volkswagen develops another rattle. Time to trade it in for something new. Before we head off to the garage ' the font ' spends half an hour  trying to scrub off the drool stains on the back seat where Digby used to snore happily away. The stains prove to be quite immovable. Never buy a used car from a dog owner.

A new Golf in the forecourt. We know this because there is a big sign on the side saying ' Nouvelle Golf '. €40,000 ! That's $52,000 in real money. When did Volkswagens become so expensive ?

At the Mini garage the young salesman has broken his leg playing football. He shouts encouragement to us from across the showroom, his plastered leg propped up on a chair in front of him. ' The font ' feels sorry for the young man. '' Why don't we buy one ? ".  Angus feels that this is a less than logical reason for chosing a car and that anyone who has broken his leg playing football is going to be quite capable of looking after himself .

At the BMW garage there's a young woman in a suede mini skirt and black fishnet tights. She speaks , huskily, to Angus and pointedly ignores ' the font '. This is not the best of sales strategies. So it is we settle on a Skoda with a glass roof. It will be delivered on Friday. 20% off and €2,000 for the old Golf. Not a bad valuation for a health hazard on wheels with a 100,000 miles on the clock. The salesman doesn't seem to notice the stains on the back seat.

Home to find the gardeners hard at work. We'd expected them in September.