Jimmy de Bum

Jimmy was the town drunk, who had been living and urinating on the steps of the Mairie (town hall) for longer than I had been in Gentilly, a suburb of Paris, which is to say, at least five years. He generally wintered in the bus stop shelter opposite, and disappeared about three times a year.

He would reappear a week later sober, clean shaven and in a fresh set of clothes which he carefully groomed with various bodily emissions to conform to the latest fashion in bum couture and fragrance. Personal hygiene was not at the forefront of his daily concerns, an attitude which rendered him "not nice to be near". It was interesting to watch the people he engaged in conversation politely manouvering to place themselves upwind of him. Such delicacies as undressing to go to the toilet, or indeed actually getting up and moving anywhere to go to the toilet, were clearly considered by Jimmy to be effete and superfluous.

I am sure that, had he not devoted himself to the profession of alcoholic, he would have been an Olympic athlete. He must have had the constitution and stamina of Arnold Schwarzenegger, to survive so long outdoors and in such health-challenging circumstances. You could make a movie of his life, and call it Urinator 4.

Apart from the malodorous force field surrounding him, he was a harmless soul who wandered about dragging a wheeled suitcase containing some light refreshments such as a five litre plastic bidon of wine, probably not the Beaujolais Nouveau offered in the local wine bar. Some time ago, a petition about Jimmy appeared in the entrance hall of my apartment building. I am still not able to understand all the nuances of French written expression, but it seemed to speak of the general undesirability of having Jimmy lodged in central precinct. I do not recall that it supplied any useful solution, it seemed more to be a protest or general complaint to M. le Maire (the Mayor), so I didn't sign it.

Jimmy disappeared shortly after the petition. I hope he is happy, and somewhere comfortable.

Clochard is a French word meaning a beggar or a vagrant. It comes from the French verb clocher1, meaning 'to limp', which comes in turn from the Latin clopus, meaning 'lame'. In English it is pronounced 'kloh-sherd'.

This word is relatively new to the English language. The OED records its first English usage in Hemingway's book For Whom the Bell Tolls, published in 1940. It still makes appearances in the writings of those who cannot resist a good thesaurus, but is far from being in common usage.

One context in which you might see the word clochard used in English is in the field of photography. The French humanist school of photography frequently focused on the clochard as a particularly human figure. They remain an 'artsy' subject today, and the French is often used when talking about these photos. (Here's an external link for you2).

If you are in France, a clochard is generally a homeless person, with an overtone of wino. A female would be a clocharde.


1. An alternate etymology! Mouesh says re Clochard: Most cities of France used to have fortifications and come the night, the church bell (cloche in French) would tell the poor, the bums and the workers who could not afford to live in town to vacate the premises of the city. Many were drunk, tired, or injured and did not walk straight when leaving. From this and the fact that the word clocher (Latin verb claudicare) which means to limp, came the denomination "clochard".

2. If you'd prefer to copy and paste the link, here it is: http://www.paris-pittoresque.com/gravures/metiers/20.htm

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