Oh what a multicultural life we seem to lead. Although I still consider my roots to be quintessentially English, I have been known to wear a number of different hats during the rugby season , including Scottish, French and - dare I admit it - Welsh, over the years. However, in general, I would like my nationality to be classed as 'rational'. i.e. someone who lives, works and plays amidst an ethos where normality retains a stronghold. But herein lies a problem. Try though I might to live in a bubble which excludes day-to-day global lunacy, each year I find it increasingly harder to escape the idiosyncrasies of life that make me want to scream from the upstairs window. And guess what? It very often involves Americans. Let's take a website someone highlighted to me recently called something like ‘healthy living dotcom’. The page I was concerned with was one advocating the benefits of eating cheese. Paragraph 1, and I quote, says 'cheddar, an American cheese, will improve my bone health and lower my blood pressure!' while cream cheese, rich in saturated fat, is healthy as it will 'help fill me up!' I admit I enjoy my cheese, but come on, even I know it is bad for me! Is it any wonder USA has health issues, with everyone 6 stone overweight and dying of obesity aged 45? And yet, when I watch those oh-so glamorous TV series, everyone, even the ‘janitor’ – whatever one of those is – has the toned body of an Olympian gymnast. Maybe it's all a ploy on behalf of the cheese industry?
I have also to comment on another USA invention, that of the Taser gun. On this subject, I have no experience, apart from it making the headlines recently, for all the wrong reasons. Government research announced that this rather painful weapon had been used on at least 400 children in the last year. At first, I found this alarming enough to make me turn up the radio for a second with the consideration that, perhaps, parents were deploying drastic tactics to get their 5 year olds upstairs to bed. However, it turned out that for 'children', read 'feral teenagers' who were nicking cars, looting shops and other unruly behaviour that the police are unable to counter with a kick up the arse. One 'child' was only 14, says the Daily Mail. Well, if he was 14 years old, he should know better than to break the law? And why wasn't he at school, anyway? Come to think, perhaps they should arm the headmaster with such weapons, like they did in my day! Except, back then, these things were known simply as cattle-prods!
After adding some substantial miles on the clock, we are now back in situ at Chauffour, where new born lambs and grass are now in abundance. With the daffs out and shrubs budding, one could be forgiven for believing all was right with the world - were it not for the constant reminders for this-and-that that keep pinging at me from my new phone. I admit I am a bit of a list person and, during those rare moments I find myself with nothing to do, I often check that ever-expanding list to see where to best apply myself next. Stupidly, in a peak of madness, I downloaded an 'app' and now there is nowhere to hide as it constant nags me to cut the lawn, mend the roof and pay the milkman. There was me thinking I had a wife to do that sort of thing! It is quite amusing though because as well as politely offering me reminders, it also begs to be told what to do (the phone, not the wife). Every time I so much as pick the thing up, a polite lady asks me: 'what would I like to do? Just say the word?' Well firstly I told it to shut up, and it did, for a few minutes. Then it started to learn all the swear words I shouted at it, mostly ending in off! But, when I actually tested it, it does have its uses. 'What time is the next train to somewhere?' gets a response of 'just checking Google,' - silence - then 'half past four, from platform 3 at so-and-so, if you hurry you'll just make it.' It even tells me the cost and offers to order me a ticket. You have to admit, that's pretty smart. And it doesn't stop there either: I can ask it all sorts of stuff like how far is it to the moon, who is Jihadi John and why is Scotland so useless at rugby? All questions are answered in a positively polite way, except it is unable to shake it head in despair at the last one!
On the subject of Jihadi-John, don't you think that MI6 could be a little more imaginative with their nicknames? Are Terry-the-terrorist and Bertie-the-bomber on their wanted list too?
For the last few months, we have been consolidating our possessions and 'clearing out the trash' as my American buddies would say. Box after box of old letters, accounts, manuals and photos have found their way on to the bonfire, along with redundant Ikea furniture. This is what people do in France, unlike in the UK where everybody and their dog wants to hoard all their unused crap for a rainy day by stacking it in stupidly named 'Self Storage' warehouses. What on earth possesses people to think, 'oh yes, that bright pink Formica coffee table, with matching foot-spa will come in handy when I reach fifty?' and 'we couldn't possibly throw out grandma's pair of painted donkeys she brought back from Torremolinos in 1974 - she would never forgive us, despite the fact that she's been dead for 11 years.' So, in it all goes, at a cost of a grand a year, cluttering up the world as it bulges at the seams. In fact I have a theory that there is probably more Ikea furniture in storage warehouses that there is in its massive stores. Where will it end? Will our kids be storing great-great-grandad's garden gnomes for eternity? Time to have an amnesty, I say. Rid yourselves! November 5th would be a good day?
I will admit that this is a year I have been looking forward to as we start to hatch a few plans towards a distant 'putting up of the feet'. It was some time ago that I made a vague plan to retire in the 'year of the sheep' to keep, er, sheep. And here it is, all of a sudden, and I am about as ready as Oscar Pretorious on a rusty day. Amongst the pyre of burning documents, I find a pension statement which is worth about as much as a Greek taverna in February, that will provide me with a salary of sixpence a year if I am lucky. That is assuming I don't live past the age of 67 when it will run out completely. However, driven by the fear of shoeless poverty, in the words of Baldrick 'I have a cunning plan...' It may take some hard work and a little risk but nobody helps those who don't help themselves. Bring on the next challenge.