Heat of the mo­ment

Living France - - Contents - Ian Moore is a co­me­dian, writer, chut­ney-maker and mod who lives with his fam­ily in the Loire Val­ley. His lat­est book is C’est Mod­nifique!, (£8.99, Sum­mers­dale Pub­lish­ers). ian­moore.info la­pau­se­valde­loire.com

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”

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