FRENCH LIFE: Resigning from the Comite in a coup de theatre.

In our commune here we have a Comite pour le Mali – a charitable institution whose sole raison d’etre is to send money, farm equipment and agricultural education grants to the inhabitants of a village (Sokassa) in Mali, a former French colony. I have been the honorary Vice-President of this august body for some eight years, the main benefit of which is that me and my Dutch chum Leo can pick up the local gossip, and feel that some vague element of our former radicalism can be satiated – by long discussions about how to get all this stuff to Sokassa without it heading back towards a Swiss bank account.

Yesterday I resigned from the Comite, pleading overwork in my new second career as an online agitprop journalist. This was, I’m afraid, a bit of a fib. The real reasons for my departure are first, that about 70% of the time (when the other comite members lapse into heavily accented local patois) they could be talking about the sex life of a boll weevil for all I know; and second, I have lost it with Black Africa.

I have told the chef de comite Ange that I am still available for waiter duties and food prep at the various social events arranged to raise money for Mali. But I can no longer sit in the meetings listening to things like how we need to choose a route to Mali avoiding the more corrupt States who would take all the cash raised in bribes given half a chance. And I’m fed up of discussions about who’s going to go down there and give the money in cash to the Priest…to ensure it’s used properly. (It’s always Ange).

Is this a kop-out? Perhaps. But every individual, every gang, every country and every continent has to grow up in the end. If Africa is to rise above its indigenously corrupt tribal culture, then it must first perceive the problem – and then stop blaming Bwana exclusively for its existence.

My resignation isn’t going to cause a local sensation, but the local village’s amdram production tomorrow night may well do so. It is a theatre de comedie, and these titles with their double exclamation marks have long been the only clue I need to avoid such things at all costs. French Theatre de Comedie in the provinces is not quite as funny as a serious ecoli outbreak, but far less professional. My last attendance at the genre two years ago (Une celebration des annees soixantes) left me catatonic for days afterwards, primarily because the 60’s era under review bore no resemblance to the decade I lived through. It could be the troupe were portraying the 1860s, but I’ll never know now, and that’s fine by me.

One song I do remember from the 1960s is the old Gerry & The Pacemakers Liverpool anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone. So it was something of a surprise to see the song title on posters (in English) all over the place here last week. Much of French agriculture is cooperative; it is very anti-supermarket, and intensely anti free market economics. As an attempt to inspire farmers, the local cooperatives band together to erect and post outdoor ads everywhere with crypto-Soviet messages of heroic aspiration . Last year it was ‘Supermarkets cheat the customer and screw the farmer!’ This year, it’s ‘You’ll never walk alone’. The idea (a bloke in the local tabac explained to me) is to persuade farmers worried by the EU reformers’ designs on subsidies that such wicked plans will fail. Only in France.

I realise that this isn’t on the same scale as ‘Long Live Comrade Stalin’s Five-Year Plan!’, but on the other hand, the campaigns to resist change in the French countryside have a far higher chance of success. There is no more privileged social group in the Western world than the French farmers: they have more unexpected rights than Muhammed Ali at the height of his fame.

Everything’s in blossom here. The temperature is creeping up to 22 degrees in the afternoon, the pool is filthy but open, the grass has been given its initial cut, and our resident red squirrel is winding up the dogs a treat. There are few places nicer than Lot et Garonne in the Spring.