Quel cauchemar! La Pharmacie est disparue…

The French government continues to spend, spend, spend. But village commerce is going, going, gone.

Our local village here in France has been rocked by a series of changes and alleged scandals. For seventy years, nothing happens: and then there’s a tipping point. I wish we could get economists to understand this almost universally applicable truth.

Fresh from being completely spruced up at the taxpayers’expense last year, the road improvements en ville included a special wide bit of pavement outside the local restaurant. This business-enhancing feature doesn’t appear anywhere in the original plans, and thus there are mutterings about back pockets and cash and Monsieur le Maire. Personally I think it’s a great improvement.

As we have all experienced in our lives, the bureaucrat’s idea of how to keep his budget intact for the following year is to spend like a poolswinner during this one. The final straw – or was it irony? – became apparent when we returned to our holiday home here, and discovered a brand new name sign at the end of our drive. Every detached house in the commune has been awarded one. Every street name has been replaced with a top-of-the-range plaque presented in white on mauve. There is no need for any of this, other than to evidence President Sarkozy’s promise that “France is ready to face the pain”. Sadly, it doesn’t look like France is ready to face the music.

But all this is minor-league stuff compared to the flurry of change that has stunned the locals. The butcher having closed two years ago, and the post office the year before that, the pharmacy has now gone. The pharmacy! Having your own village pharmacy is a human right in France. The local GP issues prescriptions, and then the pharmacy gives them away in return for filling out lots of forms – for which they in turn are recompensed by the government. Baroness Thatcher would have an attack of the vapours if she knew this sort of thing still went on.

But it doesn’t: La Pharmacie des Halles is no more. And now the bakery has merged with the grocery store. This, surely, is rock bottom.

Our boulanger arrived two years ago, and immediately demonstrated his go-ahead entrepreneurial marketing skills by adding 33% more products to the range. This consisted of a cereal-based loaf to sit proudly alongside the grande baguette and petite baguette. Last year he introduced a baguette courte. The inhabitants are reeling at the pace of all this.

So when Casino offered him the franchise for their Vival small-grocer in town, he leapt at the chance. But his missus isn’t so sure about this idea.

Mme la boulangere is lovely, and a great improvement on Yvette her predecessor. Yvette’s hairstyle was a dead ringer for Marge Simpson’s: she looked like the fourth, long-lost white Ronette. But the lady we have now is bubbly and gaminesque and altogether smashing.

Or rather, she was until hubby did the Casino deal. Now her life just got ten times more arduous – although she has confessed to me that they’re making far more money. A part of the epicerie has been given over to boulangerie, and the food stock available has improved immeasurably. We were chatting about this the other day, and she was bemoaning all the bureaucracy involved in dealing with the Casino gargoyles and their regiments of accountants.

“If there’s another life after this one,” I remarked, “I’m coming back as a banker”. Mme la Boulangere shrugged.

“I’m coming back as a cat,” she asserted. I’ve seen how the couple dote on their cat, so I suspect her next life will be a lot more fun than mine.