Heat of the moment
Tensions are running high in the Moore household as building work continues
Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe, after a long, seemingly endless winter and the sudden change into long, hot summer, people’s tempers are frayed, the transition messing with their usual equilibrium. Maybe that’s why France takes the whole of August off, just to calm down a bit and relax. Well, maybe.
Before that happens, though, people are getting things off their chest. Gustave, our builder, has fallen out with the plumbing team which has led to a tense working atmosphere and an edgy stand-off. Watching the two teams trying to use the same ladder silently, without looking at each other or coming into physical contact, is like watching a scene from West Side Story. The two opposing factions, showing their mutual antipathy through the medium of awkward building site dance.
Even the postwoman is tetchy. Usually a bright, cheery individual, it’s clear that getting up at the crack of dawn six days a week has taken its toll. I’d arrived back from a gig in the UK in the early hours and, unusually, had enjoyed a lie in. Then the doorbell rang, the dogs went berserk, and I could see bleary-eyed from the window that the artisanal Sharks and Jets were snapping their fingers at each other aggressively and about to launch into a ballet duel. The doorbell rang again, this time even its metallic clamour managing to sound short-tempered. I reached the gate a few minutes later, tying up my dressing gown, and was met by la factrice leaning like a bored teenager on the gate post.
She looked me up and down with an ‘I’ve been up since 5am’ contempt.
“Bonjour!” I said cheerily as she handed me a small package.
“It is 11.30, monsieur,” she said testily, before turning away Miss Piggy-style and leaving me stunned, like a scolded child.
It’s an odd thing being told off as an adult and it happens in France a lot, or at least it does to me. For a country that has the international reputation of a shouldershrugging disregard for rules, they love a code and especially a code backed up with a uniform. Witness the power and respect accorded to train guards, with their militaristic outfits and stern demeanour. These authoritarian defenders of seats and ticket reductions tell me off at least once a week; once, I was given a very public dressing down for not using my generous ticket reduction, as if I’d betrayed the entire nation and all it stood for.
A uniform means power in France and a uniform can be anything from a waiter’s apron to a farmer’s lip-hanging Gauloises. It’s these little details that show where the balance of power really lies and I’m now constantly on edge, waiting to be censured in some way, looking out for the trappings of authority.
My wife’s glasses for instance. When she pushes them back up into place, it’s a sure sign that power is about to be wielded.
“I like the chambres d’hôtes website,” she said, like the teacher she is, offering a morsel of praise before the uppercut of brutal honesty. “The French needs quite a bit of correcting.” She looked at me over her glasses, and I looked at the floor. “But, yes, it’s good!” If I’m permanently on edge, waiting to be chided by the world, it means also that I greet the slightest hint of approval like a puppy offered a biscuit. “Really?” I said, delighted that my first-ever attempt at web design was so successful. “Because I have an idea for a welcome page animation. A dandelion’s seeds blow gently…”
She pushed her glasses back up into place. “A dandelion?” she snapped. “You want to use a dandelion? Or, as it is in French, a pissenlit?” “Yes,” I said, nervously. “Well,” she said, “lit means bed… you can work out the rest. Is that a good image for a chambres d’hôtes?”
Sometimes, just sometimes, a telling off is exactly what I need.
“Once, I was given a very public dressing down for not using my generous ticket reduction, as if I’d betrayed the entire nation and all it stood for”