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, April 26, 2015

24th – 25th April: The Long Goodbyes

Little by little the chateau I 'guard' is reverting to its original French ownership. I've never researched its history, because the building doesn't interest me that much; more the inhabitants. It's a big late 19th century seigniorial statement that sits grandly on a bluff above the village where the peasants lived and maybe kow-towed to the aristocrat who commissioned it.

I think it was conceived as a hunting lodge. I quite like to think that the peasants revolted and commandeered the pompous chateau, but I think the march of time just gradually overtook it. Over the decades, hard times befell the manor and/or its lord(s) and it became a centre de vacances for all those young French children, like Le Petit Nicolas, who even now get sent off each summer to a colonie of their peers.

One day, wandering around the outhouses which were due to be part 2 of the renovation project, I came across a big box of small children's boots. You can read that both ways: boots for small children and small boots for children. In any case, there was something a little sinister about it. Almost like stumbling upon a hoard of personal effects at a concentration camp. My disquiet wasn't helped by finding an old shower block in the woods.

The whole caboodle was bought by some property developer from across the water, who had come from Australia to settle in an exclusive village in Hampshire. My ex-neighbour here showed me a double-paged spread in his Daily Mail one day. It was all about this guy and his wife and their dream of owning a French chateau. We conjectured that he must have paid for a journalist to come over here and write some PR fluff to attract buyers.

If so, it certainly did the trick. The property market was at its zenith back then and he sold five of the nine conceived as part 1 of the renovation project at silly prices. My ex-neighbour met the man and told me that he needed someone to look after the place, because the young woman from the village beneath the chateau had 'left'. Since I was looking for some kind of regular income source, would I like him to effect an introduction?

It was a bizarre kind of meeting, because we made up a doubles team for a game of tennis with my neighbours on their private court (which they'd had blasted out of this limestone scarp slope). Warning bells should have rung when the pot-bellied white-haired man turned up in a pure white kit with not one but two racquets. He played to win, unlike our gracious hosts. It was clear that he thought of himself as some kind of latter-day Lew Hoad, his boyhood hero. Unfortunately, he didn't play at his best and Ro next door, who was an accomplished tennis gal, returned his serves with stylish ease. The man's temper got worse and worse. He even blamed the surface of their court for his poor display. He had to be Australian; someone British would never be so ill-mannered as to blame their hosts' tarmac.

Nevertheless, I gave it a try. But it didn't take too long to discover just how odious a couple he and his unctuous wife were. They were described by my friends, the Vincents, who have just taken leave of their apartment, as the iron fist and the velvet glove. They retained one of the apartments for their own use. Inside it, there was a curious corpulent ornamental double bass, which came to symbolise for me the man's own seigniorial ambitions. Clearly he liked to lord it over others. He referred to the co-proprietors, who had bought his apartments at inflated prices and who then had the temerity to demand that the place be finished in accordance with the marketing blurb, by their surnames. The local tradesmen were all incompetent fools. And, despite the fact that he had bought a property in Europe, he intended to stand as a politician for the embryonic UKIP party. Clearly, in the immortal words of Fela Kuti, he considered himself some important trouser.

One day I witnessed the pair of them humiliate some charming Polish woman, who cried on my shoulder after the assault. I waited for my pay cheque to arrive in the bank at the end of the month and, at the end of another horrible telephone conversation with the man – who always adopted the tone of some Victorian public school headmaster addressing some errant pupil in his study – I told him to mount his bicycle and pedal off to parts unknown.

It all of course ended in tears. The usual sorry tale of greed and overreaching ambition. To this day, for example, the three luxury duplexes under the roof have remained unsold. They'd make great second homes – for a family of dwarves. Instead of making smaller apartments with generous ceilings, the architect and the lord of the manor (who ended up in court when their business relationship ended up in a messy divorce) pinched the headroom for a second floor in which you'd be constantly bashing your head on the low-slung beams of the compressed ceilings.

Once the important trouser and his wife were ancient history, I went back as guardian to do what I could to extricate the co-proprietors from the mess that they were left. No one knows quite what happened to the fist and glove. They left a trail of debts and a lot of bad feeling when they fled (with their ornamental double bass and other effects, probably in the middle of one night when the gendarmes wouldn't be abroad). Their house in England was seen on the market for some exorbitant asking price. The consensus is that they went back to Australia, where I trust they have both been eaten by a great white shark.

Gradually, united by a common enemy and false promises, things were put right. Meanwhile, however, the bottom fell out of the French property market. The trouser's apartment was sold for a knock-down price to a delightful couple of Bretons to pay off some of the debts – and this created a certain amount of jealousy and ill feeling, particularly when the new couple started letting their apartment to holidaymakers in the height of the summer. Two more pairs of Brits sold up to natives at a significant loss. And the trésor public now owns two of the unsold (and unfinished) apartments in lieu of unpaid taxes.

Now the Vincents have gone, too. They're both around 80 now, so it's hardly surprising what with the long journey from the Home Counties. Over the years, they have delighted and exasperated me in equal measure. On one hand, their extreme privilege galls. As if accustomed to living with a retinue of servants all their days, they are both totally impractical and, not to put too fine a point on it, incompetent. I have been called out on a number of occasions to tighten a screw or nut or to push a trip switch with sufficient vigour to restore power. They are always effusively grateful, but there's always a slight lingering feeling of noblesse oblige.

On the other hand, however, they come here to read books and to enjoy the peace and quiet that the French experience has offered them. Edgar has become an author in his well-heeled retirement and his monumental tome on Nelson has become the Yale University Press's best-selling book of all time. The Good Wife and I have been invited on several occasions to the most exquisitely served dinners in their very tastefully appointed apartment. We have been plied with their hand-me-down books and both of us have enjoyed some of the most stimulating cultural conversations in 20 years of life in France. They don't make 'em like that anymore, and it's like we have revelled in the company of an endangered species.

On Saturday morning, I went up to read their meters for the last time, to meet the French couple who have bought no.9 and to say my fond farewells. I was a little bleary-eyed from the rare experience of staying up late the night before, but still getting up at six to let young bearded Daphne out to make pee-pee on the lawn. I'd been in my element, though: DJ-ing at a social event in Meyssac's foyer culturel and playing some of the best world dance music I could muster at short notice. As usual, though, I had to contend with someone intent on harrying someone trying to concentrate on pleasing the majority. She's a queer fish at the best of times, with a reputation for being waspish. In the end, she did my head in once too often and, losing both my calm and any residual command of the French language, I told her to be off with herself.

In the Vincents' denuded apartment, we all shook hands and behaved with much more propriety than I had done the night before. I smiled to hear Edgar go through certain items in his carefully measured and technically correct French, sounding unerringly like a dinner-jacketed BBC wireless announcer talking to the masses from Alexandra Palace. Elizabeth's own strangled attempts at French made me wonder what on earth she has been doing in almost 30 years of regular visits to France. Gardening and reading heavyweight books, I guess.

We went outside into the drizzle for the ceremonious reading of the meters and I got a chance to talk to the new owners. They're young and French and they live down south in the shadow of the Pyrenees. It's one of the most beautiful places on earth, so I wondered why they bothered with a second home in the Lot. It was just a coup de foudre, it seems. Madame never even saw it; just the video that her husband took on his phone. That was enough. Anyway, they seemed very pleasant and the Vincents were clearly content to be handing over to them.

And so I said my long goodbyes to the delightful antiquated tenants of Wildfell Hall. We promised to keep in touch and they vowed to come back to holiday in the area. It was all rather moving. Later, back at home, I just missed the telephone. It was Edgar. I listened to his amiable and stilted message. Both of them were terribly embarrassed, but they'd got to the Porte de Corrèze service station only to realise that they'd forgotten to shut the shutters in the bathroom. Would you mind terribly, old boy...? Ah, exasperating to the last. I'm really going to miss them.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

16th – 18th April: The Mouse at Play

When the cats are away... The girls are off in their tiny Peugeot on the long haul north. It's what The Daughter, who watches far too many American TV programmes, romanticises as a road trip. In my book, it's just hundreds of tedious motorway miles. She's busy taking her code in preparation for her first driving lessons, so she'll learn about the reality of driving soon enough.

They spent Thursday night in Dieppe before crossing to Newhaven early the next morning and encountering that grim British phenomenon of Friday traffic on the busy road west to Southampton. Thence they drive countless more miles to Appleby-in-Westmoreland to help my mother-in-law pack her current house into a small but not quite perfectly formed – because there are issues with the bathroom – converted chapel. It's just a few miles along the Fell side and everyone hopes that she will happily see out the rest of her days there.  

It's a beautiful part of the world and we've talked of moving there ourselves one day. But it rains too much. Talking of rain, I ran into a humdinger of a storm on Thursday afternoon. I'd been to see a friend's tenant and to arrange for the hiding of the keys when he finishes moving his stuff to Collonges la Rouge, where he'll be working the summer season as a (very busy) waiter in one of several restaurants there that feed off the tourists.

The storm was threatening and by the time I'd made a quick trolley dash around Lidl on the return leg home, the rain was falling in torrents. Sensible shoppers waited for some respite under the trolley shelter, but I'd left Daphne alone in the car and felt she'd be frightened by the noise of the thunder and so much water pounding on a metal roof. So I legged it – and I copped it.

Ah well, at least it would be sure to fill up the rain butts. And yet, 15 minutes down river and up the hill to home and I discovered that barely a drop had fallen here. I was chatting with Monsieur Simon at Martel market on Saturday morning about the topography of storms. He's an ever smiling octogenarian with hands gnarled from years of cultivating the land, who turns up without fail to sell his vegetables in one of those old Renault vans that looks like an unlabelled tin on wheels. He weighs them on old-fashioned scales and always chucks in a couple more to make bon poids or 'good weight'. He calls me jeune homme, which endears him to me considerably. In comparison to his great age, though, I guess I am a comparatively young man.

So we were talking about the storm and he described how they tend to follow the main river valleys and their tributaries. Then the outlying districts will often receive what's left of the precipitation on the storm's return leg. Or not, in the case of our commune on Thursday. It's something that I've often observed over the years without ever quite picturing what was going on, geographically speaking. I got my Geography O-level at school without ever delving deeper.

Anyway, a little rain fell eventually. It was not enough to fill up the rain butts, but it served to make the soil a little more workable. So I followed up my trip to the market on Saturday market with a trip to the tip. Locals can help themselves to the compost that's delivered periodically from the recycling centre in the department, so I filled up the builder's bag I'd laid out in the boot of the car. The young lad who works there is a former classmate of our Tilley who, academically speaking, was just a notch or two above the 'village idiot' category. He helped me out with a shovel that was twice the size of my own and seems to have turned into a very brawny, very obliging young fellow. One might say that he has found his niche in life.

For the rest of the day, I toiled under the sun, digging the compost into the unforgiving soil of our vegetable patch. I was helped all afternoon by my young female canine assistant, who rooted for rodents or whatever lurk in the subterranean passageways while I forked around her. At one point I beaned her on the sconce with a rake, but mercifully avoided pronging her with a tine. To adapt an infamously unsuccessful cigarette ad, you're never alone with a pup.

I'm not, nor ever will be, a keen gardener, but I got so carried away by my labours that I quite forgot about my planned trip up river to the Eco Chateau, where they were due to be holding an open day. Ruth Phillips, who owns the 17th century property, heard about our straw bale house and came to meet me years ago when her plans were in their infancy. Situated somewhere near the Corrèze/Cantal border not too far from the upper Dordogne valley and not a million miles from where we used to live among the hill people, it's currently a holiday venue for people with a keen interest in the organic life. Next year they are planning to build an eco village in the grounds. I'd like to get involved by running a straw bale course or two there, but I might have blotted my copybook by forgetting to go to the presentation.

Still... After the toil came the reward. Alone and left to my own devices, guilt-free I watched Arsenal play Reading in the first of the semi-finals of the FA Cup. At half-time, I left to have dinner with Dan, Dan the graphics man and his wife, Merrily, who was very keen to meet Daphne and try her out for size with their lanky rescued Spanish galgo, Ruby. She, Ruby, is a greyhound by any other name and lucky to be alive, since they are used as hunting dogs and then abandoned, starved or even hung by their contemptible masters. Now she lives the life of a tall, white-socked queen. Daphne, of course, was mad keen to play, but Ruby merely barked at her disdainfully from her sofa.  

We ate a cheese and potato pie followed by the luxury Christmas pudding that I brought with me. It has been sitting, spurned by the girls, on our shelves since December. Maybe Christmas pud is a male thing, because Merrily wasn't keen either. Dan and I manfully ate the equivalent of about five helpings, but I took some leftovers home for a gastronomic reprise. That's the kind of reckless thing that you can get up to when the cats are away.

Generally, life will go on and the days will tick by with alarming speed. Up to a point, I can suit myself and I'll probably catch up on some accumulated films and read a little more than I do customarily. Fewer distractions and fewer obligations. I'm enjoying the humorist Craig Brown's One On One: 101 True Encounters. Vignettes of exactly 1,001 words based around encounters between famous men and women. It's clever, witty and engrossing – and it has reminded me what a vindictive bully Frank Sinatra was, and what drug-fuelled, gun-toting nutters Phil Spector and Elvis Presley were.

So far, my favourite is the one where Francis Bacon heckles Princess Margaret's attempts to sing Cole Porter songs at some high society function – if only for Bacon's reply to someone who posed that awful question, And what do you do? Bacon replied, I'm a nancy boy. How glorious is that? Definitely one I shall be recounting to the girls on their return from the motherland.

Monday, April 13, 2015

5 – 11th April: The great outdoors

Last week was so truly beautiful that it should have been without blemish. But Rory McIlroy didn't win the US Masters to become the sixth golfer in history to complete a career grand slam, and Sir Bradley failed to achieve his latest goal of winning the unpredictable Paris-Roubaix cycle race. Moreover, I missed Birdman and received a disquieting e-mail from the French administration.

Nevertheless... It was one of those weeks to freeze in time and re-visit when your spirits need a little uplift. The sky was so blue, the light so limpid, the air so calm, the temperature so balmy, the sun so brilliant and the moon so full. Perfect. Of course, such conditions have serious horticultural implications. I've already launched another spring offensive with my biggest guns – mower, strimmer, secateurs and rake – but for all the washing I hang up on the Siegfried Line, I know that the Siegfried Line will still be there. Weeds are an implacable enemy and it's a case of three steps forward and four steps back. Top Brass can't answer the question why grass grows everywhere except where you want it to.

I won't dwell on the negatives. There are many reasons to be cheerful. I've heard the first cuckoo – several times over – and the first of the irises have unfurled in a flurry of indigo. My fine friend Bret has helped me rationalise our wood and created in the process woodpiles worthy of the neighbourhood. In the process, he's saved our marriage. It looks like a building site out there! It doesn't any more. (Well, it's beginning not to.)

On Easter Sunday, what's more – the first of several perfect days to come – I walked with a zombie. Sorry, scratch that. I'm getting carried away by my love of 1950s B-movies. No, I meant a donkey. Two in fact. If there's any animals on earth I love more than donkeys, I haven't met them (I'm still hoping one day to encounter a wombat or an orang-utan, but it's unlikely in France).  

It was on the lovely shady path that follows a stream past a watermill and up a kind of wooded canyon. It's a beautiful valley not far from Martel, where we often used to take Alf for walks when Tilley was having a piano lesson or a solfège class. Now, the tranquillity is threatened by a new road that nobody wants, not even the jam 'n' juice company for whom it was conceived. It will, we are told, dis-enslave the northern Lot by linking the whirring metropolis of Biars to the A20 motorway somewhere south of Brive. So we should all be grateful and stop whingeing about the priceless countryside it will disfigure in the process.

So there we were on our shady walk, watching the Thompsons' dog, Holly, diving into the stream to fetch her sticks and Daphne barking from the water's edge because she wasn't quite bold enough yet to take the plunge, and I turned round to see two grey donkeys calmly regarding the fun. Not wishing them to panic if the dogs were to run up to them, I walked over quietly, did a bit of donkey-whispering in their pointy ears and strolled off in the direction of the field where we'd noticed them. They followed me placidly while the girls brought up the rear with the two dogs now on leads. I felt like some biblical character guiding his asses to pasture.

That was marvellous – as was Series 1 of Broadchurch and Series 4 of Parks and Recreation – but the three of us were thoroughly miffed to have missed Birdman when it came on Wednesday night to our cinema in Vayrac. I found out at my weekly yoga class late the following afternoon. So when I got back home, I proposed a compensatory visit that evening to see Kingsman. It wasn't a film that I felt strongly about, but the Grauniad gave it four stars.

We got there to find the place almost deserted, so we chatted a while with the woman who runs the association that runs the cinema. She was surprised that she hadn't see us the evening before and then proceeded to tell us how exceptional the film was – and to give the ending away. Her breath suggested a little too much wine with her dinner and she continued to talk as if there were no tomorrow. Meanwhile, the projectionist announced that they hadn't supplied the English language key for the copy of the film. It shouldn't take too long to get hold of if we didn't mind being patient.

As the woman chatted on, thrusting into our hands this and that brochure advertising this and that local event and festival, I kept looking outside, imagining that the digital key might be rushed over at any second by Securicor with a noisy police escort. But no, it was just a code and presumably it entailed just a phone call. Half an hour or more went by and nothing transpired, so we decided to make our excuses. We had a 'baby' at home, we explained. The woman flashed us a look of undisguised horror. What?? Surely these curious English moviegoers don't...?

The Daughter stepped in to explain that we meant our dog, Daphne. Not that she's a baby anymore. She's turned into a leggy blonde already. A leggy blonde with big feet and a beard. Not everyone's idea of a beauty, but we still coo lovingly over her when she's reposing in her oversized basket. She was fine when we got back, if relieved to know that we hadn't abandoned her. I'm sure the jazz I left playing for her must have helped her neuroses.

She enjoyed the great outdoors all week. Helping me in the garden by digging holes and stealing gloves. Helping Bret and me with our work on the woodpiles by stealing more gloves. Helping me help the Vincents move out of their apartment at the château I look after. Much as I love cats, the great thing about a dog is that they take an interest in what you're doing and they like to be with you whatever you're up to.

She's not, however, allowed up onto the mezzanine level – which is Myrtle's domain – so she doesn't know about this e-mail from the administration. I've just submitted my earnings for 2014 to Agessa, the organisation responsible for administering social charges for writers, photographers and the like. Since my earnings are so modest, I include my work at the château, because it involves a fair bit of writing – and it's just so much easier. But this year, for the first time, I'm being asked to provide more details and to justify its inclusion.

When is a writer not a writer? When it's not convenient, it would seem. If they don't agree that it properly comes under my main work as a writer, I shall have to go cap in hand to URSSAF or the RSI or one of those mysterious and appalling organisations that deals with the dreaded self-employed. Rather than do that, I'm inclined to swallow a bottle of pills or just give up the work in question.

I'm still waiting to watch a programme made by a British economist about the parlous state of the French economy. Apparently, its main message is that the nation's nostrils are about a millimetre above the surface of a giant economic septic tank ready to engulf the system. Already I'm hearing tales of the recently retired who aren't receiving their pensions. They're no doubt formerly self-employed, which serves them right for being so independently inclined.

The e-mail from Agessa has reminded me what's wrong with a system that employs vast legions of functionaries to pigeon-hole people and make it as difficult as possible to be creative and entrepreneurial – and create employment and wealth. I'll be as creative as I can in my reply and do my best to convince them that a writer can still be a writer even when he's being more than just a writer.

The forecast is good for this week, too. Provided that there's no catastrophic flood of economic effluent (just yet), I'll be back outside to fight the good fight with strimmer and adolescent dog at my side. Hey! Come back with those gloves, you scamp!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

1 – 4th April: Clueless and Phoneless

It's amazing how virtuous it can make you feel when you put yourself, voluntarily, through some kind of ordeal.

All week long and more, with the countryside busy breaking out in dandelions, the Good Wife and I have been drinking an elixir made of birch sap. She brought back from Brive one day a big plastic jerrican full of the stuff. It came from a fellow therapist, who drinks a glass full every day before breakfast as a cure for... well, I'm not quite sure what, but you know what the French are like with their cures. Miraculous antidotes to all that comestible excess.

This fellow therapist swears by it. She's married to a goat farmer and they live somewhere up on the Corrézian plateau not far from Lapleau, high above the upper reaches of the Dordogne. I guess they have a lot of birch trees on their land. Once every year, the sap of all these trees rises and the pair of them tap it like latex or maple syrup. And then they drink it.
Looks good, but by golly it doesn't...

It looks innocuous enough: like a cross between water and nail-varnish remover. But the taste becomes increasingly vile the longer you leave it in the fridge. We've been trying to find the most apt analogy. So far the closest we've got is: fermented toenail clippings strained through a muslin soaked in the sweat of rugby players' armpits. It's not pleasant and you have to knock it back in one. The Daughter has already dropped out of the competition. I'm not quite sure, though, why her parents are persevering, because neither of us has noted any kind of increase in energy or well-being. Next year, I doubt if we will be repeating the experiment.

In the great scheme of things, I suppose, it doesn't represent much of an ordeal, but still... During the last few days I've had to factor-in the fosse septique. The waterworks have been bubbling and smelling rank for several months and we've had to bite the bullet – reluctantly, because it only seems like a couple of years since the local farmer did the deed for us. This time around, I called International Rescue in the form of one of those custom-made vidange lorries.

A very pleasant local man from Montvalent turned up on Thursday morning with such a paradoxically pristine lorry – given the nature of his profession – that I was charged with cutting down overhanging branches with some heavy duty secateurs as he backed carefully down our track. He must take a genuine pride in the gleaming bodywork.

We chatted as the lorry's 20m-long proboscis sucked up the unsavoury contents of our fosse. For a start, it seems, it's not un-us-ual to have to empty your tank roughly every three years. So there isn't necessarily something terribly wrong with our sanitation arrangements. Secondly, he told me not to bother buying the expensive sachets of micro-organisms to kick start your fosse once you've replaced filthy water with clean. Don't bother either, he suggested, with the weekly sachet. It's all a con, just more big business. He reckons we produce sufficient bacteria in our own effluence to keep a septic tank nourished.

When it came to testing time, I flushed a loo and emptied a couple of basins while Monsieur Vidange observed the flow of waste water into the tank. It was not good. More of a trickle than a torrent. This would explain the extreme gurgling we have experienced in the pipe work. Before taking his leave, he told me to dig down at a given point and I should locate some kind of regard, or observation hole. Once located, I should contact him and he would come back to complete the operation. A service, he pointed out, that more expensive competitors would be likely to skip.


So this I did, under the leaden sky of a grey Good Friday. Daphne thought this was great sport and she took it upon herself to dig a complementary, smaller hole further down the slope. In the last couple of weeks, her mutton chop whiskers have grown apace to give her the look, in certain lights, of the great Victorian Whig prime minister, William Ewart Gladstone. She's also developing rampant eyebrows in the manner of a Dennis Healey. So I'm beginning to think that she's got a political career ahead of her. I'll have to train her soon to lie and to avoid direct answers to questions, so she'll be equipped for the cutthroat world of parliament.

The outcome of such double digging was unfortunate. I managed to uncover part of the fosse without too much effort, but couldn't locate any kind of regard. So I had the bright idea of peering inside the tank itself, which by now was half full of the rain water I had siphoned out of three of our four green plastic butts. On my knees, with my head sticking down inside the plastic tank, something shot out of a pocket and plummeted into the murky water. Oh my God! Not again...

But yes, it was. It was the Sony Eriksson phone that my friend Nick had given me to replace the phone I dropped down the loo a couple of years ago. I liked that phone. It was simple to use and reliable. I trudged inside and my news occasioned a little sympathy but rather more mirth. I phoned Nick, because I remembered that his wife, Sophie, also had a spare phone. She still had it and yes, I could have it. What's more, there was her ex-father's former phone. Two to choose from.

If only we had the technology to replay such idiocies and press a Pause button so we could put everything right. Ah yes! Look, you see? The pocket wasn't zipped. If we zip it up, then the phone will stay on his person even when upside down. Let's re-run it, to see what would happen. But alas, life doesn't work like that. And just to compound the misery, I had the bright idea – half an hour too late – to look through the photographs I took during the construction of our house, just to see whether there happened to be one of the installation of our fosse...
You have no regard...

And there was. Despite all the heavy shadow from overexposure to bright sunlight, you can make out clearly enough that there is no regard. I could have saved myself all that trouble if... Too late. What's done is done and all those other clichés. On my friend Bret's advice, I later tried to fish the phone out of the depths with a rake. There was just a chance that I could rescue the SIM card and preserve my contacts. But no. It didn't work.

So now, when I think about it, it's not virtuous that I'm feeling so much as plain stoo-pid. To adapt one of Oscar Wilde's most memorable witticisms, to lose one mobile phone via a sanitation fixture is careless; to lose two mobile phones is clueless.