10th August 2008

Reading today's Sunday Times, I noticed several letters to the editor about civil administration in France. Big-city life is probably the same everywhere: trouble, aggression and too many cars. But for 60-year-olds like us, moving to the countryside was like travelling back in time to that flickering, grainy image of the past. Everywhere we go in our village, people greet us with a Bonjour, older men actually doffing their hats on greeting me. Now you don't see that any more in downtown Birmingham. I am told that in our local secondary school, boys actually kiss each other on the cheek every morning. (No, it's not that kind of school!). C'est normal. Each village commune in France is run by a Maire, who deals with everything from births, marriages and deaths to local issues and residential difficulties (e.g. fights between neighbours). Recently I read an edict on the mairie (town-hall) wall decreeing that villagers should refrain from using noisy lawnmowers on a Sunday for fear of disturbing the neighbours. We thought, O.K., that's fair enough, until this morning. We were sitting on our sunny terrace enjoying a cool glass of orange juice when our reverie was disturbed by a noisy agricultural harvester, busily gathering up the giant bales of hay in the field behind our house. As this giant industrial machine approached the perimeter of our back garden, a sudden burst from its tall chimney-pipe sprayed a ton of golden grass seed all over our newly-filled swimming pool! It seems that nothing, but nothing can interfere with France's hugely-subsidised agricultural workers. Grrr!

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