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 8, 2014

6–7th December: Arrivals and Departures

It's official. The table-tennis season is over. This weekend, in a biting wind, my wife and I folded our blue table and put it under wraps for another winter. It has joined the wood under tarps to protect it from the elements to come. Debs finds that the tail-end of our track looks like a building site. We have discussed the situation and conceived of a little straw-bale shelter with a single-pitch roof to echo the parent roof above my head. It will require drawings and a déclaration des travaux for a start-off, but we can say that the project has now officially gone into pre-production.
While on the subject of productions, we've watched half of a film about the making of King Kong. That's the Peter Jackson version with Naomi Watts as the maiden in the hand of the oversized gorilla. I've never had much yearning to watch the film itself, satisfied as I am with the clunky original, but I picked up a double production journal on DVD in Cash Converters for a derisory 50 cents, thinking it might shed some interesting light on the film-making process.

I was not wrong. Not only has it cast Peter Jackson himself in a very positive light, given a valuable lesson on how to mimic the extraordinary New Zealand accent (with its transformation of, say, yes into yiss and film into furlm), but it has also underlined the mind-boggling attention to detail involved in creating the modern blockbuster. You realise the significance of those endless credits that roll past at the end of a film. Just how many people did it take to create Skull Island out of polystyrene, or 1930s Manhattan in plywood, or a jungle using models and computer technology? The film industry is just that: a veritable industry.

We've reached December 2004 and the point at which the whole teeming multitude of cast and crew breaks for Christmas. We're not there yet this year, but it's coming on fast and strong. Arriving soon on platform 5, en provenance de Toulouse, the Yuletide shebang. Calling at all stations for Paris. All aboard! We had intended to celebrate Christmas on the other side of the Channel for the first time in years, but hadn't reckoned on the decrepitude of our poor dog. The Daughter is desperate for an extended family Christmas, but I've experienced a few in my time that have gone dangerously wrong. So it shall be another child's Christmas in the Lot this year.

If Alf makes it that far, it will be his approximate 14th birthday, which just about makes him a centenarian in human terms. On Saturday morning I wasn't sure whether the old boy would still be here when I got back from Martel market. All day long, he would wander outside, then come back in for a minute or two, limp to his water bowl and then back out again. I watched him through a window, sniffing the air and wandering aimlessly like a trembling and bewildered soul. He seemed to prefer to curl up outside in the cold than inside by the fire. It seemed to me that he had sensed his imminent departure for the Promised Park and couldn't equate this with his role as guardian of the family home. They say that animals have out-of-body experiences towards the end, as if they are able to send their souls off on voyages of discovery to report back on the afterlife.

This lasted all day long and I couldn't settle any more than he could. I am prepared for his death, so long as it's a natural one when his time has come, preferably of course in his sleep. But when it seems that he is perturbed, even suffering, you wonder whether you should be making that phone call to the local vet. As it happened, his mistress did some 'surrogate tapping' for him after she'd finished her day's travails. I know from personal experience that EFT can work wonders, but am still sceptical about this surrogate notion. Nevertheless, Alf settled almost immediately and went to sleep for the evening. Indoors.

So there was no need to cancel our Moke Memorial Dinner on Saturday evening. Our friend Moke is going back to the UK after approximately seven years in France. I've lost count already. He bought a renovation project in a beautiful spot overlooking the hills around the red-stone town of Meyssac. He bought it, though, just before the bottom fell out of the French property market. Over the years, he has laboured – sometimes it seems like Sisyphus, with one finished job only leading to another, bigger one – to turn the house into something suitably saleable to meet the demands of the current market. Now, finally, he's done it. A couple from Paris will benefit from his handiwork and an attention to detail worthy of a Peter Jackson film. 

So the house is sold and the debts repaid. It has been hard, relentless work. But the seven or so years over here have represented such a rich and rewarding experience – particularly at a social level, with countless new friends among the local and international community – that he is already talking of buying a pied à terre that will allow him to divide his future time between London and the Corrèze.

We had hoped to meet up with him again late on Sunday afternoon when Debs and I decided to take in the annual Christmas market in Meyssac. Moke, however, was too busy finishing off some finishing touches before the sale goes through early next week. So it was just the two of us who wandered through the thronging alleyways of this delightful market town. The whole place was aglow with fairy lights and we were particularly taken with the use of old lampshades all the way down one of the busiest thoroughfares. It's probably a little late in the day to start a collection for our own festivities. 

The commercants oversaw their wares in little temporary wooden huts, which now seem de rigeur for municipal Yuletide markets. Despite the crowd, I wondered just how many people were opening their wallets to support their local craftspeople. I felt their pain as people perused and then passed on by. I suspect that most spare cash was spent on waffles, candy floss and rides on the little merry-go-round in the square. 

It was all very nicely done and the locals had clearly done their bit to guarantee a good time for one and all. Some of them had even dressed up in medieval garb to take part in tableaux vivants depicting scenes from local life long, long ago – when Christmas was a religious rather than a commercial holiday. It was cold, though, and it worried me that they were outside and not moving – like our poor dog. One wouldn't want the arrival of colds and flu to coincide with the coming holiday and the end of 2014 AD.

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