for the love of French junk mail

We have a perverse devotion to a fact of life that seems to drive most native French people up the wall.

Junk mail. What’s known here as “pub” (pronounced “poob”).

In France, every week, every supermarket chain, every major furniture and DIY store, produces a many-paged, glossy dead tree magazines. I know! And they are delivered by hand to every front door in the land. Or certainly in this part of the land.

In the days before we had an Internet connection and even less regular post, we became ferociously attached to poob. It’s like every week you have a little bit of the joy that only comes round in England when they print up the new Argos catalogue. We’ve lost many happy, sun-kissed minutes out on the terrace flipping through these flimsy Books Of Dreams, checking out the BOGOF deals on coffee or yoghurt.

And we wonder why it is we can go a week and barely fill one bag of organic and landfill rubbish, but have to take our recycling down to the garage 3 times a week!

The strangest part of this is that the French themselves really don’t like poob. A couple of years ago there was a campaign by SICTOM, the company that is responsible for most of the refuse collection in our neck of the woods. Irony not being a tent pole of the French national cultural identity, SICTOM sent every house a junk mail item of their own. It included a small 5cm by 10cm piece of unlaminated card backed with one of those magic blobs they use – used to use – to stick giveaway CDs to the front of computer and music magazines or inside “YOU” from the Daily Mail. It had the unremittingly franglais instruction “STOP PUB” on it. The magic blob was intended for you to stick it to your front door or letter box box to discourage the poob distributors. You do still see them, weathered and faded, among all the hand-written notes or engravings scratched into doors, door-jambs and fence-posts that say “Pas de pub SVP” (no poob, pls.)

Anyway, the counter-irony is that despite our poob-joy and the fact that there has never been a STOP PUB or a “Pas de pub” message, we have never consistently had poob delivered. It’s never been clear why. It could be the good offices of Huguette overt he road, discouraging delivery. It might be the long standing problem that our non-standard, door-mounted letter box is the size of a mouse’s … um … squeak-hole, and poob comes in bundles the rough size of The Hulk’s forearm. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t a problem when we weren’t living here, since the growing mat of papier mache on the doorstep or hanging out of our tiny letter box would have been as strong a hint and anyone needed that the house was empty 46 weeks a year, so please come in and rob us blind.

To feed our poob habit, our opposite neighbour who knows many of our strange foreign ways would occasionally donate hers. On rare occasions, when truly desperate, we would apply the famous windfall fruit logic and tidy un-claimed poob that was lying idle on someone else’s doorstep or tucked behind a downstairs front window security grille. You know, the sort that would probably just blow away in the next strong wind. Public service, really, when you think about it.

The alternative is to approach the poob distributors directly. The thing about this is, the people who distribute poob aren’t the sort of people you’d imagine in a regular day job. None of them look like this is the one day they need to remember to keep their meeting calendar free and remember to pick up the keys to the old white transit van from security. They’re more the ones who thought just sitting somewhere with a “homeless and hungry” sign wasn’t getting them enough exercise.

Our poob man has that weathered but ageless look that says anywhere between 40 and 70, it’s been a hard life, and most of it’s been outdoors. Wearing this suit jacket and these jeans. He has an old red baseball cap and a permanent three day beard. He ferries stacks of poob door to door on an old wire shopping trolley frame, from the back of an old white transit.

We stopped next to the van one day a couple of weeks ago, on the way into the village and quite a way away from the house, when we saw him trolleying up. We got a bundle of poob off him and Jacqueline explained in situationally appropriate, slightly more nervous French than usual that we were now permanently based here if he could see his way clear to dropping the poob off more regularly.

As we drove away even Jacqueline had to acknowledge, “That couldn’t have been more creepy.”

It also didn’t work. I spotted him yesterday, walking away from his trolley to deliver to the part of our road that heads away from the village into the countryside. I could see his supplies were at a very low ebb. This does seem to offer an explanation as to why we never see any poob. He can’t trolley enough from the van to cover both directions along our street, and prefers to head out towards the Big Sky country with what he has.

So I waited for him to turn out of line of sight to deliver to the old Spanish lady whose house is set back a bit from the road. I rolled my bike down to the trolley, and pulled this week’s set out from under the giant rubber band. This took longer than I expected, but a quick glance up and I was relieved to see his oblivious, bandy-legged, matchstick-red tipped figure waddling away from me towards the houses further down the street.

My heart skipped as one tell-tale postcard insert slipped from my grasp and tumbled to the street, but I was already pedaling furiously back to the house. I mean, what was he going to do, call CSI?

I got away with it. I am the poob-master!

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