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

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
The Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, has been dubbed ‘Bibi’s brain’  

Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire

Patrick Cockburn
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz