Saturday 15 June 2019

Hitch-hiking robots

As this column gets penned a few weeks before it goes to print, when it should be read in summer, it is still mid-winter here in France. Now this might make me sound like Mr Moanalot but, apart from one brief sunny spell a few weeks ago, the weather seems to have deteriorated so much that we are seriously planning on permanently moving to Spain. In fact, we are shortly due to head North for a month on the road, leaving our cats and sheep to shiver, while we seek some warmth in Scotland. Firstly we are expected at a wedding in St Andrews, one with French connections and hence have our seaside holiday houses will be full of ex-pats for a week. I am sure much frivolity will ensue as we attempt to play golf and drink the town dry. From there we head the compass across the country, donning our sou-westers as we settle in for a week's exploring on Scotland rugged but beautiful west coast, along with a few million midges. Yes I am aware it is probably the worst time to be there, along with all the other English touring numpties, but we have our reasons.
From there we continue following the setting sun, hopping over the sea to the Emerald Isle in time for a spot of golf. Last year was the first time we had been at the British Open but we enjoyed Carnoustie so much that we have opted for another go, this time in the scenic village of Portrush on Ireland's most northern tip. A few days here watching the world's best professionals and catching up with friends before we continue on over the border to Ireland's west coast. A slow trek down through Donegal, stopping in Co Mayo, a place where I holidayed in my childhood, will eventually find us further south in time for one of Europe's biggest events, the Galway races. We have made a number of friends in this district over the years, many of whom have partied at our house in France, so this is payback time. I am not a big gambler but I will put the first tenner on the fact that it will be pouring down all week and the second on the odds of me not winning anything else. But one thing I will bet on, to quote the Blarney, 'we will have some mighty craic!'
This is of course assuming our auld campervan will make the distance, or else it will be Wendy and I and two bedraggled dogs thumbing it for a few thousand miles. The thought of this does fill me with some dread as, and I know this may be old hat to some, but it will soon be the 4th anniversary of the death of Hitchbot. For those of you who are unenlightened to this cheery chap, 'he' was a peaceful robot that was designed and built to hitch-hike its way around the world. All started quite well in 2014 when it managed to make the trip from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, almost the entire width of Canada, in just 26 days with the help of friendly strangers who found-out his whereabouts from social media and gave him a lift. Not content with this, Hitchbot then made it across Germany and the Netherlands, armed only with a limited vocabulary and a 'bucket list' of places he wished to go. And so it was, on his next adventure across USA that on the fateful day of August 1st, just 14 days into his trip, the poor fellow was beaten up and decapitated on the streets of Philadelphia. Since then, there have been any number of conspiracy theories as to the instigators of his demise including aliens, Donald Trump and suicide, despite his attackers - a couple of local teenagers - being caught red-handed on security camera!  
I also don’t relish the thought of hitching or even walking at all just now as I have, once again, broken a toe. Not sure quite when the clumsy gene reared its sore head in my life but that will be three Junes out of the last four that I have been laid up resting my feet on high for a week or two. At least in previous years I have had the chance to sit in the sun with my tootsies in the swimming pool. Ooo, there I go again, complaining about the weather. I will admit that sitting around and resting isn’t great for my advancing physique, something that was endorsed when I cleared out the mezzanine last week and found my cross-trainer all seized with rust. But then I never really did see the sense in all this exercise for the sake of it. When I want to get fit I go and build a shed, or lay some concrete, not sit around whiling away the miles going absolutely nowhere. Did you know that the treadmill was originally designed as a form of torture in Brixton prison in 1818? Quoting from the internet, one prisoner said about the machine, "I have worked for months on the wheel. I was quite well on coming in. I have now a great pain in the back part of my legs, my loins, and my left side. I get weaker every day. I can hardly stand upright!"
I rest my case. Bottoms up!

Rounding up

     Who would of thought it, June already? Wendy and I are still in France just now and I have to say it is bl@@dy freezing! Yes, I hear Sir David and all his sycophants crying into their soya milk about global warming, but it is not happening...well not here anyway. Apparently, once the ice caps all melt due to farting cows, the polar bears are all relocating to Lot-et-Garonne to stay cool and possibly wallowing in my swimming pool. Meanwhile, our Coypu have vanished back to from whenst they came, somewhere near the equator where lemon trees don’t all die from hypothermic frosts, in mid May!
     In actual fact we should be in Newcastle-on-Tyne this weekend, where I'm told the sun often shines, but for the loss of a good friend to cancer earlier in the week. An avid follower of this column and regular visitor to France, my Edinburgh pal will be sorely missed for his gentle ways and sharp wit. Another one of the good guys, taken far too soon. Anyway, onwards and upwards.   
     Meanwhile life goes on here at Chauffour, with the usual springtime chores taking up most of my time. And this year has just got a little bit harder since the French powers-that-be have confiscated my favourite gardening tool, ROUND-UP. Apparently its active ingredient, Glyphosate, is about to kill me and therefore, once more, I am being saved by people who care far more for my welfare than I do. Well, actually I am not, because now I have such backache from pulling up weeds for 6 hours per day instead of my once-a-month 20 minute 'rounding-up', that I am bed-ridden, unable to sleep and grumpy as hell. I would, of course, buy it in UK where it is freely available and will be even more so when Britain is no longer in Europe. Except I can't, as I am not allowed to take it on an aircraft in case it explodes! I can't buy it online either as, although the smiley British postie can deliver it to the Channel while whistling a merry tune, Monsieur LaPoste refuses to so much be in the same vehicle with it, such is its supposed danger to everyone.  Apparently I can buy it in Germany, Italy, Spain or just about everywhere else in the world which makes a complete and utter mockery of the French bureaucratic system. Oh well, I probably need a holiday, so will have to drive a few hundred miles in my gas-guzzling diesel climate-destroying machine to get a fifteen quid bottleful!
I would let our few remaining sheep into the garden to eat the weeds except that, led by Daisy, all the flowers and vegetables would be gone in minutes and the offending weeds would remain untouched! Maybe I could attempt to educate them into selective eating and do the world a favour? Because - you heard it here first - sheep in France are actually allowed to go to school. Yes, in a small parish in the Alps, 15 ewes have been registered as pupils in a primary school, so it can keep its numbers up and its doors open.  Somewhere in a European by-law, the ability to discriminate the ovine from the human species has been overruled in yet another spite at President Macron who had suggested that school with diminishing numbers be closed. This has inevitably escalated the rights of animals over humans and played into the hands of those who believe BBC's  Chris Packham speaks any truth whatsoever, despite the fact that his propaganda is about as reliable as a Boeing 737 Max 8!
    The fact that the French love their rules almost as much as they do finding ways around them is no surprise. From banning ketchup, redbull and mobile phones in schools to burkas (but allowing peeing) in public and flip-flops in cars, France has always led the way when it comes to absurdity. Hence hundreds of men sitting around a bbq in yellow vests and annoying motorists on every major traffic island becomes instantly acceptable behaviour, despite its illegality. Well, thanks to the 'Gilets Jaune's' disappointment in the governments rule to drop our national speed limit form 90 to 80 kilometre per hour, I might save a few quid. You see, in April this year I got a speeding fine through my Scottish letterbox from a flash I had from the camera at the bottom of our road in France, in September 2018. Yes, it took six months to find me, but find me it did. Thankfully now the local protesters are not content with wearing yellow jackets but have added a few tins of jaunes spray-paint to their armoury and then proceeded to blast it repeatedly over the face of said speed camera. In spite of my hesitance to support their socialist ideals, I will certainly not be the one down there with my Jif and J-cloth any time soon. 

Daisy on the wall

     I had every intention of writing to you in French this month, once the final day of 'outing' had arrived, and this headache of uncertainty was put behind us. But now, surprise surprise, we get yet another extension to this brexiting madness and it is starting affect me personally, in a number of ways. Actually I have no issue with the deals or the future of this mess but it seems everyone else has and hence are sitting on their own sweaty hands instead of getting on with their lives. The holiday rental market here in France is taking a hit, with many folks really believing that if they leave the UK for a couple of weeks they won't be allowed back in! Maybe they will have to pass an IQ test first, that would surely whittle a few of them down? Then there is the property market in Scotland, with the Sturgeon's SNP vultures hovering around another post-brexit vote for independence and thus holding house prices to ransom, and my pension with it. Inevitably all this will end - although possibly not resolved - by a General Election installing yet more loonies into the asylum that is our governing body, who can then squabble their way through the next 5 years.
     However, if we think our autonomous voting system is somewhat complicated, spare a thought for Indonesia who are also just re-electing their government, with somewhere in the region of quarter of a million candidates to choose from! Within just 5 hours, a monumental 25,000 MPs will be appointed into power. Imagine them all debating the price of Marmite? And think of their expenses as they travel 3000 miles across the country from their constituency, partly by canoe! But the thing is, if the hot favourite known as 'Joko', (no joke) a former furniture salesman, gets elected as president, the people will actually listen to him and believe him because it was them who put him there. He will make decisions on behalf of his 200 million voters, backed-up by his large cabinet, so they can carry on with their day tilling the fields or catching fish, safe in the knowledge that someone is actually in charge who knows what they are doing. That, my friends, is the definition of democracy in its infancy, before it got polluted by idiots!
     Right, enough of politics, let's get on to the more serious subject of why Americans all have such stupid names! Yes, I am sure I have raised this issue many times before but, usually around the time of the US golf major tournaments, it still gets my goat. Let's start with that happy-chappy who just won a major tournament, after a 10 year absence, Tiger. No wonder he's miserable, his mother named him after a wild animal, for god's sake! Then we have Brooks Keopka, Xander Souffle and Bryson DeChambeau. What is going on here? It's not like actors who make up names so they can be instantly recognised - these people are for real, i.e. that is a name given to them at birth. What sort of a parent would look at their one hour-old baby and say, 'ah yes, he looks just like a Bryson'? Well here's the latest new kid on the block: a 23 year old from Sacramento named 'Cameron Champ'! Surely, if your surname is Champ, there is only one Christian name you could possibly consider for your first born? 'World!'
     Meanwhile back on planet Earth, spring is rapidly turning to summer here in South West France and we really really could do with a drop of rain, as I have 7 acres of newly planted grass seeds that need watering before they shrivel up like a beetle's scrotum! I don’t have a rain gauge but I would suggest that this part has seen barely a few millimetres of it since February and it is getting mighty dusty. Now, before all you eco-warriors start pointing the finger of suspicion at global-warming, this time last year we had so much of the stuff that we could only visit the sheep fields in thigh-length rubber waders. And anyway, it's not even that warm as last night we had a frost, in mid April, which did wonders for our geraniums, not! Well, just to check that annual opposites are not the basis for an argument on climate change, I did a quick check on Google and am now much wiser on the subject as I found this definition: 'effects warming of the ocean surface, leading to increased temperature stratification.'  Thanks guys. Using big words invariably makes you sound reverberant!
    Finally, this week saw the return of that bissum that is Daisy Death-wish, now in her eighth year. Being the sole survivor of the sale of the adult portion of our flock last autumn, she has been residing at someone else's place through the winter adding the bonus of a lamb sometime around mid February. I have to admit, for such an ugly old brute, the lamb is quite an acceptable specimen. Well, due to a chance contact with an old girlfriend who used to live in Far Forest but is now in Holland, Daisy has now taken one step nearer to the bovine Hall-of-fame and been painted in watercolour. I believe Daryl has captured the creature's spirit quite remarkably.