Row over sweets turns sour as French village endures bread strike

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The Independent Online

No dough in Stéphane Pelas's bakery will ever rise as much as his fury at the Leconte family next door. Not so much as a brioche has emerged from the ovens of Sivry-sur-Meuse's only boulangerie since last Monday, when M. Pelas went on an indefinite strike.

In a feud reminiscent of Marcel Pagnol's 1938 film La Femme du Boulanger (made into a West End musical, The Baker's Wife, in 1990), the 300 residents of this village near Verdun are without bread because M. Pelas refuses to bake again until the Lecontes, with their four children, leave for good.

It started six months ago over a few measly boiled sweets, says the deputy mayor, Marc Receveur, the principal mediator. "That was when the Lecontes moved into a council flat next door to the Pelas home and their children started going to the bakery to buy sweets," he said.

But for reasons unknown, the Leconte children did not buy their sweets in bulk; they bought them every time they felt peckish - allegedly up to 15 times a day. "The baker's wife, who was pregnant, began to feel that she was being harassed.

"It was not long before the two families moved on to insulting one another, threatening one another. There was nothing anyone could do," said M. Receveur, who organised a reconciliation meeting two months ago, attended by the six members of the Leconte family; the baker, his wife and their five children; a gendarme, a social worker and the mayor of Sivry.

The few days of calm which ensued - during which the Lecontes bought sweets from the supermarket and got their baguettes in Verdun - seemed only to stoke up more acrimony. Out came the video cameras - on both sides of the Pelas-Leconte garden trellis - and each family started recording events.

M. Pelas, who has baked the village's bread for 10 years, said: "There was the flower pot that was tipped on to my daughter's Wendy house. Then there was the paint-stripper poured on my wall. That lot cost me at least €150 (£100). The people of Sivry will have to choose between their bread and my neighbours."

The police will not hear of suggestions of a thicker plot than a row over boiled sweets. "Maybe this cooling off period is what we need," one officer said. "Even though we are going without bread."