Mr Bread and his immobile home

Related Topics

Numbers and friendliness in our Norman village (population 17) have been greatly reinforced by the arrival of M. and Mme Pain (Mr and Mrs Bread).

Numbers and friendliness in our Norman village (population 17) have been greatly reinforced by the arrival of M. and Mme Pain (Mr and Mrs Bread). Despite their "Happy Families" name, he is actually a retired postman in his late sixties; she is a smartly dressed, charming woman in her late fifties.

M. and Mme Pain live on the edge of the village in a caravan that was squashed by a falling chestnut tree in La Grande Têmpete (great gale) of December 1999. The caravan has been knocked, approximately, back into shape by its owner, our next-door neighbour Marcel, a retired farmer and the assistant mayor of the sprawling, hill-top commune to which our hamlet belongs.

Marcel never smiles except when, in his capacity as chairman of the commune's "festivities committee", he officiates at a fireworks display or sausage-grilling. Then he wears a straw cowboy hat and a concrete grin. We call him the Chairman of Fun.

For several years after La Grande Têmpete the caravan lay abandoned in a thistle patch, next to the shed where Marcel keeps Le Matador, his vintage combine-harvester. Once a year, when someone's wheat needs cutting cheaply, Marcel brings himself and Le Matador out of retirement. The Chairman of Fun becomes, for a couple of days in July, the Grim Reaper.

In another burst of energy last year, Marcel welded a metal patch over a hole in the back of the caravan and advertised it for rent, still marooned in the thistle patch.

Since they answered the advertisement and moved in, M. and Mme Pain have made several improvements. They have built a terrace out of canvas and old wooden pallets. M. Pain has turned the thistle patch into a vegetable garden, which threatens to be more successful than my own. They have created a spare room by parking a camper van permanently next to the caravan.

At first, the Pains came only for weekends, escaping from the hurly-burly of Ouistreham, a small ferry port with one traffic light, just north of Caen, 30 miles away. M. and Mme Pain own a flat there. Last winter, Mme Pain kept saying that they would "move back to the coast" when the weather grew cold. The weather never really grew cold and they never moved back.

M. Pain, to his wife's obvious distress, says he hopes to spend this winter in the caravan, whatever the weather. She calls him fondly "M. Pain" or " mon compagne" (my partner) or " mon ami" and occasionally " mon mari". "My friend loves living here," she sighed recently. "He doesn't want to leave. It is a very difficult situation, very special."

They are gentle, friendly and popular in the village, but they were, none the less, recently at the heart of a touching, town vs country disagreement.

M. Pain adores animals with a sentimental passion more common in Britain than among the French (although this is changing as the French, like the British, become overwhelmingly suburban and urban, rather than rural). He takes his dog for walks around the village four or five times a day. He has made friends with the fattening beef cattle who live in the fields all around, giving them names such as Cédric and Alain.

Dédé, the other retired farmer in the village - brother-in-law of the Chairman of Fun - keeps two dogs on chains. The older one, called Tarzan because of his haunting cry, is resigned to his fate. The other was an excitable, foxy-looking, young dog called Uline, beloved of my daughter Grace.

Uline recently broke her chain and assassinated one of Dédé's two mother Muscovy ducks. The young dog was locked in a stable and given a death sentence. Country people, real country people, have no time for animals who kill valuable animals.

For several days, M. Pain pleaded with Dédé for the young dog's life. Dédé refused and refused and finally relented. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, to be served tied up to the Pain caravan.

Uline has travelled the 300 metres to her new home but she is rarely tied up. M. Pain allows her to roam in the fields and forests. He insists that she has learnt her lesson: she will not go back for another Muscovy duck dinner. I foresee tragedy.

Why Bolly is such hot property

Reporting recently on the bumper harvest of champagne grapes this year, I spoke to the head of the great Bollinger champagne house, Ghislain de Montgolfier. He told me that the company sells so many bottles of Bollinger in Britain these days - more than in France - that his marketing department watches the London property market to chart likely sales flows.

I asked him, in passing, why he thought that champagne had escaped the slump in exports experienced by other French wines.

"Ah," he said. "Champagne is not just a wine. It is an occasion. If, for instance, you were out with your girlfriend, or even your wife, and you gave her a sparkling, New Zealand wine - and there are many fine sparkling New Zealand wines - you would not get past half-time. You would not get to the second half. You would certainly never get to the third half. If, on the other hand, you gave her champagne..."

Suiting himself

The fevered speculation about the hump on George W Bush's back during the first presidential debate in the United States misses the point surely. The President's suit - blamed by the White House for his strange shape - was made by a French tailor, Georges de Paris, for $11,000.

What, might one ask, is George Bush doing wearing a French-made suit while his cheerleaders on Fox News and right-wing talk-shows ex- hort Ordinary Americans to boycott all things French?

Maybe the presidential hump was a cunning plan to destroy the French $11,000-suit industry.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Letter from the Political Editor: Phone and data laws to be passed in haste

Andrew Grice
The first lesson of today is... don't treat women unequally?  

Yvette Cooper is right: The classroom is the best place to start teaching men about feminism

Chris Maume
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice