On Beer (3)

  “Next to music beer was best.”  Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

“The new Beer Bill  has begun its operations. Everybody is drunk. Those who are not singing are sprawling. The sovereign people are in a beastly state”  (A letter from Sydney Smith.to John Murray referring to The Beer Act of 1830)

Lady Holland, A Memoir of the Reverend Sydney Smith

The sergeant stated that the defendant staggered badly after getting out of the car and smelt strongly of drink. Defendant: I have not touched a drink for ten years. District Justice: Did you have any of this new ice cream? Defendant: Well, I had, your honour. District Justice: How much had you? Defendant: I had a twopenny wafer in Drogheda, your honour. District Justice: Is that all? Defendant: I felt a cold coming on me and had two cornets at Swords. District Justice said he was determined to put down the growing practice of people driving around in motorcars and pulling up at roadside sweetshops to consume ice cream. If such persons feel they need ice cream, they must leave their cars at home. The Sergeant said that the defendant had a small freezer in the back of the car which bore the traces of fresh ice cream; the cushions also had traces of wafer-crumbs. District Justice: No doubt he said ‘Crumbs!’ when he ran into the other car. (Laughter.) Defendant stated that he had bad teeth and did not like ice cream but took it as a tonic and also to prevent himself getting colds. He realised now that he had been foolish and was prepared to take the pledge and drink only whiskey in future.

Flann O’Brien on alcoholic ice-cream, Cruiskeen Lawn

They placed food in front of him,
they placed beer in front of him;
Enkidu knew nothing about eating bread for food,
and of drinking beer he had not been taught.
The harlot spoke to Enkidu, saying:
“Eat the food, Enkidu, it is the way one lives.
Drink the beer, as is the custom of the land.”
Enkidu ate the food until he was sated,
he drank the beer-seven jugs!– and became expansive and sang with joy!
He was elated and his face glowed.
He splashed his shaggy body with water,
and rubbed himself with oil, and turned into a human.

from The Epic of Gilgamesh

You will not be able to stay home, brother

You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out

You will not be able to lose yourself on skag

And skip out for beer during commercials

 Because the revolution will not be televised         

 Gil Scott-Heron The revolution will not be televised

Genial and gladdening is the power of good ale, the true and proper drink of Englishmen. He is not deserving of the name of Englishman who speaketh against ale.

George Borrow, Lavengro

Brewery barge with export stout. England. Sea air sours it, I heard. Be interesting some day get a pass through Hancock to see the brewery. Regular world in itself. Vats of porter, wonderful. Rats get in too. Drink themselves bloated as big as a collie floating. Dead drunk on the porter. Drink till they puke again like christians. Imagine drinking that! Rats: vats. Well of course if we knew all the things…  

James Joyce, Ulysses

Suppose we go and try some lager-bier? … It is a new beverage, of German origin … you will not like it for some time, because it is quite different from Barclay and Perkins’s beer.

David W. Mitchell Ten Years in the United States: Being an Englishman’s View of Men and Things in the North and South, 1862

The snows of the Tyrol,

the clear beer of Vienna

Are not very pure or true.

From Sylvia Plath Daddy

Always be drunk.
That’s it!
The great imperative!
In order not to feel
Time’s horrid fardel
bruise your shoulders,
grinding you into the earth,
Get drunk and stay that way.
On what?
On beer, poetry, virtue, whatever.
But get drunk.

From Charles Baudelaire Be Drunk! (translator  unknown) 

The Green revolution

A couple of days spent on a jolly in Bordeaux mid-week and an exceedingly long birthday lunch party at a neighbour’s house put paid to any plans for the usual Sunday summary from Poitiers, but the extra day has given me time to catch up with the French municipal elections, which took place yesterday.

Many of the headlines this morning talk of a ‘green tsunami’ or a ‘green revolution’, and it’s fair to say that by winning here in Poitiers, as well as in Lyon, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Tours, and Grenoble, the environmentalist EELV (Europe Écologie les Verts) have established themselves as a leading political force. One of the most striking aspects of their various victories is the relative political inexperience of their candidates. Jeanne Barseghian in Strasbourg and Pierre Hurmic in Bordeaux are lawyers, and Grégory Doucet in Lyon works for a humanitarian aid organisation. They were unknown to the general public and had never previously been elected in any political capacity. Now they will be running some of the largest cities in France.

Léonore Moncond’huy.

Here in Poitiers, our new mayor is Léonore Moncond’huy, who has just turned thirty. She joined EELV in 2015 and was elected co-president of the party in 2017. Described in our local paper as ‘lively, fiery’ and ‘a young woman in a hurry’, the fact that relatively little is known about her may explain why her once being a Girl Scout seems to have been give an undue amount of attention.

The outgoing mayor, Alain Claeys,who is 71, was bidding to win a third period of office, having already served 12 years. In all, the Socialists have been in power here for the last 43 years, so this is a major shift. One noticeable aspect of the pre-election campaigning was that the two losing parties (the Socialists and LREM – President Macron’s La République en Marche) seemed very keen to establish their own green credentials, as if sensing the way the general mood was shifting. Turnout was very low at 33.2%, even lower than the first round back in March, when it was 36.4%. Turnouts nationally were generally low.

It isn’t clear yet, at least to me, how profound or sweeping the changes will be as a result of this election. The new council will no doubt want to make some sort of immediate impact, but dealing with the ongoing coronavirus problem is likely to occupy them for a while to come. As in the UK, the council administrative staff will continue in their posts, so life for most of us should go on as normal. For the time being, at least.

Elsewhere in France, in Marseille the environmental group Le Printemps Marseillais came first but without an overall majority, while the Socialists retained Paris, Nantes, Lille, and Rennes. Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National claimed Perpignan.

About the only success for LREM was prime minister Edouard Philippe’s win in Le Havre, (which I suppose is the equivalent of Boris Johnson being elected Mayor of Southampton while still prime minister). Under a law of 2014, members of either house of the French Parliament can no longer carry out these ‘dual mandate’ roles, so Monsieur Philippe has nominated a deputy to serve as mayor until such time as he chooses to take up the role. This might be sooner than he anticipates, as there are regular rumours of tension between him and President Macron – something both have denied.

Twomey or not Twomey

Last Sunday evening President Macron appeared on TV announcing the latest changes to the lockdown regulations. As of Monday (the following day), all bars and restaurants would reopen again, including in Paris, where only terraces had been able to get back in business. All travel into European countries would again be allowed. That means everyone will be able to move freely inside Europe without having to show a valid international travel certificate. Quarantine rules would still apply for the UK. All schools will reopen from June 22nd, and attending school will be mandatory for all pupils in crèchesécoles (elementary and primary school), and collèges (secondary school).

In July the government will reveal plans for a significant restructuring of the economy, targeting in particular industries that have been hit hardest by the coronavirus outbreak; aeronautics, the automobile industry, tourism, culture, catering, and hotels.

***

On Monday morning, the big news in the local paper is that McDonald’s are planning to open in the town centre, on the recently vacated Orange Téléphone site. This is right next to the Tour Maubergeon with its statue of Jeanne d’Arc. It’s difficult to think of a more inappropriate spot in the city centre for a fast-food joint, particularly when there are a number of very good French restaurants and cafés nearby. A petition has been started and has already garnered over 2,000 signatures, including mine and Madame’s. I am prepared to go further and stage a sponsored eat-in, where I will consume as many as possible of the delicious home-made burgers (100% boeuf Charolais) at Le P’tit Grillé in Rue de la Regratterie.

In the afternoon I get a phone call from Twomey, reminding me that the next day is Bloomsday (the day celebrating the events in James Joyce’s Ulysses, all of which take place on one day, 16th June 1904). He suggests that we mark the occasion by meeting for a pint of Guinness in Cluricaume. I agree but am a little uneasy. I mentioned last week that Twomey and I meet for the occasional drink. This is true to the extent that we meet from time to time, usually to celebrate some event or other, but on these occasions, drink, in the singular, can be something of an understatement.

The last such occurrence was on 26th January, Australia Day. Twomey told me that one of his great-grandparents was Australian, and invited me to join him at the Wallaby’s sports bar near Place Leclerc. Here we took advantage of their two-hour-long Happy Hour to consume several pints of Castlemaine lager with Bundaberg rum chasers. Eventually I managed to get away, leaving Twomey vainly trying to get the bewildered locals to join in a chorus of ‘Waltzing Matilda’. Some weeks later, when I mentioned his Australian ancestry, he looked completely baffled.

***

On Tuesday afternoon I went to Le Biblio Café. Now that things are slowly getting back to normal, I have resumed my weekly French lesson with our friend Maryse. We have started working on some of my blog pages with a view to producing them in French. Progress is slow, but she is very patient. Nevertheless, I think it is a relief for both of us when our agreed hour is up and we can reward ourselves with une biére at the end of the lesson.

On the way home my phone rings, and it is Twomey again. He tells me he’s had to go to Montmorillon unexpectedly on business and will not be able to make our evening rendezvous. I tell him that this is not a problem and that we can meet up some other time. He starts to say something, but I suddenly hear a woman shouting loudly in the background and what sounds like crockery breaking. He tells me he will call me again later and hangs up. Most odd.

***

Another sign that things are returning to normal is that my Pilates classes have restarted on Thursday mornings at Studio Équilibre on Boulevard du Grand Cerf. I began these back in November because of a problem with my hip, and they have definitely helped. There are usually about six or seven of us in the group led by our tutor, Sandra. Being an English speaker, I am obviously something of a novelty, and they all enjoy it when Sandra adds the odd instruction in English, or better still when she has to ask me to translate a word. This week everyone found it hysterically funny that the English for nombril is belly button.

The exercises are enjoyable, and there is more than enough time to reflect on the various twists and turns in life that have led to my lying on a mat, surrounded by a bunch of elderly French men and women, all of us with our legs in the air pedalling imaginary bicycles.

***

One of my favourite buildings in Poitiers is the Post Office. The camera on my new phone has given me a chance to get a much closer look at it.

Dick Turpin

I’m slowly getting used to wearing my mask in public. Their use is now compulsory in many shops, and one is obliged to wear them when entering bars and restaurants, although they can be removed once you are seated.

Shop and restaurant staff tend to wear disposable masks, as they need to change then regularly, and many members of the general public also seem to favour this type. One unfortunate result of this is that you increasingly see discarded masks lying in the street. More worryingly, the French government has ordered two billion of these disposable masks for public sector workers, and there is growing concern about the fact that they are made of polypropylene and are not biodegradable.

We were sent some washable masks by the council, but these need tying behind your head and are a bit fiddly so we bought some that you can just hook over your ears. They came in two colours; I took the black one, leaving madame the white.  We make an odd couple walking down the street – like Dick Turpin and a State Registered Nurse.

***

Tuesday: Entering a shop, I stop to put on my mask and somehow in doing so I manage to knock off my glasses, which land on the pavement and end up with a crack in one of the lenses. Not so much Dick Turpin now, more the old lady on the Odessa Steps in Battleship Potemkin. They are wearable, but I will get a new pair as soon as I can get an ophthalmologist appointment – not that easy, as there is currently a national shortage of them. I will probably need to go to nearby Niort or Angoulême – both a train ride away.

Sod it, sod it, sod it!

***

I bumped into Mr Twomey on Wednesday evening in the Cluricaume. He used to work with the British Council in Paris and is now retired. Lives near the station. It would be overstating it to say he’s a friend, but native English speakers are rare in Poitiers and we’ve got used to having the occasional pint together. I hadn’t seen him since before the lockdown, and he looked a little thinner. I wondered if he’d been ill.

‘Not at all dear boy. It’s my new regime. Want to know the secret? Sage and onion stuffing! Virtually living on the stuff. Found a little place in Montmorillon that sells it. Quite bizarre. Little Asian shop that I go to for vindaloo paste. And there it was, behind the chapatis and nan bread. Couldn’t believe my eyes. Paxo’s sage and onion stuffing! Add a spot of gravy – very tasty, nutritious and dirt cheap. Had it for lunch and dinner yesterday. Bit of flatulence but it’s a small price to pay. Can almost feel the pounds falling off.’

I could do with losing a little weight myself, and I thought of mentioning this to Madame, but she can’t stand Twomey so I’ll probably let it lie.

***

The mayor of Chauvigny and Laurent Jalabert

Thursday. The French cyclist Laurent Jalabert is in nearby Chauvigny today to help promote the coming Tour de France. The event should have been in July but has been postponed till September. We will have two chances to see it. The 11th stage, a 167 km run from Châtelaillon-Plage to Poitiers, is on September 9th, and the following day they go from Chauvigny to Sarran Corrèze; at 218 km this is the longest stage of the Tour. We are awaiting the exact details of the route to work out where to go for the best view. It should be fun, but of course, wherever it is, there will probably just be a blur of coloured shirts and it will be over in a couple of minutes. I mean it’s not as if it’s real cycling – like crossing the USA or anything.

Near Fairplay Colorado, April 25th 2010

***

Finally, spare a thought for our friend Véronique Dujardin, whom I mentioned in this blog a few weeks ago. Because of her pending operation, Véronique has been self-isolating since March 25th, and her only day out of her apartment since then was to attend a court hearing on May 28th. In this, Bayer Pharmaceuticals were appealing against the appointment of a panel of experts to investigate whether her brain tumours were the result of her having taken Bayer medication for twenty years.

Véronique has a hell of week ahead of her. She will be back in court on Tuesday to hear the result of the Bayer appeal. That same day she has a Covid19 test at the university hospital here in Poitiers. If that test shows no indication of the virus, she will then travel to a hospital in Tours on Thursday. On Friday, she will finally have the long-postponed two-hour operation to insert a titanium prosthesis into the orbit of her left eye to reduce the pressure from a tumour.  

Véronique

We wish her well

Out and about

Out at 07.00 on Monday morning. I wanted to take some photos on the last day of confinement, which started on March 17th and has lasted 77 days. For us, it hasn’t been particularly difficult. We have plenty of room, more than enough books and DVDs, and good Wi-Fi to keep in touch with family and friends. Nearby there are pleasant walks, along the river or around the city, for our daily hour’s exercise. I am aware how lucky we are. For anyone living alone or with young children, in cramped accommodation, perhaps without Wi-Fi, things must have been pretty grim. Parks, libraries, cinemas, and museums have all been closed.

On a bright sunny morning, I walked around the city centre for an hour or so and saw just a handful of people, mainly joggers and street cleaners. The only sounds came from the occasional car passing and swifts squealing as they circled overhead. There are worse ways of starting the day.

***

Liberation day. On Tuesday morning we went for coffee and croissants at the Café des Arts. It was a treat to see both François the owner and Maria the serveuse again, even if they were both masked and looked like they were about to operate on someone. About half the customers sitting on the terrace were also masked. The rules are that you must wear one when entering the interior, but you can remove it when inside.

Dr François reassuring his patients

Out again on a warm sunny evening to find the whole city centre buzzing. All the bar terraces were packed with people who had some serious catching up to do. We visit Le Gambetta and Au Bureau and end up back at the Café des Arts, by which time I was feeling distinctly mellow and had to resist the temptation to tell various strangers that they were ‘my bestest friend ever’.

***

I remember many years ago my friend Terry, who had recently retired, telling me how busy he was and that he was amazed he had ever actually found time to go to work. Impressed, I asked him what he had done the previous day. There was a longish pause, and then he said, ‘Well … in the morning I posted a letter’.

I thought this very funny at the time, but I’ve just realised that, if questioned by a barrister as to my activities on Wednesday and Thursday, all I could really come up with is that I had a haircut on Wednesday and picked up my new mobile phone the following day. Of course there was other ‘stuff’, but it’s now just a blurred mass of the minutiae of daily life. This is far from a complaint. I’m increasingly a subscriber to Pascal’s dictum that ‘all of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone’. The lockdown period made it easy to follow this advice. Now that it’s over, my fear of missing out on things will probably have me scurrying about again like a mouse in a maze.

***

One curious sight this week. On three different occasions I’ve seen people carrying mattresses through the streets. Madame S had the explanation. House and flat moves were not allowed during confinement, and lots of students on short-term leases will now be sorting themselves out.

At the same time, the government has just extended the period of la trêve hivernale (the winter truce). This is a law which decrees that during the winter months, normally from November 1st to March 31st, tenants cannot be evicted, and the gas and energy companies are not allowed to cut off supplies to homes for non-payment of bills. This year, because of the coronavirus outbreak, the truce was first extended to 31st May and then to July 10th.

While this is clearly a humane statute, it means that at the end of the period evictions occur en masse, which inevitably puts a strain on social services and charities. According to an article in Le Monde in 2018, the number of compulsory evictions has risen significantly since the year 2000. In 2016 there were 15,222, an increase of over 50% on the 2013 figure. The extensions to the normal time period, along with the fact that many more people are liable to be in financial difficulties, means that this year is likely to be far worse. A reminder that the real impact of the virus is still to come.

***

 Saturday morning

A ‘stop me and buy one’ cart dispensing not ice cream but free hand sanitiser.

Saturday afternoon

A march then a rally in Place Leclerc for Black Lives Matter.