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Students of modern history, modern European history in particular, will doubtless be familiar with The Treaty of Rome. It was conceived shortly after the end of WW2 hostilities by one Jean Monnet, a senior French civil servant (it really couldn’t have been conceived by anyone other than a senior French civil servant) and it was ratified in 1957 or thereabouts. It marked the creation of what is today known as the European Community and for all its exponents and critics and for all the sometimes passionate language that surrounds it, the whole idea of it really was to stop Europeans habitually knocking seven bells out of each other. To that end, along with producing straight cucumbers and bent politicians, it has largely succeeded.
One of the wonderful benefits for the common European living in what for a while was known as the European Common Market is that he or she is entitled to live, to work, to own property and to choose to pay their taxes and parking fines in whichever member state in the Union that they choose. All without asking anyone’s permission at all. Not even to have to first say “s’il vous plait.” to one of our Froggie chums donning a hat like a pill box (though it is only right to do so and to be polite if for no other reason than they are generally very polite to us!).
How come then I am not allowed to dispose of my poubelle (rubbish) anywhere except in my own Commune dechetterie (rubbish tip)? Not a major problem except that being in a small community my local dechetterie is only open on alternative Thursdays and providing that Thursday doesn’t coincide with a Saint’s birthday, or anniversary of their martyrdom or their last known visit to the dentist. Even then it only opens from 11:43am to 14:07pm with two and a half hours closed in between for lunch.
Being ignorant of such conventions I admit I did once stray into our neighbouring Commune’s rather fine dechetterie. The one with the Argon arc lights and its own one way traffic system. My car sporting a registration plate that betrayed my coming over the border from the neighbouring Commune, just one and a half kilometres away and which nearly resulted in my arrest. The fact that the trailer I was pulling had its own registration plate as they do here in France (did I ever mention ‘bureaucracy to you? I think I may have done) and this quite legally corresponding to the same Commune as the dechetterie. This cut no ice with the Commandant at all though and he threatened to have me forcibly evicted if I didn’t remove myself, my vehicle and my trailer full of Leylandii clippings forthwith. Tout suite too whilst I was about it.
I wasn’t cross. A little sad but not cross. The poor man, the Commandant, was only doing his job so there was no point in arguing or remonstrating with him. He had his mind fairly well made up too. I could tell by the funny shade of puce his face had turned. I thus shot round to my own dechetterie at the earliest opportunity. On the following Thursday week.
In the intervening period I decided to demolish a bit of garden wall that had been hastily and haphazardly erected by the previous owner using a motley variety of building materials. Please note the words ‘motley’and ‘variety’ carefully here. You will be recalled to remember them again later in this passage. I loaded up the bits and pieces of broken rubble into my trailer taking time to ponder over whether the Commandant at my local dechetterie would focus upon the trailer’s registration plate which was legally registered at the address of our second home in the adjacent Commune or upon the Registration plate of my car to which it was attached and that was registered to my home address. I thought much about The Treaty of Rome at this point. As did our cat. Who threw up. Poor thing.
Sukie-Wookie wasn’t well at all. She was the sort of cat (well more a sort of small person actually) who if just a quarter of the world’s population were even half as selfless, as honest and as loving then the world would be a ten times better place to live in. She had the cunning of a cat (not surprising as that is what she was) but coupled with the patience of a Saint and extraordinary intelligence, loyalty and an infinite capacity for genuine affection. And now she wasn’t well. Probably a badger or something that she had eaten for lunch and which had disagreed with her tummy. Anyway, Sukie-Wookie was confined to quarters in her basket in the heated hallway and provided with her own personal latrine. A litter tray which she used. Which she used a lot. And some more. I emptied Sukie-Wookie’s litter tray into a stout green poly bag and threw it on the back of the trailer with the black poly bags full of mixed brick rubble small bits and broken render sweepings. Plus another poly bag of various colours and which was filled with weeds from the driveway. Then set off for the dechetterie.
I arrived, nervously, at the dechetterie. I read and took note of the two hundred line notice board at the gate which explained in absolute minutiae exactly what type, colour, mass density, quality, humidity, electrical voltage potential difference, condition and flavour of rubbish I would be allowed to dispose of and where on the site I would be allowed to put it. I drove in and carefully reversed up to the dwarf wall above a waiting rubbish skip. The notice besides which was headed (I translate to English) ‘Waste Building Material’ with a long list below of what exactly constituted waste building material. Curiously timber, insulation materials, plaster board and various sub groups of wall render, roof tiles and slates all don’t count as ‘building materials’ but then let me please remind all dear readers, we are in France here. The architects of freedom.
I began unloading my trailer. In a flash and with whistle blasting an agent of the Commandant was upon me.
“Vous cannot that put in here!” He screamed. In octaves which had me seriously wondering about his real gender. I was clutching a piece of terracotta brick of the type used to build houses in these parts and which has all the structural qualities of a well known breakfast cereal.
“Pourquoi?” (why not?) I asked.
“Because it is contaminated!” He convulsed. Adding another couple of octaves and which had me no longer silently questioning his gender but from which planet he hailed.
“Contaminated with what?” I replied somewhat indignantly. Nothing from my household is ever ‘contaminated’. I should co-co. I occupy a property that is clean to the order squeaky!
“It is contaminated with render.” He screamed (forget the escalating octaves part now please. You will have got the drift by now.)
“Are you seriously expecting me to remove all the render from the bricks before I throw them away!” I asked. Painfully.
“Oui!” he screamed. Cheerfully.
I put them back onto the trailer and picked up one of the two garden waste sacks from my trailer then walked over to the skip marked ‘Green Stuff from your garden’ or somesuch. I was about to throw it in when l’agent de Commandant leapt over and snatched it from my hand, yelling words to the effect of “Can’t you read you idiot? It says on the sign you must empty the contents of your bags into the skip and then put the empty bag into the receptacle provided!”
He screamed all of this whilst staring intently at me eyeball to eyeball. Simultaneously plunging his arm, right up to his elbow, into my bag of garden weeds by way of reinforcing the point he was trying to make to me, to the dumb Anglais.
Except it wasn’t the bag of garden weeds. It was the other one.
I haven’t been back since. I haven’t yet completed my study of The Treaty of Rome to try and figure out when it might be safe for me to do so.
I've finished dumping now.
For the day anyway.