Sunday, January 24, 2010

A thousand words

(Nicked from old blog - Sept. '05)

A few days back we had to stop the car in a country lane while a herd of sheep slowly meandered up the road. They were on their way from one field to another, lit pink by the early evening sun and accompnied by an old sheepdog and a farmer giving his young daughter a piggy-back ride on his broad shoulders.

After they'd passed, I said to Georgie that it would have made a great photo. But so transfixed were we by this idyllic scene that it never occured to us to dig the camera out of the rucksack. Had we done so, by the time we'd found it, switched it on, worked out which knobs to press and exited the car in order to get a good angle without our two over-excited terriers escaping at the same time, the show would have long been over. Anyway, Georgie said that, in this instance, taking a photo would perhaps have been intrusive. And I'm inclined to agree. Far better to be left with a pleasant memory instead of a shaky photo of two barking mad terriers causing absolute carnage. Not to mention a severe bruising and a legal prosecution from an irate farmer.

A missed photo opportunity, maybe.

And there was another one yesterday...

Once again I was in my car but, this time, waiting at a road junction to turn left onto the main road. Across the road was an old garage with a couple of old petrol pumps, some rusty old signs and a stack of old tyres. In the shade of the forecourt, two old ladies, aged about seventy-five and fifty, sat on an old wooden bench; the older lady leaning back against the wall with her hands in the pockets of her untypically grubby but typically French flowery housecoat while the bespectacled younger one sat with her hands behind her knees, swinging her legs to and fro, wearing a black skirt and moth-eaten black cardigan. They seemed to be watching the passing traffic, as though waiting for someone. Between them, an old black dog dozed on the ground.

It would have made a great photo but I'd left my camera at home. I considered going back to get it in the hope that the old ladies would still be there when I returned. But a photo wouldn't have told the full story...

The two old ladies are a mother and daughter team. The old lady runs the business while her daughter helps out with the petrol pumps. Behind the scenes, her son does the spannerwork in the garage.

The mother's a sprightly thing, still in possession of all her marbles and always ready for a quick bit of banter. Only the other day, when she was filling my car, I mentioned that summer might be over. She immediately responded with the startling news that half a metre of snow had just fallen in the Pyrennees. Nothing gets past this lass. She knows everything. Even told me exactly how much lead replacement additive to put into my Land Rover. Took me about another five minutes to work out that her figures were correct. She's a bright spark all right.

But her daughter isn't. Unfortunately, she's slightly retarded. Lovely character though. Very happy and helpful. And knows the petrol forecourt business inside-out. Been doing it for years. Probably all her adult life. Just like her mother.

Anyway, so there they were, sat on their bench, idly passing the time of day, occasionally conversing, watching the cars pass by, ever-ready to be of service to whoever popped in for petrol, all the time cursing the new supermarket opposite with its brand new petrol station that was probably going to put them out of business.

As I emerged from the supermarket car park, they gave me a wave. Would I stop for petrol? Sorry girls. Not this time. Unbeknown to them, and without thinking, I'd just filled up at the supermarket pumps. Seeing the two old ladies, I immediately felt guilty. They need all the custom they can get. Don't know if their petrol's more expensive. Don't really care. It's important to me that they stay in business. These supermarkets may be convenient but they're killing the small traders.

In France, as in the rest of the world, the supermarkets on the edge of town are doing a roaring trade. Meanwhile, in town centres, the shops are closing. Which leads to inner city decay. And whose fault's that? Is it really the fault of supermarkets? Or is it my fault for not thinking and not being bothered to go slightly out of my way to support local shops and a local petrol station as they struggle to survive in competition with the 'big boys'? I think the answer's obvious.

No, a photo wouldn't have told the full story.

And they say a picture's worth a thousand words.

Well, not always.

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