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, 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!

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