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.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Try To Remember The 1st September

On Saturday the 1st September I queued up at my customary stalls in Martel’s market as I do each Saturday morning. Only, this Saturday,  the queues were a mere fraction of the size that they have been over the last couple of months. The Egg Man joked that it had been difficult to get up that morning. Sabine – or Bio Woman, who grows vegetables fit for superhero(in)es – told me that earlier it had been four degrees down in the valley. Only two weeks before the temperature had climbed above 40.

Another Saturday, another market
Suddenly the crowds have gone for another year. The roads around here are no longer so full of Plastic Fantastics, the mobile camper vans that clog up the highways and threaten to topple over on sharp bends. It all happens so suddenly. Almost as if high summer is some kind of Never Never Land and we wake up as if from a dream to stare at the familiar landscape in which we exist for the remaining ten months. While queuing for my onions, I overheard two good ol’ boys looking forward to the slaughter of the new hunting season. (Something else to look forward to, now that autumn’s on the way. I made a mental note to heap pestilence upon both their houses.)

September 1st is such a symbolic landmark. On this day, already nine years ago, the digger man dug out the foundations of our house-to-be. Children and their parents everywhere are busy thinking about the rentrée des classes. Those of us who have woken up from Never Never Land with a gloomy frame of mind are maybe thinking about the next phase of La Crise and how we’re going to get through it. As yet, I haven’t encountered a single rich and famous French person heading for a haven where they won’t have to pay the new president’s new wealth tax. But then, they’ll all be off by air or sea and unlikely to pass by the Lot.

For the time being, though, there were smaller, more practical things to occupy this first Saturday of Normal Service. Such as: how to work around an earlier time for Football Focus. I decided to record it while making lunch and then to eat lunch while watching the recording. Simples! (When you have the technology.) It was all about huge last-minute transfers before the ‘window’ closes. While I ate-and-fumed, I couldn’t help wonder why we continue to tolerate such inequity in our society. I’d read about the stir Nick Clegg’s proposed one-off wealth tax is creating in the UK. It’s only half of one per cent or something piddling, which seems very little to give back to the so-called Big Society that’s helped to swell their wealth. I noted on a Post-it to heap pestilence upon the House of Beckham and other overpaid mercenaries of his kidney. (Actually, while I’d encourage the Grim Reaper to carry off the surly Victoria, I might ask him to spare the boy David and his children if they promised to do more for the common good.)

Once my raging fury had abated and I’d tidied up the lunch things, I took Tilley over to see a friend and help her sort out her stuff for Clermont-Ferrand, where she’s going for some higher education. One by one, her school friends are dispersing to pastures new – to Clermont-Ferrand, Limoges, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Paris – and trepidation is rife. In the middle of the month, she swaps the familiar peace and quiet of the Lotois countryside for the hurly-burly and hullabaloo of the capital. The prospect is understandably scary.
Having dropped off The Daughter, I drove over to see my friend, Adrian, the tree surgeon, and on the way to deposit our duvets for cleaning. The nights are getting appreciably colder and soon a blanket and cover will no longer suffice. As I popped the ticket into my wallet, I couldn’t help think what a packed multifarious existence I lead. 

Adrian was packing up his latest second-hand van with beer and wine for the long haul back to Dunkirk and thence to Cornwall. He helped me load into the car a pair of acro-props he’s lent me for the duration to prop up a rotting beam underneath our back balcony. Then he showed me around the latest home improvements he’s made during his summer here. He’s just had the house valued. Since he’s been going through a messy protracted separation from his wife, he was delighted to show me a valuation he’s just received from an estate agent. I was staggered by how low it was. It just goes to show how far the property market has fallen and how much value a new road can strip from your assets. If other people had put the kind of work he’d put into the place over the years, they would be devastated by such a valuation. But Adrian doesn’t intend to sell. The house still represents his dream of a better future and the negative equity will help him wriggle reasonably unscathed out of the financial net in which he’s been trapped for so long. Or so he hopes.

Back home, I found the girls watching another episode of Six Feet Under on the box upstairs. There was just enough time to give the dog a quick walk and call for Daisy, who hadn’t come in for her breakfast. Friends were expecting us within the half hour. We were to bring Alf over to meet their new puppy and effect an introduction. We like to think of these friends as Alfie’s godparents, since they’ve looked after him whenever we’ve gone off on holiday without him. The trouble is, we haven’t been able to reciprocate, as their last dog was a bit of a loose cannon – and forever guilty of traumatising Daisy’s sister, Myrtle. So, if Alf and Holly got on like the anticipated house on fire, then we could have her to stay whenever they went off on their travels.

After a slightly nervous beginning attributable to our dog’s sheer size, everything went swimmingly. We ate a clotted-cream tea in celebration of Sophie’s birthday and aah-ed to see the two dogs tug a rope together until Large got a little fed up with Little’s constant demands. It was all very charming and bodes well for a happy and harmonious future.
We’ve all been watching and enjoying Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Ford’s Parade’s End on BBC2, so I was determined – despite the impact of such a packed Saturday on mind and body – to stay up for an Arena special on the fascinating figure that adopted the brilliant nom de plume of Ford Madox Ford. At first, I was bright and alert, but gradually slipped off into Never Never Land. Fortunately I had the wit to press ‘Record’.

Thus ended a momentous first day of September 2012. That night I dreamed that Daisy had returned. Lying on an old checked shirt of mine, she had swollen to the size of Sister Myrtle. When I got up in the morning, I found her lying on her sofa, washing her belly. She was still the runt of the litter and hadn’t put on a single ounce during the 24 hours spent away from home.

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