Jeremy Clarke has narrated this article for you to listen to.
Here, as in Britain, everyone is a log expert. The woodman leaves a heap at the bottom of the drive and almost everyone subsequently walking past it stops to tell you’ve been conned, that that’s never a stère, it’s half more like. (A measure of logged wood in France was set in 1793 at one cubic metre and is called a stère. It’s about 12 wheelbarrow loads.)
How much did you pay for that, they say? So you tell them and they laugh in your face at your inadmissible complacency. High-ranking log police might then select a log from your heap and weigh it in an etiolated hand and pronounce it wet or unseasoned and further evidence that you’ve been taken for a royal idiot. And that’s before your small, costly log pile has been examined for tree species. A predominance of pine excites them to paroxysms of derision. ‘Oak, pine, pine, pine, pine, oak, pine,’ they go, analysing the top layer with a forefinger. ‘What you want is ash,’ they say. ‘Ash is best. Or beech.’ Dickheads.
The other day we ordered a stère from a woodman recommended by an expat English friend. He dumped his load at the foot of the path and climbed up to the house for payment and a drink; €70 a stère is the norm. He wanted €90 and a whisky, ice, no water. I made him a belter and passed it over along with the cash. Would he like to sit? He consented to perch on the arm of the sofa. Our elderly bitch, deeply asleep on the sofa, was woken nostril first by the combination of rare and unusual scents emanating from this thick-set man in his mid-fifties.