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, August 11, 2013

The March Of Time


We hit the town, so to speak, on Friday evening. It was our dear Dutch friend Eric’s 50th birthday and the multitudes assembled at Le Mortier clubbed together to buy him a ride in a hot-air balloon. It’s something of which he has long dreamed, apparently. Perhaps Alf, our aging hound, will run outside and bark at the self-same montgolfier as it floats across the horizon. Around the valley in 80 minutes – or so.
Up, up and away

It seemed like what it was: the first time in months that we have gone out together to attend one of the international parties that once eased us back into civilisation after the early years of self-imposed exile among the hill people. It seemed, too, like I have been incarcerated, stuck to the computer screen, for months on end while the spring and then the summer have slipped away almost unnoticed. So it was a kind of coming-out ball for both of us. We were separated within minutes of arriving at their organic smallholding with courgette quiche, a bottle of rosé and contribution for the montgolfier. Like meandering streams, we didn’t come back together for over an hour after our respective circuitous routes to the snack stall had taken us around various friends and acquaintances for a quick résumé of the past months.

People, it transpired, have taken up with new partners and sufficient things have been going on to make me feel glad to live in a kind of splendid isolation on one side of the valley while the other, it seems, has been busy turning itself into a kind of Place de Peyton.

Meanwhile, assorted children have grown up into barely recognisable adolescents (half child, half biscuit). Tilley the Kid, I explained to enquirers, was in England, getting her first taste of office life at my brother-in-law’s company. Sometimes you have to resort to a bit of nepotism in this life. It’s only for a few weeks. We are both hoping for a taste of romance, but that’s probably being fanciful. As a former office worker, I saw for myself how these things generally take time.

I was unable to explain this to Eric’s ageless mother, who collared me at one point. Since she speaks neither English nor French, we struggled to converse. Even with ‘O’ level German, Dutch sounds like Rowan Atkinson’s impression of a Nordic tongue. I smiled desperately and tried not to betray my terror of total incomprehension. In the end her husband came to the rescue and explained that they had heard from their son, the birthday boy, that our daughter had grown up into a fine young lady.

It hardly seems possible that a decade has passed since Eric’s 40th, when his mother looked younger than he did and The Daughter was just a little girl soon to resume her primary education in a new school in a new town. She would have played with her peers 10 years ago as other kids did on Friday night who were then but babes in arms. How come a decade seems like an eternity to a growing child, but a mere puff of wind to a decaying adult? Even Leonardo Da Vinci couldn’t answer that one. 

The March of Time is turning into a quick step. The younger generation is revolting, ready to elbow us oldies off the sound system’s controls and take over the patch of grass outside Jan and Eric’s barn on which we attempted to dance once more.

Pistol-packin' Mama
Every day now, too, it seems that someone significant has passed on to the great Memory Bank in the sky. On Thursday night we watched a tribute to Mel Smith, who was just a couple of years older than I was when my future wife and I were watching Not The Nine O’Clock News on separate televisions. Then, with a heavy heart, I read of Karen Black’s demise – in her early seventies, of the inevitable cancer. I’m a sucker for squints and there was something so enchanting about her slightly boss-eyed looks. She plays a prime role in two films firmly lodged in my Top 20: Bob Raefelson’s Five Easy Pieces, in which she plays Jack Nicholson’s long-suffering and endlessly understanding girlfriend, Rayette; and Robert Altman’s Nashville, his brilliant satire of the country & western industry and American society at large. Big-haired Karen was perfect – and unerringly convincing – as Connie White, a Tammy Wynette type and rival of the fragile hypochondriac Barbara Jean, who keels over on stage and spends most of the film in a hospital bed under the solicitous eye of Barnett, her husband and manager. Maybe now that Karen’s checked in her mascara, a Freeview channel will show this hilarious film, which hasn’t seen the light of day for years.

So it goes. Karen Black did at least leave a lasting legacy, which is more than many. We mortals merely hasten once more to that ominous quinze août, which always has an awful air of finality about it. The holidaymakers pack up and go home, the evenings get fresher, morning dew reappears on what’s left of the grass and we find ourselves once more in a nocturnal no-man’s land, debating the respective merits of an extra blanket or a summer-weight duvet.

The only negative thing I remember about Eric’s 40th birthday, a decade ago, was that my own 50th followed not very long after. This means, of course, that his 50th portends my 60th: the dread day when it’s time to stop pretending and admit once and for all that you’re getting old.

A trip in a hot-air balloon sounds like a nice idea, but I’ve never been comfortable with heights. The thought of sitting in a basket powered by a gas bottle hundreds of feet above the ground smacks of suicide.

No, I think I might ask for a mixing desk or some other component for a sound system that I can take with me to parties. That way I can impose a little thematic coherence on the musical proceedings. Here come DJ Autokrat: he don’t stand for no interference, but he sho’ can party like it’s 19-99! And therein perhaps could lie my own legacy. It’s never too late to own a mobile sound system. You’re only as old as your dancing feet.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Holidayschmakers


There was I thinking that there might be time this weekend to mow what we laughingly refer to here at the Dog’s Meadow as ‘the lawn’, when along came an e-mail on Friday. It sat down beside me and frightened me clean away. Where was the article on truffles that I’d promised?

Curiously enough, I had been talking last week – to friends from Sheffield, who have now gone and departed, taking The Daughter with them in the car that I helped to pack so dexterously – about my frigid day at the back end of February earlier this year when I went on a chasse de truffes at and around the celebrated truffle market at Lalbenque, south of Cahors. Deadline, what deadline. It’s not coming out till late autumn. There’s plenty of time.
There's no negotiating a deadline, though

In fact, the deadline was back on the 22nd July. These editors like their copy early. Wha’happen? I never miss a deadline. I do enough idiotic things in my life, but I pride myself in never missing a critical deadline. Something clearly must be malfunctioning upstairs. This fact was confirmed the other night when I woke up from a dream that involved a house in the mountains, where Godfrey Evans, the legendary Kent and England wicketkeeper, was the butler. Daughter, dog and I were out shopping in the vicinity for material for Tilley’s latest creative endeavour. I wouldn’t have worried so much had it been Alan Knott, another legendary Kent and England wicketkeeper, but Godfrey Evans was long before my time.

A brain cooked by extreme heat
So clearly the recent extreme heat has turned my grey matter. It hasn’t been quite as bad as it was in the ‘sauna-van’ during the Canicule of 2003, when I’m sure I could hear my brain bubbling away like a savoury Christmas pudding in the boiling fluid inside my cranium. The temperature hasn’t quite touched 40 degrees yet, but this is 10 years down the line. 10 years since I was plotting on copious minute ‘mind maps’ the great House Construction campaign of 2013-2014. I’m 10 years older now and even less equipped to cope with capital H Heat. 

And therein lies the rub. It’s age. It has withered me and custom is beginning to stale my infinite variety. This is why people seek to retire at around this age. I missed my deadline simply because I’m getting too old to attempt to juggle all these balls in the air at the same time. The Great Sampsoni has dropped a ball – and another! The audience lets out a collective gasp, and then a terrible collective booing echoes around the auditorium. The great juggler trudges off, tail metaphorically between his legs. As he removes the grease paint on his face in his dressing room, he realises with startling clarity that he must either reduce the number of balls he juggles, or pack it all in. 

So it is that I’ve come to the momentous decision – reached simultaneously by Corinne, the trusty and exemplary cleaner, who accompanies me every Friday morning in the holiday season – that I will no longer service holidaymakers during the rest of my allocated years. From here on in, I am committed to work only with nice people.  

It’s not that holidaymakers aren’t nice people perforce. Most of them are very nice people. Jolly good sorts. But, as in all aspects of life, it’s the nasty few who ruin it for everyone else. The current crop, a family of four slimy slugs from Liverpewel, the type with financial means in inverse ratio to innate class and with a deluded sense of their own importance in the Great Scheme of Things, are not at all nice. In fact, as I stood by the pool the other day while Ma and Pa reclined on their sun-loungers, running through their list of petty complaints and issuing their demands, I would happily have drawn my Colt 45 from my holster and shot them both dead. As I used to do as a little boy in London. Bang, bang! You’re dead. Quick and easy, and near enough to the pool to cope with any mess.

Independently of one another, Corinne and I came to our liberating decisions while tidying up their mess and making up every bed in the house – on the basis that, because they had paid for the whole house, they were entitled to every bed – for the second week of their stay. It would have been fun to put a deadly Australian pillowcase snake in each bed, but fortunately we don’t have such serpents in the Lot. Besides, one must try to be charitable. Perhaps Mr. and Mrs. feed the local stray cats. Perhaps their offspring will together come up with a last-minute invention to save the world.

Corinne has enough satisfied clients in this neck of the department and, for the moment at least – until my brain really packs up – I have enough real work on my plate, so we don’t need the money. If circumstances change, however, this time next year I may apply to can fruit at Andros, or swaddle myself in bandages and stand motionless in the market place at Martel in the hope that people recognise performance art when they see it, or simply lie back on a sun-lounger and live off the earnings of my favourite industrious wife. Anything but service Britain’s worst. Kow-tow, schmow-tow!
Pinker-than-pink pig


With that inspiring thought uppermost in my overheated cranium, I shall transport myself back to a time when the sky was blue, but it was cold outside and there were no teeming holidaymakers cluttering up my Saturday morning market. Now what was the name of that charming pinker-than-pink truffle-rooting pig…? Oh yes, Kikinou! Nothing too much wrong with my brain after all.