Saturday, 26 February 2011

Out of Hibernation

Something very strange happened this evening: I checked this diary (or blog, whatever) and found that someone had actually read my inane, nocturnal ramblings and had written about them on A Taste of Garlic, another Frogblog. Not only that, but someone else had taken the bait and left a comment on my last post (sometime in April, 2010), hoping I'd start up, again. I'm really very touched and thank you both, Keith and Sarah. Here's a post in your honour; let's hope I don't come over all self-conscious now there are people peering in through our ill-fitting, antiquated shutters. Seeing as I've already published a few articles in the Telegraph and The Connexion (the last, admittedly, about two years ago) this should be child's play, but they were actually destined for public consumption, whereas this wasn't...

Anyhow, here's trying to remind myself what has happened since I last logged in. Business as usual - working in Germany all summer, concerts in Austria and the mother of all autumns at work back here in France, topped off by a hazardous trip back to England for Christmas with the family. The first two days of the holiday were spent at Toulouse Airport, guessing whether or not Easy Jet had bribed the authorities enough to be able to take off at all, until finally they did: at 1.30am. Our driver at Gatwick was asleep in his taxi, so we endured the stomach-churning sensation of looking round an empty arrivals hall at 2am BST, three days before Christmas, with two small children in tow. He eventually turned up - no apology forthcoming - and dropped us off at my mother's place at 6am. It dutifully started snowing while we were having brunch at around 11am, so the rest of the day was devoted to building snowmen, snowball fights and generally being happy about being together in England over the festive period, the first time in fourteen years.

School strikes don't enrage me the way they once did. They exist, they will happen, and that's it. There's an awful lot in this fine country you'll never change, and that's half its charm. Still, there's one element which still baffles my northern European pragmatic sensibility, and that's the fact that it's not what you say but how you say it that counts. The argument is won not by the most informed, but the most eloquent. Here's an example:

Radio Host: Monsieur le Ministre, your department has been criticised as corrupt, wasteful, nepotistic and of having financially supported the slaughter of seal cubs. In fact, three of your staff were actually filmed murdering said creatures in front of Galeries Lafayette yesterday afternoon.

Minister: VoltaireBlahRacineBlahMolièreBlahInsubstantiatedSlanderBlahChateauD'Yquem.

Radio Host: I want you to have my children.

You think I'm joking, don't you? No; seeing as you live in France you know I'm not. The argument is closed by the most skilful wordsmith, and so it will remain. At least until David Beckham becomes President.

Keith pointed out that I've written a lot about illness. Maybe it was the inspiration behind some posts, as we've all enjoyed excellent health since I last wrote. Fingernail II, since coming out of nappies, has been in training for her dotage: she gets up twice a night to go to the loo. That's something I'm not hoping to match for a few years, yet. Her schoolteacher finds her advanced, but five going on eighty is a bit much.

We're going to get a car. This, you might say, is not news. And you'd be right. Only it is for us, as it's the first step towards selling up and going somewhere where grass is underfoot and not something sold on street corners. A couple of years ago, French number plates lost their departmental cachet and became drab successions of numbers and letters. There was an outcry: "We want to keep our departmental numbers! It's the only way we can identify other people from our region when we're on holiday". As legal reasoning goes, the argument was pretty flimsy, but cary-shary Matignon bent its benevolent ear to the marauding hordes and found a wonderful compromise: people could have a cuddly little sticker stuck on the extreme right of their new plate, bearing the number of any department they want. Naturally, everyone plumps for the department which charges them through the nose for water, rubbish removal and town hall hot lines which never answer your call! Genius! It was to be called the 'département du coeur', would be purely symbolic and have no legal significance.

Now, I've been in this département for six years. It's nice, yes, but I feel no more attachment to it than I do to Bedford. So, I asked our local, friendly Tabac/Presse/Number Plate seller if it were possible to have one of these plates with no number on the end. His answer summed up what happens if you listen to the people in this country:

"Non. Unless you want to be fined €75".

Hang on, I said. This was meant to be optional, and now it's compulsory? And it doesn't even have to be the department where you live? What's the point of that?

"That's France, monsieur".

So I'm going to start looking at all of those sweet little stickers and find the one I could live with best. Maybe the aesthetically-pleasing chopped Corsican head or the number 69, just for the hell of it, seeing as that gives me more pleasure than a number plate ever could. And I hope I'm not alone in that.

Time to head off to bed. Tomorrow is all about the wonderful market in the morning and Rossini in the afternoon. Wish it were Wagner, but you'll never find me complaining about my work.

Thanks for the prod, Keith and Sarah. I'll keep writing, even if no-one falls ill.

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