26 August 2022 | or 'French Leave'
03 August 2022 | or 'Fings ain't the way they seem'
18 June 2022 | or Desolation Row
22 March 2022 | or "Every Form of Refuge Has its Price
28 October 2021 | and repeat after me - "Help Yourself"
23 September 2021 | Warning - Contains strong language and explicit drug references
23 September 2021 | or Everything's Going to Pot
04 September 2021 | or Out of my league
27 August 2021 | or 'The Whine of the Ancient Mariner
16 August 2021 | Found in marina toilet, torn into squares and nailed to door.
06 August 2021 | or 'The Myth of Fingerprints'
30 July 2021 | A morality play in three acts.
30 July 2021 | Ouverture – Allegro Crescendo
30 July 2021 | Second movement – Accelerando, Doloroso
30 July 2021 | Third Movement – Presto, ma no Troppo
18 July 2021 | or 'Big Bastard is watching you
08 July 2021 | or 'love and infection'
29 June 2021 | or It Never Rains But It Pours
29 April 2021 | or Ends & Means

Balancing Act

26 August 2022 | or 'French Leave'
Bob&Liz Newbury
The French, eh? Doncha jus' lov'em?

OK, I know they're The Old Enemy, and we've been on opposite sides in over 30 wars between 1109 & 1940, compared with just the two instances where we've fought side by side. (*or three if you count the Suez fiasco). Even then, in WWII we managed to remain at war with a bit of France, and we further cemented Anglo-French relations by bombing the shit out of the French fleet while it was holed up in a neutral Algerian harbour. (Don't ask - it's complicated).

Sorry - I digress.

Where was I? Oh yes, The French.

Despite the aforementioned little hiccups in the Entente Cordiale and the best efforts of The Sun's headline writers (I posit "Up Yours Delors", a masterpiece of reasoned debate succinctly encapsulated in a bijou nutshell of the journalist's craft. The least they could have done was put the comma in), we still hold them in grudging regard.

The French, that is, not Sun headline writers.

Our unwilling admiration stems from our perception that they are everything we're not. They are sophisticated, elegant, sylph-like aesthetes; effortlessly chic, exquisitely yet casually dressed, and fastidiously yet understatedly well-groomed. (This includes dustmen, fat-berg removal operatives, building site labourers, beggars, and most scarecrows.) We are the proud possessors of a fashion sense that hovers uneasily between Primark and the charity bin. If invited to a garden party at Buck House, we might splash out on a pair of Blue Harbour slacks and some slightly less saggy and malodourous underwear.

They will spend their free time in a fug of Gitanes and absinthe, languidly discussing abstruse philosophical concepts. We neck down six pints of Special Brew, a quart of vodka and Red Bull and a virulently coloured kebab before executing a barely recognisable reconstruction of the Hofmeister beer ad and throwing up in the taxi.

They can all cook to cordon bleu standard while still in nappies. We need Delia Smith and a four-page instruction manual just to tell us how to boil a bloody egg.

They can recite entire chapters of À la recherche du temps perdu from memory. We look upon anyone who can get past the second line of 'If' as being highly suspect - homosexual at best, and probably unspeakably depraved into the bargain. Not to mention being a bit of a snowflake.

They have an active, varied and innovative sex life and at least four lovers per spouse. We have cocoa.

Oh - and an out-of-date packet of Durex (unopened).

In summary, they have style, confidence, flair, poise, and élan.

And we don't.

All of this, of course, is utter bollocks.

France is a big country (67 million & counting. Some of them fit the stereotype profile, but an awful lot don't. Some of the most obscenely immense bellies, sallow open-pored skin, hair reminiscent of wire wool and hideously garish shell-suits have been visited upon me by French nationals.

The UK is an equally big place (also 67 million as it happens, although that'll be whittled down to 56 million once everyone else has buggered off leaving England in splendid, isolated control of what's left of its own destiny). Some of those 67 million can give your average Frenchman a run for his money on the style, savoir faire and sophistication fronts.

Well, OK, about six of them, but we've all got to start somewhere.

However, despite my Guardianista protestations above, it cannot be denied that there are certain cultural norms which colour the psyche of nations and lead inexorably on to stereotypical behaviour, attitudes, and beliefs.

I'm sure that it will come as no surprise to you to learn that I have a theory about this. Like most of my theories it is almost completely unsubstantiated by fact or evidence. It also shamelessly panders to my prejudices and preconceptions, but it's my blog and my theory so you're going to get it anyway.

I contend that, despite the received wisdom on the combined effects of globalization and the EU, European culture is far from becoming homogenous. On top of the many extant national cultural quirks, Europe is divided into two opposing world views or Weltanschauungen if you want to show off and come over all intellectual. These are characterised by attitudes to work and rules.

On the one hand there is the Protestant work-ethic model which emphasizes individual responsibility and views work and obeying rules as an over-riding duty if not a sacred obligation. Such societies tend to cluster in the North and West of the continent.

The alternative view is the Catholic-fatalist model. This sees work as a heavy burden imposed by fate, and rule breaking as an intrinsic and generally unavoidable part of the human condition, which can be forgiven in return for penitence.

In stark contrast to the anally-retentive Brits, the French have gone for option 2 in a big way. A major manifestation of this is our relative attitude to the concept of a work/life balance. Both societies have one, but the scales are weighted very differently. We Brits surreptitiously stick our thumbs on the pan labelled 'work' whereas our Gallic cousins cheerfully and openly slap an anvil on the other and then retire en masse for a three-hour lunch.

The French will protest, disrupt, strike, work-to-rule and throw clogs in machinery at the drop of a hat. All of this is done with an air of complete openness. There is no pretense that their actions are in support of abstract concepts such as justice, fairness, benefit to others, or the greater good. Mais non! They cheerfully admit that they are solely concerned with maximising their own self-interest.

This refreshing honesty is supplemented by some imaginative planning. You will never, for example, see any self-respecting Frenchman or woman go on strike on a Wednesday. In fact, they only ever strike on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

This is so they can faire le pont (make the bridge). The reasoning goes something like this:

Tuesdays and Thursdays are only one day away from the weekend.
There's not really that much point in coming in on a Monday or a Friday if you're not coming in for the surrounding three days. So you might as well throw a sickie.
Et Voila! - the four-day weekend.

This mindset carries over into attitudes to time off in general and holidays in particular. Which leads us (convolutedly, I concede) to the real, if heavily disguised, point of today's stream of consciousness. First one to correctly identify it gets a coconut.

We had been looking forward to getting to Lyon. It's France's second biggest city, although France is no great shakes in the city size stakes, but we were looking forward to a bit of culture, a lively social scene and to knocking a few jobs off our ever-growing snag list.

I was very excited about the culture bit. Extensive and thorough research (OK, google & Wikipedia) revealed that Lyon had an opera house. I like opera. I don't understand it, but I like it.

Well, the easy stuff anyway.

You know - Mozart, Handel, Verdi, Bizet - Puccini at a pinch.

As long as it's not bloody Wagner.

As for the social aspect, after six weeks in Darkest Rural France, an intensive care unit would be like party central.

The main attraction, though, was the snag list. There are myriad pithy epithets claiming to encapsulate the essence of the cruising life, all of them of the 'Repairing boats in exotic places' genre. Things boat-related persist in going wrong (It's the laws of thermodynamics again. I know I keep going on about them, but they really are pervasive and intrusive buggers). We deal with it by having a running 'snag list.' Whenever a problem, or potential problem, arises it is added to the list and given a priority ranging from 'Aaargh!' to 'Might get done before dementia sets in, but don't bank on it.' Important maintenance is carried out as it arises whereas the lesser snags wait until the winter or such time as I'm feeling particularly conscientious and energetic, which isn't often.

Blogs passim have documented the phenomenon of Darkest Rural France, describing in full and unnecessarily graphic detail the virtual impossibility of getting anything, other than a baling machine or a combine harvester, bought or repaired in the agricultural hinterland of France. This dearth extends into the lesser urban areas, resulting in accessibility to most materials, artifacts and expertise being restricted to out-of-town business parks, hypermarkets situated slap bang in the middle of a motorway interchange or in the big cities.

Like Lyon.

Hence our child-like excitement at the prospect of mooring up in the middle of Lyon. Our snag list filled several pages of A4 with addenda added in cramped script down the margins. That's where the Parkinson's-induced micrographia comes in handy. High on the list were computer repair, fixing a knackered zip on the spray hood, blood tests and scripts, stopping the leaks in hatches and getting a new battery in my Skagen watch, which most jewelers wouldn't touch with an autoclaved boathook.

So it came to pass that on the 13th of August, we motored confidently into La Confluence marina, moored up and I started to give Google Maps a good seeing to. I was on a roll - we were right in the middle of the commercial area of the city. Everything we needed was there in spades and all within easy walking distance. Computer repairs? - choice of six. Canvas work supplies? - a mere four. Clinical labs? - choice of five. GPs? - too many to count. Bricolages? - two biggies. Jewellers? - more than you could shake a stick at. I trawled through the cornucopia of suppliers and artisans at my disposal and selected some likely suspects. I noted addresses, contact details and reviews.

I also learned a new word in French.
'Congé,' thank you for asking.

Every bloody shop, bar, restaurant, lab or surgery that I visited, phoned or emailed, had a notice bearing the legend 'Fermé pour congés'.

Congé translates as 'official leave of absence', and is allied to 'Les Vacances' which, in keeping with the French view on work/life balance, have been elevated to almost divine status. And the sanctum sanctorum of les vacances is La Grande Vacance.

Which, to all intents and purposes, is August.

All of it.

And bits of September sometimes.

And the end of July's looking nervously over its shoulder.

With the stubborn exception of supermarkets and funeral directors, the whole city was shut. I can see why these two are exceptions. Without them, the streets would be littered with emaciated suppurating corpses. Apart from that, there's zilch: Fancy a drink and a chat or a nice Vietnamese meal? You'll be lucky. Doctor's appointment? No chance. Take two paracetamol and mail the fifty euros to him in Reunion. Warfarin blood INR test? Sorry - just bleed quietly in the corner until the middle of September. Shipwrights? What? You want me to rebed a hatch in August? Haven't you Rosbifs heard of buckets?

I know when I'm beaten. I kluged up the hatches with duct tape and Captain Tolley's Creeping Crack Cure, bodged up the canvas work with more duct tape and a staple gun, p/x ed the computer for an abacus, trusted to luck on the medication and we went, chastened, on our way.

Oh - and the opera was bloody Wagner.

At least it wasn't the complete sodding Ring Cycle

It's just an illusion...

03 August 2022 | or 'Fings ain't the way they seem'
Bob&Liz Newbury
Psychologists call it The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. Well, the more Puckish of them do. Those of a more prosaic bent tend to call it The Frequency Illusion. This latter term, despite its relative mundanity, gives a better idea of what it's all about, and is far less likely to dredge up suppressed traumatic memories of 1970s urban guerrilla warfare and so-called fashion sense - you know; Loons, Che Guevara T-shirt, Afghan goatskin waistcoat you could smell coming four blocks away, platform soles, Zapata moustache, tight perm, beret, Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun, rucksack stuffed with Semtex, pocketful of assorted detonators - the usual suspects. (10 point bonus to the first person to tell me in what film that phrase first appeared.)

Yup. We all do it.

Suffer from the frequency illusion, that is, not wage a bloody campaign of murders, abductions, assassinations, pipe bombings and cold-blooded executions. We leave all that to the Government.

Usually the Russian one.

I, however, call it The Audi Syndrome. Let me explain.

Other than as a means of getting from A to B without getting too wet, my interest in motor cars is diddley-squat divided by N where N is a really really really big number. You know, infinity or Jeff Bezo's bank balance. (Same thing, really, on reflection). Consequent upon this, cars pass by on the periphery of my awareness and impact not a jot on my mental model of the world. (Or 'Bobbieworld' as Liz only slightly disparagingly puts it.) As a result, and much to the dismay of my few male mates, I am unable to engage in any form of conversation that starts with the words 'What are you driving these days?"

Until, that is, we suddenly, and inexplicably, found ourselves with a not inconsiderable disposable income .(For reasons that are too tedious to detail here. Don't worry - it didn't last.) Not major league, of course - we weren't in the Forbes "How to Spend It" magazine bracket, but nevertheless we had more available readies than we could reasonably spend on cocaine, bespoke suits, flash holidays and poncy restaurants.

"What we gonna do with all this wodge?" we wailed ungratefully, "It's cluttering up the furniture and blocking the fire exits."

Luckily, I had a flash of inspiration. "I know!", I ejaculated , (As in the sense of 'Shouted/blurted out', not the way your grubby little minds are going.)"Let's buy a car!"
"Don't be silly, dear", counselled Liz, tolerantly, "We've already got a car."
"No, Dear Heart, I mean a proper car - not one of the rusting mobile death-traps we usually drive."
"You mean with brakes and a reverse gear and everything?"
Yes, Sweet Muse, everything - indicators, second gear, - even a driver's door that stays attached to the car when you open it."

Liz was open to persuasion, but still had her doubts. Could this really be happening? Could she really be facing a future free of the ignominy of having to ask a bunch of passing schoolboys to give her a push so she could execute a three point turn on a steep slope? Her trusting eyes stared deep into my soul.

"What about suspension?
", she asked pointedly, her voice tinged with an uneasy conflation of suspicion and hope.
"Of course, Light of My Life, Wife of a Thousand Peacocks. You shall have independent multilink Macpherson strut individually pocket sprung suspension systems at your beck and call."

So it came to pass that we tootled down to the nearest car sale room, pointed at the first car we liked the look of, took it for a 20-minute test drive and said "Yup. We'll have that. What is it?"

And so we became the proud, if ignorant, owners of a gleaming white Audi 80 Quattro.
And that's where the Frequency Illusion kicked in.
If, in our days of beat-up moggie 1000s, you had asked me how many Audis there were in Jersey, I'd have hazarded in the region of a hundred or so. I only knew their badge was four interlocking rings because it amused me that Gerhard Schröder had earned the sobriquet 'Audi Man' on his fourth marriage.

Once we had one, however, they all came crawling out of the woodwork; the bloody things were everywhere. Every other car was an Audi. They hadn't, of course, and they weren't. This was the Frequency Illusion in full spate. The number of Audis hadn't changed - my perception of them had. I now took notice of them because they were of some relevance to me. Before we owned one, my brain filtered out Audis and consigned them to the category of 'unimportant background noise'.

This filtration process is not idleness, it is self-preservation. The human brain operates under constant threat of information overload. It receives terabytes of information every second, most of which it promptly throws away. Even the 10 14 synapses in the human neocortex would have trouble processing that amount of data. (Sorry about using powers of ten, but the numbers are just too big otherwise. Anyway, compare this with 10 11 stars in the milky way.) All of us are under constant threat of information overload and have to constantly empty our spam folder. This enables us to concentrate on important things such as 'What's for dinner?' and 'What do you mean, I am?'

Thus it was when I was diagnosed with Parkinson's. From being an intellectually interesting, but rare, condition hovering around the fringes of my consciousness, it leapt centre-stage and took pole position. It was bloody everywhere - Muhammad Ali, George Bush Senior, Billy Connolly, Jeremy Paxman, Ozzy Osborne, that bloke who sang 'Sweet Caroline'. Even the bloody Pope got it. It's common as muck now - the world and his sodding dog seem to be shuffling and shaking their way down to the bookie's, frightening the horses. (Developing a gambling habit is a not unusual side effect of some Park's medication. It is a manifestation of a condition called Impulse Control Disorder, which is slated for the blog after next.) At least it gives the frazzled parents of stroppy recalcitrant brats an effective threat they can use on the little bastards: "See there? You'll end up like that if you don't stop playing with yourself!"

I smiled to myself, knowingly. "That'll be the Audi Syndrome playing its little mind games with me. I've got your number, Boyo. You don't fool me - I know the number of Park's cases hasn't suddenly exploded. It just seems like that to me."

This stance, however, became increasingly difficult to maintain as Park's started to mow its relentless way through friends, acquaintances, fellow yotties and those blokes down the saloon bar of The Frog & Parrot. Few cognitive biases survive first-hand experience unscathed, and the Frequency Illusion is no exception. I decided to do some investigating.

"Why you?", I hear you ask. "What makes you such an authority on it? Well, I'll tell you. It's because of Newbury's First Law of Medical Research, which states:

"If you want to know about a disease or medical condition, don't ask a doctor, ask someone who's got the bloody thing."

A doctor's involved; a patient is committed .

(Best explained by reference to a breakfast of bacon and eggs. The chicken is involved, the pig is committed.)

What I found as a result of my painstaking and rigorous trawling through Wikipedia was that the incidence of Park's had, indeed, gone through the roof. We Parkys have lost the compensatory cachet of rarity and exclusivity. From 1990 to 2015, the number of people with Parkinson's disease doubled to over 6 million. Since then, it's really started to take off. How in the name of All That's Holy did that happen? Well, I'll tell you that as well, since you ask.

Apparently, the meteoric rise in incidence of Park's correlates with three factors: increasing longevity, increasing industrialisation and, ironically, the decline in smoking rates. Smoking may the biggest public health catastrophe since the Black Death, but it does appear to convey considerable protection against Park's. Forty percent, since you persist in interrupting with your endless sodding questions. Anyway, now I'm not feeling quite so smug and self-righteous about giving up 31 years ago.

Anyone got a fag?

Is there anybody out there?

18 June 2022 | or Desolation Row
Bob&Liz Newbury
Well, here we are in a floating tin can in the middle of a heatwave and slap bang in the middle of Darkest Rural France.

Ah yes, Darkest Rural France, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. The inland waterway system runs through the full gamut of French human habitats(1), from cosmopolitan cities like Paris and Lyon to isolated agricultural hamlets where the inhabitants' entire social milieu, including the ferret, can be counted on the remaining fingers of one hand. (It's a very dangerous field of work, agriculture - on a par with fishermen, steel erectors on skyscrapers and saturation diving underwater welders).

In between these contrasting centres of human activity are small towns such as Chalon sur Saône, and over-sized villages, such as Sainte-Jean-de-Losne, but most of the network runs through Darkest Rural France, where tumbleweed bounces and cartwheels erratically down the eerily deserted streets and the locals still point at aeroplanes.

Darkest Rural France, which appears to house the last few remaining pockets of pre-rationalist belief systems, all of which could give the Amish a run for their money in the anti-technology stakes This is a culture for whom even the humble cigarette lighter is the work of The Devil:

"Look! Witchcraft!
See! - fire comes from his fingertips! Burn the witch!
What's that you say - he's already on fire and doesn't seem much bothered by it?
Good point. Chuck a leather bucket of stale urine over him. That should do the trick."

Only in French, of course:

Voir! La sorcellerie!
Voyez - le feu vient du bout de ses doigts ! Brûler la sorcière!
Qu'est-ce que vous dites - il est déjà en feu et ne semble pas trop dérangé ?
Bon point. Jetez un seau d'urine périmée sur lui.
Cela devrait faire l'affaire.

(Middle French would have been better, and even more insufferably posy, but I couldn't find it on Google Translate.)

So, back to the matter of Darkest Rural France, a cultural and psychological bolthole which makes Children of the Corn and The Wicker Man look like documentaries, and where the internet is an abomination against both Nature and The Godly. Actually, they might just have a point with that last one, but since I'm using the abysmal telecoms infrastructure around these parts as an excuse for delays in updating this blog and my tardy replies to emails, I'll let it ride.

In keeping with the rustic horror movie conceit, if you unaccountably manage to actually come across a living, breathing inhabitant, (s)he will, without fail, be open, friendly, smiling, helpful, tolerant, and accommodating.

This just makes me more nervous.

As does the pervasive smell of garlic, the hoarse aural backdrop of cawing crows, the mournful tolling of the cracked church bell, and the fact that most of the locals seem compelled to avoid sunlight. In my fevered imaginings, this makes them odds-on to be either vampires or consultant dermatologists(2).

OK, I plead guilty without mitigation to wilful exaggeration, unsubstantiated assertions, and puerile fantasising, but there's still something unsettling about rural France. It really is big, and it really is empty, absolutely devoid of any extant examples of homo sapiens. Despite its abject dearth of human inhabitants, the whole stepfordesque landscape, both private and communal, is beautifully manicured to the point of appearing to be a model village that has unexpectedly grown up to life-size overnight, or the opening credits of Midsomer Murders.

Each blade of grass is mowed to the regulation 2.5 cm on what must a daily schedule, while every one of the regimented hedges is trimmed to conformity with similar frequency. Luxuriant flower beds and hanging baskets bloom in vivid profusion. Picture-postcard cottages are freshly painted, and thatched roofs kept scrupulously clean and tightened every other Thursday. Litter is an alien concept, the pristine streets unsullied by so much as a solitary Gauloise stub. Even the litter bins glisten proudly; cleaned, polished and disinfected on what must be an at least daily schedule. In the unlikely event of graffiti rearing its ugly head it'll be gone before the acrylic has set.

Maintaining all this would be a full-time job for an army of gardeners, painters, thatchers, roadsweepers, sanitation logistics operatives, community service conscripts, and general odd-job men, but you never see anyone actually doing it.

In fact, you never see anyone at all.

When does all this work get done? Do they all sneak out at three in the morning wearing night vision goggles and pushing stealth wheelbarrows full of rubber mallets and soundproofed shovels?
Where is everybody? Where are they all hiding?

It's not as if there aren't that many of the buggers. According to the most recent census, France has a population of a whisker over 65 million, making it the third most populous country in Europe, although how the authorities managed to count a whole countryful of congenitally unco-operative, invisible Frenchmen without the assistance of miners' helmets, helicopter-mounted, infra-red body scanners and a tracking chip implanted surreptitiously in every newborn during the general post-partum chaos is beyond me(3). There are probably half that number again squirreled away in the dark recesses of abandoned outside privies, peering hungrily through the gaps in roughly boarded windows like posters for The Hills Have Eyes.

Maybe it's population density, I thought. France is a sod of a big country. Perhaps they're just spread out more.

Not really. France has a population density of 114 people per kilometre squared. This makes it the ninth most populous in Europe which, if the world were fair and God were a socialist, would give each and every one of them their very own 8500 m2, or one and a quarter football pitch's worth of La Belle France in which they could put on yellow vests, play interminable games of petanque, pontificate on abstruse philosophical concepts, and protest violently to their hearts' content. OK, this is spacious compared with your average Dutchman, who has to make do with just the penalty boxes to stick his finger in dykes, supply the world with tulips and practice his clog-dancing, but it's not anywhere near enough to explain the strange phenomenon of rural France looking like the recent recipient of a stray neutron bomb.

"Ah!" I hear you exclaim smugly. "It's urbanisation and age demographic separation. The young up sticks and gravitate to the bright lights and fleshpots of the cities, leaving the countryside to slide into gentle geriatric decline. It appears deserted because its entire population is stuck indoors waiting for a bilateral hip replacement, while those brave and lucky few who do manage to limp to a window or doorway can't be seen because they're all dressed in black"

Good try, but wrong.

Eighty percent of the French live in urban areas, which makes them the tenth most urbanised in Europe. This puts them on a par with the UK and Spain, both of which have very unfrench cultural attitudes to the use and maintenance of the private and the public realms, and it is here, I suspect, that the solution to the conundrum lies.

The French, especially the rural French, view personal space from a completely different perspective than do most other western cultures. They are as socially dependent as any other group of humans, but they express that deep psychological need very differently from us Brits. As for our transatlantic cousins, if they think we Brits are a bunch of po-faced, formal, reserved, class-ridden snotbags, they should try striking up a conversation with a bunch of condescending French Jacques Derrida wannabees. In contrast to the immediate and unsolicited soul-baring and embarrassingly detailed personal and medical details we have come to expect from our American friends,
See here...
the French are a very formal, rule-bound and ritual-dependent lot. Take, for example, the famed French politesse. WASP cultures frequently comment on French greeting frequency, asserting that the average Frenchman can't pass within fifty metres of a piece of street furniture without wishing it a bon jour and that this somehow epitomises their exquisite good manners. This is based on a misunderstanding. When a Frenchman says 'Bonjour', he is not expressing a heartfelt wish that your day be a brim-full 24-hour extravaganza of untrammelled joy (that would be bonne journée try it - you'll get a completely different reaction). Rather, he is initiating a ritual, the purpose of which is to avoid any intimacy or significant social interaction:

M. 1"Bonjour, M'sieu-Dame."
Translation: "I acknowledge your existence, Sir & Madam.
Please rest assured that I have no intention to beat you to the ground, steal your rather tasteful watch, or abduct and ravish your, equally tasteful, good lady wife. More to the point, I have no inclination whatsoever to have the effrontery to attempt to engage you in conversation."

M. 2: "Bonjour, M'sieu."
Translation: "I, in turn, acknowledge your existence, Sir, and appreciate your restraint in the matters of unsolicited conversation, theft, bodily violence, ravishment and other social faux pas."

Mme 2: "Bonjour, M'sieu."
Translation: "I reiterate my husband's acknowledgement of your existence, Sir, and echo his appreciation of your restraint in the aforementioned matters."

M. 1 Nods, briefly.
Translation: "Bon! I have completed my role in the ritual, now please go away and leave me in peace".

M. 2: Returns the nod.
"Agreed. Moi aussi".

Mme 2 Smiles and returns the nod, while slowly lowering her eyelashes.
"Tell me more about this ravishment business."

Both parties are now free to go about their business untroubled by the mortifying prospect of gauche, stilted and ultimately doomed attempts at initiating even the most basic level of human social intercourse.

How magnificently efficient! All that negotiation and enforcement of cultural norms in seven words and less than five seconds. No wonder that the French can effortlessly display an uncanny ability to make exquisite good manners and punctilious politeness deeply insulting and humiliating.

This epitomises the factors in the French psyche that lead inexorably to the desolate emptiness of Darkest Rural France. The French don't socialise with strangers. Or acquaintances for that matter. Even those on the cusp of friendship are kept at a metaphorical arm's-length. No, the French socialise solely with very close friends and with family.
And they do it at home.
Behind closed doors and shuttered windows
Not in pubs like the Brits do, or in the street like the Italians, or everywhere, like the Spanish.

If, by happenstance, you do come across a Frenchman (or woman) in the street, (s)he is either protesting about the price of diesel, making their way to a friend's or relative's house for dinner, or buying the ingredients for the eight-course, twenty-two cover soirée they're throwing in three and a half hours' time.

Et Voila!
The problem of the enigma of Darkest Rural France is solved(4), without recourse to superstition, wild coincidence or Boris Karloff

Unless, of course, my original assessment was right, and rural France really is the last bastion of pre-rationalist paganism and the fallback redoubt of displaced vampires, werewolves, Satanists, zombies, cannibals and the like.


Can't be.

We'd have noticed.

Whoops - got to go - there appears to be a posse of deformed peasants on the pontoon, waving fiery torches and shouting " Brûler les sorcières ", "Perfide Albion", and "Vive la Brexit!"

Must change the ensign.

And - the inevitable footnotes:

(1) And we'll have no sarky remarks about the terms 'human' & 'French' being mutually exclusive.
(2) I concede that there is probably some overlap between the two sets.
(3) For God's sake keep that idea away from any conspiracy theory nutjobs.
(4) Preferably to be spoken aloud in a heavy Clouseau accent. Someone needs to come up with a font called Clouseaunics OTT.

Vessel Name: Birvidik
Vessel Make/Model: Victory 40
Hailing Port: Jersey C.I.
Crew: Bob Newbury
About: Liz Newbury
Extra: 11 years into a 10 year plan, but we get there in the end.
Birvidik's Photos - John & Jean - 16 years later
Photos 1 to 8 of 8 | Birvidik (Main)
Usual poses
Some things don
Public works
Rusty & Jean
Lakka early morning
Lakka anchorage
John & Jean 16 years on
Altogether again