So far this latest Mistral wind has blown for two and a half weeks. The Mistral is said to blow for three hours, three days or three weeks. It is also said to unhinge people. I had just arrived back in France when it started, and lately I have felt distinctly homicidal for no particular reason. Every morning, too, I’ve congratulated God for not making me responsible for my dreams.
Since this wind got up, I’ve been out to lunch once and twice to dinner parties. The lunch was jolly and I was perfectly sane. After it, the foreign correspondent stood up, drained his glass, said: ‘Don’t you just love the smell of tear gas!’ and headed off to Paris to report to camera from the midst of a predicted May Day riot. The first of the two dinner parties was at our place. I felt out of sorts and said little. Our friend Joy the same. There was a conversation about carp that I enjoyed though. The second dinner party was at the rented home of a Swedish couple. Because of the wind we were two couples inhabiting four different universes. The Swedish man knew about the laws of economics and thought Sweden was heading for financial catastrophe. Like Macbeth I wished the estate of the world undone, starting with Sweden, and serve them right.
Then, two nights ago we went for drinks with our new neighbours, an English couple. We sat around a monumental pitted stone slab on their tastefully decorated terrace with magnificent views, drank rosé and ate cheese, olives and peanuts. They had come to France six months before.
Since I last saw them they had dined at the houses of some of our friends and consequently formed the impression that I am a raving fascist. I have joined the Brexit party, it’s true. And I don’t join in the two minutes of hate for Donald Trump, which is the modern equivalent of saying grace before a meal at a dinner party. And OK, hands up, I do write occasionally for the Daily Mail. I cheerfully accept that all of these things fly in the face of the received opinion and mark me out as nasty and stupid. But unlike received opinion, I do think freedom of speech and conscience should be permitted; and dissent also, which makes me not a fascist but a raving liberal.
Our new neighbours were tickled pink to think they were entertaining the first Leaver they had encountered in the flesh. Once they had teased out that I was a Leaver, my political ideas, such as they are, were treated with amused condescension, as though I were a former Kray associate or a Moonie. Which is fine. I’m used to it. But the wind! After two and a half weeks of this Mistral, I was prone to homicidal fantasies which could be suppressed only with difficulty.
We spent a pleasant evening nevertheless, talking mainly about property prices and how inexpensive houses are in France compared with the UK. And yet inexpensive as they are, they are often wildly overpriced. And house prices in this part of France are still falling. The best practice for buyers at the moment is to offer half the advertised price and, if this is refused, two thirds. Our neighbours knew of a house in Ireland advertised seven years ago for €7.5 million and today the unfortunate owners can’t give it away. Incredible. Then they told us of the significant reduction in price they had negotiate for their house and Catriona told them how much she paid for hers. I said I’d read that these days you can get a terraced house in the north of England for a quid. Yes, my goodness me, there are some amazing bargains to be had if you took the trouble to look around.
We moved on to the local controversy of the local school bell. The division bell announcing the end of one school period and the start of the next has been replaced with a recording of a musical phrase, repeated twice, of a traditional children’s song. The end of the first period, for example, is: ‘Oranges and lemons,/ Say the bells of St Clement’s’. The village sits in a geographical amphitheatre and the rising sound is very audible. Some locals are incensed by this hourly intrusion on their inner thoughts and have signed a petition to the mayor denouncing it.
We took a representative poll of the four of us. Our hosts thought it an outrage and wanted it stopped. Catriona said she quite liked it. I said I thought it was probably yet another of President Macron’s tin-eared nationwide community-building initiatives, thereby lowering my intellectual credibility still further. I see now it was a stupid thing to say. Maybe this bloody Mistral is making me paranoid as well as prone to homicidal fantasies.