The air is wonderfully flavoured with smoke at the moment, as people clear up the detritus of leaves and falling branches to make bonfires. To do such a thing is against the law in France; their refusal to take any notice of what is quite the daftest bit of legislation since pool alarms shows the French people at their best – full of curmudgeonly common sense.
But this is not a normal Autumn. Average temperatures here last week were 25°C, and this week – well into November – they’re 22 degrees. We still have little or no rain to speak of, and this is now officially the driest and warmest Spring-to-Autumn period in the Lot since records began. Hence the confused roses above left, deftly set-dressed into a combo I call Two red roses across the Spoon, with profoundly insincere apologies to Walter De la Mare – a poet whose rhymes were drilled into me during my first year at Grammar School, but whose work I have always thought a bit naff.
Normal or not, there is as always lots to do: hedges, grass, rampant creepers, unpruned fruit trees, and the clearing of the veg/herb patch to name but a small proportion of the things that stare accusingly at a chap each and every day. One truly pleasing thing about that patch however (soon to be entirely devoted to herbs, as they’re a lot less needy – and weedy – than yer légumes) is that my long-lost garlic plants have been somehow cryogenically restored: their emerging sprouts suggest a fine harvest will be had in the early summer of 2016….if, that is, the ‘Great’ Powers haven’t vapourised all of us in a squabble about Syria aka oil.
A British heating engineer turned up yesterday to finish the plumbing in of sink, shower and bog so I can now get on with tidying up inside the converted barn. He’s a smashing bloke, and the only person I’ve met over the last fifty years who still uses the cockney expression of surprise “lummy”. Apologising to non-Brits in advance, very few of whom will understand any of what follows, “Cor lummy!” was a standard expostulation by all cockney characters in Radio sitcoms of the 1950s – perhaps most notably Meet the Huggets, a series on the BBC Light Programme starring Kathleen Harrison and Jack Warner. The Huggets had emerged from the Second World War with stiff ‘London can take it’ upper lip intact, but were by now struggling to keep up with new developments like the telly, teddy boys, parking meters and cars with gear boxes where double-declutch was no longer necessary.
Whenever she came across one of these new scientific advances such as aluminium cooking foil, Harrison (Mrs Hugget) would say “Oooooh, fancy!” a reaction to which her husband nodded in silent wonder – which of course you couldn’t see, because it was on radio.
Warner went on to play emerging British TV drama’s most famous cop Dixon of Dock Green, an ordinary bobby whose desk sergeant also said “lummy” a lot. PC Dixon depicted a world (already disappearing like the Autumn’s morning mists here) in which villains said things like “It’s a fair cop, guv”, and “No need for the cuffs Mr Dixon, I’ll come quiet like”. Adjectives like cyber, digital, white-collar, card and EFTPOS to describe crime lay sixty years ahead in a world which would have seemed a nightmare to all those involved – not least the crooks.
“Petty” is I suspect the best descriptor for the sort of crime investigated by Dixon and his son-in-law Andy. Swag was fenced, safes were cracked, there was Smash & Grab down the Jewellers’ shop, and snouts spilled the beans. For over twenty years from 1955-76, George Dixon reassured the gullible British public that crime was restricted to a known criminal community, and in the end the cops nicked the robbers….who then did their bird with a stoicism unmatched ever since. Watching episodes on Youtube now is an odd form of nostalgia, from time to time punctuated with out-take hilarity.
The small-time thieves featured on the show were played by stalwart actors like Sam Kydd and Victor ‘Tug’ Maddern. In one infamously funny episode, Maddern tries to tell Dixon and Andy that he’s “happy to go down the Dock Green Nick”. In take after take, Maddern says ‘Knock Green Dick’, ‘Kick Green Dock’, and other alternatives. In the broadcast show he says “the police station”.
I digress. The term ‘Cor lummy’ comes from ‘God love me’, and can be found for example in the original lyrics of the old cockney rhyming song What a Mouth:
‘He’d a mouth so large cor Lord oh lummy/he could whistle in his own ear ain’t it funny’.
It was all a long time ago when the world was young, but some things never change. Temperatures wax and wain, leaves fall from trees, nights draw in and political debates are drawn out. The main things that have changed for our species are the ubiquity of trivial media distraction, and our lack of discernment caused by formulaic, controlling educational techniques. But the Truth is still there, even if we are blind to it.