Isn't it strange how the mind works? Well, it certainly is in my case. Upon reading John the Ticket's prognostications in an issue of the Lych Gate I found myself provoked by his comments on Brexit and his sister and her lifestyle in France. Now, when I say 'provoked', that is not in any way in a confrontational sense. No, rather, that it provoked me to THINK! But think about what? Well, about Brexit, what perhaps it means, but more immediately upon current relationships between us and our European, well specifically French, friends and what experiences and changes we may have shared over the years.
For the past goodness knows how many years we, that is my family, have holidayed in a small town/village in southern France. Notice that I hedged my bets in saying town/village. Why? Well, it is indeed a TOWN being of medieval origin, defensive wall and all, very compact/dense, but with a population which probably is around the same as our lovely village here. So, back to where I started. John's comments prompted me to think about comparing life here and in said French village. In the February issue of this august magazine I scribbled a few lines on some of the changes that I had seen take place in the time that we have been lucky enough to live in WSL. So what about changes that we have seen take place in 'our' French holiday village over the past 30 years? Is the 'Frogs' experience so very different from that of us 'Rosbifs' here?
In my WSL ramble I sort of majored the impact of (vastly) increased traffic upon our village and 'tis certainly the same in France. The focal centre, that was the 'boulodrome' or petanque pitch, is now a car park and the 'petanquists' have been banished to a rough old patch on the outskirts. Parking on/around the village square is now by meter payment only and there are 'sleeping policemen', traffic calming humps and bumps, everywhere. However the local police, who assiduously enforce the parking rules, are most certainly not sleeping in this aspect of their duties. In the light of the increased traffic the local Council has introduced one way system. It really is equivalent to something like one way up the 'Street' here and 'tother way back down Halls Lane. Yes, it really is as bonkers as that.
Remaining on matters motoring, 'Priorite a droite', which meant give way, even if you are on a major road, to anything coming along a cart track from the right, has gone - mostly! There were a number such in and around 'our' holiday' village - quite mad. In its place roundabouts have proliferated. Much more sensible in my view, and another innovation that we have given to 'les Frogs'. Sadly we didn't include the instruction manual. Very few French drivers seem to have any clue as to how you should 'properly' traverse a roundabout. But then let us be positive about driving in France. In the 'good old days' I can remember 'blatting' off to Le Mans or wherever and as soon as one exited Calais the only limit to your speed was the performance of your vehicle or the strength of your nerve. Not so now. Radar speed traps proliferate, believe me I know! There are fixed cameras, average speed cameras, mobile radar vans which turn up everywhere and the 'flic' (ordinary cops) with 'jumelles', sort of binoculars but with radar fitted to them, who are devious beyond imagination, although, I have to say that I haven't yet seen one on a roundabout! Anyway, 'twas one such 'flic' that caught me all alone on a 'Roman road', well it was dead straight for about five miles, rolling along at 97 kph - the limit is 90 kph and so I was 3mph too quick - and relieved me of a hundred euro.
Another change is the composition of all this traffic. Thirty years or so ago most of the cars were of French origin. Citroen, Peugeot, Renault and a number of surviving Simcas. Panhards and the like. Many of them were also real old bangers. Now, thanks to under the counter French Government subsidies (oops, that could land me in trouble!) Citroen, Peugeot and Renault cars flourish but are at least matched in number by BMW, Mercedes, Toyota etc., with a good few Minis thrown in. Bangers are now a rarity.
So, if that is my view on some motoring changes then I have to say that other things motoring related haven't changed one bit. I'm driving, I see a friend and I want to chat. I stop and chat. So, it causes chaos with a dozen or so cars held up. So - c'est la vie! More serious, fatalities from road accidents have not decreased significantly. Apart from my perception of roundabout ignorance I also see some total lunacy. A road sign saying 'blind left over crest' seems to be interpreted as 'overtake now'! Endeavouring to keep a balanced approach, I have to say that they are as good as us at middle lane driving on the motorways!
So, what do you think of when someone mentions France? Wine, the Riviera, chic clothes, haute cuisine or what? Well the later in whatever form is, I suspect, somewhere on your list. Yes, for sure you can find really good and cheap food, and the 'good' not being just in Michelin star restaurants. The Bar des Sports in 'our' village is one such place. However, just where is McDonald's fastest growing market? Oh no! Oh yes - it IS France. One of the first McDonalds in France was in the town of Millau, about 60 miles from where we stay. Traditionalists were outraged and one Jose Bove, now a European MP, destroyed it. He went to gaol! Despite his efforts 'McDo' thrives and the one nearest to 'our' village has a dual carriageway drive through upon which there are often traffic jams!
Still food related, the two hour lunch continues to flourish - we love it. However, if you need the chemist, the bank, the Council or whatever between 12.00 and 14.00 then the best of luck!
When we first holidayed in this village it appeared that nothing much had changed for a very long time. There was still an open air 'lavoir', a fountain where the women did the weekly wash and spread the gossip. The men stayed in or around the bar (women were NOT allowed inside) and there was an absolute demarcation between women's work and men's work. No prizes for guessing who did most of the 'real' work. The church dominated the village, both in size, totally disproportionate, and in attendance which seemed to be, well almost, compulsory. The main artery for keeping up to date with the news seemed to be gatherings, 'please bring your own chair', which appeared on street corners around 17.00 each day and at which news was shared, gossip whispered and the world put to right. Sadly, the lavoir, the street corner gatherings and the prohibition of the fair sex from the Bar have long since gone. I could well be in deep trouble here!
One other facet of change, which mirrors the changes that we have seen here, is that the recent opening of a supermarket on the outskirts of the village has resulted in a number of small independent/specialist shops closing. Such a shame. Pressure for new housing is also a shared experience and 'lotissements', housing estates, are springing up everywhere.
The English language, despite the efforts of the French establishment, continues to proliferate and 'Franglais' thrives. Four out of five songs on the radio have English lyrics (will soon be five from five now that Jonny Halladay has gone) and almost every 'T shirt' has a logo in English - some so rude/crude that the wearer cannot, surely, know what message he/she is wearing!
However, if you are a Francophile then I must end on a positive note of reassurance. Some things do remain unchanged and are there to savour and enjoy whenever you return back across the Channel. Prime amongst the must be STRIKES! Two years ago the Midi Libre, the local daily newspaper, carried as a regular feature not only the weather forecast for the forthcoming few days but also a list of scheduled strikes. Teachers on Monday, Postmen on Tuesday, Dustmen on Wednesday etc. With Monsieur Macron taking on 'les Syndicates' (the unions), this year could be a vintage one for such experiences. Good luck and enjoy if you are planning a holiday in la belle France.
To sort of paraphrase what John the Ticket always says, 'Remember that these ARE MY OWN views and not those of any sane person'!