No quiet retreat at this garden party

CHARLES ROBERTS Make a neat little list headed: Why do British folk come to live in village and rural France? And in ever-increasing numbers? Because - allegedly - there's a cheaper and a healthier life here than the one you've left behind.


Make a neat little list headed: Why do British folk come to live in village and rural France? And in ever-increasing numbers? Because - allegedly - there's a cheaper and a healthier life here than the one you've left behind. There's more sunshine too - or so we're repeatedly reassured. Life here is certainly slower, more at ease with itself.

If you've found, too, an air of tranquillity, it could be that you've acquired a little bit of bliss.

Yet at the same time your average rural Frenchman is a surprisingly noisy character - the emphasis being on "character", for most of them are endearing individuals.

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Get a couple of such countrymen exchanging local chitchat, from no more than a yard or so apart, and the chances are that they will have turned up the decibel count to a sound level sufficient to power a verbal exchange across a three-acre field in a budding gale.

But that's to put on record only half their powers. Last week I went with friends to the annual mayoral supper where - happy to do so - we paid handsomely for rustic food.

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Much more than direct profit was at stake. That is to say, things like food supplies, cooking, helpers et al came free - thus ensuring a bigger handout to the local cancer charity.

The venue was a tent like an elongated shoebox, sited in the mayoral garden. Two single rows of tables ran parallel with each other. A good mix of French and British diners was genially insisted upon by a villager who would have made a perfect chef du protocol, all zest and a winning smile.

For it was no easy task. The noise from every metre of the tent was intense, and whoever spoke - briefly, amazingly so for a French public dinner - had generally finished speaking by the time the idea got through that the good man was expounding.

The home team, country characters and all, gave a lively account of themselves. But interestingly, the biggest brouhaha came from the British sector. Monsieur le Maire rose to speak. The British good cheer continued merrily. The Mayor, wisely, waited for the hubbub to ease. It didn't.

This was getting embarrassing. Someone had the presence of mind to remind the company who was trying to speak. "Messieurs-Dames. Silence pour Monsieur le Mayor!" And silence was instant.

Our mayor has a penchant for short speeches - and a relaxed sense of humour. For the commune dinner, he was even briefer than usual. About two seconds after he'd sat down, to a deserved round of applause, the Anglo-French mix round the tables resumed . . . and hardly eased until near on midnight.

A good time was had by all.

Now to decibels to put even Vienne's country characters into the shade - the scream and roar of high speed racing cars at the weekend's Val de Vienne Circuit at Le Vigeant. It also featured 300 Ferrari classic vehicles.

The special importance of the weekend was to complete an on-going fund-raising event started several years ago. By today (Tuesday) the mission should be complete: one million euros for the cancer research department's work within the CHU, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Poitiers.

Motor racing is not something which makes my heart pound. Rather, it gives me a headache. But it is with gratitude that I acknowledge the brilliant treatment I received in the CHU, and no doubt thousands of similar patients will join me in that sentiment.

Meanwhile, one of the real pleasures of the south of Vienne is its peaceful countryside and pleasant, small towns. True, this must be tedious for young people. But for us not-so-young, who have chosen to live here, it attracts by its very essence of peacefulness.

It is a place where nothing ever happens. Then came the train and lorry crash at a little-used and technically unprotected level crossing, a few miles cross country from my home. Suddenly an obscure, single-track railway was in the public eye. Two men in the lorry were killed. Several of the 25 passengers in the train were hurt, though none seriously.

But it was enough for the local daily paper to wallow in purple prosery and descriptive narrative. Result: hordes of people turned up to gawp. Of course the bodies had been taken away. But there was still the chance of seeing The Spot Where It Happened, and where the enormous crane brought from Limoges did its precarious work.

In short, the reportage went over the top. Not a rarity in our quotidian, a newspaper which sits satisfied in the 1950s.

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