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, March 15, 2015

10th – 14th March: Service with a Smile



There was a memorable moment in my pre-history – a kind of rite of passage from childhood to adolescent – when my brother and I quite liderally smashed his copy of 'Bits and Pieces' by the Dave Clark 5 into little smithereens of vinyl. It wasn't easy to do. Not like a 78 rpm record. If you dropped one of those on a hard surface, they would smash like glass. Breaking up a vinyl 7-inch single took a wanton act of destruction. It was fun at the time. We revelled in the gesture almost as a piece of performance art.   



This week, I ate my lunch with bits and pieces of a documentary about the Dave Clark Five. I couldn't interest The Daughter in it. Unlike the Beatles and the Stones, she'd never heard of the DC5. I'd never really given them much thought for decades and considered the 'Tottenham Sound' a brief phenomenon involving a couple of hit singles and a dopy teen-film. Yes, Mike Smith on keyboards had a seriously good soulful voice, but my abiding image of them was one of Dave Clark himself beating hell out of his drum kit with a total lack of subtlety and a cheesy smile on his face.




My lunchtime education enlightened me. The likes of Bruce Springsteen and Steve van Zandt taught me just how huge the group were in the US. They appeared more times on the Ed Sullivan Show than any other musical act. They made umpteen albums in a short space of time and sold something like a 100million records worldwide. What's more, that dopy teen-film, Catch Us If You Can, was directed by John Boorman, who would go on to make Deliverance and Point Blank.



Smiling Dave had a shrewd business mind. He owned all the masters to their records in an era when artists would sign any old contract proposed by the record moguls. During their time in the sun, they were the hardest working band in show business, but always took time-off during their tours for rest and recreation. And they quit – in 1970 – while they were still ahead. Dave Clark had the good taste subsequently to buy up the rights to the pop-tastic Ready, Steady, Go! – but the poor taste to furnish his Mayfair flat with a tiger-skin rug and to produce a West End blockbuster called Time – the Musical. Despite the smile, the film made me suspect him of being a tad humourless.



Anyway, I wasn't looking for Dave Clark discs when I popped into Cash Converters during the week with my girl. We were out on the town principally to try and locate the French equivalent of a Job Centre. Tilley now knows why it's my favourite shop in Brive. They're just so... so damn nice. I was embarrassed to take back a CD that I'd bought for 50 cents, but it was a rarity by Robin Trower, Procol Harum's brilliant ex-guitarist, and so scratched that not a single track was audible. Cash Converters advertise a special machine that repairs discs otherwise beyond redemption.



I didn't actually see the machine. It's housed in a back room and I like to imagine that it's like a prop from Metropolis or Brazil. Full of dials and plugs and little glass vials emanating puffs of steam. But it only took five minutes, so I suspect it's something rather more mundane. A charming male assistant – who always likes to air a little schoolboy English with me – brought me the rejuvenated disc. Where once it looked like something found in a scrapheap, now it was miraculously shiny and apparently resuscitated. Yet he apologised (yes, we're talking about a French concern here and he apologised) because he felt that The Machine had failed to bring back Robin 'Lazarus' Trower from the dead.



He and his colleague insisted that I take it home and try it, but they would reimburse me my 50cents. Still embarrassed about taking back a 50-cent disc and because I would be happy if even one track worked now, I demurred. I explained that I get my kicks on route 66 by making compilation discs. No, that wasn't the point. We were talking customer service here. Yes, that once alien concept in this land of the indifferent shrug. By this point, I was positively reeling. In the end, I agreed that they could knock 50 cents off my next purchase if they really insisted. They did.



I went to find my daughter in among the DVD slush pile. Time to go home. Wait a minute! Wasn't that the tango-tastic Gotan Project live in concert for a mere two bucks? Yes, it was. I took it to the desk and proffered my pristine two-euro coin. Monsieur Converter rendered me €1,50 in change. No arguments. They were still talking customer service. My girl Tilley couldn't believe her eyes. God, dad, they're so nice. They must love you. I smiled the smile of a former training officer. These guys have been trained.



I took my DVD with good grace and a feel-good factor from such service with a smile. For their part, it reinforced my customer loyalty and a wish to spread the word. And what's more, let me tell you this, that Robin Trower CD now plays all the way through and I can hear some of the cleanest, crispest guitar playing this side of Jeff Beck.



And at this point, I assume the voice of the Pathé News commentator from one of those rousing gung-ho cinema newsreels. So it was smiles all round... and smiles again on Friday night, despite the rain, for the second ceilidh in Tim and Gilly's barn. 50 good-time Charlies – and Charlenes – got together to learn the steps called out by Miss Melody. Yes, that's her with one of those fancy-Dan clip-on microphones. And there's husband Matt, fiddling his way dexterously through a repertoire of jigs and reels with Steve on keyboards and Dmitri on guitar. But who's this hapless fellow who doesn't seem to know his left foot from his right? [Jovial guffaws] Oh dear oh dear...


Actually, we were a little fewer in number...

That alas was me. It didn't dampen my enjoyment, although The Daughter and I sat out the last dance because the manoeuvres looked far too complex. I consulted my wife the next day. How is it that I can move tidily enough to the beat if I dance alone, but get twisted up in knots when in a line or with a partner? Debs thinks I'm borderline Asperger's. And there was me thinking I was simply anally retentive. I think she meant that, corporeally speaking, I was vertically adroit but laterally challenged. I kind of know what she means, but don't ask me to explain in any depth or detail. Something to do with the left-brain/right-brain dichotomy and the way we programme information.



Never mind, eh? The Kid and I had a ball and we got back the right side of midnight to find the wife tucked up in her bed and Daphne in her basket and not for once on the sofa. Enough to make you feel thump, thump! glad all over/Yes I'm – thump, thump! – glad all over... Wait a minute. That old EMI single in its original sleeve. That would be worth something now...

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