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, October 28, 2012

Backward-Turning Clocks

Daisy busy enjoying an extra hour
That’s it then. The pretence is over, the resistance worn down. Now that the clocks have gone back, I can accept that winter is really here and get on with the business of preparation for the duration.

Right on cue, a biting wind from the north has sent the temperature into freefall. Yesterday I lit the first (hugely symbolic) fire of the season. Despite the fact that I jettisoned my shorts a few weeks ago in favour of ‘longs’, I’ve hung on determinedly to my summer wardrobe, while expertly manipulating the shutters to preserve the heat of the sun until its next appearance. 

The turning back of the clocks on the last Sunday in October – or whenever it customarily happens – concludes the phenomenon of ‘seasonal slip’, which begins on the longest day, gathers pace around the quinze août and then finishes with a sprint after the September equinox. Mentally, during the extra hour in bed, while appreciating for all I’m worth the fact that I don’t have to get up yet, I stop lamenting the passing of the best part of the year and start conditioning myself to face up to whatever the worst part will bring. 

Last year, the warm weather here went on into November. That was worrying. As a Geordie personality here says, ‘It’s not right, man’. Up until the Sunday of the backward-turning clocks, unseasonably warm weather can still fit into the category of ‘Indian summer’. After that point, it’s just plain disquieting. In other words, it’s right that the temperature has plummeted. Up to a point, I welcome it. That point depends on a nice warm, snug house. 

Shifting hours usually coincide with Toussaint, one of those freewheeling holidays – like Easter – whose dates never seem to be sure. Over time in this peculiar country, I’ve come to embrace Toussaint as an important turning point. We have little use for it in the U.K., so it was a bit of a shock at first to see the florists and supermarkets stocked up with chrysanthemums. While in places like Mexico they’re busy having a grand old time with papier mâché skeletons and the like, the French – we were to discover – have a heaven-sent opportunity to be truly miserable. All those chrysanthemums browning on tombstones throughout the land seem to be a metaphor for the national temper. You can’t eat chrysanthemums. 

From a parent’s perspective, retrospective clocks and Toussaint represent a welcome break from the academic treadmill. The Daughter’s back home after her first two ‘challenging’ months of enforced independence and ceaseless practical assignments. Here to sleep and take stock and top up her nutrition levels and make progress with her various projects. Alas, she’s only been granted a week in which to do all this, rather than the customary recuperative fortnight for schoolchildren. Still, a week is a long time in parenthood. 

Appropriately enough, given old Father Time’s glimpse in the rear-view mirror during the wee small hours when everyone should be sleeping soundly – and quite unconsciously – the first ‘family movie’ we selected was Memento, Christopher Nolan’s extraordinary film about a man with a short-term memory loss ‘condition’, who desperately tries to piece together scribbled notes, body tattoos and Polaroid snaps into a logical thread that leads him to the killers of his wife. It’s hardly really a ‘family’ movie and requires intense concentration to follow events backwards to a shocking revelation about the conclusion to the film right after the initial credits. No wonder we all slept so deeply.

Everything seems to be going backwards at the moment. Economic and social growth has ground to a halt and, after a couple of centuries or more of so-called progress, civilisation seems hell-bent on a return to the Dark Ages. In the U.S.A., President Obama – whose inauguration address I watched in a crowded room in Martel full of the guests of American friends, who were invited to celebrate a brave new beginning – looks set to lose the presidency to a diehard Republican and self-made tax avoider, who has cleverly trumped a message of ‘change’ with a message of ‘real change’. No doubt this will involve sacrificing more of the vanishing environment to big business and a further dilution of the rights of the poor and oppressed who were once invited to the New World in the name of Liberty.  

Here in France, the electorate is already beginning to turn against our new president because the problems he promised to address have, strangely, failed to go away and, more strangely still, got worse. Next time around, there will only be one more untried option left to voters who kicked out Sarkozy only to grow so rapidly disenchanted with Hollande. The far right party has already found its calendar girl in the glamorous granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen. In ‘Ain’t That A Bitch’, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson growls, ‘Somebody do something! The present situation is ab-stract’. Presumably, at 22, she knows just what to do to rectify an ab-stract situation.  

If and when that awful day arrives, expect to find me on the morning of the last Sunday in October hiding under my duvet for considerably longer than an extra hour. 

Happy wintering, one and all!

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