In these dark times, we older people gain enormous self-respect by the 3000% rise in the last two years of people around the world who write to say “I have a project for you”. Why only this week I have received 27 such compliments, all of which I had to decline due to subsequent engagements. I cannot bear to mark any of them as spam for two reasons: first of all, they have taken so much trouble to write to me – in some cases, over 40 times; and secondly, when I spam them out it makes no f**king difference.
But I remain what I have been for some time: a wild and out-there-madder-than-crazy sort of bloke who really just doesn’t care any more. I’m up for anything: parking on double yellow lines, asking after the weather in Bombay every time my phone rings, trying to sell garden sheds to French anti-termite salesmen, and now even growing my hair very much longer than it has been since 1970. Also, while in Greece, I became enamoured of the Kafenion moustache – something that allows you to join in with the coffee-bar arguments and retain some credibility, but does involve taking the RAF handlebar moustache from 1940 and broadening it to a handleDSODFCVCandbar moustache.
What this all adds up to is, I’m trying to look a little rakeish. One friend said three weeks ago that I looked Rafeish, which suggests the strategy might be working. But after a certain age, there is a very fine line indeed between rakeish/radical cool older guy in Skinny-fit jeans, and complete derelict so dirt poor he can’t afford a haircut, and has to wear his daughter’s cast-off leggings.
The line is rendered thin to the point of being one-dimensional if you’ve just had eight lower teeth extracted. And it disappears completely if the dentist you used never got round to putting something back in there as a replacement. Indeed, it may well have been this feature that encouraged another close friend to say to me a few days back, “You look like a cross between Ben Gunn and Albert Steptoe”. [Apologies, but only British Sloggers and people aged over 70 will get that reference]
My son-in-law, who has more tact than most of my other close friends, said he thought I was looking “increasingly Gallic”, but even that felt backhanded in an all too generalised sort of way. Did he mean Alain Delon, or Georges Clemenceau?
The good news is that I am reassured, by suppliers of realistic teeth to the gerontocracy, that all can be made good, and come the Spring I shall be a little closer to my original aim of closely resembling Wild Bill Hickock.
I am not a practical man in the sense of being “good at” stuff like engines, electronics, shelves, woodwork, DIY, metalwork, neurosurgery or even being Marshal of Abilene, but I can turn my hand to ingenuity when things go wrong…..and I don’t want to call in expensive tradesmen who say they can be with me some time before May with a very reasonable callout cost of £300.
Earlier this week I flicked the bathroom lighting switch, and it gave a phlnk before refusing to move further in either direction. The next day I switched off the electricity and examined the switch’s interior. When I came round after fainting, I decided that the renovation here had to include a complete rewire upstairs. I had the ground floor done six years ago, if only to move it beyond the second Cheops dynasty, but this incident seemed to me a more serious one: for the switch had gone phlnk because its plastic innards had melted. The wires were decayed and displaying bare metal. This was electricity from the later Bronze Age.
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the tractor lawnmower for eight years now, and a hate/hate affair with the retailer who sold it me for the last three. Here again, I’ve these days fallen back on my own limited skills in order to sort things out. When the Green Beast spluttered to a halt last Thursday, I jumped off in a fit of Basil Fawlty, vowing to ring the service blokes and tell them how my mother’s dead cat had more idea about how to keep a sit-on mower running. Then I inspected the petrol tank, and found it was empty.
Very few people have the skills required to open the top of a petrol tank and pour more petrol in, but I do and I’m mighty pleased to have acquired such dexterity.
There are signs of Christmas here everywhere now. When I first began coming to France all those 40+ years ago, one rarely saw a Christmas tree. But over time, the French too have fallen for le Noël Anglosaxon. A decade ago, local councils began buying half-life-size Santa dolls in bulk, and fitting them to buildings throughout the Commune.
However, the British visitor does quickly get the feeling that this is all done in a somewhat slapdash and half-hearted fashion. The ones crawling over the Mairie of our next village along, for example, look as if they’re trying to break in at the windows. The rest look as if they’ve been caught at it, and hanged. This isn’t really at the core of what Santa Claus is supposed to be about.
But at least the weather is obeying traditional South-Western French rules: freezing nights followed by bright clear mornings and pleasantly tepid afternoon sun. The light just before sunset changes the darkening blue sky to orange, and the reflection from this turns orange leaves to red as well as ruddy leaves to brown. Planes flying at high altitude in turn have their underbellies coloured pink. It’s pretty damned good, let me tell you.