Masseuses on the Beach

Instead of the younger Belgians we now have, in the room next door, Ouen and Ouennetta and their babies.  Ouen and Ouennnetta are doggedly determined parents.  Today they set out with a carful of plastic impedimenta designed to ensure that the babies have everything that they need and at the optimum temperature.  There was no room in the car for – and they left behind – what looks like an artificial lung but the better half says is probably a swimming pool.  I can’t believe that it was the same for my parents and me, except bakelite instead of plastic.  If my National Health orange was a little too warm or a little too cold, then bouf!  That was their idea.

They have just gone out laden down by extruded plastic and returned half an hour later with a Big Mac and a large Cola each.  It was a Big Mac and a large Cola each last night too.  To judge by the sounds through the wall, Frogmilla was hoping for something different.

Today was even hotter so it was the beach again.  The café that closed on account of the arrival of winter had sublet a room on the beach to a masseuse or possibly two masseuses.  A schedule of prices is tacked to the gate.  It includes ‘gommage’.  I don’t know what ‘gommage’ is but I don’t think that a gentleman would ask for it.

Today the masseuses (or if only one the masseuse and the masseuse’s friend) returned.  They sat for an hour or two on the beach chatting.  Then with a sigh they went to the room and cleared out all the stuff that shouldn’t be left there all winter.  Having done that, and overcome perhaps by a decent nostalgia, they pulled out the old table one last time and gave each other one.  Whether it included gommage I couldn’t see.

We had a picnic on the beach: oysters with a baguette and white wine.  I put sand in one of mine for an experiment, but no pearls materialised.

Driving through the maquis on the way to the beach I remembered The Song of the Partisan, the French song, I don’t know who by, recorded by both Leonard Cohen and Buffy Ste. Marie: probably others too but those are the versions that I know (Songs from a Room and She Used to Want to be a Ballerina respectively).  Back at the chambres de hote I listened to them both on the iPod.  What a great song and what performances, though I believe in Buffy taking her gun and vanishing more than Leonard Cohen, who seems fonder of his creature comforts.

The better half has spent much of the last month or two dealing with Foxtons, the estate agents.  Among numerous other failings Foxtons owe her client some money and won’t pay it.  To be fair they have paid it, but into a total stranger’s bank account.  Now they are refusing to return phone calls or emails – or the money.  In fact they are behaving like a venal and badly-brought-up six year old, who believes that if he shuts his eyes everything nasty will go away.  Shouldn’t recessions sort out useless organisations like Foxtons?  Isn’t that what they’re for?

As I type this on the better half’s laptop my thoughts go to Microsoft.  How long have they had to get Word right?  Shouldn’t the recessions sharpen up Microsoft too?


Wilder’s Hand by Sheridan Le Fanu.  Still.  What a clumsy book.

Listened to

Leonard Cohen

Buffy Ste. Marie

Morton Feldman: Why Patterns?

Liszt: Gran Mass


Oysters on the beach

Mozzarella cheese and tomato.

Les Vignerons de St Hippolyte: white


Thread in the Bottoms of Babushkas

I wake up with the face of the better half only inches away.  Without the cares of the day, and without the calculating and distrustful face that she sometimes adopts to deal with them she looks very beautiful.  She wakes up soon after I do.  “You look very beautiful,” I say.  “No, I don’t,” she says, putting on a calculating and distrustful face.

Yesterday a strange thing happened.  On an earlier visit we went to a town where there was a huge and brutal Romanesque cathedral, which was shut.  We always wanted to go back and see inside.  The building looked from the outside as far as it is possible to imagine a monument to a god of love.  We remembered the town as Pezenas, because we bought the local pies there, which look so nice and taste so dull, and they are called Pezenas pies. So yesterday we went to Pezenas.  It’s quite nice, and full of cultural amenity, if you like candle shops.  But there is no huge and brutal Romanesque cathedral.

The French have a tradition involving the rapid removal of cathedrals.  One thinks of the Jacobins.  One thinks of Debussy’s cathedral engulfed by the waves.  Closer to home one thinks of Musrum, by Earnshaw and Thacker:

A torpedoed cathedral sinks rapidly into the ground.”

Or perhaps it wasn’t Pezonas but somewhere else, and the huge and brutal Romanesque cathedral endures yet.  Google may reveal.

The visit wasn’t wasted however.  On the way back we climbed the hill and looked down on the huge and wonderful dried etang at Montady, perfectly circular, a mile across and shaped just like a tart that has been sliced and is ready to eat.  See,21.00,70.0

I think that I may have maligned the younger Belgians.  They have become affable, to each other and to us.  Maybe it was a row that made them morose.  Anyway, they left today and are replaced by a family with two babies.

After breakfast, the older Belgian man and I have a conversation about food.  He refers to the reputation of English food as leaving something to be desired.  I say, as I always do on these occasions, that the food in restaurants in London is as good as anywhere, but that the food routinely available in England, such as in airports and in the high street, is still by and large dire.  I tell him about the great genius of Fergus Henderson and how the St John Restaurant is slowly changing the world.  The older Belgian man adopts the thoughtful look of one has long ago stopped listening to anyone else.

“I once – there is thirty years – ate a steak and kidney pie.  The taste was, er, not so bad, but – bouf!”

He gestured expressively, but what did he mean by ‘bouf’?  He put on a kilo?  He was most unwell?  His cultural integrity was fatally compromised?  Suddenly I feel squeamish and I change the subject.

The weather is hot and cloudless, so we go to the beach.  The French by and large stay away.  As Anthony Powell remarked, French people when in an expansive mood tend to inform you that the difference between the French and the English is that the French operate by logic; the English by experience.  Logic dictates that by September the winter has begun; experience that the temperature is in the high thirties, there is nota cloud in the sky, the little waves curl refreshingly about your ankles and it is all quite good.  Even better, last week, when it was not winter, there was a café on the beach with a ghetto blaster dispensing the sort of sound that reminds you that the French may have the best food and wine in the world and some estimable painters, but their pop music is crap – and now it is silent.

Three women of a certain age parade along the beach.  One is wearing a headdress appropriate to a closed order of nuns, and instead of a bikini bottom an arrangement in string.  It is as one imagines the dress code might dictate for an orgy.

“Russians,” says the better half.

“How do you know?”

“Because only Russian women wear string instead of bikini bottoms on the beach.”

She is prepared to leave it at that, but I can’t help wondering why that should be.  Is it something in their cultural history?    Were secret papers transmitted during Stalin’s terror entwined between the buttocks of babushkas?  Does it go further back than that?  Did Genghis Khan and his henchmen rage across the steppes, ever closer to the heart of Holy Russia, with string in their bottoms?  Probably speculation is useless.


The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner

Wylder’s Hand by Sheridan Le Fanu


Cold chicken, tomato and avocado salad

Domaine de la Mirande: Picpoul de Pinet (bought from the back door)

randy belgians and french roadside whores

I had a poor night.  It was hot and I was thinking of this and that.

Woken at 7.30 by the sound of creaking bedsprings.  The couple in the next room were having sex.  They are Belgian, surly and ill-favoured.  She is a lip-swallower and he has a damp and shifty gaze which sometimes seems only borderline sane.  I reflect that it is nice that they have each other.  It is wrong to speculate about other people’s sexual habits, but I imagine as I try to get back to sleep that she is probably of the No, There! school of sexual relations.

Woken again at quarter to nine by the sounds of breakfast being prepared by the hote whose chambres we occupy.  We are on holiday.  There are four couples, the young Belgians, the old Belgians, a French couple and us.  The better half sleeps on.  She would sleep through a tornado, witches and all, so I join the others for breakfast.  The young Belgians, all passion spent, eat morosely.  Like the others they drink milky coffee out of soup bowls, ruminatively waving underdone slices of toast in it, which they then eat. The older Belgian man, a nice man who has a precise way with language, has engaged our hote in a discussion about world economics.  Both of them enjoy considering the bigger picture.  The otherwise neat appearance of the older Belgian man is spoilt by the total absence of teeth on one side of his face.  Possibly a third Belgian man, disagreeing with his views on world economics, gave him a smack.


Running absent-mindedly through my iPod library I find a song whose name means nothing at all to me.  I play it.  It is still completely unfamiliar.  I sounds remotely like the singles recorded in the 1960s by Benny Hill.  There is the same primitive instrumentation, the same insistence on a punch line at least twice in every verse.  It’s sung in English but in a voice quite unlike Benny Hill’s, sturdy and only marginally in tune.  I wonder if it is one of the better half’s Russian troubadours, whimsically reallocated by the computer to my iPod library.


By the route nationale sit young girls, often with a collapsible chair, a parasol and a bottle of Evian; sometimes a magazine.  Their skin is brown at the end of a summer spent working outdoors.  They give comfort to the men who ply their business along the arid routes of the south west: reps, commercial travellers, song-pushers, salesmen, no doubt, of encyclopaedias and vacuum cleaners.  You can see the men pulling up to speak to them, their polyester shirts gleaming white, suit jackets hanging from a hook by the back seat.  Sometimes it is not an executive-class car that pulls up but a white van.  You can imagine that that might be more convenient – that a space might be found among the paraphernalia of the man’s trade for their loving.  Sometimes you see them climb into the cab of an enormous lorry, which for some reason is a less comforting picture.  I idly imagine stopping, but it would be no good.  In our rented Clio it would be all elbows and knees. Besides, the better half is very strict on what expenses may be allowed against the housekeeping budget.