At the End of the Day

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.

Sort of related: The astonishing double-standards of our young Prime Minister

18 thoughts on “At the End of the Day

  1. Sorry, off them. Not of them. Though it could be the lager talking. We’ll be there on Friday though we have to deal with a leaky barn and a fouine in the roof. The joys of la France profonde.


  2. Nice story about the Postmam commeth! I’m a couple of years behind you, John, but yes I have often thought that we have lived in a “lucky” window…..I just remember the last of ration books and all cars being black and bus tickets being made of card with chunks clipped out the side!

    I was very lucky to go to a creative buzzy London college in 1970 in a class of only 20 where all of us scraped our final show because we had all been headhunted already into our first jobs in the last term ….and sure there have been ups and downs and of course I consider myself to have been very lucky. But both my kids are bright enough to make their own luck and while I’m damn glad not to be in my early 20’s…I rekon they’ll both do just fine in lifeeven if their criteria of success is not necessarily mine!

    Sitting here on my very modest lil boat in a River Thames Marina …and mysteriously the contents of the bottle of wine in the cooler has disappeared! ..I ‘m not going there on ‘over aged drinkin’ ! I’m very lucky to have worked for many years with really great students who have never believed that there is a ‘contemporary sense of entitlement’… I’d like to take issue with that generalisation… ours and any previous generation there has always been the politics of envy of those who through luck, hard work and / or talent manage to carve themselves a reasonably decent life.


  3. Put some bloody trunks on man. They’re not too bad these days, not like the knitted one’s my Mum made us wear.


  4. I know how you feel. Just left 33 degrees in Murcia to come home to Scotland and 14. The beer in Murcia is €0.65 and the wine about €1.00 depending on how refined you are and the petrol is also 20% cheaper. Rip off Britain. It took us over 30 minutes to go through Prestwick airport border control from a flight from Murcia. A piece of pish!


  5. I should leave the hortensias if I were you. We thought we had lost two here in the Haute-Vienne, but they are recovering. It was minus 22 here at one point and we lost an olivier as well. Bons vacances.


  6. By chance, only last week a cabinet meeting in number 10 discussed the now – certainty – that a brussels sponsored Same Sex Holiday Camp Honeymoon Centre will be purchased in South West France. In fact only 16 kilometres from SLOGGERS ROOST apparently, according to Google Earth. The facility will feature sunbathing, tidal lake and water slides in beautiful gardens, with option for naked undress if they so wish.


  7. Yes, we know that the old etonian lobby association pushed hard for this. When I was head boy there were a number of current establishment elites jumping into each others beds in the dormitories. It’s a disgrace, and a sign of our times. We don’t tolerate that nonsense in our banking world.


  8. *sings* “I’m a troll, fol-de-roll.” That probably ages me.

    One day I will tell you about the neighbour, the mistress and the swimming pool.

    I like it in France too but I live here all the time


  9. I bought some San Miguel the other day as it was on special offer. The bottles had a very nifty pull-off top that would suit fingers of any age over 18 (haha). I liked the beer too funnily enough. It was better than the Heineken I usually get but it’s usually more expensive too.


  10. John, tell us about French taxes on owning a home there, property tax, wealth tax etc., does this spoil the fun?
    Then tell us, how do you expect to be affected by Hollande and the new socialists? Arn’t they going to be gunning for folk such as you?


  11. Good old Coco! Just doing her job. Never know where you’ll find a pair of exploding underpants.

    And then discouraging the nosy postie from further intrusions by humping her leg.

    She deserves a few slices of nice French ham.


  12. I think had they stayed with Sarkozy, it would’ve been far worse for us: nothing gets the votes in like a bit of Rosbif bashing.
    There are small property and land taxes. No wealth tax so long as your French home is worth less than another one in the UK.
    There’s a tax when you sell, but after 12 years it’s zero.
    It’s possible they’ll get uppity and take it out on us. You never know with the French elite. The locals prefer us to Parisians anyway.


  13. TB
    As you’ve already been told, a Chilean Potato Tree is like the vine, only it has purple/mauve flowers rather than white. I love them both.
    Yes, boy do we have snakes. But apart from one tiny silver adder thing we’ve only seen twice in 14 years, they’re all harmless south European grass snakes.
    The problem is they look like a cross between a Pirelli tyre and a Cobra – and grow to be quite big – so they scare the crap out of people. Their other disturbing habit is a penchant for the cool of indoors at the end of a hot day.
    The locals laugh, pick them up and stick them in shirt pockets. This drives Mrs Slog onto the nearest table, and gives her nightmares for weeks afterwards. But the truth is, the hornets are infinitely more dangerous.


  14. I must buy a blender…… but don’t get me started on under-age drinking, having had to collect my youngest son from hospital several times owing to wine festivals selling ‘as much wine as you can drink for 50 francs.’ Yes, it was a good while ago, but I still have the scars……


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