When we’re on our own here, I never wear trunks in the pool. So it’s a bit awkward, once you get out, to discover that the shorts and underwear you left on the side have disappeared. And the post lady is driving up to the house.
Mme La Poste nearly always leaves the post in the box by our small barn below the main house. So if she’s coming up the drive, it means she wants me to sign something. This was a tricky social situation, as she’d driven to a halt between me and the towel sitting on the bench below.
The natural inclination is to look everywhere at everything very quickly. It’s actually an entirely unnatural thing to do, because clothing doesn’t just fly away and deposit itself on a handy branch. But I’m glad I did do this, because there, by the main conifer, was Coco the terrier, a pair of underpants in her mouth and a tail wagging rather more effectively than your average wind turbine.
Underpants, it seemed to me, were better than nothing (I’d have preferred to see a pair of shorts, but you can’t have everything in this world) so I laughed nervously and began the process of persuading our terrier puppy that it was well worth her while bringing the underwear to me.
Coco hasn’t really got the obedience thing yet: slapping thighs and adopting a squeaky boy-are-we-having-fun voice she interprets as ‘game on’. So she ran away, my knickers flowing behind her head like some kind of battle standard. Until the postie lady slammed her car door shut after getting out, at which point Coco stopped dead, dropped the pants, and shot over to say hello. She is such a tart, but for once I was grateful.
The outer shorts turned up much later under a cushion in the living room. By this time I had been through the painfully slow process of explaining to La Poste why I was wearing only underwear which had seen better days. She nodded gravely, clearly having decided I was an exhibitionist perv, and I signed for the delivery. All the time, Coco jumped up at her knees, tail going like the clappers and blissfully unaware of the difficult anthropological situation she had single-handedly caused.
It’s a relief to be back in rural France. The weather’s been good to us so far, so the garden is at last under some kind of control. Arriving later this year, we were just in time for the cherries. Fewer of them this time, but much better quality than last year’s bizarre outburst of abundance. As part of treating my wife’s condition, I’m making fresh fruit drinks every day, and there are very few things that can beat cherries and strawberries in a blender then juiced with peaches, apples and some added glucose. One feels so vibrant and full of health after drinking it. Until one falls asleep again.
I wasn’t expecting to be tired by the time I got to 64, but I am. This is doubtless something to do with the amount of beer I drink. The amount of beer I drink in turn has quite a lot to do with the fact that, in southern Europe, it’s not much more expensive than water – and the reasonable ABV stuff (Kronenbourg at 4.2%) is better than any other lager I know for enjoyment without falling over a lot. I tend to buy it at the larger supermarkets by the 24-pack size. I’d have it delivered by lorry, but there’s enough talk about me and my holey underpants in the village as it is.
The upside of these packs is that they contain 24 bottles each. The downsides are myriad. The large packs are rendered stable by some tightly-gripping plastic ribbon which, when you cut it, bounces off up the hall like a jack-rabbit before slumping awkwardly and untidily in the doorway. Disposing of the ribbon is like tying a knot in water. Put one in the swing bin, and presto! You have a jack-in-the-box when you open it again. I’ve had one of these things scamper off behind a cupboard, and then moved the cupboard years later. Out it sprung, fresh as the day it was cut, terrifying the dogs as it skittered about the kitchen. Centuries from now, archaelogists will be carrying out digs, and be startled by the sight of a beer-pack stabiliser behaving in an unstable manner.
Krono’s everyday 4.2% ‘driving lager’ (as one idiot I knew briefly called it) comes with ouverture facile as standard – easy-opening screw tops. Everything packaged in France these days is marked ‘ouverture facile’. It’s become a table stake without which you can’t join in the gallic marketing game, and is thus included on packs even if Houdini couldn’t open the bloody thing. Plastic-pack hams have these words on the corner, where the idea is you flick up a piece of the couverture and thus effect ouverture. That’s the theory, but it usually involves getting out a serrated knife and hacking at the pack like a Hitchcock psycho.
Krono beer’s easy-open screw tops are mainly designed to cut down the amount of over-age drinking. Have I ever told you about my theories on drink control? No? Well, now’s as good a time as any. I don’t think there should be any such thing as under-age drinking. It should be like the movies: you can go in, but you must have a parent, and they have to buy the ticket. That’s the way it works in Southern Europe: children are given wine watered down to have with food (never outside mealtimes) and thus getting sh*tfaced doesn’t become a rite of passage. There is no mystery to alcohol down here: “Anglo-Saxon idiots drink too much of it, but we French are not barbarians like them”. Or to be more precise, like me.
What we definitely should have, however, is some control on over-age drinking. There’s far too much of it, it’s costing the NHS a fortune, and it has to stop. Personally I’d ban anyone over a hundred from drinking any alcohol at all. Anyway, Kronenbourg have taken matters into their own hands by making it impossible for 64 year-old hands to unscrew the easy-unscrew tops. Now 64 is not over-age. A hundred is over-age, by which time any considerate person should’ve had the decency to die anyway. But I am not Arnie Schwarzenegger. And I resent the blatant ageism involved in the process of deciding how tight to make beer-bottle tops.
We lost quite a few shrubs last winter, after the coldest one in many decades. The small olive didn’t make it, two hortensias died, a Chilean Potato tree has kopped it at the front, and almost everything in a pot is now shrivelled. But it seems to have mutated most of the weeds into giant beanstalks. They look forbidding, but most large weeds are easy to take out; it’s the tenacious little buggers living in cracks that put up the most resistance. But the thing about gardening is, you get to the end of the day, put a Krono screw-top in the vice, sip some beer and then think, “God, this is going to take forever.”
However, it’s nice to be here and moaning about it. I am a fortunate man and – despite having worked hard to get this place – others work equally hard and don’t get it. What I can’t bear is self-pitying berk trolls who comment thread here telling me how I took ‘their’ money of them. It is all part of the contemporary sense of entitlement. Maybe that’s why my generation is doing better than theirs: it’s a long way from being the whole answer, but it is at least part of it.