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.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Thank You Letters


Inevitably, once you become an adult – once you assume the responsibility of filling the stockings, because you know that, if you don’t, no one else will  – Christmas loses some of its magic. From a certain age onwards, you have to experience it vicariously via the smiling faces of (your) children.

However, there are compensations. One of them is: you no longer have to write ‘thank you letters’. As an adult, a telephone call (or these days an e-mail) will generally suffice. Today is Boxing Day. It’s the day when all your Christmas presents go back into their boxes. And it’s the day when all those smiling children (‘I’ll soon wipe that grin off your face, Sunshine’) have to sit down and write down a list of all the people to whom they have to write thank you letters. And if you’re a very, very good child, Boxing Day is also the day when you sit down and actually write some of those projected letters.  

Children get far more presents than adults do, so the writing of these letters is a task that is requiring-to-be not-underestimated (as my old Latin master, Dezzy Spence, might have put it). This year, conscious of the annual battle of wills between both parents and a stubborn daughter, skilled in the ways of The Procrastinator (or Procrastinatrix?), which generally stretches for a good fortnight after Christmas Day, we suggested to our daughter that she might consider the tactic of writing one letter per day. Boxing Day is nearing its close and I haven’t seen any sign of that first missive. 

Being a goody-two-shoes, I used to write my thank you letters in one great outpouring of literary creativity. Like Scott Fitzgerald, perhaps, on a drunken binge, I would sit down at our ‘morning room’ (or would ‘mourning room’ have been a more appropriate label?) table and rattle off eight, nine, ten, or however many it took – at a single sitting. Everyone from the grandparents to any obscure relative thoughtful enough to send us a cheque or a ten-bob note.  

I am not inhuman, however. I have never even suggested that The Daughter should repeat such epistolary endurance feats. What’s more, I’ve passed on all the tricks of the trade and even given her a template for production-line success: start with a short paragraph expressing thanks for whatever gift it was that Dear Uncle This and Auntie That bestowed upon you (and if it was money, suggest how you might spend said money); state your heartfelt wish that they have passed a good Christmas and sketch how it was that you passed your own; talk about some of the other presents you received this year (without making them feel guilty that their own present might not measure up to the others); and end by wishing them a Happy New Year and reiterating your undying gratitude for their gracious gift (in the unspoken hope that they will repeat the gesture next Christmas)..

Easy-peasy. However, all my aides, all my prompting, cajoling, threats and sarcasm, never seem to have any effect. We always end up going the distance. Usually, some time around the final evening before the return to school, our daughter’s intransigence finally buckles in the face of relentless parental pressure. The crazy thing is that, once she starts, she’ll polish them off in a matter of a couple of days. I wonder sometimes whether it’s the ‘common courtesy’ angle that wears her down, or whether it’s the ultimate threat: that people won’t bother sending her anything next year. No matter. It works. Eventually.  

Just to show you that I may be an adult now, but I haven’t forgotten my roots, I’m going to finish with a thank you letter of my own. I like to get them out of the way, you see. That way they’re not hanging over my head for the rest of the holidays like the sword of Damocles.

Dear Reader,
Thank you very much for reading my blogs in this Year of Our Lord, 2011.
I hope you had a nice Christmas this year. We certainly did. Our little ‘soirée’ on Christmas Eve went very well. Myrtle the cat sat on our bed all evening among a pile of guests’ coats that got bigger and bigger. Alfie, our dog, stayed in the room with her most of the time, which is strange because normally he likes gatherings of people. Friends’ children played with Tilley’s Playmobil in the spare room and didn’t break anything precious. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and they left early enough for us to tidy up and watch Son of Rambow, which was brilliant.
On Christmas Day, we had Brussels sprouts with our nut roast thanks to Bio-Woman at the local market. We all watched Spartacus in the evening. Kirk Douglas has the deepest dimple ever seen on celluloid. It was brilliant. My best friend phoned from New York just before it was time for bed and now I know he’s still in the Land of the Living.
This Christmas I got a brilliant book on Art Nouveau from my wife and daughter, an immense History of Europe from my wife, some brilliant Black & Decker work gloves from my mother-in-law that have got little rubber nipples all over them, which means that you can grip things like logs, so I can use them for fetching wood for the fire (among other things), a double boxed set of Cotton Club recordings by Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and others of their kidney, which I bought for 90 cents in Cash Converter and which I wrapped up for myself, pretending that my parents had bought it for me, and I got lots and lots and lots of chocolate.
Well, I’d better go. Thanks again for reading my blogs and I hope you’ll continue to read them in 2012. I hope you have a brilliant New Year and let’s hope that 2012 won’t be quite so disastrous for the environment, for humanity and for the animal kingdom as 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 etc. were.
Yours truly,
Mark

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