Saturday, 9 March 2013

France: John Ward back up and fighting

Major UK blogger John Ward has just moved from Devon to south-west France, and is bringing the farmhouse up to scratch. But he still finds time to continue his furious examination of the worlds of finance and politics, which are so interlinked, corrupt and disastrous that he reflects on the survivalist advantages of his new home:

Over the last few days, it has become unnecessary here to have the main log-burner on 24/7, while sporting thermal underwear in bed at night. Today I didn’t actually light the fire at all until 7pm, and even now at 10 pm it is bubbling along without bashing out too much heat. The winters here are fierce, but short. This one has been longer than most, but it is at last releasing its frigid grip: buds are budding, winds are warming, and daffodils are flowering. You never know, it just might be Spring.

I’m still fixing things up. The last and most truculent floodlight has finally given up its resistance to my efforts to make it work, and is as I speak shining a light towards the old pig-sties down at the bottom of the front garden. There was an anxious moment when I had to figure out how to chisel a route through the door-jamb minus available chisels, given I lack a three-foot drill to go through the walls. But a steady hand and a hammer applied to a knackered old screwdriver did the trick. There was an even more stressful moment when – having rewired the obstinate little bastard – just prior to screwing it into the external masonry – it decided not to work. But then the kitchen lights flickered back on again, and I realised we’d had a power cut without me noticing. So all is well.

My neighbour Ange came up yesterday. He’d heard the gossip about Jan and I, so was keen to know what was what. One thing that never ceases to stagger me about apparently rigid old French agrarians is how – when you go through the “sh*t happens” explanation of life – far from offering sour disapproval, they seem keen to sympathise, to help, and to discuss the philosophy of marriage, emotions, or indeed anything else you care to bring up. On a day-to-day basis I have very little in c0mmon with the local French farmers, but beyond tractors and seed costs you can (with perseverance) plug into deeper concerns. Ange’s wife Michelle, for instance, is a keen fan of certain French writers. Once I’d discovered her passion for Georges Simenon and Molière, we never looked back. Five years ago an undiscovered Dumas novel was unearthed, and so it was my great pleasure to give Michelle an internet link to the prose. We have also prepared melons together for charity dinners in aid of Mali, but perhaps I should draw a discreet veil over that.

Tomorrow the replacement dishwasher and the serviced/repaired tractor mower are due to make an appearance. I rather fancy that soon after this point, things will return to something approaching normal. Window boxes will be filled and watered, windfall kindling gathered up, water retainers reinstigated, and guests prodded to confirm arrival dates.

Of course, in the macro boulevards of all those financial centres beyond Slogger’s Roost II, things will continue to be perversely abnormal. The Dow will go up instead of down, Gold will go down instead of up, silver up instead of down, the euro up against Sterling and down against the Dollar, and the US, UK and Eurozone debts up and up and up and up. But to the folks down here, none of it really matters. One of the undeniable things about France is that it has the biggest land area per head of population and highest proportion of cultivable in-use land in the entire EU. So if every currency, bond, bank, and bourse goes tits up, the French will still have more than enough to eat.

Should we feel resentful about this? No of course we shouldn’t: rather, we should feel anger about our own UK élites’ inability to understand such basics. With careful thought, Britain could’ve continued to make things and poured investment into those people who wish to grow things. France still makes cars and exports them very profitably. It still plans crops to produce cheap bread – and produces enough milk, meat, fruit and wine to keep everyone cruising along nicely. It still has the best cheeses in the world.

There are major bits of French culture (for example, pharmacy advice and the tax system) that continue to confuse and worry me. But when it comes to the price of lunch, bread, beer, wine, fresh veg, wonderful tomatoes and magret de canard, down here in the South West it is hard to fault the way they live. The sense of community, the familial glue and the lack of crime all bear witness to an achievement which, let’s face it, Britain cannot even begin to imagine.Will the British ever be true Europeans? Within the confines of the EU, I very much doubt it. We are an island seafaring race obsessed with the idea that we might still have some major global role to play.In the banking sector, we do. But is that a role we should want to embrace? I would emphatically say no: the UK’s future prosperity lies in making high-quality items and then knowing how to market them in an equalising world. My instinct is to stay close to Britain, but my insight tells me that Britain has forgotten how to stay close to itself.

This post originally appeared here and is reproduced with the kind permission of the author. John Ward's current blog is here and the archives of his previous one (Not Born Yesterday) are here. Writing since 2006, John is prolific, sparky and always informative.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

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