Friday, 31 October 2014

A fishy tale




Firstly, sorry for the months of silence. Things were a bit weird here, but now it seems, it's time to get going again.

St Hippolyte market is an institution of sorts on Fridays. People walk about a bit, maybe stopping for some good goat’s cheese (pelardon) or leguminous substances, then off to the café for a bun and a coffee. We sort of take the place for granted, having gone there, on and off for years.

We don’t seem to really notice one market trader who must be quite unique. He is a sort of gourmet fishmonger. Instead of having a stall, which quite often really does provoke Asterix type comments, he has a pick-up truck with the back converted to a large aquarium. He comes from a spot about 25 kilometers away, which is renowned for its trout stream. The sides of the truck are transparent with a selection of trout swimming about in a state of blissful unawareness.




He tends to attract a crowd during the tourist season. You point out your fish to him which he catches in a small net. The fish is then put into a small box built into the bodywork. One press of a button and it is stunned, finally being finished off by having its brains bashed out by a priest.*

Call me old-fashioned, but I blame violent video games for the preponderance of pre-teen spectators to this violent procedure. There always seems to be a gaggle of kids, mainly tourists, who hang around the truck waiting to see the next trout get its come-uppance.

The scene in Monty Python’s ‘Meaning of life’ springs to mind; a tankful of rainbow and brown trout all swimming around under the naive impression that they’re out for a jolly morning jaunt around the countryside with their friend Gerald, only to find that in fact, they are the plat principal on that evening’s family bill of fare.

I have to admit that I’ve never seen the truck arrive or depart. He must have some sort of cover for the tank as otherwise there would be the risk of fish sloshing out of the back every time there was a steep bend.



* A small pestle-like club used for killing fish, although a man of the cloth would probably do the job equally well.


Wednesday, 12 March 2014

You don't have to be mad........

Those of you with bated breath waiting for my next instalment can finally relax. I've been away for nearly a month, due to various health problems. This has been a very hectic period, I've had three medical consultations a week in various clinics in the region and have been scanned, had tubes inserted in every available orifice, (luckily, you get a general anaesthetic here). It now appears that apart from having a mysterious black tongue and a troublesome cough, I seem to be in reasonable health.

Several friends also pointed out to me that I was acting a bit strange. The last few months have been very stressful and they tactfully suggested that I might be somewhat depressed. I took this on board easily enough, as, like a lot of people who love to laugh, I'm the first to admit that I also have a dark side.

Thus it was that an appointment was made to visit a shrink in Montpellier who was recommended to me. I arrived early and wandered up the street a bit looking at the imposing houses lining the route and wondering whether it would be better to talk to the guy in French or English. I finally decided on French, as I was worried that I might get a bit too flowery in my native tongue. It was a beautiful day and I took a few pictures, which were rubbish.

It was at this point that a little old lady approached. After asking if I was a professional photographer she talked knowledgeably and at length about some of the historic buildings in the city centre. After about ten minutes I managed to get a word in edgeways. 'The buildings in this part of town are quite grand.' 'Oh, yes, they're mainly occupied by psychologists, you know all the half-mad people come to this quarter.'

Well thank you madame I'm starting to feel better already.

This week I went back. On my way there I took a wrong turn. As I came out of a narrow road, I felt a slight jolt. I'd scraped a stationary car. A woman got out and was almost hysterical. Her car had a minute scratch about 1cm long. 'I'm ill, you know,' she almost screamed, although physically she seemed pretty robust. I couldn't resist telling her that it was all too apparent that ill was obviously some kind of euphemism for deranged, at which she denied it too vehemently for it not to have been true. Again this was reassuring, as I clearly wasn't in her league of insanity. I gave her my details and now await the no doubt outrageous bill for the almost invisible damage.

What's really odd is that there is still a taboo about mental health in general. I've thought for many years that everyone should have at least one consultation per year, but I would imagine that such an idea would meet with a lot of resistance from the people who would probably benefit the most.

I've started talking about 'my analyst,' in my best Woodie Allen accent, after all, if you have stomach pains you go to a doctor, so why such strangeness about what are normally fairly minor mental health issues? The really odd thing is that taking this approach gets other people talking. It may be the Americans in the village, who seem to be free of the mental health taboo, but as soon as I've mentioned it it seems that most people I know got there before me.

What's even more interesting is that I do feel pretty good. Let's hope it isn't addictive.

Friday, 14 February 2014

The long and the short

This being the third year that we have't gone skiing, I decided that it was time to shake off the apathy of winter and the Christmas excesses and go to the new swimming pool in a small town about twenty minutes away.

Some friends, who had been to the pool in Nîmes the week before had some fairly precise instructions. Firstly, swimming trunks of the 'budgie smuggler' variety are compulsory, as for some reason shorts are not allowed. The logic behind this seems to be that you could secretly stow some of the pool equipment in a pair of voluminous shorts........ well, what else could the reason be?

Secondly, it is obligatory to wear a bathing cap, available in the slot machines in situ. Being a bit of a slap-head, this seemed to be a rather unnecessary demand, but heh, it's for the sake of my general wellbeing, so OK.

We arrived at the rather magnificent pool, which only opened in January. It turned out that the Nîmois seem to have their own rules. I didn't see anyone in shorts admittedly, but the silly hat rule didn't apply.

The water was a perfect temperature, even for me, who normally takes an age to get submerged, even in high summer. They had those floating lane markers strung the length of the pool which we dived under to get to the least occupied lane.

After a few minutes, the lifeguard approached: 'Would you mind going in another lane, as we're just about to start a class?' No problem. He then started loading about fifteen wheel-less bicycle type things into the shallow end, so that just the handlebars protruded above the water. A group of women suddenly appeared and installed themselves on these strange machines and started pedalling along to some 'relaxing' music.

It seems that they are all the rage at present, presumably as a means to getting rid of excess weight put on over the festivities. In a couple of years time, when the fad has passed, I'm sure we'll see huge piles of them rusting away in the car parks of swimming pools across the country.

The general mores of swimming seem to vary from country to country. A few years ago, we visited the in-laws, who have a holiday home at Cape Cod. We were on a beach not very far from where the Pilgrim Fathers arrived. The puritan legacy manifested itself when I approached the sea. 'MY GOD, HE'S WEARING NUT-HUGGERS!'

'I'm doing what?'

It was then that I became aware that every other male on the beach was wearing the very shorts which are frowned upon here in France and this was in liberal Massachusetts. In less enlightened areas of the US, they would have probably started plucking fowl and boiling up the tar.

One can't imagine the scene if the same people were to go to a beach here, or in Spain, where topless bathing for women has been the norm for decades, (although now considered a bit passé). As for the nudist beaches scattered around the Mediterranean, it would be interesting to see apoplectic American parents shielding their children's eyes from the outrageous behaviour of us decadent Europeans.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

The end of the pier show


A strange thing happened the other day when I went for a walk in Clacton on Sea. I went along the walk by the sea, not the most beautiful coastal path, with its concrete sea defences.




The wind was very strong and so I decided to go to the end of the pier. Seaside piers, in photography, fall into the same category as sunsets, markets and families awkwardly huddled together, grinning inanely at the lens. I switched off my camera and wandered around in the sunshine blasting myself with the abundance of negative ions.

Until I spotted some interesting reflections:





And this:







Sunday, 2 February 2014

Love and Death

Have been in Britain since Monday and will probably stay until the end of next week. As usual, I'm struck by the stoic cheerfulness of the public in these hard and troubled times, as opposed to the dourness found at home. Not that the French are unaware of this: I read a very funny French book in the summer, a sort of spoof guide book describing the country, department by department. For the Gard, where we live, there was a map of the region and an arrow pointing to one small town: 'In 1956, someone smiled here.'

Of course, these are generalisations. I know plenty of funny and cheerful French people and as many Brits who are grumpy bastards, (myself, for example). In fact, in my adoptive country, there are quite a few things which are taken much less seriously than they would be in Britain.

Millie called me yesterday to say that someone we'd worked with for many years on village projects had died tragically young of some horrible degenerative illness. She went to the funeral and not for the first time, in Sauve at least, the ceremony was conducted in a way that would have raised eyebrows here.

The coffin was brightly hand-painted and was danced to the cemetery by volunteers; not the first time that this has happened in Sauve. Funerals, in our region at least, seem to be more up-beat affairs than you would find in Britain.

Weddings are the same. We once went to a wedding on a very hot summer's day in the centre of France. Our friends both work for France Inter, the equivalent of the BBC and therefore know a few actors. As the ceremony in the Mairie was getting underway, a heavily pregnant, repulsive-looking person in a wedding dress burst in. 'You've left me like this and you promised me.........' The groom's parents both went the colour of an aspirin. The 'bride' was of course a man in drag.

The same couple, pulled a similar stunt when bureaucracy forced us into matrimony. The ceremony in the Mairie de Sauve was interrupted as we heard a lot of screaming and shouting and our friends appeared, wearing rubber masks. One was disguised as the Queen and the other Margaret Thatcher. The atmosphere was that of a football match. For our wedding music, we chose 'Electricity,' by Captain Beefheart and our 'bridesmaids' were two very elegantly besuited gay friends. Nobody seemed to think that this was in any way abnormal.

We Brits love a laugh, or so we like to tell ourselves, but unlike the French, we also have a deeply maudlin side.The Monty Python colonel stereotype, who once seemed so hilarious, now seems positively refreshing, now that collective wailing and gnashing of teeth has become the default response to even the most trivial emotive issue. My theory is that this started with the events in the Alma Tunnel, Paris in 1997, (three days after we moved to Sauve), and was consolidated by 9/11, (twenty days before our wedding).

Not that either event was anything to do with us.

It seems, and one can only hope that the tide changes again soon, veering from stoicism to hysteria goes in cycles. At Nelson's funeral, in 1805, the streets of London were awash with tears. By the time of Wellington's death, less than fifty years later, the upper lips of the public lining the route were stiffer than very stiff things.

Moved, saddened, uplifted, no problem. These are responses to beauty, tragedy, art, literature etc.

A conspicuous outpouring of communal grief for things unrelated to one's personal experience?

Stop it immediately! Too silly!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Accentuate the negative

Fascinating. I posted a thing yesterday which, due to a mixture of cynicism and curiosity, I entitled: 'Chip on my shoulder.' I gave it this negative sounding title just to see if it attracted negative-minded people. A few weeks ago, I wrote a thing called 'I'm a loser,' which notched up around four hundred hits in a couple of days.  

Sure enough, within minutes, The readership count started going crazy.

Headline writers for newspapers now go for phrases which are likely to be stumbled upon by googlers who are probably looking for something else completely. It's called search engine optimisation or SEO. Gone are the days when there was the possibility of pithy one-liner headlines such as: 'Super Callie go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious,' which was a report of the modest Scottish football team, Inverness Caledonian Thistle's 3-1 victory over the mighty Celtic.

The possibilities are quite terrifying. The day the Daily Mail manages to find a reason...... Sorry, excuse my naivety, publishes something along the lines of, 'Paedo, commie slut who hates Britain, in sex romp with benefit thieving Islamic asylum seeker,' the World's search engines will most likely be jammed up for weeks.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Chip on my shoulder

Went into Colchester this morning, 'Britain's Oldest Recorded Town,' as it constantly reminds you. I decided to stop and have a spot of lunch. My first port of call was a pub, the Fox and Fiddler, which claims to have been there since 1440. The only reason for my visit was that on the two previous occasions when I have tried to eat there, there was no food available. A large sign outside, which has quite possibly been there since 1440, proudly announces: 'Quality home cooked food, served seven days a week.' I entered and enquired. 'Sorry Mate, the cook's off sick today.' Why they even bother to keep up this pretence is a complete mystery.

I decided to go in search of something wholesome and British, but in this ancient town, all that could be found was fish and chips, chips and chips, fast food chains and of course chips. The only alternative was a steak, but at about twenty quid a shot I decided against it, as I know from experience that 'rare' here normally means you'll be served something which resembles an old shoe.

Hunger finally drove me into the nearest establishment which purported to be a restaurant. There were booths along the walls, designed for four people. One of these spaces was occupied by two women, who were almost certainly members of the Creosote family. They took up the entire space.
One of them stood up to take a break, having finished shovelling a platter of fat and chips and went outside, for an inter-prandial fag to get in shape for attacking a gigantic sugar and cream confection: 'God, my knees are killing me.' I don't know why, but the name 'Costa Concordia' immediately sprang to mind.

The waitress approached and I ordered a burger which, much to my surprise, came with chips. There was also the bewildering combination of onion rings, coleslaw, a small tomato and barbecue sauce. Anything green was conspicuous by its absence. The waitress, as usual, was smily and tried very hard to be helpful. I didn't ask too many questions as the response to everything, including 'hello,' was 'luvvly.'

No wotteye mean?

Although I wasn't expecting haute cuisine........ well,  let's say I ate the bare minimum until I didn't feel quite so hungry. The burger wasn't bad, except it had one of those square pieces of gaudy cheese adhering to it. Deep fried onion rings aren't my thing and the barbecue sauce was this strange red gloop which tasted like someone had stirred a bucket of brackish water with a burnt stick.

I've had worse. Croatia, for example, but for the rest of my stay, I think I'll eat at home.