1 – 4th April: Clueless and Phoneless


(Mark Sampson) #1

It's amazing how virtuous it can make you feel when you put yourself, voluntarily, through some kind of ordeal.


All week long and more, with the countryside busy breaking out in dandelions, the Good Wife and I have been drinking an elixir made of birch sap. She brought back from Brive one day a big plastic jerrican full of the stuff. It came from a fellow therapist, who drinks a glass full every day before breakfast as a cure for... well, I'm not quite sure what, but you know what the French are like with their cures. Miraculous antidotes to all that comestible excess.


This fellow therapist swears by it. She's married to a goat farmer and they live somewhere up on the Corrézian plateau not far from Lapleau, high above the upper reaches of the Dordogne. I guess they have a lot of birch trees on their land. Once every year, the sap of all these trees rises and the pair of them tap it like latex or maple syrup. And then they drink it.


It looks innocuous enough: like a cross between water and nail-varnish remover. But the taste becomes increasingly vile the longer you leave it in the fridge. We've been trying to find the most apt analogy. So far the closest we've got is: fermented toenail clippings strained through a muslin soaked in the sweat of rugby players' armpits. It's not pleasant and you have to knock it back in one. The Daughter has already dropped out of the competition. I'm not quite sure, though, why her parents are persevering, because neither of us has noted any kind of increase in energy or well-being. Next year, I doubt if we will be repeating the experiment.


In the great scheme of things, I suppose, it doesn't represent much of an ordeal, but still... During the last few days I've had to factor-in the fosse septique. The waterworks have been bubbling and smelling rank for several months and we've had to bite the bullet – reluctantly, because it only seems like a couple of years since the local farmer did the deed for us. This time around, I called International Rescue in the form of one of those custom-made vidange lorries.


A very pleasant local man from Montvalent turned up on Thursday morning with such a paradoxically pristine lorry – given the nature of his profession – that I was charged with cutting down overhanging branches with some heavy duty secateurs as he backed carefully down our track. He must take a genuine pride in the gleaming bodywork.


We chatted as the lorry's 20m-long proboscis sucked up the unsavoury contents of our fosse. For a start, it seems, it's not un-us-ual to have to empty your tank roughly every three years. So there isn't necessarily something terribly wrong with our sanitation arrangements. Secondly, he told me not to bother buying the expensive sachets of micro-organisms to kick start your fosse once you've replaced filthy water with clean. Don't bother either, he suggested, with the weekly sachet. It's all a con, just more big business. He reckons we produce sufficient bacteria in our own effluence to keep a septic tank nourished.


When it came to testing time, I flushed a loo and emptied a couple of basins while Monsieur Vidange observed the flow of waste water into the tank. It was not good. More of a trickle than a torrent. This would explain the extreme gurgling we have experienced in the pipe work. Before taking his leave, he told me to dig down at a given point and I should locate some kind of regard, or observation hole. Once located, I should contact him and he would come back to complete the operation. A service, he pointed out, that more expensive competitors would be likely to skip.


So this I did, under the leaden sky of a grey Good Friday. Daphne thought this was great sport and she took it upon herself to dig a complementary, smaller hole further down the slope. In the last couple of weeks, her mutton chop whiskers have grown apace to give her the look, in certain lights, of the great Victorian Whig prime minister, William Ewart Gladstone. She's also developing rampant eyebrows in the manner of a Dennis Healey. So I'm beginning to think that she's got a political career ahead of her. I'll have to train her soon to lie and to avoid direct answers to questions, so she'll be equipped for the cutthroat world of parliament.


The outcome of such double digging was unfortunate. I managed to uncover part of the fosse without too much effort, but couldn't locate any kind of regard. So I had the bright idea of peering inside the tank itself, which by now was half full of the rain water I had siphoned out of three of our four green plastic butts. On my knees, with my head sticking down inside the plastic tank, something shot out of a pocket and plummeted into the murky water. Oh my God! Not again...


But yes, it was. It was the Sony Eriksson phone that my friend Nick had given me to replace the phone I dropped down the loo a couple of years ago. I liked that phone. It was simple to use and reliable. I trudged inside and my news occasioned a little sympathy but rather more mirth. I phoned Nick, because I remembered that his wife, Sophie, also had a spare phone. She still had it and yes, I could have it. What's more, there was her ex-father's former phone. Two to choose from.


If only we had the technology to replay such idiocies and press a Pause button so we could put everything right. Ah yes! Look, you see? The pocket wasn't zipped. If we zip it up, then the phone will stay on his person even when upside down. Let's re-run it, to see what would happen. But alas, life doesn't work like that. And just to compound the misery, I had the bright idea – half an hour too late – to look through the photographs I took during the construction of our house, just to see whether there happened to be one of the installation of our fosse...


And there was. Despite all the heavy shadow from overexposure to bright sunlight, you can make out clearly enough that there is no regard. I could have saved myself all that trouble if... Too late. What's done is done and all those other clichés. On my friend Bret's advice, I later tried to fish the phone out of the depths with a rake. There was just a chance that I could rescue the SIM card and preserve my contacts. But no. It didn't work.


So now, when I think about it, it's not virtuous that I'm feeling so much as plain stoo-pid. To adapt one of Oscar Wilde's most memorable witticisms, to lose one mobile phone via a sanitation fixture is careless; to lose two mobile phones is clueless.


(Mark Sampson) #2

Hilary, you have positively regaled me with your list of vile foodstuffs! The thought, for example, of Libby's tinned peaches in a curry... Gag me with a spoon! And whelks. What is it about whelks. I, too, am very happy with cockles and mussels etc., but whelks are just loathsome. And as for tripe and that evil intestinal offering that they still sometimes serve in French restaurants, words fail me. Of course, I do exaggerate slightly concerning the birch sap, but Brian has put us right on that one. I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds it disgusterous, but am reassured to learn of its beneficial properties. Thanks, Brian!

And thank you, too, Brian for the offer of a support group for all us glypes who drop phones down into the impenetrable depths. It sounds like your daughter-in-law, Caroline, could do with some co-counselling. As yet, Peter, I've kept quite good care of my glasses and more precious sunglasses, but the day is bound to come...

And Katherine, thank you very much for your kind sentiments. I'm very pleased to have tickled your funny bone.

Bon fin de Pâcques, tout le monde!


(Hilary Jane Dunk) #3

'fermented toenail clippings strained through a muslin soaked in the sweat of rugby players' armpits. It's not pleasant and you have to knock it back in one. ' ?

Sounds appalling .....how can something that tastes that bad possibly do any good ? Surely a really toxic taste is an indication -a deterrent to consumption....like black & yellow markings on lizards etc.....With that acetone component, I would be tempted to experiment by seeing how weeds on your property react to it !.....I once surrupticiously dumped half a glass of a friend of a friends' noxious home made wine (a pale urine colour with an overwhelming flavour of very bitter grapefruit & car tyres), on his houseplant, which never recovered...

Mind you, it is amazing how much folks' tastes differ....As a child I couldn't stand the smell of my mother's home made curries (containing chicken, veg, dried spices,tonnes of desicated coconut, and a couple of large cans of Libby's sliced peaches....but at that time I also hated trifle.....and anything where everything got 'mixed up' )....I would have to vacate the house and go into the garden.

When visiting relatives in Yorkshire, I would watch fascinated yet repelled, by the sight of them scoffing with obvious relish, slithery platefulls of evil smelling tripe and onions in a white sauce and listen to stories of houses that were tripe parlours.....(I am aware that this stuff is sold by the bucketful in our local Intermarche but I have no desire to sample it)......

I am actually one of the less squeamish of my friends in the UK. I happily, can deal with deshelling prawns, crevetttes etc. I love fresh crab and have dressed one or two (have to remind myself by consulting books/internet about which bits are not edible and should be thrown away, so this slows the who;e process down a bit)....I will eat cockles,mussels, but not whelks ......like squid lightly cooked in garlic , lemon & parsley butter.....sushi & sashimi, smoked salmon & trout I adore. oysters (smoked, cooked & uncooked)...so I don't think I'm particularly timid about trying unusual food.....

BUT, somethings for me, je pense, will forever remain on my 'don't even go there' list of foods (?) to avoid in perpetuity..gl...So, along with English style tripe, the strange French stuff cut into small spiral rounds, served with macedonian salad at a buffet....which was almost impossible to get past the nose....and tasted 'excremental'.... very much like the area of the animal's body (I imagine) where it originated...Also the fermented, glutinous and slimy, soya beans that are part of a traditional Japanese breakfast.....sheeps eyeballs....the feet of almost any animal....pigs liver & heart (far too strong a flavour)....

I notice that on occasions The Intermarche has pigs noses etc , ......NOT tempted to try (although Illogically, I probably would try say, 'wild hedgehog, cooked in banana leaves in the depths of an outdoor forest barbecue' in the company of the oldly and aptly named 'Bear Grillis'..or Ray Mears, etc.

There is, as they say, no accounting for taste.....


(Peter Bird) #4

Yes Mark, phone damage or loss is annoying but an unfortunate facet of life nowadays. I'm sure all of us suffer the same fate usually at the 'wrong' moment which makes us feel a bit silly at having been so careless not to zip that pocket or remove from item of clothing before stuffing the washing in the twin-tub.

I have the same problem with my glasses. As a relative newcomer to being called four-eyes I still can't get used to the idea that my lunettes are fragile and therefore don't appreciate the full force of being sandwiched between my bottom and the the car seat, of course the tell tale 'crunch' of plastic means i'm too late so that simple trip to Hyper U becomes a race to the Centre Optique before they close for that new frame..


(Katherine Davies) #5

You have given me the best giggle this morning. Dogs and politics, in particular, tickled my funny bone. I enjoy your stories. Thank you.


(Brian Milne) #6

Ah yes, birch sap. The traditional first non-breast milk food of infants in much of northern Europe, including northern England and Scotland. It needs to be consumed within a couple of hours of tapping but is disgusting getting progressively worse by the next day. It makes a nice wine too and I have heard of but never had a beer made from it. It is chock full of amino acids and heterosides, so good for fighting excesses of bad cholesterol and some evidence of it helping get rid of tumours, mind you not the nasty malignant ones.

Phone down the loo. Some people will remember my written howl of derision when my then precious Blackberry was dropped down our well. It is normally 18m to the water and I am not sure how deep that is, plus we know from where the spring comes out at the bottom of the hill that it is pretty fast moving. So, somewhere in the 600m or so between here and the bottom of the hill the now very dated phone inexorably makes its way down hill... Anyway, pockets, zip and yes, been there done it. I did the same with my reading glasses last autumn. Lighting a bonfire, dancing about on some of the fine wood and reeds on top to compress it down my zip was open. Later I saw a glint in the then ferocious flames.

Let's form a club. The zipsticks, with all respect to dipsticks of course!


(Caroline Morris) #7

Oh dear oh dear … Mine went down the loo in our son’s house in London, and son with a certain amount of ‘I knew this would happen’ told me it would never work again after we fished it out,then was rather peeved when it recovered fully, apart from the battery, which now lasts for a very short time. He was probably like this as our daughter in law, his wife, has done in 5, yes 5, by the same method.
However the histoire de la fosse surpasses all. You may end up returning to the brick phone, which is apparently now cool again. See what Sophie has tucked away in the attic.