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.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

19th – 26th May: Rome-ancing the Ancient Stones

You must excuse the awful Sun-pun, but every journalist must have his day. And the Good Wife and I have just got back from a few days in the so-called Eternal City to celebrate 25 years of exceptionally harmonious marriage. (Vicissitudes? We spit upon them.)

Having studied Ancient History and learnt all my Latin gerunds and gerundives up to A-level, it was a trip down a very long Memory Lane. I often say that France looks after its patrimony with much more diligence than we do in the mother country, and wandering around some medieval village here is a thing of wonder. In Rome, however, you plunge into a deep bubbling Jacuzzi of history. There are ruins everywhere and Renaissance piles at every turn of the street. After a while you become quite blasé. Even all the Roman gladiators become just a part of the tourist landscape.

I came across my first gladiators on the second evening there. We were exploring some of the byways of the historic centre, just down from the overpopulated Spanish Steps. There was a crowd milling outside some vast domed rotunda and a few gladiators in plastic breastplates were up to something. Probably fleecing tourists rather than despatching lions. Debs remembered that she had stayed here once many moons ago during one of her theatrical tours of Italy with a small company of hopefuls. There it was: her stylish hotel, bang opposite what revealed itself to be the Pantheon.

Like the extraordinary churches and basilica, sometimes sandwiched between residential buildings, the Pantheon is free – for which we must thank the current civil civic descendants of Marcus Agrippa, because Rome is a very expensive city and there's a steep price to pay for excess sightseeing. What a monument it is, too. Less imposing and a lot less pompous than St. Peter's, I nevertheless wandered around its musty interior open-mouthed with hands clasped reverentially behind my back in an Anglo-Saxon attitude of our Royal Family.

Roman civic engineering never fails to astonish. With only slaves, ladders, pulleys and a whole lot of architectural sophistication, they managed to put up edifices that will last much longer than Mussolini's preposterous 'wedding cake'. The 43m diameter of the Pantheon is precisely equal to its height and the hole in the dome, though a mere pinprick from floor level, is 9m across. But it's the apparent absence of anything structural to hold it all in place that is so very impressive.

There were Roman gladiators everywhere the next morning when we went early after our meagre Italian breakfast to the Colosseum. Some carried short swords and one, I noticed, carried a chain and a net, but not a trident to be seen. It wasn't important because you can let your imagination run amok when you look down from the first-level perimeter at the arena. Those about to die, all the terrified men and wild animals, were winched up from below to the slaughter for the entertainment of the spectators baying in the bleachers. My wife, who is a portal through time, could smell animal dung strongly from the bowels of the monstrous building. Me, I smelt nothing, but felt the awe and the horror in equal measures.

Everywhere like the Colosseum and its appendices, the Forum and the Capitoline Hill (where I'm sure I heard the bellowing voice of Brian Blessed as Augustus in I, Claudius somewhere near the house of his poisonous mother, Livia) seems to provide one long portrait opportunity. Rome is Selfie City. The most popular merchandise peddled by the Asian street vendors seemed to be a 'selfie-stick'. It's an apparatus that looks a little like a device for opening unreachable windows. You put your iPhone in its prehensile claw, hold it out in front of you, smile at the camera and then do something like press a button or pull a little connecting wire – and hey presto, it's Facebook! Here's me in front of the Colosseum... and there's me standing underneath the Arch of Titus... Selfie, selfie, selfie sir? No thank you, squire. Feel free, though, to stick your stick up the parts that other sticks can't reach.

Actually, I felt very sorry for the street vendors. We made a point of declining their wares with a wave and a smile, because these poor guys are abroad from morn till midnight, trying to offload their tacky products on tourists with euros to waste in an attempt to earn some kind of living. I hope they manage it, because it's no life and, typically, it seems to be a life that only the much reviled immigrants are prepared to take on. I wouldn't last long. I'd turn into a close cousin of the wild-eyed barking man we spotted near the central station on our way to our Air B&B billet on the first evening.

From up on the Capitoline Hill, where the ghost of Brian Blessed broadcasts his imperial edicts, you can look down on the bewildering Forum and, with a heap of imagination, picture the madding crowd in togas and sandals. From another vantage point you can look down on the bewildering city of today and glimpse the dome of St. Peter's, locate the Tiber, speculate on the seven hills and generally fail to find any kind of topographical urban logic.

It is indeed a bewildering place. There are two metro lines and there are trams and a fleet of buses, but the destinations they display might as well be in Singapore. You have to be prepared to walk – and walk and walk. A map and a clean pair of reading glasses are indispensable. Even so, neither of us managed to orientate ourselves. I have a pretty good sense of direction, but Rome is a maze. We even got lost trying to find our way out of the Forum.

When the predicted rain fell in torrents on the Thursday afternoon, we decided to go in search of a vaguely advertised Chagall exhibition. The Italians, we were told by our B&B host – a charming man whose work as a costume designer for film and theatre does not appear to equip him for providing proper breakfasts to his guests – are not generally good at publicising cultural events. We asked at least six people where to find the venue. Although in the general area, we spent at least an hour circling it in the pouring rain. I felt a little like Donald Sutherland chasing the red dwarf in Don't Look Now through the alleyways of Venice. Always just out of reach... Until suddenly we turned a corner and there it was. At the ticket office, they promised a free trip to the shop and cafeteria if we paid the hefty admission. But it was worth the cheek; a marvellous exhibition that endeared me even more to the man who died at a great age in his adopted France.

Rome is bewildering and very expensive and scribbled all over by graffiti artists and littered by louts, but it's a rather wonderful city. An open city, in fact, as Roberto Rossellini's film suggested. Open like the buffets that a few establishments offer in the evening. A glass of wine and food on tap for €10, which helped keep us solvent till our rail trip to Tuscany at the weekend to visit friends in the kind of stunning verdant scenery that reminded me of the foothills of the Pyrenees. It was cold and wet, but they cooked like TV chefs and the weekend was a welcome respite from all our spine-jarring treks over asphalt and paving stones.

The sun shone brightly once more on the Monday and our train trip back to Rome was memorable for an encounter with a voluble globe trotter. He came over to sit with us to tell us about his life, his economic and political theories, the pamphlets on obscure subjects that he has written, his friends in high places, his artistic and philosophical contacts and the socio-economic history of the territory surrounding Rome. At first, we exchanged nervous glances, but any discomfort we might have felt was soon dispelled by the realisation that this wasn't a madman, more the kind of highly intelligent polymath whose teeming brain has little truck for social niceties. Neither of us will forget our train ride with a man who walks a tightrope between genius and lunacy.

We spent our final night in a hotel on the third floor of a building converted into a nest of hotels. One on every floor. This particular one was run by the most delightful diminutive dark-haired Italian signora who, for once, couldn't speak a word of English. We just about managed with our picco-piccolo Italian. She was most concerned that we were off before eight the next morning, since we would miss out on the breakfast that was included in the price. So she loaded up a plate from the kitchenette with those arid pre-packed biscotti that crumble upon impact with individual packs of butter and jam. I love Italian cuisine, but the breakfasts are not worth the plastic they're packaged in.

Our absurd journey back to Toulouse on Tuesday took us via Brussels with Brussels Airlines. All that way north to go all that way south again. So we spent too long hanging about airports, which is never a pleasure – although Munich airport on the way out offered an idea of what is possible. Lufthansa offers clients little stations where you can make yourselves coffee, tisanes, green tea and such like. The airport is clean and organised and redolent of a civilised country like Germany. Why didn't we choose to live there? I wondered. There's much to be said for order. On the other hand, there's just as much for the kind of ingratiating disorder that you find in somewhere like Rome. Maybe in France we've found a commodious plot of middle ground.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

13th – 15th May: Who Wears Short Shorts?

Someone reliable who knows about these things told me the other day that if you turn up at an office of The Administration wearing shorts, you could be fined. So how much, I wonder, does the Republic levy on such impropriety, such temerity? €250? More? More than breast-feeding in public, for example?

I laughed. Which suggests that nothing surprises me now about this peculiar adopted country. Not like the early days, when such matters all seemed like a personal affront. I remember my first run-in with an attendant at a public swimming pool, somewhere in the Alps (for it was summer and the water was warmed by the sun), who informed me that I couldn't swim in swimming shorts. They had to be swimming trunks. But that was absurd! It didn't matter how much your protested; those were the rules.

I was told at the time that it was something to do with microbes. The collective fear of germs. I failed to see at the time – and still fail – how more germs could leach into the water via a pair of shorts. I suspect it was about potential impropriety. If the netting of the swimming shorts (or, to use a wonderful word that's under-employed outside of the garment industry, the gusset) failed to do its work and some poor child or woman were to look up a baggy leg and cop a peek of something they shouldn't have... Well, you can imagine the shame and scandal, the fear and consternation in the municipal pool.

Anyway, these days I pack a pair of both if I'm anywhere near a public pool. And I opted for longs on Wednesday, despite the dog-day heat, when I took The Daughter with me to the Pont de l'Ouysse. It was the final stage of my whistle-stop tour of the Michelin-starred establishments of the Haut Quercy.  

My girl got well and truly dressed up for the occasion, even bringing out her folly chaussures: a pair of strappy platforms that reminded me of the shoes that my sister sent away for in the '70s, only to be ordered by our mother to send them back because she would break her ankle(s) should she topple off them. These days, apparently, they're known as flatforms. My brother used to keep the tips he earned from his days as a waiter in a single platform shoe that didn't match its supposed pair. He bought them cheap in some dodgy shoe shop in Bath and he never tried taking them back.

Enough of footwear. To the restaurant, Robin... We arrived at one on the dot to be greeted like visiting royalty. First, we were plied with aperitifs. Being a good boy, I opted for a non-alcoholic version. Since this was Tilley's first real experience of the lap of luxury, she went for something bubbly. Later, as the wine waiter kept topping up our glasses from a half bottle of some fabulous Cahors selected for us, she started to regret that reckless aperitif.

We sat underneath a huge old spreading chestnut tree, shaded from the sun, and a stone's throw from the river Ouysse. A beautiful tributary of the Dordogne, with an underground source near the famous Gouffre de Padirac, it skirts Rocamadour and empties into the big river a little further downstream from the restaurant. It's brief but dynamic enough to have carried off the old Pont de l'Ouysse itself, whose truncated ruins we overlooked. At one point, a party of cyclists arrived at the abrupt end to their path and thought better of attempting a daredevil Evil-Knievel-style leap across the hurrying river.

By the time they cycled past our shady terrace, we were well into the procession of exquisite concoctions. We counted four entrées before the plat principal arrived. One of them was a terrine of cèpes with garlic and parsley on a cream and mushroom velouté. During it, I died and found myself sitting by the plains of heaven. By the time that the main course did arrive, Tilley was begging for mercy. Her father, now a veteran of three gastronomic menus, was able to talk her through it and keep her going till the end: a cheese course that consisted of a Rocamadour goat's cheese melted on a bed of truffle-infused mascarpone; and an exquisite but probably ruinous dessert of a filigree meringue filled with all things nice and rich and fruity.

It was all a far cry from a meal I remembered as a kid, when my parents took me out to celebrate the passing of my 11+ exam (and an annual saving of around £200 in old money). I felt as proud as punch. Just me and my parents. Ya boo sucks to my three siblings, who had to stay at home with a baby sitter. We went to somewhere in the centre of Belfast, a city not renowned in those days for its cuisine. I can't remember what we ate, but I felt so grown up.

Hopefully, Tilley the Kid will remember her gastronomic outing with her free-loading father. The meal was indeed memorable, but it was also notable for the paucity of the vegetables. The few we had were more decorative than substantial. So we both came away longing for a nice fresh crisp salad. But please understand, I'm certainly not complaining.

After the meal, and after interviewing the obliging chef for my article, we went for a stroll in search of some donkeys and the confluence of the Ouysse with the Dordogne. We found neither, but didn't really try that hard since we felt compelled to go back and discover what mayhem Daphne had created in four hours at home alone. Be afraid; be very afraid...

In fact, we found her in her basket, with only a few gloves dotted around the floor. Good girl! What a good girl! My good wife, who was working while the pair of us were indulging ourselves at Lacave, continues to do excellent work with the Terrierdor. She has a way with dogs – as indeed she has with children. And adults in need, for that matter.  

Wednesday represented the end of the fabled Saints de Glace. The three days in May are supposed to be unseasonably cold rather than scorching hot. After they've gone, you can bring out your house plants and geraniums and start planting your flowers and vegetables. So, later in the week, when the weather was more clement – not too hot and not too cold, with some refreshing overnight rain – we got to planting our lettuce and tomatoes. While I shooed the dog far hence for the intricate business of planting each tiny lettuce, Debs cleverly exploited Daphne's digging skills. She got her digging each hole for the tomatoes, then commanding her to stop and back away.

I could only watch in wonder and admire the way our leggy pup did as she was told. Like a truffle dog, in fact. No matter how fierce and authoritative I try to be sometimes, she never seems to take much notice of me. Neither does my wife. Nor our daughter. I wonder what it can be. Do my spindly legs look ridiculous, perhaps, in a pair of baggy shorts? Maybe they do, but shorts – like alfresco meals – are just one of the many pleasures of summer.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

3rd – 9th May: Gastronomy Domini

How refreshing it was on stage 2 of my magical mystery tour of the northern Lot's Michelin-starred hotspots to hear a French chef acknowledge that his native cuisine cannot rest on its laurels, that it must open itself up to influences from a world of cooking beyond the territorial borders.  

Frédérick Bizat of the Trois Soleils de Montal is passionate about his art and almost obsessive about his ingredients. A great sauce is merely a great sauce if it's there just to cover up second-rate raw material. The proof of the pudding, so to speak, was in the entrée that the Good Wife and I tasted on Tuesday, the 5th May, our silver wedding anniversary. That's 25 years; a quarter of a century. It does and yet it doesn't seem like a long, long time ago when we were swearing our oaths in the registry office of Bakewell, Derbyshire. Home of the tart.

Fréderick's wife, Florence, served us a fillet of wild turbot with the most delicate purée of fennel lifted with slivers of nori and the zest of lemon from the south of France. I should say that those are my words, not the proprietors'. The chef doesn't go in for florid descriptions of his creations, which is one reason why they've done away with their à la carte. He also believes that the best French cuisine was often to be found in the little auberge where you ate whatever was on offer that particular day. Which is another reason why an ever changing but limited menu is now their culinary modus operandi.

It's a tradition that does indeed seem to be on the wane. Now that I think of it, we've hardly set foot in such an establishment since the days when the journey south from the Channel ports took so long that you had to stop off once or even twice along the way for some solid sustenance. Of course, one reason for gradually withdrawing our custom was that we got fed up eating omelettes as a vegetarian option. Tuesday was a salutary reminder. The situation, I believe, has improved somewhat in the last five or so years. But I made the mistake of assuming that there would be something for Debs to eat now that she's a 'pescetarian' (a euphemism for a fish-eating vegetarian, a contradiction in terms).

Never assume, as we all know by now. You'll make an ass out of you and me. Had I appreciated Frédérick's rationale, I would have phoned up the evening before to warn him. As it was, the poor man was probably mortified to assemble a hasty plate of vegetables for my wife's plat principal. In the interests of objectivity and research, I accepted the roast grain-fed pigeon. The meat of such fowl is a bit red for a long-lapsed meat eater like me, but I could appreciate that it would have thoroughly pleased most palates.

We had no such problems on stage 1 of our gastronomic tour. Q. When is a job not a job? A. When you're invited to lunch at the Château de la Treyne as a working journalist. The place is phantasmagorical. Set in graceful formal gardens within a wooded park, it sits on the edge of the Dordogne. From the terrace, where we were served our aperitifs, we looked down on the broad river flowing quietly by. Summer diners at the tail-end of a fine day can eat out on the terrace and watch the sun sink under the horizon.

Luncheon was served on the 3rd May, however, in the Louis XIII dining room. We didn't complain, since we were made to feel like guests of the ancient king. I must say, I rather like it when the waiting staff are attentive to your needs without smothering you with obsequiousness. It's not a recipe for self-consciousness and you don't feel compelled to swish them away with a disdainful flick of your hand, as you might dismiss a needy dog. But the most wonderful thing about a freebie in a place like this is that you don't have to pay for it. Otherwise, I might have felt like a passenger in a gridlocked taxi as each course arrived with a flourish and a dutiful description.

Because it wasn't 'alf expensive. But then, if you go there as a paying customer, what you're really buying is an unforgettable experience. Our delightful hostess, Stéphanie – dressed refreshingly in jeans and trainers (albeit of an evident quality) – expressed surprise that we hadn't been before now. We feigned suitable shame, but I think she was mistaking us, dressed up for the occasion, for punters with the means to spend more than a vet's bill on a single lunch. We are not holidaymakers, nor the kind of native prepared to spend whatever it takes on a memorable bouffe.

I bumped into Stéphanie again in Brive on Wednesday afternoon. I was there principally to strim the garden of my therapeutic wife's clinic and its back passage that gets fouled by every passing dog. As part of my article, though, I have to feature a few specialist shops where happy holidaymakers can buy the kinds of ingredients featured in my three chosen restaurants. Clutching my copy of France Magazine, I boldly popped into Eric Lamy, reputedly the best chocolatier in the area. There she was, in conference with the head honcho about his forthcoming macaroon workshop in her chateau. Maybe she reassured him of my bona fides, because I was treated quite ceremoniously and given a box of their wares to sample back home. And sample we did! Clearly, there are chocolates... and then there are chocolates.

The Daughter and I had been looking forward to stage 3 of the gastronomic tour of duty. Saturday is a working day for my wife, so I was due to take Tilley to the Pont de l'Ouysse at La Cave. It has a fine reputation. Although, unlike the other two, it doesn't have an actual star, it's there in the Michelin guide.

But Saturday turned into a dies horribilis. Our not inconsiderable cat, our beautiful Myrtle the Turtle, started gasping for breath. Tilley and I rushed her to the vet, where Amélie – the angel of mercy, who had come to the house to end our Alf's suffering on New Year's Eve – couldn't find a heartbeat because there was so much fluid on her lungs. She tranquilised her to calm her down and put her immediately on oxygen. We should return home, she suggested, but the prognosis was not good at all.

So I cancelled our lunch date, since both of us were in a state of shock. After lunch, the vet phoned to tell us that there was nothing that she could do for Myrtle. She offered us the choice of incinerating the body or taking her back to be buried here. To cremate our cat individually so we could scatter her ashes here would have cost a hind leg. Since none of us could bear the thought of our regal cat being buried, as it were, in a common pauper's grave, we opted for a home burial.

A metre's depth, they say, will keep the dog far hence that's foe to man. Given the rocky clay on which this house and garden sit, that would be a tall order – particularly with a strained rib muscle from my Herculean attempts to remove a wheel from my wife's car. Nevertheless, I would give it my best shot.

We selected a site at the foot of Alfie's grave, the one with an old basin on top of it for the moment to keep the dog far hence that's foe to man, since Myrtle loved the gentle old soul. I laboured for at least three hours with pick axe, spade, trowel and gloved hands, but gave up the struggle when my tape measure revealed that I'd only reached 60cm. We would compensate for the shallow grave with a bucket full of lime this time.

So Myrtle the Turtle is buried in a grave covered temporarily with old roof tiles to keep rooting creatures... Tilley and I will complete my gastronomic tour now on Wednesday. It's just as well that it will be another freebie after paying the vet's bill.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

26th April – 1st May: Birthing a Book

I was determined to end the week on a high of some sorts. So I knuckled down at long last to what had been top of my to-do list since January. But you know how it is... It's a lot easier to strike off all those more mechanical items that bring a short-term sense of satisfaction.

I approach something that takes concentration and concerted effort, like bringing out my book of selected blogs, as a mongoose might a cobra. In fact, I'd done the hard work during the first couple of months: selecting the material, reading, proof-reading and re-proofing the text. However, I have this irrational fear of all things technological. So rather than striking for the snake's neck, I kept on circling the business of actually submitting La Vie En Straw.

In fact, it proved quite painless. Amazon has made the process considerably easier than it used to be. Now you just upload the finished Word document and the cover and their backroom machine does that rest. There were only six spelling errors and all of those were French words unrecognised by the programme. Ah, the longer-term sense of achievement!

I'm glad it's done. Next time, I'll be rather more mindful of Lady MacBeth's words about doing it quickly (if 't'were done). (Was it Lady MacBeth or was it her vacillating husband; I can never remember?) If I hadn't have done it, I would have lingered longer on all the tribulations – minor ones really – of a difficult week, which started with some of the most torrential rain seen here on the Dog's Meadow.

After a beautiful Sunday morning, which lulled the dozy inhabitants of the northern Lot into a sense of false security, the predicted storm broke suddenly after lunch and within an hour it had scoured deep ravines in every path and driveway, like our own, made of limestone chippings. Half of ours, it seemed, finished up deposited on my freshly mown lawn.

On Monday, it kept on raining all day. I dropped off all the papers of our annual tax declaration at my wife's expert comptable. That, too, had taken much circling of the cobra. Well over a week, in fact, since I'd begun the process of collating figures that really weren't that complicated. Now, 't'is done – but 't'were better if I'd done it a bit more quickly. It's in the lap of the tax gods now and I just have to trust that I won't be hauled in front of some tribunal of hooded judges to face a fiscal inquisition, before being dragged off to prison, kicking and screaming my innocence.

The next day, the sun came out. I discovered two unwelcome things in quick succession. First, that Daphne had uprooted her predecessor's grave. There were stones and soil scattered at its foot. Obviously the concerted work of some sunny afternoon when I'd been upstairs, probably labouring at my tax declaration, and revelling in the apparent peace and quiet. Never trust a Terrierdor, in other words, when you think all's quiet on the western front.

Having chased the hound several times around the house, I went into the cave for a shovel and discovered that the rainwater had found its way in through the walls. A cave is not a home, just a storage place, so it's only a minor inconvenience when it's awash. Nevertheless, I was feeling slightly traumatised by the sight of our dear dog's uncovered grave and not in the best of humours. I understood why Eliot quoted Webster in The Waste Land, why you should keep the dog far hence. (Come here, you little foe to man! I yelled at our pup, who thought it was all great sport.)

My thoughtful neighbours invited me to dinner on Wednesday evening, because they're kind and well-meaning and probably think that a man alone is a man who needs feeding. At the end of an afternoon of wheeling barrow-loads of limestone chippings back to their rightful place on our drive, it was a welcome break from kitchen fatigue.

On arrival, I heard all about their own misadventure with flood water, against which my own paled into insignificance. They had got back on Sunday afternoon from the wedding of some friends in the neighbouring department to find the water literally pouring through the stones of their living room wall – and the (mercifully) tiled floor of said room transformed into a paddling pool. They'd done a good job tidying up and I have to say that the tiles were cleaner and shinier than I'd ever seen them.

It was a nice, congenial meal. I drank two single malt whiskies that evening and when I spoke to the Good Wife at my sister's later that evening, she asked me if I were drunk. She told me the next day that I sounded so unlike my normal self that she went to bed wondering whether I'd found some other woman. Daft ha'pence.

The following day, I struck off another medium-term to-do. I went to Brive to print some posters for some EFT workshops that she's running in a few weeks' time with a doctor colleague. It was hot in the car and a storm was a-brewing on the western horizon, so I decided to leave the Terrierdor at home for the afternoon. I therefore had a limited amount of time in which to buzz around town distributing the posters. I got back before Daphne managed to dig her way through one of our straw walls, and even managed a quick mow of the prodigious grass before the first drops of rain fell.

On Friday, as I said, I gave birth to my new book. And lo! it felt so good that I allowed myself to prepare my next radio show in the afternoon. Something frivolous this way came. Thus on the seventh day, I took up my staff and walked my ass 40 leagues to the local market and back. And the Lord said, You have done well, my son. Come the end of the day, I shall restore your loved-ones unto thee to render thy family life whole once more.

Solitude has its place, but its merits are transient.