Mr Bread and his immobile home

Share
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

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Misleading Translations: the next 40

John Rentoul
Syrian refugee 'Nora' with her two month-old daughter. She was one of the first Syrians to come to the UK when the Government agreed to resettle 100 people from the country  

Open letter to David Cameron on Syrian refugees: 'Several hundred people' isn't good enough

Independent Voices
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project