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, January 18, 2015

14 – 17th January: Of Sod, Shout and Doggerel

A father's work, I discovered on Thursday, is never done. Despite having had the entire Christmas holidays in which to finish her personal statement, The Daughter left her UCAS application as per to the last minute.  

Actually, she managed to get her statement to me the day before the deadline. So I could take time off from pruning the address I've written for my mother's funeral next week to concentrate on pruning her lettre de motivation. It was easier by far to get that down to the requisite 4,000 characters than it was to reduce all I wanted to say about my mother's tenancy on earth to fit the five-minute slot I've been allocated. I warmed more to the task on learning that the officiating lay preacher wants some music by Duke Ellington for his own funeral.  

Anyway, our girl has reverted to the idea that she should be studying her craft in Glasgow or Edinburgh, where she originally wanted to go before she was deflected by Paris. She would have had a much better chance this year, too, because her time in Paris has at least given her plenty of material for what the Scottish adjudicators are seeking, a strong portfolio.

The only trouble was that Sod decided to test her mettle with his law of... what, diminishing returns? That is, anything that can go wrong at the last minute will go wrong. For a kick-off, she has had to adapt suddenly to life without wi-fi, if you can imagine anything quite so inconvenient. Ever since the Charlie Hebdo massacre, SFR's public wi-fi network in Paris seems to have been down. So she's had to leave the sanctity of her room and take her laptop out to friends' flats and public libraries to get re-connected. 

Alas, the reference she needed to complete the application still hadn't arrived by Thursday afternoon. Which demanded frantic calls on my part to UCAS and to our her referee. It turned out that Keith hadn't received the official e-mail with the link to follow in order to upload his reference. There had been violent storms in the south-west of Ireland and his own internet connection was intermittent at best.

They were understanding and sympathetic on the other end of the expensive UCAS helpline, but an automated system doesn't accommodate human error. I phoned the admissions department at Edinburgh College of Art, but they were adamant. Tough mammary, matey. Very sorry, but the deadline was 18:00 hours and that was that. 

Texts flew back and forth between Paris and the Lot. Any luck? Not yet. Fingers crossed. We're an hour ahead of the UK here, but that didn't really help. Keith sent an e-mail with the reference embedded, but the sympathetic person on the UCAS helpline couldn't help. The system wouldn't allow him to link that particular e-mail to The Daughter's dossier. It had to be uploaded via the official link or not at all. How's it going? Not well.

An hour before the deadline, I had to leave my desk, the nerve centre so to speak, and go to my restorative yoga class in Cazillac. On the point of turning off, Keith contacted me to say that he had finally received the official e-mail, but there was far too much involved to complete it in the time remaining. With payment still to be organised, I told him to let it lie. My yoga would wait for no man. Seconds out, time up. Put it down to experience – but learn the lessons of Sod's Law. Dad xxx

Well and truly knackered afterwards, I opted for an early night with one of the three Beatles books that my girl gave her nostalgic father for Christmas. Philip Norman's seminal Shout! is beautifully written and fascinating. I've just finished the first section about those exciting early days in Hamburg and the Cavern Club (The best of cellars, as the resident DJ would quip). Ringo is still a peripheral figure, drumming with Rory Storm, but Stu Sutcliffe is as complex a character as Pete Best was evidently good-looking. The author clearly has a leaning towards John Lennon and looks for opportunities to take a subtle dig at Paul. As children, we all had our preferences and I was that way inclined until I discovered in later life that John was not quite such a loveable mop-top as the publicity machine might have had us believe. But then who was, who is? Mind you, I can't imagine Ringo being beastly to anyone.

The tiny print is a challenge to aging eyes, but I am eager for more and the interminable journey back to England next week will give me a chance to get really stuck in. After the funeral, I'm taking a train trip to Liverpool for my first ever class reunion. More than 40 years down the line, so it could be a shock to the system. Liverpool was a more convenient venue than Belfast itself, so there may even be time to wander past the Cavern and see for myself why it was once the best of cellars.

Talking of puns, my friend Paul sent me a lovely bit of doggerel that he wrote in honour of our dear departed dog, who spent a week with a big party of us in Brittany last summer. Paul is such a thoroughly modern chap that he composes directly onto his iPhone. I dubbed him on holiday The iPhone Poet in the hope that he'll remember me when he's rich and famous. At the risk of appearing maudlin, I thought I'd take this opportunity to reproduce his ode.

Alfie goes to Brittany, by A. Doggerel

Here we are at last, a 10 hour drive
Berlingo’d out and so happy to arrive
Nice to be invited, had to come along
But they don’t get that I’m a dog, not really one of them

What’s a dog’s life? – responsibility
They’d just never exercise if it wasn’t for me
Who patrols the garden, keeps them off the road
Tells them when its supper time – it's a heavy load

Oh Alfie, Alfie, what’s it all about
You see it all as we wander in and out
Cocking an ear, paws for thought
Then guzzle up the goat’s cheese when you think you won’t be caught

I’m very happy with my bed down on the kitchen floor
Would even be quite peaceful except that they all snore
And there’s nightly visitations from those who cannot sleep
My God he’s got the muesli, how much can he eat?

And now another one comes down, and she’s giving me a hug
But you can’t fool me I know that she just wants to steal my rug
And next here’s one of the sisters, she of the strawberry flan
Leading everyone astray with her dancing and her gin.

I feel a little peckish, I’m growing rather weak
They’ll have left me something, but they like playing hide and seek
So is it on the table, or is it in the sink?
Is it in the cupboard, come on Alfie, think!

Oh Alfie, Alfie, what’s this all about
You’ve been at the dustbin, strewn the contents out
We come down in the morning, it's not a pretty sight
The incident of the dog that got curious in the night!

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