Willkommen Bienvenue Welcome

Welcome, gentle readers.

This is an everyday tale of regular folk, who moved from Sheffield to the deepest Corrèze in France Profonde and thence to the rather more cosmopolitan Lot in search of something… different. We certainly found it.

The Lot is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Reputedly, a famous TV globetrotter was asked where, of all the places in the world he had visited, he might return to. He answered, ‘The Lot’.

Fans of Channel 4’s Grand Designs will know that we built a somewhat quirky straw bale house-with-a-view here in the Lot, not far from the celebrated Dordogne river. You can read all about it in my book,
Bloody Murder On The Dog's Meadow, or watch the re-runs of the programme on More 4, or view it on You Tube.

After a break in the proceedings to write a book or two, this blog now takes the form of an everyday journal. Sometimes things happen, sometimes they don't (but the art school dance goes on forever). I hope it will give you an entertaining insight into what it's like to live in a foreign country; what it's like in the slow lane as an ex-pat Brit in deepest France.

I shall undertake to update this once or twice a week, unless absent on leave. Comments always welcomed, by the way, but I do tend to forget what buttons to click in order to answer them.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

November: Lounging Lizards and Bonding Ties

Well I woke up this morning, and I found a lizard in my bed.../Said I woke up this morning, people, and I found, that's right, a doggone lizard in my bed/Thinking how it got there's sho' nuff breaking up my head... 

It was only a little lizard. One of those dark green rapiettes that used to scuttle into and out of every joint in the stone walls of our old farmhouse. People say that cats like to eat them to stay slim. Our current killer, Otis, occasionally finds one to mutilate, but they're a rare sight now. They were plentiful during our tenure in the Corrèze, but these days – like every other species on earth except for human beans, rats, flies, ants and cockroaches – their numbers have declined to the point where they are now classified as endangered. It won't stop Otis, just as the tragedy of elephant poaching won't stop the Trump family from shooting some more as trophies.

Anyway, it was a shock. It's the last thing you expect to find when you pull back the duvet to air the bed of a morning. By the time I'd found an old card and a tumbler for removal purposes, the rapiette had scuttled under the bed. Was it one of the cats that brought it in? Did it come in of its own volition to find a nice warm spot for a bit of hibernation? Who knows what goes on in the mind of a lizard. Underneath a winter-weight duvet would certainly be a cosy niche for the season.

For the season is upon us once more. I always try to remember the 5th November. Catesby & Co. The plot to blow up parliament in the name of the perennial religious wars. Sounds familiar. Even the punishment of hanging, drawing and quartering the plotters, obscene as it might have been, is probably no more brutal than what goes on in many a dark nefarious corner of the globe. 

This year our British friends, Tim and Gilly, marked the occasion. They held what I thought was going to be an intimate little bonfire party. Being punctual souls, we arrived at seven on the dot, having followed a procession of two or three other cars bound for the same venue. All were driven by Parisians with second homes and an eye on the clock. I was introduced to one woman whose name was Daphne. I told her that our dog shared her name and I don't know whether she was too pleased. It's a lovely name, I hastened to add. And it is. So redolent of the British Raj and the jolly awfulness of those times.

Unlike the Parisians, the 'Meyssac Crowd', as they are known in these parts, kept themselves to themselves. I've given up trying to make the effort to communicate. Parisians are easier on the frontal lobe: generally speaking  they're more widely travelled, more educated, more cultured and less concerned with apparence. As we all gathered around a bonfire that raged as bright and as fierce as a cliff-top beacon in Napoleonic times, the French contingent must have wondered about this strange tradition of ours. Burning some poor Guy in a conflagration is not a nice thing to do. A long, long time ago, I mingled with the crowds at Lewes on the 5th to watch crazy men run about with barrels of burning pitch strapped to their backs. Never again.

After a few desultory sparklers, we got back to the serious business of eating, drinking and dancing. The Meyssac Crowd stayed in the sitting room by the open fire, only to emerge like excited teenagers to shake their booties in time to Gloria Gaynor's 'I Will Survive'. Why, I wondered later, do people still get moved by the spirit of Gloria Gaynor and Hot Chocolate? Nothing much has changed in that respect since the first party we were invited to at the same venue almost 20 years ago. Which on one level is quite reassuring, but on another is a little mystifying. 

The Good Wife of La Poujade Basse came over all emotional while talking to our host about the passage of time – and in particular the remembrance of little children past. I think it was the first occasion that our daughter met their daughter. They were tiny tots at the time and now, still bosom friends, they've both blossomed into beautiful young women. Proper warms the cockles of a parent's heart it does to witness the vicissitudes of your progeny's friendships. The bonds that tie. Or is it the ties that bond? Or rather, bind?

We met another nice Parisian at another occasion on another significant date. The 11th November, Armistice Day. Waiting for the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month was all very well and all very neat, but it's heartbreaking to think of all those needless deaths when the end was in sight. None more poignant than that of Wilfred Owen, who might have gone on to become the greatest poet in the English language had it not been for a stray bullet during some futile face-saving mission.

This Parisian is an élu, or elected one. Part of the mayor's team. It's one of my first perks of French citizenship that I was invited to hob-nob with the top table on the 11th day. The mayor invited us as citoyens d'honneur. The commune's honoured new citizens. We waited in the wings with a motley crowd in the car park in front of the mairie on a suitably sombre, even dismal morning. There were a few problems with the sound system before we got underway. The mayor gave a little address, then handed the mic over to a minion who read out each name on the war memorial followed by the collective chant of mort pour la France. It was surprisingly moving. Maybe it was the effect of the incantation and remembering individuals who once lived here in the same commune rather than the faceless slaughtered multitudes.

After this, there was a recorded version of the Last Post followed by the familiar roll of drums that ushers in the Marseillaise. Surely our chance to shine. We had run through the words again on the drive down. But no! It was the instrumental version. The crowd were mute. Debs reckoned it was because we were the only ones present who can actually sing it.

Then the mayor called us up to the microphone and introduced us with a surprisingly generous and surprisingly brief speech. Neither of us was aware that he really knew anything about us. Fortunately I had prepared a little address for such an eventuality. I sketched the family history and how we came to be in this neck of the Lot. Our search in my wife's bottle-green Beetle for a house with a septic tank et cetera. I resisted any mention of cuisine, but did suggest – ha ha ha! – that we could bring le feeshancheeps as a cultural offering in return for the indigenous love of nature and the land. Or térroir, to use a term often employed in viniculture (of which there's not much in the immediate vicinity).

My little address to the multitudes went down rather well. A round of applause chuffed me to the core. My French can't have been too bad. Afterwards, we trooped inside the mairie and his worship's team passed around the appetisers, which were mainly pâté-laden bits of unappetising bread. For maybe the first time in my tenure here, and maybe fortified by my new official standing, I felt able to turn them down on the grounds that ours was a vegetarian family. The servers looked a trifle surprised, but didn't direct us to the naughty-step. Food for thought, I considered. It would do them good to know – and even reflect. Who knows, in another decade's time, they might hand around pieces of bread bedecked with tapinade. Green or black, I'm happy with either. 

Now, the end of the month is nigh. We've had about two days of genuine cold. Not even a snap-ette, really. The leaves are the colour of copper and the temperature's unseasonably high. In another few weeks, 't'will be Christmas – and already local villages have decked their main streets with electronic decorations. Couldn't they at least wait till December? Everything is topsy-turvy and up the Suwannee River. Pity those poor lizards, who will be emerging from their duvets, believing that that a false spring has sprung.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

October: Citizen Markon

Yes, it's wood-chopping time again – and do I not like chopping wood! Unlike a poor departed friend, who derived great pleasure from the act of cutting wood. He would meet up once a year with a bunch of friends to go cutting wood at a rural retreat owned jointly or by one of the chums somewhere in the deepest Pyrenees. There I imagine they had a whale of a time impersonating lumber jacks, drinking fine wine, burning last year's logs in the chilly evenings and generally acting le clown.

Poor man. I thought of him when I got dressed up in my thickest, most protective tatty clothes one Sunday morning in this merry sunny month of October, with my trusty electric chainsaw from Lidl at the ready, to tackle head-on a pile of lumber for the winter. Last time he came to stay here, he asked me for my bow-saw and I watched him cutting his way through a stack of wood with the same degree of happiness as I had displayed when he watched me sifting through 2nd hand CDs in a Parisian shop. His worried wife thought such behaviour was symptomatic of the early signs of Alzheimer's. No, we assured her, He's just got a lot on his mind. It's no doubt the stress of work. And we didn't add that our friend had always displayed certain odd traits during the 20 years or so that we'd known him.

He was a lovely man. Just a little... well, odd. And our prognosis was quite wrong. The last time we saw him was down south in the Var to celebrate his 60th birthday. It was poignantly clear to all who had gathered for the occasion that the illness was rapidly taking him over. Not that long after he went into a home. Mercifully he died quite soon after.

Our birthdays were close together. This year I woke up on my birthday to find that I was half French. Mark had become (under certain conditions) Marc. They always get it wrong anyway, even when I stress that it's Mark with a 'k' not Marc with a 'c'. So if you can't beat 'em...
I signed up the day before. At a special ceremony in a village hall down near the departmental capitol of Cahors. The Good Wife went with me on a limpid autumnal day that revealed the Lot valley as one of the most beautiful places on earth. She still hasn't received her official invitation, which is worrying. Are they carrying out some special investigation up there in Paris? Have they sniffed out a scandal? Are her finances rotten to the core? Is the minister having second thoughts? The woman on the other end of the telephone at Departmental HQ told me not to worry. We're trying not to. But it did detract from the celebration, the fact that my fellow traveller went with me as unofficial photographer rather than honorary equal partner.

There were, I'd guess, around 40 of us there to receive our documents and be photographed with the Prefect – who wore what looked like a naval uniform for the occasion. We reckoned he was around 40 himself, which made him surely rather too young to be a retired rear Admiral. On looking through my various official booklets, though, it turns out that prefects wear this strange ceremonial outfit for special occasions such as this one.

After the preliminaries, we were called up one by one to shake the charming Admiral's hand and receive our pack of documents and booklets, then stand side-by-side between the French and the European flags to be photographed. It was like prize day for grown-ups. In my nephew's hand-me-down Ted Baker suit, I felt quite overdressed. Few among us had made much of an effort. Most of the prize winners appeared to be North Africans. There were a few West Africans, one or two from Vietnam and other former French colonies way out east and a smattering of Brits. Reporters were on hand to ask us whether our applications had been prompted by Brex-eat. We could put our hands on our hearts and disavow them of such a notion. The first of the post-Brexiteers will be getting theirs sometime next year, we calculated. If I had half an eye for the main chance, I'd have set up as a consultant by now to coach latecomers through the process at some inflated daily rate.

All the way there, the erstwhile actress formerly known as Harri Hall coached me through the Marseillaise. She drilled me like the lines-learner she once was. By the time we reached our destination, we were both fluent. First verse only of course. It's no easy to task to sing let alone learn the anthem. It doesn't scan easily: some of the words hardly seem to fit the music. You have to elongate the syllables as if they are Italian rather than French. OK perhaps for a native speaker, but we British are generally no linguists. The idea that Premiership footballers sang it as a gesture of support after the Charlie Hebdo atrocity seems somewhat fanciful. Mind you, how many Premiership footballers are Brits these days?

When the time came to give vent to my newly acquired skill, my wife had ducked out to check on Daphne in the car. Thus she missed her chance to shine. Allons en-fants de la patri-e, le jour de gloire est arr-i-vée! I sang out with enough gusto for the two of us. Although we were given the words, I couldn't have read them anyway without my glasses. So I relied on my memory, which didn't let me down on this occasion. For several days after, that preposterous tune rang around inside my head. I'm only just rid of it.

After the song, a little light refreshment was in order. Sure enough, being France, they laid on a little goûté for us. Nothing too elaborate, but quite tasty and sufficient to set us up for the drive back home in the glorious late-afternoon autumnal sunshine. Behind the wheel, I was aglow with a sense of pride and triumph. I suppose it's hardly a tale of One Against Adversity, but there have been some very 'challenging' moments during these last 22 years.
The Indian summer seems to be over now. It couldn't last. I still can't see the road for the trees, but the sumac's aflame and the leaves are on the turn. Inside, the flies are massing on the mezzanine ceiling above my head, as they do at this time each year. When they get bored, they congregate on the round windows and I let them out. When I work late and there's a spotlight on my keyboard, they dive-bomb me like dying Stuka pilots and crash-land on my desk. It's really unpleasant. If, as this recent German study has revealed, flying insects are dying out at an apocalyptic rate, flies must be immune to all the poisons we spray on our fields.

Life goes on, though. For now. Three out of four of our 'wood cupboards' are full to bursting with the logs I cut to size and stacked. We're getting ready for winter. This'll be my first winter as a Franco-Englishman. Citizen Markon, El Prezidente himself, a man currently without a beret and a new passport. But they're coming (or maybe not the beret). For now, one could say I'm an emblematic man: someone who can sing the Marseillaise with the pride of an authorised adoptee.

Allez! It's feeding time for les animaux. Excusez-moi, mes braves.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

September: Dicing with Death

The other day, I was driving back from Brive in the 107 Noddy car. I took the lower road that runs past the gipsy encampment because the back road was blocked by the work on Quatre Routes' flood-drains. I suspect I was on automatic pilot and maybe my mind was a little elsewhere, as is too often the case these days. I turned off the road to cross the adjacent level-crossing. Of course there was music playing, but not too loudly to compromise road safety. One of the speakers is knackered anyway, and I've pinched it with a clothes peg to stop the cone distorting horribly. Suddenly, I realised that the crossing's lights were flashing and the bells were ringing. It was too late to brake and the barriers were coming down. I pushed down hard on the accelerator and just made it to safety. But only just. Had I been driving a more 'muscular', masculine car, with a higher axle and roof, my momentum could have been arrested by the barrier. And then...

I think it's Maggie O'Farrell who has just brought out a memoir based on ten close encounters with death. Ten's a lot for someone younger than I am. Apart from the time as a drunken teenager when I stepped out onto the ledge of a top-floor window at a party and held on to the gutter just above my head, most of my close-shaves have involved cars. Run over when stepping onto a road in Verona. Taking a bend too fast on a main road in the rain and sliding across the adjacent lane. Failure to spot a Stop! sign. My crimes are legion. On this last occasion, I could have argued extenuating circumstances. It shook me up, though, and made me think. No wonder I'm so aware of the risks every time one gets into a car.

A long road trip one we had of it this month, from home to the port of Toulon on the Côte d'Azur. It took us an hour to crawl through Toulon and reach the port, where we were to catch the ferry to Ajaccio for our first visit to Corsica. It didn't exactly warm me to the city, even if we got there safely in the end. I hadn't realised how central is the rugby stadium, where the erstwhile behemoths of French rugby play. I believe there's a commemorative statue to their adopted son, Jonny Wilkinson. I didn't see it.

Everyone has been telling us how beautiful the isle of Corsica is. My mate Eddie Palmieri, the legendary salsero, told me that his family came originally from Corsica via Puerto Rico (God rest it's battered landscape). My Dutch friend up the road, who spent several years there, also warned me about the roads. It takes hours to get from A to B because you wind up one mountain and then down the next. So what's a few hairpin bends between friends?

The ferry was enormous. Driving past the side of the boat as we embarked, it seemed about as high as a municipal tower block. Swarthy men in fluorescent yellow overalls directed the traffic inside the cavernous hold. They barked out their commands in a strange kind of Franco-Italian. We surmised that they were probably Sardinians, given that this is another of the ferry company's destinations. Anyway, we didn't hang about.

The yellow ferrymen looked likely candidates for road-rage once behind the wheel of a car. We didn't yet know it when we disembarked at Ajaccio early the next morning, but road-rage would become a keynote of our Corsican holiday. Before first light, the backdrop of mountains hung like a menacing stage set over the town. While the surface of the main road south seemed better than expected – my Dutch friend shattered a shock absorber in an island pothole a few years back – we were soon driving up a mountain via a tortuous series of bends. It's no more than about 60 kilometres to Propriano, but it took well over an hour to get up and down one mountain and then up and down the next.

Propriano itself is nothing much to write home about. It's a port with a main drag and some faceless chain-stores on the periphery. But my God, what a backdrop! Mountains, as far as the eye can see. Real mountains, not County Down's 'Mountains' of Mourne, that sweep down to the bluest sea I've yet set eyes on. 

So far, so good. But the longer we stayed, and the better we got to know the place, the more we could confirm two things: that Corsica is undoubtedly the most beautiful island in the Med and possibly the most beautiful one in the northern hemisphere; and that you take your life in your hands on its roads. One lapse of concentration and you're over the edge. But more to the point, the local drivers are maniacs determined to dish out death to foreigners.

After 22 years now in France, we've become almost inured to tail-gaiting. It's still irritating and often downright menacing, but it happens so often that it has lost its capacity to shock. In Corsica, though, tail-gating is undiluted bullying. They roar up behind you and almost then attempt to push you off the road. I found myself pulling into lay-bys willy-nilly. Letting someone have his way was one less chance of a head-on collision – because they will overtake with so little thought of safety that one wonders whether the concept of danger has ever even entered their tiny minds.

One hot day (and it's hot, and dry; before it rained on the Saturday, they'd had no rain since April), we drove to the airport in Figari to pick up our friend from London. On the way back to base-camp half way up our mountain, we took a look at Bonifaccio – and found it to be a little like Rocamadour-by-Sea. That's to say, pretty damn stunning but crawling with tourists. Like ourselves, I hasten to add. On the way home, we were rattling along a straight stretch beside the sea, when suddenly a white BMW shot past us and the two cars in front, then ducked back in just before driving head-on into an oncoming lorry. I was at the controls on this stretch, so I had to leave it to the other three to throw up their hands in horror. We then watched open-mouthed as the driver did a 360-degree turn and sped back in the opposite direction. We were just recovering from the shock when a black Audi overtook us at the speed of a Looney Tunes cartoon car and vanished into the horizon.

What gives with these people? Do they simply not value their own nor anyone else's life? I figured that we must have witnessed some sick and obscure game of chicken – like riding the roof of a train or leaping across alleyways from the top of one apartment block to another (which, according to my comic of the time, The Victor, was something that Tony Curtis did in his hoodlum youth). I secretly hoped to find the car upturned on some rocks in a bend of the road further on, or maybe down a cliff, Hollywood-retribution style. Some kind of poetic justice or divine intervention, anyway, designed to hurt the transgressor and spare the innocent. But life rarely works like that.

That was the worst we saw. Nevertheless, I didn't take any chances after such an exhibition of highway madness. We pulled over, as I said, and treated every blind bend with extreme caution. One thing, though, that we continued to note was that every incident of aggression involved, naturally enough, a male behind the wheel and, on most occasions, said male was driving a white car, usually a BMW or an Audi. Drug money? Mafia connections? Inbreeding? Who knows. One day, I shall do some more research – preferably online – and posit a hypothesis for academic discussion.

Until then, I shall try to hang on to dear life by avoiding white-van-man and white German cars. Despite the roads, we shall go back to Corsica en famille to explore more of the island's astonishing beauty. George Clooney, apparently, has toured the island with a friend on a motorbike. I for one shall not be following suit. Four wheels, bad; two wheels, even worse.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

August: In Search of the Lost Sofa

I have been much perturbed this month by the fact that I managed to lose a sofa. It was a Knopparp, too. When, at the suggestion of the local gendarmerie, I went along to the municipal Lost Property office, the woman at the desk laughed when I told her that I had come in search of a missing sofa. She explained by way of tacit apology that people usually come into her domain to enquire about a missing wallet or a misplaced bag. I assured her that I quite understood. Her ridicule was less excoriating than the kind of self-punishment I have been meting out most of the month. I can take it, like a man: on the cheek or on les fesses.

With all that has been going on in the world this merry month, I really shouldn't be getting quite so upset about a lost item of furniture. In the long run of things, the renewed terrorist attacks, the fires in Corsica and the south of France, the Trump-tastic diplomacy in Korea and the renewed threat of nuclear annihilation, the assassination of another environmental hero in Tanzania and the sheer awfulness of the 21st century all add up to something much graver. It's an interesting facet of the human condition that we frequently expend far more mental energy on little aspects of our little lives than we do on the big issues that really matter. I keep finding myself, for example, re-living in my head the sorry sequence of events that led to the disappearance as if doing so could magically bring my missing sofa back to life.

To be fair to myself, said sofa was still in its flat-pack. Had it been a fully-formed sofa, then I might really have cause to wonder whether I am already succumbing to Alzheimer's Disease. It's kind of understandable that a busy person might just prop a heavy carton against a wall in a public street while trying rapidly to empty a car full of Ikean effects – and then go off and forget all about it. Once I realised, several days later, just what I must have done, I posted a Perdu – Canapé! (note the ironic exclamation mark) notice and my subsequent enquiries revealed that the mystery package had been seen for several days until the day came when it was seen no longer. I can only hope that some impecunious person took it away and that the sofa has brought a little joy and comfort into his or her life. Since it didn't cost a great deal of money, I have my doubts though about its solidity and durability.

Such is life and one has to get over its little disappointments. The visit of old friends from Sheffield helped. The weather wasn't great for tourists. In marked contrast to last year's aridity, August has been neither too hot nor too dry, which suits me – and the vegetation – down to the ground. Nevertheless, we sat and/or ate outside whenever the opportunity was there.

I had one particularly interesting al fresco conversation with Nigel, which exposed our differences and probably explained why we've been friends for so long. Like my dear wife, he's an incurable optimist. He exudes so much positivity that it can be exhausting to try and keep up with him. Together, he and the Good Wife could move mountains. Like Fitzcarraldo, they could certainly at least have come up with a way of moving a boat over a mountain. Both believe in the transcendent power of love to right all wrongs and put everything back on an even keel. Whereas, I explained, the wildfires in Corsica, say, offer me a compelling example of why evil will ultimately prevail. Many of these fires have been started by an individual who, for one reason or another, wants to create mayhem. All the collective good in the world won't bring back the beauty that has been scarred or re-build the houses that have been destroyed or breathe life back into all the creatures whose existence has been snuffed out by scorching flames. So surely one person's evil is much more potent than a hundred people's good. Think Hitler, think Stalin.

In the end we decided that it was much more fruitful to go and play golf. It's a game about which we both agree, only Nigel practises it a whole lot more than I do. Consequently, he's a whole lot better than I am. Being much more competitive, too, he came up with an elaborate handicap system that would create a more level playing field. Since we were playing on the hilly course at Puy d'Arnac created by an enthusiast with the money he made from the swimming pool trade, it seemed irrelevant – particularly as winning the match really didn't interest me. It might be maddening to my playing partners, but when I play golf, I'm competing against my own incompetence. If I can play even a handful of shots that feel sweetly struck, then my happiness will overcome the frustration of customary ineptitude. And if a handicap system meant that technically I beat someone who hit the ball properly just about every time, then victory would seem Pyrrhic and just plain wrong.

It's a lovely little course and the patron's enthusiasm is delightful to behold. He bombed around the place on his motor mower, shearing the greens as if for our sole benefit, so our putts would roll that much more quickly. It's only nine holes, so you become quite familiar with its quirks in going round twice to make up the customary eighteen. One hole is effectively spliced in two by a runway for light aircraft and I played the shot of the day by driving onto the tarmac and watching the ball bounce along it until it disappeared over the horizon. The joy, the untrammelled joy!

Being a professional coach in the wonderful world of business, Nigel has a coach's eye. He spotted all kinds of little things that would help my game. One thing, however, I discovered for myself – and not for the first time – is that it helps a whole lot if you keep your eye on the ball. I thought I'd learnt this invaluable lesson last time I played with my brother in the county of Hampshire, but apparently not. Try it sometime. It works a treat. Such knowledge has renewed my appetite and I'm determined now to dust off my discarded second-hand clubs at least a few more times this coming autumn.

Our friends went off after breakfast one Sunday to a wedding in distant Brittany. They were hoping for at least one swim in the sea as they drove up our drive, GB sticker resplendent on their rear. There have been noticeably fewer on the road this summer. The pound has sunk to near parity with the euro, which makes my British credit card painful to use. So the droves of Brits seem to have kept themselves far hence. Indeed, the number of visitors to UK shores has risen in direct ratio to the fall of the value of sterling.

There were plenty of perennial Brits in the local cinema the other night, though. Two whole rows of us, in fact. Chattering away in English, which makes for uncomfortable seating – particularly as the film in question was Dunkirk, with all its concomitant Anglo-French issues. It was De Gaulle and the Free French who won the war, wasn't it? The British did (literally) desert the sinking ship in 1940, didn't they? I'm sure I heard murmurs of discontent within the auditorium and I turned around to shush my loudest compatriot in best exaggerated pantomime fashion.

Fully prepared by a very unfavourable review to dislike the film, I found it a remarkable cinematic experience. Certainly not enjoyable in the way that I enjoyed Christopher Nolan's earlier films, Memento and Insomnia – it was way too harrowing for enjoyment – but impressive for sure. The scenes from the cockpit of a Spitfire, looking down at the carnage on the sea as seen in different chunks of the film in different timescales from inside a small boat or from the jetty or the beach where the soldiers waited for rescue, were especially memorable. Quel cinematography! I could have done without some of the musical bombast and a few of the jingoistic notes towards the end, but it gave a vivid impression of what this kind-of-victory-from-the-jaws-of-defeat must have been like. The so-called lack of character development didn't worry me, because it was much more about the collective endeavour rather than any individual heroism that needed a 'back story'.

While I came out of our local cinema feeling like I'd been through a tumble dryer in search of a missing sofa, neither The Good Wife nor The Kid surprisingly found it particularly harrowing. The skies were too blue, there was too much pomp and circumstance and it was generally too handsomely staged for them. We must have been watching different films. Well, each to his or her own. They don't agree about good and evil either. Nor do they find golf such a beautiful but frustrating game. Life is, as I think Talk Talk suggested in one of their songs, decidedly what you make it.