Thursday, May 28, 2009

It is with regret.......

....that I announce the news that French singing legend Jean-Philippe Smet (otherwise known as Jonneee Alleeday) has decided to hang up his guitar.Tomorrow he starts his farewell tour, called Route 66, a reference to the eponymous US route and, sadly, his age. He fears that if he carries on he 'will become pathetic'.  Here's a bit of news, Mr Hallyday......

Those of you outside France and possibly Belgium and bit of Switzerland could be forgiven for going... who?  

So here's  bit of catch up. Johnny Hallyday is a legend in France. For what, I'm not quite sure. Maybe just for being a legend, for being the Cliff Richard of the French music scene, or maybe even the Madonna as he is busily adopting the whole of Vietnam while Madonna makes her way through Malawi, or perhaps for the revolving door that is the title Mme Hallyday, previous incumbents having been Sylvie Vartan, herself famous for not being known anywhere outside France, followed by Babeth Etienne, Nathalie Baye then Adeline Blondiau. 

This is he with the current version, Laeticia Boudou who has held the title for the past 12 years. Clearly she married him in primary school.  Now what do you suppose she sees in him?

You have to feel sorry for the French. While other nations, many of whom the French consider culturally inferior, regularly produce international quality stars, the French since the heady days of the 1930s and with a small blip in the 50s for the likes of Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel (who was actually Belgian) have singularly failed to do so.  Even Plastic Bertrand (remember him?)  was Belgian.  Things may be looking up a little with the arrival on the scene of Justice and Daft Punk, both of whom have had a bit of success across La Manche.

But back to M. Hallyday. Back in the late 50s a young Elvis Presley appeared on the scene to bring rock n' roll to the masses. A few years later, a young Jean-Philippe Smet, calling himself Johnny Hallyday, appeared on the French scene, swinging his hips and making the right noises. And 49 years later, that's exactly where he remains. A couple of years ago, the BBC did a documentary to introduce us Brits to the lovely Johnny. That says it all really. After nearly 50 years on the music scene, he remained vitually unknown outside France.

Perhaps unwisely, Johnny tried, a few years back, to become Belgian. Perhaps it was so he could at least feature in that well-known parlour game 'Name 10 Famous Belgians'  (errr......... Jacques Brel?  Hercule Poirot? Plastic Bertrand?  Jaywalker?) . He claimed it was to rediscover his Belgian roots and exorcise the demons left after his Belgian father abandoned him (is it any wonder? Even Johnny's millions haven't flushed out the illusive M. Smet senior).  Closer inspection revealed, however, that it was more likely a ruse to escape the crippling wealth tax bought in by Francois Mitterand.

Sadly, his claim to Belgian-ness were refuted by the Belgian government who don't recognise illegitimate offspring such as he!. How sad is that?  To be turned down by Belgium.  Still, had he become Belgian, he would have had to renounce his only claim to fame, that of being the leading French rocker and then maybe the BBC wouldn't have made the documentary

Never mind, the tax haven that is Switzerland beckoned and there he remains, leathery to the last, like an iguana squinting in the sun.

Recently I had the dubious pleasure of sitting in our local cafe while a French friend regaled to me in tiny, minute really, details of his most prized possession. He boxed set of the complete works of Johnny Hallyday. All indexed and kept in chronological order. I'm just hoping that my slightly glazed expression wasn't too noticeable. His lasting appeal to the French mystifies me but then so does much about the French to be honest.

A few years back, a friend who is a tour manager for some real legends - U2, Rolling Stones - was personally asked by Johnny to manage his upcoming tour.  Said friend felt that having a Johnny tour on his CV would actually be damaging to his career and so declined, citing much needed weeding in his garden.

But, never fear, all you Johnny-rockers out there. It's au revoir, not goodbye.  He's planning to concentrate on his acting career now.  No doubt if the BBC ever decides to to remake Steptoe and Son, there will be a part for him as Steptoe Senior.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ode to Prudence

It's not often that poetry moves me but.....

I love my old dog
But she doesn't half stink
Of slightly weak bladder.
And who would think
that a Golden Retriever 
Could belch like a drunk?
Or fart so bad(ly) 
She'd embarrass a skunk?
With breath that could fell
a 200 hundredweight hog
I don't half love my malodorous dog.

Is there an opening for a new Poet Laureate? Damn, I think the position has just been filled.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It's a swine, this flu

Well, I may live in deepest, France but even I follow the news so I know that I'm probably pretty much talking to myself now. The pandemic of Swine Flu, or Grippe Porcine as it's called here has, no doubt, killed off all of those who cunningly avoided Bird Flu last year and SARS before that.

Any suggestion that a convenient pandemic would deflect talk away from the pitiful state of the global economy is clearly cynical but I have a sneaking suspicion that if an audit was done at the Centre for Disease control a few vials of Piggy Flu virus would be unaccounted for. That would then be followed by a sneaking suspicion that said vials would be found in the undergrowth near an intensive pig farm in Mexico. A conspiracy theorist's dream!

The French government has been no less alarmist putting the country on alert level 5 even though there were no confirmed cases in France so when I went down with flu like symptoms I was sure I was about to be the first. Do those masks come in different colours to complement your outfit? Lipstick or not underneath? Should I be like the Frenchman on the TV who, when asked if his facemask was hot to wear, he announced that he'd already sorted that out by making holes in it! I kid you not! So, what to do? Call the SAMU or go to the doctor?

Figuring that the actual probability of having Pork Flu was slightly less than zero I opted for the doctors, with a whispered apology to my fellow patients for any infection I may pass on to them. People round here are from good peasant stock. A touch of Pigglywig Flu wouldn't stop them in their tracks anyway.

I explained my symptoms to my doctors - which was actually more difficult than I thought as we always speak in French, although he speaks perfect English. For some reason, that day he decided to talk in English while I was prepared to talk French so I mumbled some bizarre Franglais explanation about pains in my articulations and mal au throat which may be the reason why I'm here and not in isolation somewhere with TV cameras doorstepping my neighbours.

I left clutching the usual array of medicaments for every conceivable situation.... antibiotics, anti inflammatories, 1mg paracetamol tablets that look like horse pills. But a week later, I still feel like someone is ramming sharpened knitting needles down my throat. Maybe......

DS came downstairs yesterday with the start of a cold and announced he had 7 of the 9 symptoms of Hog Flu. See, that's how panic starts. The media has a lot to answer for.

Still, pigs of another variety, the ones in pinstriped suits, have now conveniently knocked this story off the news headlines and left the WHO and the CDC to think up the next 'pandemic'. Giraffe flu perhaps?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

'What grows in the garden so lovely and rare...'

The Mayday bank holiday weekend is one of my favourites in France. Not because I want to celebrate the workers or their rights but because it's the Foire des Fleurs at Tournon d'agenais, followed two days later by a similar but smaller one in our own village.

We were very lucky to inherit a very mature and thoughtfully planted garden and throughout the seasons we have the good fortune to watch it unfold in all its colours and textures. The garden was less lucky to inherit us for I am to gardening what Einstein was to origami. In other words, no bloody use at all. Each year, I convince myself that I'll be different. I pour over my multitudes of gardening books and 'place that plant' ad nauseum. Each year, I shell out a not insignificant sum of money on flowers and plants which I often kill well before I've even planted them.


My piece de rĂ©sistance was, without a doubt, the very rare Chinese tree we bought at the Tournon show a few years ago.  It was thought to be extinct until 1948 when some seeds were found in some godforsaken part of China unseen by the 'long noses' for centuries.....  and with my help it will probably be extinct again in the near future.

It was duly planted, taking care that the roots were well watered and that it wasn't positioned under any overhead cables.  No worry about watering it as the irrigation system in the garden could take care of that.  Within two weeks it was yellow. 'Just the changing seasons', I gaily informed the CH.  He expressed doubt.  'It's dead'.  But how could that be? 'Well in that case it must be faulty. The irrigation system has kept it watered so why would it die?' 'Did you move the pipes so it was actually getting any water?' he asked. Ah.

Last year I thought that we'd try our hand at a bit of self-sufficiency. I planted 10 tomato plants, some aubergines, some courgettes and some chilis. (OK, OK, I know you can't really make much with that little combination).  End result, 2 aubergines, 1 chili and no tomatoes. They all got blossom end rot. Can that be passed on to humans I wonder?  

I went to the market to see if I could get any more tomato plants and found that our lovely old farmer, from whom we buy the best onions and garlic on the planet, still had some.

I bought one.

'Just one, Madame?' he enquired curiously.

Ooooh yes, you have no idea of my history with tomato plants. Better that I leave the rest for someone who has more than a passing chance of growing anything on them.

This year, I've planted tomatoes, courgettes de Nice (lovely round ones), strawberries, melons and peppers. They've been in the ground for over a week now and they are still alive.

The Foire des Fleurs was glorious, even the sun made a rare appearance.  I wandered around marvelling at all the different plants  - bougainvillea - killed three of those, trumpet vine - killed two of those, vast swathes of surfinia - I've killed vast swathes of those, olive trees - yep, got a dead one outside my front door.

Even more exciting were all the flowers that I've not yet had the chance to kill. I reached for my purse.  No, not this year.  I'll give the veggies another go but there will be no more summer displays of dead hanging baskets chez moi!