The Grape Harvest and a Car Problem


We have been passing a very difficult time trying to finish the vendange (the grape harvest) in the wettest summer and early autumn since the early 1980’s. 

We start, we finish, and we start again, depending on the weather.  In the morning we have an extra sweater, then its wet weather gear and then we are sweating in afternoon temperatures of 27°C, and that was just yesterday!!  The soil is damp and “claggy”, making it difficult to walk on, particularly for me as I tend to carry, “l’hotte’, this is a large plastic container carried on the back which is filled by the “coupeurs” as I walk up and down the rows, when full it can contain around 80kgs. and then one has to retrace ones steps, quite often up the slope, climb a ladder to the trailer and then, with a sort of twisting, throwing movement empty the grapes, over the head and shoulders and into the trailer. If, like me, you hate wearing hats when working, you finish the day with a hair style halfway between a Bryan Ferry and Sticky Toffee Pudding.  It is, to be frank, bloody murder, and anyone who has actually worked in the vineyards soon loses any romantic preconception of bucolic utopia. It is back breaking, hard slog for which people are paid the princely sum of SMIC, the French hourly minimum wage. I, as a, “hotteur” am paid substantially more, 8 centimes to be precise!  Not being stupid, I am, of course, looking for advice on investing this extra windfall!! 

 So, why do I do it?The last parcel of vines to harvest

Initially because it was good fun and although, in a previous incarnation, I knew lots about the theory of wine production, actually doing it has been, by far, the best, the most educational wine course I have ever taken.  It also offered another way of integrating into the community; after all you can’t spend every night in the bar!!   Now, to be honest,  I think I continue because it is a sign that I am not yet past it, my muscles have not given up the ghost altogether and somehow my body manages to cope with the unreasonable demands put on it.  In fact, the day that I can no longer do it is, I fear, the day I will buy some slippers, put my feet up and become a grumpy old man. (Sheila says that after years of practice, I have already qualified)!  I must also confess to a warm glow of perverse pleasure when someone thirty years younger has to cry off because the work is too hard. But, I am sure you will forgive this aberration, we are, after all, only human. 

During the periods when we have not been able to work I have finally managed to relieve myself of the Kia Carnival (Sedona)which, in an apparent moment of temporary insanity, I purchased two years ago. Beguiled by its looks, its leather seats, the DVD and other frivolities, I somewhat overlooked the fact that it was, in fact, what the French would call, “un tas de boue”, in other words a load of crap!   The Kia after-service is undoubtedly the absolute worst in the world, their employees having the misfortune of regarding their customers in much the same way as Hitler regarded the Jews.  They would make no concessions whatsoever when the clutch packed up after only 48,000 kms, only two days after one of the three different guarantee dates they had given me had expired and well within the other two (but, surprise, surprise, the expired date was the correct one!!).  Finally, after paying for a set of door handles to be replaced for the second time, without which the seven-seater people carrier was tastefully converted into a two-seater coupé, with the other five seats not being accessible at all; I decided that enough was enough.  

Incidentally Kia, having given the problem much thought, actually implied, and I kid you not, that I had used the doors too much!  I can only assume that these wily Orientals must have built a clever alternative access somewhere and that the doors were intended to be just of a decorative nature, the fact, that I thought I had pointed out quite reasonably, that doors are the universally accepted method of gaining egress to the interior of motor vehicles seemed to be something of a crazy, unproved notion to them, on a par with the theory of parallel universes.  Of course, the suggestion that the problem itself might have something to do with the fact that the door handles relied on what looked like cheap plastic toothpicks to hold each of the rear sliding doors, each of which is the weight of a medium sized ferry, was rejected out of hand! 

I am now beginning to understand why the ludicrous, buffon-haired, Stalinist dictator of neighbouring North Korea, Kim Jung-Il, appears to hate and fear the South Koreans so much. Perhaps he was once given a Kia as a present.  If so I can quite understand why he feels that the whole world is against him.

Just to finally make my day, the first Peugeot dealer I went to refused to accept it in part-ex, saying it was unsellable and, when I eventually accepted an offer from another, I calculated that I had lost 60% of the purchase value in less than two years. 

So, if anyone is tempted to buy a Kia, I would suggest that they lie down in a dark room for a while and then have a look at the hundreds of KIA owners remarks which one can find on the internet. (Apparently, early Carnivals were an on going experiment to verify the theory of Spontaneous Cumbustion. I am led to believe that, to this day, KIA refuse to accept any liability for the fact that a fair proportion of their production went up in flames!, perhaps they feel it is all the fault of the North Korean Secret Service.)  

Still, at least Sheila can throw away that tee-shirt which says, “I’M WITH STUPID, (He bought a KIA)”!! Having said that, she has now decided that we will have a small Peugeot Cabriolet. 

Me?  I am looking for a Tee shirt shop!!

à plus

Brian     accommodation in the loire valley


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