Wednesday 30 April 2008


My greatest linguistic challenge here in France has always been the conversations i have twice a year with the man who mends my chainsaw or lawnmower; 16 years ago when I bought my first tools the vocabulary came straight from the dictionary, his replies, questions and probing came straight from the un-mown forest of his moustache.

Over the years I have struggled to understand his utterances and analysis concerning the unhealthy machines I offer him for consultation but I have always marvelled at his results; the patients return with a new lease of life and the jungle around the house is beaten back once more.

His work and workshop are everything a repair shop should be, rows of neatly stored parts and components organised in recycled cut down plastic milk bottles, a workbench with ingrained oil yet clean enough to eat a baguette off, spare chains hanging on hooks, one pornographic calendar and a row of waiting invalids.

Yesterday for the first time I understood everything he said and he understood everything I said, though it’s true that none of his usual crowd of old cronies from the fields around were there to goad him on.

Unfortunately what I understood was that my lawnmower was in a neglected condition, that it was my responsibility, that he would have to change everything, that with the coming public holiday and the days between that and the weekend that would have to be included then sometime next week would be the earliest that I could attack the surging grasslands at home.

Worse still was his own diagnosis; that after 51 years of solid service to the decrepit he himself was no longer 14; that he ached where he used to play, and in fact ached everywhere else too; that young people today have no interest in his workshop and that after fixing (again) my machine he was going to retire.

The doors will close on the space where he has toiled so long and never, never open again.

More about Living in France here.

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