Nice and quiet

Poitiers is, on the whole, a fairly quiet place. But having the university here helps keep the average age down and means that the town is lively enough to sustain more than enough bars, restaurants, and places of entertainment to keep Madame and myself amused. In the summer vacation, a steady trickle of tourists, either coming specifically to see the architecture or just breaking their journeys between north and south, helps to compensate for reduced student numbers. However, the past fortnight has been strange. It’s been half-term for the schools and university, and a large part of the town’s population has taken the opportunity to skedaddle to the coast, their country cottage, or wherever they hole up on these occasions. This, no doubt, happens every year, but somehow the novelty of settling in, and then the Covid crisis, has meant that I’ve never really noticed it before. Several bars and cafés are closed, as are some local boulangeries. Even our GP has taken a week off. There are still people around, but everything seems to be going at half pace. I was beginning to get just a little bit bored by the whole thing until last Tuesday and the news of the invasion of Ukraine. Suddenly, Poitiers’ tranquillity seemed to take on a very different meaning.

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The local newspaper seems to have been reflecting the general inertia. The main story the week before last was that the council had decided Poitiers would no longer be taking part in the Ville Fleurie scheme, the equivalent to the Britain in Bloom competition run by the Royal Horticultural Society in the UK. This shocking news, the paper breathlessly tells us, comes only two years after the town finally achieved its fourth floret.

The council gave two reasons for this decision. The first was that they wanted to give priority to ‘projects related to biodiversity’, developing green areas that required less watering and were more favourable to insects, which is fair enough, I suppose. But the second reason was they wanted to move away from the sense of competition involved in Ville Fleurie, which seems a little po-faced to me, reminiscent of those stories of schools sports days where the egg and spoon race is banned to avoid traumatising the losers.

Things picked up last week, with the main story being that the archaeologists exploring the cavities made for the new trees in Place Leclerc have unearthed a sarcophagus containing ‘a relatively well-preserved and connected body except for the broken pelvic bones’. The sex of the body has yet to be confirmed, and it has been transported to a laboratory for analysis.

It might sound odd, but I’m hoping that news of this find doesn’t reach the police force in our previous hometown, Ely. Over twenty years ago, the landlady of the Royal Standard pub in the high street suddenly disappeared, and she has never been seen since. Every now and then, the story resurfaces and a new investigation starts; people are interviewed and gardens are dug up, but nothing ever comes of it. All it needs now is for some zealous new superintendent to hear of the discovery of a body buried in the main square in Poitiers, where two Ely ex-residents now live, and we’ll be helping them with their enquiries before you can say ‘Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the wee donkey’.

It was bad enough when we lived there. On one occasion, Madame’s work meant her going to Melbourne for a fortnight. This happened just as we were having the back garden redesigned. Decking was removed and paving slabs were laid. I remember getting some very odd looks from friends and neighbours who had seen the mechanical digger arrive.

‘Where’s the wife, then?’

‘Gone to Australia.’

‘Oh … right.’

I think Madame was quite taken aback by the warmth of my greeting on her return.

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Some inventive street art has been appearing lately:

First Class Male

Green Fingers

Molotov Cocktails for two

***

Things I’ve learnt this week:

Sarcasm is banned in North Korea.

Oysters change their sex up to four times a year.

According to English folklore, if a woman feeds her husband roast owl, he will become completely subservient to her every wish.

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