Willkommen Bienvenue Welcome

Welcome, gentle readers.

This is an everyday tale of regular folk, who moved from Sheffield to the deepest Corr├Ęze 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, April 21, 2013

The Turning Point


In many ways, it was just a day like any other day. It was only later that I came to realise its significance.

While the FBI was out hunting for the second suspect nail-bomber in Boston, I was driving home from Brive with our dog and our shopping and my trusty Honda strimmer in the back of a car that smelled of unleaded petrol. For some strange reason, our daughter has always loved the smell. It always makes me think of the raging headache that maddens Jason Compson, the anti-hero of William Faulkner’s The Sound And The Fury.

The rain that fell briefly in the morning and threatened to abort my assault on the undergrowth hadn’t materialised. In the context of this year’s deluge, it was a pretty nice day. En route for my wife’s clinic, I dropped into the pool emporium on the western edge of town to enquire about a swimming pool for a new client. Despite the marked-down prices on recliners, Fat Boy cushions and other accessories, I was the only customer in the swanky showroom. Left alone to browse, the place positively resounded with the babble of water being circulated around some kind of have-your-own spa.

A charming young assistant took down details of the desired pool. Half way through, she asked me if I was English. So, she revealed, was she. I would never have guessed. Her name was Molly and she’d been educated over here since the age of 10: a reminder of just what an advantage it is to be bilingual. If The Daughter doesn’t make it in the world of fashion and design, at the very least she could train to be a personable intermediary for a company that sells pools to well heeled English-speaking settlers. 

Young Molly gave me her telephone number and I headed off to the clinic for a spot of strimming during the lunch break, so as not to disturb the prevalent atmosphere of therapeutic calm. My strimmer’s been with me for 16 years or so. It was the first bit of heavy-duty equipment that I bought for a new rural life. Every spring, I bring it out of hiding like the geraniums to acclimatise. Then, a few hours later, I fire it up timorously – just in case that this is the year in which it fails to respond. Not this year. It sparked into life on the second pull: a testament to the Honda motor and my ability to follow the instructions for winter storage. And I shouted from the highest hill: my strimmer has survived another winter!
Just like mine - only cleaner 

Much as I love my strimmer, though, I really don’t like the act of strimming. It’s neck-and-shoulder-breaking work fraught with the anxiety that I’m going to cut through something I shouldn’t. In Brive, there’s a side passage that leads from the street to the back garden. Neighbourhood dogs tend to use it for their ‘business’, so there’s also the potential hazard of flying faecal matter to contend with. This year, too, a terrible new weed has spread like a plague. It’s the by-product, Debs reckons, of too many Monsanto products in neighbouring gardens. 

Having finished my work in rapid time, I shared a rapid lunch with my wife and awaited the visit of the man from SAUR – the catalyst for my visit. He was coming to change the water meter. Unable to wander out of earshot of the front-door cuckoo! I took the seat off the loo for the umpteenth time and put it back again in such a way that it would stay vertical if necessary without threatening the equipment of male clients.

Another job jobbed. All in the day’s work of a jobbing writer. While outside wrestling with the new John Wyndham weeds in the bed nearest the back door, the man from the SAUR turned up: a big genial man with a lavish tattoo on his forearm. I imagined some kind of five-hour operation that would involve cutting off the water and posting notices to clients about using the loo. It took about five minutes. So I made the man a coffee and we had a brief chat about the lamentable events of the Boston marathon. What is the world coming to?

With time now suddenly on my hands, I could afford a quick walk into town before taking our bored dog home for his supper. A brief visit to the central library, because my subconscious voice had talked me into believing that I needed a little more John Coltrane in my life. Then, after my fix, I nipped into a pharmacy reputed to be the cheapest in town. I wanted to buy some pro-biotics for a bothersome gut. The place was heaving; all of life had taken a ticket for the queue. Fortunately, being about the only one there in the name of preventative medicine, I was in and out in a jiffy. Everyone else had a prescription to present. I complain bitterly about the level of taxation in France, but all those insidious ‘social charges’ probably still don’t pay for all the overpriced medication that this nation of hypochondriacs consumes.

Why am I telling you all this? Probably just to underline what an insignificant, uneventful day-in-the-life it was. Until, that is, the revelation on the journey home. There’s a scenic stretch of road near home, where you climb up from one fairly nondescript hamlet to the next. There’s a steep wooded drop on the driver’s side (down which a tractor plunged recently) and a steep wooded upslope on the passenger’s. The overhanging trees form a natural tunnel. Normally on this stretch I look out for cars coming down the hill and for Billy The Kid, an adorable inquisitive black-and-white goat still enjoying its liberty within the woods. When you stop to talk to Billy The Kid, he or she tilts his or her head endearingly to one side and ventures down to the car in the hope that you, like everyone else, has brought some food.
Not quite as cute as Billy The Kid

There was no sign of our friendly neighbourhood goat, but then it struck me… I could no longer see through the wood to the view on my left. Yes! This was the day in the year when you suddenly notice that the trees are no longer bare. Twigs and branches are covered with an unfurling riot of succulent, waxy, new spring-green leaves. It’s not something, of course, that happens overnight. It’s not something you necessarily even spot in the big city, but here in the country the annual miracle of renewal hits you in the face. Once remarked, it shifts your whole perception for the next seven months or so. It’s what they call in sporting parlance a ‘game changer’. The turning point. 

Those bloomin' irises
Sure enough, as soon as I got home, I realised that I could also no longer see through our copse to the road. Those few emerging irises had imperceptibly become a blue velvet ‘florabundance’. Everything was pointing to one incontrovertible fact: Summer’s on its way! (That’s all I really wanted to say.) 

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