How quickly time passes and how quickly things change. Eight years seems like a fairly long time, seen from both before and after. In the American sense of an 80% decade, eight years represents two presidential terms.
About this time, in January 2009, President Obama – the first black US president, itself a cause for celebration – was inaugurated. Four years of hope lay ahead of us. If we were lucky, we could make that eight. Coming after the catastrophic double-term of an ignoramus and a dunderhead, distinguished from his not-quite-so-inept father by a middle initial, the sense of promise was akin to that wonderful moment when the Iron Lady walked away from no.10, tight-lipped as she clutched her ubiquitous black handbag.
Back in 2009, we were acquainted with an American couple from the Bay Area in California, who had made a temporary home for themselves in Martel. Their son went to the same local primary school where our daughter served time. They invited us to an inauguration party in the house they had just finished renovating.
Since I'd been working all day with my friend Bret – doing some judicious coppicing in the woods and hauling out the branches for stacking and drying – I took him along for the ride. The girls were still in Brive. In those days, Tilley the Kid would hang around in the kitchen of the cabinet after school, waiting for her mum to figuratively finish off her last client, clean up and head for home. It would have been her first year at Arsonval, the big educational factory just behind the shopping centre now re-vamped as Les Passages.
Bret and I found the house near where it was supposed to be, in the same narrow street as the charming old boulangerie that has subsequently closed. The day room or whatever it is that Americans call the sitting room was up some dark wooden stairs on the first floor. It was a hive of expectant noise. Our hosts, Dan and Patricia, had laid out some canapés on a central table and hung a white sheet on an internal wall onto which they were projecting the images from what was probably CNN News.
Everyone in the room was drinking a cocktail christened an Obamatini for the occasion: gin and blue Curacao, I believe. Holding my glass tight enough to crush it as I fought off surging emotion in the name of manly decorum, I watched with everyone else there the new president's inaugural address. It was an incredibly measured and polished bit of oratory, almost up there with Martin Luther King in some respects. I know these things are written, edited, polished and rehearsed to within an inch of their lives, but you surely have to mean the words in order to sound so utterly convincing. The word 'responsibility' cropped up enough times to make you hope that this man's considerable intellectual energies would be channelled in a positive direction.
Even the most diehard cynic would probably agree that it was a magnificent speech. Everyone watching it must have felt that they were witnessing something quite historic. And when it was over, everyone cheered and applauded and raised their glasses of Obamatini to wish each other a 'happy new era'. Being tired out from my labours, afterwards I chatted mainly with the American contingent so I could stick to my mother tongue, and we speculated what that era might amount to.
On the way home, I realised that I was driving with a little less prudence than I would normally have done. It must have been the sole Obamatini I'd allowed myself. We got back about 8.15 and Bret went off to whatever temporary home he was living in at that time. I ate the dinner I'd prepared earlier with the girls and described what it was they'd missed earlier. After all the logging in our wood that Tuesday, I slept like a log all night.
My customary Wednesday morning found me waiting in the car for E. Leclerc to open. Parked under a street light so I could read whatever book I was half way through. Maybe without reading glasses. It was dark and wet and miserable. I'd dropped The Kid off at her school and made arrangements to pick her up at lunchtime. She left me in no doubt at all that I was neither to be seen nor heard. She'd rather come and find me than my coming to find her and thereby running the risk of being spotted by an inquisitive school friend. C'est ton père, Tilley...?
Between the shopping and the pre-arranged rendezvous, I went to the cabinet to try to unblock the loo. It was cheap and you get what you pay for. A narrow evacuation linked to an extraordinary cast iron waste-water junction in the cellar, compounded and compacted by paper-happy clients, constituted a recipe for disaster. Having tried and failed with a length of fence wire, I put the mop down the pan and used it as a kind of suction pump. It did the trick. I heard the blockage disappear into the main drain under the street. I felt so thrilled with myself that I bought a new music magazine. World Sound probably doesn't even exist eight years down the line.
Nor does the slightly tricky adolescent version of my daughter. She's a young lady now, who loves her parents so much that she doesn't mind who sees her socialising with them. She's a happy student enjoying a more liberal education system in a motherland that she's still just getting to know. So that's all good, to quote the deliciously glib catchphrase of W1A's harassed hero.
There's not much else good, though. Those contrasting photographs of the Washington inauguration crowds do not lie. How did we get from there to here in eight short years? What happened? Syria, a slow-burning financial crisis, a few hundred more terrorist outrages, a few thousand more elephants slaughtered for their tusks, a few million more acres of Indonesian rainforest burnt to the ground in the name of palm oil for colas, biscuits, breakfast cereals and choco-nut spreads?
But does that explain how and why we've gone from a cultured, educated man at the top, a family man with moral values, to an ignorant bile-fuelled cheating billionaire who wants to turn the clock back 50 years or so? It's the end of an ear. Left wing, right wing; swings and roundabouts; thrusts and counterthrusts; booms and busts; progressives and reactionaries. Just when you think you've taken a step forward, you spring back two. And doesn't it always seem to go that you never know what you've got till it's gone? In the name of my daughter and her contemporaries, as we naughty tittering boys used to sing in the morning assembly at school, Wise up, oh men of God!