Sunday, November 20, 2011

where is Agatha Christie when you need her?

As I was going down to St Astier the other day (- pls, no panic, this will not be a poem) I saw a pair of men's shoes in the road. Highly polished, seemingly new, black mens' moccasins were lying on their sides about a metre from the kerb, noticeably on the newly laid tarmac of the road. One shoe showed a protruding, equally black sock, the other had a sock quite near-by. It looked as though they had been thrown with some violence into the road but it was not evident whether it was from the near-by house or from some passing car.
The shoes gleamed, so obviously not a case of spontaneous combustion on the part of the wearer. An unoccupied mind can devise hundreds of stories about the provenance of these shoes, the reason for their place in the road. Had an irate lover thrown them from the house...but then why no clothes? Would a man limp, shoe-less, the five kilometres to St Astier, even if the rest of him was clothed? The same could be asked if they had been thrown from a car. Or perhaps he was wearing shoes but these were his favourites that were thrown after him...It intrigued me sufficiently to almost buy the local paper and see if there was any information, but self restraint won the day. Anyway, a nice line for all students of 'Creative Writing' 101.
The hamlet in which the shoes were abandoned is what might be described as 'dormitory' for St Astier were either to be any larger than they are. It comprises probably less than 20 houses, most of them post-war. One is a former animal/equipment shed that has been extended, modernised and prettified by its owner. It now has an extensive vegetable garden and the geese and chickens have their own salubrious dwellings. Across the road from this is a more dilapidated homestead. Obviously a former farm worker's cottage, with sufficient land for subsistence farming, its present owner has succumbed to a bad attack of self sufficiency. He appears to be trying to re-do the roof of the building, technically not very difficult but it takes time. Horses and donkeys succeed each other, trying to survive on the rapidly vanishing grass. Another owner but of a brand spanking new house has also succumbed to a degree of self sufficiency and is attempting to put up his own wire fencing. Results so far, fencing one, owner nil.
Lurking in the woods behind the hamlet, is a road that leads to the barracks above St Astier – a training ground for the various riot control police of EEC countries.
The trainees are never seen in the town and little is known about them. Except that one day I was shopping in my local supermarket in the quiet hour between twelve and two, Intermarche at Chancelade, when a near invasion force of local police, plus some national gendarmes, came swooping into the car-park. They escorted fifty or so embarrassed, youngish men, into the shop. The few shoppers and check-out girls were all agog. Girls gathered together and demanded information. Apparently these young men were future Afghan policemen on a training course in St Astier.
The hamlet's houses are all on the ridge of the hill leading down to St Astier. Driving in from La Chaise, we are reminded of the speed limit – one can only drive through at 70 kmph, a standard for all the hamlets on the road between Tocane St Apre and St Astier. I tried to have this limit applied to La Chaise, which is not actually a hamlet, but was officially informed that the traffic past our gates was insufficient and did not go above the approved speed limit. Once out of that hamlet above St Astier, the speed limit is lifted and those who wish, can take two hair pin bends at more than 70 kmph. Fortunately local residents, even when not totally sober, are reasonably sensible.
I darkly suspect the blanket, one size fits all, Napoleon thought of it first, administrative regulations here,for example, speed through hamlets should be restricted to 70 kmph, once the hamlet is passed, back to the overall road speed of 90 kpmh – regardless of bends. These preconceptions take a long time, some practical good sense, to change.

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