Black and White

Added on Saturday 3 Feb 2007

The other week we caught the tail end of the storms that had crossed Europe and had a day of heavy snow. Waking up in the morning and looking out the window at the blanket of snow I looked in the wardrobe for one of my heavy sweaters and put on a nice white arran one. Bad move! Going downstairs I realised I had to light the wood burning stove so after chopping some wood and after cleaning it out and laying the fire, got it all going beautifully. Sitting down to a coffee (yes, I do drink other things apart from wine) I happened to glance at the mirror on the wall and instead of it telling me that I was the "fairest of them all"it told me that my lovely white sweater was now streaked with black ash and dirt. Now I do not know what sort of mental aberration I get every time I put that white sweater on but it is always before I start to do any dirty job. I do this all the time and you would think that at my age I would learn but no, I never do!

Photo: snow. At this time of the year we always get enquiries about our courses and workshops, in between winning the Spanish lottery and Nigerian scams, so we are always quite busy writing back with all the details. This seems to be a bit of a lottery because we never know which ones are serious and which ones will commit themselves to coming during the summer months. I guess it is the same as looking at holiday brochures in January and saying "wouldn't that be a good idea" and then forgetting all about it in a month or two. All perfectly understandable really, so we don't build up our hopes until we see a booking form and the money come in. Fiona and I have learnt over the years that people must pay in advance in order for us to commit ourselves to certain dates as we have been caught in our early days of people promising to come and then just not showing up. Very frustrating indeed. At this moment we have two or three really promising looking clients but we are not holding our breath until we see the money! Time will tell.

Photo: smoking. Smoking or non-smoking?

With the nationwide ban on smoking coming into place at the beginning of this month, bringing France into line with countries like Scotland, Ireland and Italy amongst others, it will be interesting to see what effect it is going to have locally. As most of the people that we know are smokers, especially in the local caf?, which ironically closed for two weeks holiday on the day the ban came into force, I imagine that there are going to be people sitting or standing outside on the terrace. I, for one, will miss the iconic sight of older men with a beret on and the tiniest stub of a gauloise (which never seem to be lit!) hanging from the corner of the mouth. Even though I am an occasional smoker of small cigars I am not particularly bothered and I gather that about 70% of the French agree. I understand that many people believe that it will help them stop; I may follow that course as well. Sadly I don't think that it will stop the huge amounts of teenagers who smoke in legions, especially young girls, as they don't tend to frequent the bars and caf?s as us more mature types, tending to hang around on street corners etc. Just as I did when I was a teenager with no money! My goodness, what a good memory that I have.

While we are all tucked up nice and cosy in the house we are still waiting for our friend (a heavy smoker) to come and repair our ceiling in the sejour. Not a huge job he says, just a couple of hours work but after waiting for several months, it is France after all, I am beginning to think of tackling it myself, only the basics of course but a certain amount of pride is involved here. If I was to start anything myself I would be insulting Alain, even though he hasn't started yet, he would be hurt at my betrayal of his competence, honour and workmanship. He has offered to do for free as a friend after all. So I am at a kind of impasse at the moment but we do need to have it done before any clients arrive. French pride is such a precarious thing! I do remember that in our early days it was difficult to know the protocol of the tu and vous, kisses or not to kiss situation. It was fraught with difficulties in case one crossed the boundaries of politesse by doing the wrong thing and causing offence. The kissing bit was possibly the most awkward as one didn't know who started it and when, especially when it came to kissing men. It has taken us quite a long time to get our heads round it all but I am glad to say that I have noticed that even the French get it wrong occasionally!

Rural France. I love it.

? Barry Paton Feb 2007.