Thursday, January 18, 2007

Traffic stop

Driving home this afternoon, several cars coming the other way flashed their lights at me, so I slowed down to 50 kph and looked for the radar trap. It turned out that the gendarmes had set up a document checkpoint around the corner and I was duly pulled over. My vehicle licence and insurance certificate were in order, and my foreign driving licence provided only a minor diversion. My headlights were scrutinised (although I was not asked to turn them on), but the cracked windscreen was ignored. I was thanked and told to move on. The gendarme didn't ask to see my passport (which I had left at home) and he didn't ask to see the reflective waistcoat that should be carried in the car from the first of this year.

The increasingly common random traffic stops on rural roads are a frequent topic of conversation here. It seems that the dreaded breathalyzer is rarely brought out, but the threat is there.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Plus ça change

It's said that the English always talk about the weather, but it's equally true of the locals in rural France. After all, many of them are dependent for their livelihoods on the weather. This time last year, talk was of the coldest winter in most people's memory, now it's the balmiest. The bulbs are up (some flowering) and several birds are building nests. The birds have hardly touched the seed and fat that I put out for them in December.

English children are taught that Napoleon derided the English as a nation of shopkeepers (although he pinched the tag from a Scotsman, Adam Smith). Today, the English have succumbed to the American big box retail revolution, and it is France that protects small shopkeepers by retail price maintenance and regulation of markdowns. The winter sales started here last Wednesday: after six weeks, the old price tags have to go back on unsold items. We will be allowed a summer sales period too, when the pr
éfectures think it's appropriate. In the intervening weeks, prices are fixed in most shops that are not claiming to be going out of business or remodelling.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Cahors is unusual in that its residents are supplied with water by the city, rather than by an area-wide utility company. I had been warned that water was expensive here, but wasn't upset when my first few bills came in under €100 for a six-month-period.

While I was away in the autumn, a neighbour sent an email to alert me to a major leak in the garden: a pipe had burst and there was now a small pond in the lawn. I telephoned him and between us we shut off all water to the garden. Of course, at the next meter reading, the reckoning came. The bill was for €946. Only then did I notice that the charge for water is actually less than the charge for sewerage, which is calculated on the theory that what comes in must go out. So I had been charged almost €500 for sewerage, although the excess water had drained into the ground.

"Write to the mayor" I was told. I said that I didn't see why the mayor should bother with complaints about water bills. Eventually, however, I was persuaded that that was the only way to get anything done and so I sent off what I thought was a suitably French appeal for justice. In due time I received a polite note from an aide to the mayor to say that my letter had been passed on to the water authority for investigation.

No one expects me to get any rebate on my bill. The city is way over budget on all the public works that were intended to be completed for the 700th anniversary of the mediaeval bridge. (Only the mini-roundabouts seem likely to be finished in time). Watch this space.