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, June 14, 2015

10th – 13th June: When Daphne met Gunter



Blogger saves Lot from crippling drought...



Great job, Sampson! In writing about the dry weather last week, I precipitated a week of downpours and storms. Nothing too violent either, but plenty of rain, rain, rain, beau-ti-ful rain to fill up the rain butts. A friend with an underground cistern that was just about running on empty told me that it filled up entirely one wet night. That's 20,000 litres. That's some rain storm.



Holidaymakers won't thank me, of course, but farmers, gardeners and nature lovers the department over have been leaving presents for the family outside our front door. Modestly, I told well-wishers that it had really had nothing to do with me, that this meteorological instability is all part of the wonderful world of global warming. I don't wish to see straw effigies of myself in fields and gardens. Personality cults can be very dangerous things.



It's raining again this morning. It was raining yesterday evening when I went out with a quiche and a bottle of wine to Bret's latest Fête des Mecs. Guys' party night. There was only a handful of us, which might have had something to do with the weather. We almost lost Dimitri. He got as far as St. Michel de Bannières and turned back in alarm when he saw the storm clouds over the Dordogne. He's in the middle of re-roofing their barn and got back just in time to stop the wind from stripping away the enormous tarp stretched over the framework of the roof. Such was its power that it blew away the rocks to weigh down the tarp like mere pebbles. As in another scene from Days Of Heaven, during a quarter of an hour of atmospheric turmoil he was left single-handedly wrestling with ropes in the driving rain to stop the whole caboodle being blown into the next department.




The roof was saved and he got there in one piece with his pasta salad and Cuban cigars. I'd turned up an hour before, the first guest to arrive, to help Bret with his last-minute preparations. It gave me a glimpse into his unique culinary methodology, based entirely on experimentation that defies any recipes known to humankind and any acceptable combinations of foodstuffs. At one point I found myself frantically chopping garlic cloves as fast as he could peel them. He can be a little too liberal with garlic for my taste.



A small turn-out meant fewer games and more chance to chat with people I see only from time to time when I emerge from my hermit's cave. I even smoked my first cigar in about three years. Not one of the full-bodied Cuban critters, but one of the little cigarillos that Bret had bought thoughtfully for our mutual Dutch friend. It was rather enjoyable, but I discovered this morning that my clothes smelt of tobacco. Much water has flowed under many bridges since the last time I was compelled to jettison clothes for this reason.



In talking to Lee, with whom we have years spent in Brighton in common, I also discovered that we have a mutual experience of Bath. As a kid in Belfast, I used to go there every summer with the family to stay with our maternal grandparents. As refugees from The Troubles, the family even ended up living there for a few years. I used to drink in the same pub as Lee – the Hat & Feathers in Walcott – in the days when I would wander lonely as a teenage cloud down to the more edgy, alternative district of the Georgian city in search of sympathetic company.



Lee got married in the same registry office as my sister did. Apparently, he and his wife both had long dreadlocks at the time. When he cut them off in order to move to the Corrèze and become an organic farmer, he discovered what a joy it was to feel a pillow under his head again. Bearing dreadlocks, he told me, was rather like living with a carpet over your shoulders. He told me how to grow them (not that I'm thinking of it at this unsuitably late stage) and dispelled the myth that you shouldn't wash locks lest you wash away the oils that keep them together. It was all very enlightening in a Bunny Wailer kind of way.




Our Flemish friend, Kim, turned up late with a nephew in tow from his recent trip back to the homeland. Which would have been just fine, only the nephew commandeered Bret's laptop to assault us with a selection of death metal music or whatever label it goes under these days. I must be getting old, because I found myself mouthing phrases like Can't hear yourself think. My grandma used to say that about the Rolling Stones. But I couldn't. Conversation was impossible. Kim suggested that we win back the laptop, but I'd forgotten my reading glasses and the screen was just a blur. When everyone moved upstairs for games, I figured it was time to cut and run. With my quiche dish and Bret's orbital sander, I found my way to my car at the bottom of the drive in the after-midnight pitch black darkness by the sound of my footsteps on limestone chippings.



When I got back home to my old familiar sane and safe house, the girls were tucked up tight in their beds. There was just the matter of removing Daphne from the foot of the 'master bed' and returning her to her basket, before discarding clothes that smelt of cigar smoke.



There were fun and games earlier in the week, during a respite from the rain, when Darryn and Leanne turned up with their new hound, Gunter. It's his first visit from England to their building site on the other side of the valley. Gunter's a Rhodesian Ridgeback. He's an impressive beast, already double the weight of our Terrierdor, despite being a month younger than she is. I was a little nervous at first when Daphne met Gunter, and not just because they flattened the last of the irises (they needed cutting back anyway). But Daphne's a game young thing and she kept coming back for more, despite the frequent yelps of fearful pleasure.



Eventually, they found a kind of common ground based on a mutual respect for each other's physical capabilities. Next time they meet, presumably they can carry on where they left off and won't need to go through any unsettling preliminaries. Gunter will be 40kilos or so by the time he's fully grown and that's a lot of weight to fall on a fragile ribcage.  

The rain has stopped now and it will be interesting to see how the weather next week responds to my posting. If the sunshine returns, as I hope it will, there may be more gifts laid at our front door. Fruit and vegetables will do very nicely, thank you very much (if you're asking).

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