Valentine’s Day

New Brighton, Merseyside – Photograph Martin Parr

Monday

Like most sane people we know, Madame and I treat Valentine’s Day with a laugh and a roll of the eyes. However, since moving to Poitiers, we have got into the habit of using it as an excuse for buying a box of chocolates from Leonidas in Rue Gambetta.

Poitiers seems to run on chocolate. There are at least six chocolatiers in the town centre, more than there are either butchers or bakers. The grandest and most expensive is Fink (pronounced ‘fahnk’) in Rue du Marché Notre Dame, a vast emporium that I always think is a bit up itself.

Inside Leonidas

I like Leonidas because the woman who runs it is very jolly and quite happy to comply with my badly enunciated instructions: ‘pas de chocolat blanc et pas de fondants’. The box is assembled and wrapped with loving care, and we are each given an additional complimentary chocolate on leaving. The chocolates will be consumed over the next few nights while watching telly. If there is an odd one left, I always let Madame have it. Who said romance is dead?

Tuesday

News in the papers this morning that Les Jeunes avec Macron (Young People with Macron), used Valentine’s Day to launch a campaign on the Tinder, Grindr, and Bumble apps (Judge: ‘And what, pray, are they?’ QC: ‘Dating agencies m’lud … catering for a wide range of tastes’).

Not being a subscriber to the apps, I have to rely on the report in Le Parisien, which breathlessly describes profiles adorned with ‘sultry pictures’ displaying ‘a heterosexual couple kissing passionately, a couple of embracing lesbians, and two men together in an unequivocal pose … all in a purple pink universe’.

Any poor saps who were attracted by one of these pictures and clicked on a profile got the internet equivalent of a cold shower. They were asked, ‘Are you willing to talk about anything other than dating? Do you plan to vote? Will you be there on April 10 [election day]? Do you know the procedure for voting by proxy?’ They were then given information on how and where to vote.

Les Jeunes avec Macron sound to me suspiciously like eager Young Conservatives, which brings to mind the Tony Hancock ‘Blood Donor’ episode:

‘I’ve been thinking of this for a long time. Something for the benefit of the country as a whole. What should it be, I thought? Become a blood donor or join the Young Conservatives? Anyway, as I’m not looking for a wife and I can’t play table tennis, here I am!’

From table tennis to Tinder. Progress of a sort, I suppose.

Wednesday

The Covid cloud is slowly lifting. From today, the ban on the sale and consumption of food and drink on public transport and in cinemas is lifted. It’s also been announced that from February 28th it will no longer be mandatory to wear masks in restaurants, cinemas, or museums. We’ve been here before, of course, but it does look as if the vaccine programme is proving effective.

Thursday

Several emails arrive this morning from Thomas O’Driscoll. Thomas explains that some ‘funnies’ he sent to an old email address came back undeliverable, so he got Sean O’Brian to help him find my new address. He expresses sympathy about my recent illness but says ‘welcome to the club’, and is glad to hear that I am golfing and getting on with things. Sadly, he doesn’t think there will be a Rockwell reunion this year because of Covid. He sends his best wishes to Pat and promises more funnies to come.

Thomas is an emeritus professor at an American university and currently a faculty consultant at a university in Thailand. I know this because his email tells me so. Sadly, it’s all I know about him, having never heard of him before. Sean and Pat are also friends I have yet to meet.

At first I thought this might be some sort of spam, but something about the email rings true. Several minutes pass while I think about this alternative ‘me’. Where do I live? What do I do? I wonder about my illness. The golf suggests it hasn’t been too debilitating – a heart scare, perhaps? I hope Pat is taking good care of me.

I toy for a while with the idea of continuing the correspondence, with a view to teasing out further information about Thomas and myself. I could go for broke: ‘Thomas! Thank god you’ve written. I fell down the stairs and I’ve completely lost my memory!’ Or more gradually get a conversation going: ‘It’s been ages … when did we last meet?’ (if he doesn’t have my email address, we probably haven’t seen each other for a while). Or: ‘What has Sean been up to recently?’ Maybe I could pass on some bland news about Pat. But hang on, is Pat male or female?

Sanity soon returns. I write to Dr O’Driscoll, pointing out his error and wishing him luck in tracking down the other M.S. I quickly get a nice note of apology and thanks from the doctor, and that’s that. Shame about the Rockwell reunion, though. It might have been fun.

Friday

Sad to read P. J. O’Rourke’s obituary in the papers today. He may have been a Republican, but he was very funny. Anyone who can write an article entitled ‘How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink’ can’t be all bad.

Saturday

The new Maigret film starring Gérard Depardieu is now out, and we are hoping to see it next week. You can see the trailer here. I’ve become a bit of a Maigret geek, and so I can tell you Depardieu will be the thirty-sixth actor to play the character on film or TV. Pierre Renoir, son of the impressionist painter Auguste Renoir, was the first, in 1932, and since then, as well as Frenchmen, there have been English, Irish, Dutch, Italian, Austrian, German, Czech, and Russian Maigrets.

Bruno Cremer’s Maigret
Gerard Depardieu’s Maigret

English-speaking Maigrets include Michael Gambon, Rowan Atkinson, and Richard Harris. The most famous was probably Rupert Davies, who played Maigret for 52 TV episodes between 1960 and 1963. When they met, the detective’s creator, Georges Simenon, gave him a novel inscribed ‘At last I have found the perfect Maigret’.

Since we came to France, I have spent far too many afternoons watching reruns of the French TV series that ran from 1991 to 2005 with Bruno Cremer, and now, for me, Cremer is Maigret. Depardieu will have his work cut out to supplant him.

Sunday

Things I’ve learned this week:

Harry Houdini could pick up pins with his eyelashes and thread a needle with his toes.

At the outbreak of World War Two, zookeepers killed all the venomous snakes and spiders at London Zoo in case it was bombed and they escaped.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, it is explicitly illegal in Great Britain to use a machine gun to kill a hedgehog.

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