• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Blank balance

The postbox and the ditch have been checked.

Nothing. (I say the ditch because I lost the key to the postbox so it swings ever open and the mail often flies into the mud, from where I collect it.)

It is now mid-January, which means I have to concede the invitation will not be arriving. Not because I'm an outcast this time, simply because the mayor obviously couldn't give a fig about his constituents in this, the smallest commune in the whole of the Tarn et Garonne.

In January every mayor sends out a formal invitation to the Ceremonie des Voeux du Maire - the mayoral New Year greeting to his flock. Every mayor. In every commune.

After a speech about the previous year's events and a round-up of births and deaths, he - or she, though rarely - occasionally asks all to partake in a verre de l'amitie, a toast to friendship.

Newcomers are given a special welcome and introduced to all in the hope that they will find peace and contentment with their neighbours in the coming years. Our local taxes of course pay for this little party but none of us would quibble with such as they are indeed very little.

In most communes, les verres go on well into the late evening and can spill over into the friendlier houses of the village.

My friend Genevieve, mayor of a neighbouring village, has open doors tomorrow at her ceremony and now just shrugs and rolls her eyes when I tell her we're having nothing: rien.

She went to school with my mayor so has a residual loyalty but, as she nurses her whisky, it is plain she cannot understand his stewardship.

Genevieve is looking forward to heartfelt toasts to the future. In line with the law, as mayor she has been present at several deaths in the past year, as well as a stabbing and numerous disputes over land.

Thieves stole the copper casing of telephone wires and storms turned the roads into rat runs beneath brought-down trees and overflowing streams. Genevieve was the first to be phoned to oversee and solve such issues. She was out in the early hours wielding her own chainsaw.

In rural France the mayor is the initial port of call for everything from a mis-filled bin to a suicide.

A horse canters out of its field on to the roads? Call the mayor. A man beats his wife? Call the mayor. Feral cats scrabble around the bins and it's up to the mayor to round them up and sort out the problem. Expats needing animals to be fed when back home? Call the mayor.

So, our municipal elections are in March. Each potential mayor draws up a list of unpaid councillors to aid them. Canvassing has already begun. Names and lists have gone into the postboxes. Not in mine.

Our mayor has his coterie of mates in the commune and, as far as I can see, his New Year wishes have gone to them. In private.

In the years I have lived here I have received just two invitations from my mayor. One was to the retiral of a part-time secretary, the other to celebrate the 100th birthday of a local man.

The first I attended and wrote about. It was a sweaty, eye-dodging performance from a man whose interests in the commune, from all I'd heard, were strictly self-serving.

He dodged my requests for a fete, an annual party. I offered my field - he talked about security. Dear God, bring on the Hell's Angels in downtown Balignac.

In contrast, the mayors from the neighbouring villages have made it plain that I'm a welcome guest at the numerous fetes and repas they hold throughout the year.

Often I see in a corner my shifty-eyed mayor quaffing the free wine of another commune and shaking the hands of his "equals", and watch his wife in her sparkly T-shirts shimmy her first-lady walk down the halle.

Depending on population, the mayors receive a stipend and community cash to be dispensed with as they and their council decide. The wondrous flower-filled squares and scrubbed-clean avenues of every town and village show that most mayors channel cash into civic pride. Most know they will be held to account if they don't. In March they will count the cost of their five-year tenure.

I have no doubt that Genevieve will be returned. She shakes her head, unsure. "You can't say that," she tells me. "I've done what I could, but … who knows?"

Isn't it always true that the best doubt themselves?

I've seen her lose sleep as she works the farm, the commune and her place in various committees in Midi-Pyrenees tourism. Meanwhile, my mayor passes Las Molieres sometimes twice a day in his little white van. I always raise a hand and wave. He never waves back.

When I first came here I went to formally introduce myself at the town hall. The mayor wasn't there and when we finally met, it was after I had given a party for all in the neighbourhood and hadn't invited him.

"That was a mistake," he said, with a pretend smile.

Perhaps. Anyway, I hear there is no opposition. Again.

Contextual targeting label: 
Block list

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

206418