a Fool or me
A Man of Principle
All my life my shoelaces become undone because I’m determined to limit the bow
to a single knot.
Don’t smoke your pipe in my house.
I’m not smoking. The pipe is in my hand, not my mouth.
But the pipe is smoking.
Then complain to it.
‘Donne du rhum a ton homme,
du miel et du tabac’
Because my bike basket was overflowing, I carried a supplementary carrier bag on the handlebars. Rue Paquebot has a river running under it and, although the surface is repaired every year, the potholes return. When my front wheel wobbled into one, the bike took a sharp turn and the bag burst open. Plouf! Eggs, soft cheese and a pot of honey splattered on the tarmac. A bottle of rum, trapped between the fork and the spokes, with its neck to the fore resembled the prow of a ship.
Monsieur le Sacristain with his limp and hump arrived to put his rubbish in the poubelle. He regarded me and the mess with detached scorn, shrugged his shoulders and hobbled off. By bending the spokes, I detached the bottle without breaking it. Only the cap was loosened. I took a slug of rum and, sitting on a plastic chair abandoned by the dustbins, smoked my pipe. The river flowed under me as usual on its way to the sea.
How do you open a bottle of wine when you have a strained thumb (from opening a bottle of wine)? The flip answer is get someone else to. But when your hosting a little old lady, whose hands are only good for reading a rosary beads, you have to think again. I came to no conclusion.
At the last moment, remembering my guest only drank rosė wine, I put a bottle in the freezer for a quick chill, and forgot about it .As she arrived an hour late the wine was frozen solid. But when I took it out the cork popped.
The Manager Emeritus
When he laughs at me out loud, I see the truth. Twenty-eight teeth all capped and pinned in, and white as sharks’. ‘There’s a man who cracks nuts’, I say to myself.
But I wasn’t laughing.
Outside the town-hall I see the two-dog clochard is reading ‘Souvenirs de la maison des morts’ by Dostoyesky I give him a euro for his thoughts. He says nothing.
I notice while Marc’s cutting my hair he shakes his right shoulder a lot.
‘Vous avez le mal?’ I say. He nods. I opine, ‘Tu joue le tennis beaucoup.
C’est normal’. He downs his scissors. ‘Monsieur James. tu promine sur le velo beaucoup, n’est-ce pas?. Tu as mal de genou ?.’ I say, ‘No, the bike doesnt give me knee pain’. He looks at me in the mirror with concern. ‘Ce n’est pas normal. A mon avis, vous avez un problem rėel.’. Il hausse ses ėpaules. je fait ma rėvėrence avec mon genou.
When you see her pout of misery you know that life is not worth living.
Now Olivia from the Banque Populaire has hooked Manu, captain of the sardine fleet,
my banknotes will smell of fish.
I’ve lived in this bled for twelve years, and have made the transition from being a plouc to a vielle gateux. I carry the string of my cake box from the patisserie by the little finger as I potter home, gallantly defying my limp by slowing down. I have a smile for everybody, particularly those I don’t like.
I use words most people don’t recognise (bled = no account village, plouc = village idiot, vielle gateux = not in fact an old cake but a senile old man), particularly as I mispronounce them. And so nobody knows what I’m saying. But they’re all very kind. Still it’s not a nice feeling being humoured, as if to say, it’s easier to put up with you by pretending there’s nothing wrong.
2. La France Douce
On the jetty at sundown a ribboned car with a chauffeur announced that a séance of wedding photos was underway. And, indeed, there was M. Said, the photo-artiste, dancing around, setting up romantic poses against rock, sea and sky. After my swim, I spotted the bride, a gangly blond in white, arm and arm with what I presumed was her little mother. Where was the groom? On closer inspection i noticed ‘the mother’ was also in white and wearing pantaloons. The couple looked well matched.
Pas Crache dans La France
The genius of La France is most economically expressed in an ability to keep a cigarette alight to the butt-end without burning the lips. Today I watched a French smoker lying on a park-bench, and when the tip disintegrated, I cried ‘Bravo’. He spat ‘Merci’.
The Truth in the News
‘I am not a thief’, shouted the mother of the school dunce as she plunged a kitchen knife In the heart of a much admired teacher.
He remembers the red dress she wore for nights out.
She doesn’t. But they both remember the dog.
In France it’s true
dogs are sacred cows.
Moo-mooing their bow-wows..
And they eat babies too.
The poet Renē Char says ‘silence seduces the truth’. It can abuse as much as can be abused. A signal example of this is those marches silencieuse that follow an act of a meaningless malignity in a French community. Everybody is out on the street behind a banner proclaiming, ‘Come back, Clara’. Too late, ha-ha, hiss the fateless gods.. The poor girl was battered to death in broad daylight by her ex-boyfriend while the town was having its petite sieste. But the truth is not so easily fooled. The communal silence behind the curtains during the murder was deafening.
Voltaire’s house in Ferney had a plaque with a quote:
‘Ni l’abstinence, ni l’excės ne rendent un homme heureux’.
Neither abstinence, nor excess can render a man happy.
The mayor suggested that Rabelais was quoting Voltaire.
Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder for excess. Excess makes the heart grow fonder for abstinence.
Three Hundred Brides for the Brothers
Cruel to be kind
So that we don’t misunderstand one another, said the master to his dog, I need to use the whip.
Le Enjeu Sentimentale par Sylvain
‘Ma vie est une idėe fixte,
Ta vie est une idėe recu.
Du coup, nous avons une triste rixe.
Hēlas, je suis ton loup-garou.’
(My life is a fixed idea.
Yours’ is a received one.
The difference sadly
makes me your bĕte-noir).
3. A Doxological Conclusion
Tag on the Door of Our Lady of Good Hope
‘The human race
is at base
and has a need
of God, indeed.
But how can
God need man?’
Christ’s last words according to the gospels ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ is a quotation from Psalm 22. Did King David anticipate Christ’s last words , or did Christ simply borrow them? I prejudice a prophesy as Christ didn’t read Hebrew. King David knew that the Evangelists would be keen to give Christ a memorable sound-bite, and the two most worldly of them (Mark, Matthew) made it an existential doubt. Thus Christ is rendered more human. This could be the reason that an obscure cult starting with twelve apostles took off to become the dominant religion in the world.