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.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

July: Hotter than the New Arrivals

And the heat goes on... Shades of 2003 – except now there is some shade, deep within the house in the darkened 'master bedroom'.

Hotter than July. We're now on red alert in the Lot – along with the other departments in south-west France – so there's no more watering allowed. We've been quite liderally scraping the bottom of the barrels. With no more water in the rain butts to scoop out with our watering cans, we can remove them from their plinths, slosh out the sludge at the bottom and turn them up to dry out, ready for the next inundation. If it comes. There was rain forecast at the weekend, but an overcast morning soon turned into a sunny day. So... we must watch the garden along with the surrounding vegetation die off and hope that it will come back in milder climes.

This is the kind of summer that makes you question your wisdom in setting out camp so far south. Surely we'd have been better off in Brittany, where the winds off the Atlantic make for changeable and more tolerable conditions. But my wife's not having it. If we are ever to move to the seaside, it must be somewhere near Sete on the Mediterranean, because the sea is warmer. But so is the ambient temperature, isn't it? No, I won't stand for that. If global warming makes up its mind to subject us to hotter and drier rather than milder and wetter summers, I think Scandinavia's the place. Besides, it's an enlightened society. Generally speaking. Nice people, the Danes, the Swedes and the Norwegians. Even the Finns – if it weren't for the endemic alcoholism and a cuisine that's reputedly based around potatoes and porridge. I might have got it wrong.

Anyway, it hasn't happened yet. Climactic and financial meltdowns are still just shapes looming on the horizon. For the moment, we've been focusing on keeping cool and inducting the new arrivals. It hardly seems possible that Otis and his half-brother Mingus arrived just over a week ago to complete Team Sampson once more. It seems like at least a fortnight that we've been watching them tumble around like kittens are given to do. Daphne has fallen for young Mingus in a big way and we have to keep a close watch lest she try to drag him around by his ear. The Daughter gets a little stressed by it all and we try to reassure her that they will work out their own rules. After all, her mother's old dog, Max, used to carry his favourite kitten around in his mouth.
Mingus (left) and Otis (right)

They came to us via our first friends in France. Régine ran the bar/restaurant in a nearby village, while Bernard worked for France Telecom pre-privatisation. They took us under their collective wing and did more than anyone to ensure that the new arrivals from far-off Sheffield survived the first few difficult years among the hill people of the Corrèze. Régine had to give up cooking due to a rare and debilitating illness, but she re-invented herself as a cookery writer – to find regional fame and, if not fortune, then a modest income to supplement Bernard's retirement pension.

Having moved to Marcillac on the edge of the Haute Corrèze, they journeyed significantly down to Brive the weekend before last to deliver the kittens to my lady's cabinet and check out our currently vacant apartment for their delightful daughter, Charlotte, who lived for a time in Southampton with friends of my sister's children and who learnt impeccable English and a wider perspective on life. They liked the apartment and we love their two kittens.

Otis and Mingus seem to have adapted very quickly to life in a comparatively luxurious animal-loving home. And why wouldn't they? All the love they can manage, all the water they can drink, all the food they can eat and all the litter they need to scrape and scatter for me to empty in some brambly corner where Daphne can't get to the... No, I won't even go there. Disgusting things, dogs.

Watching all three animals sleep through the worst of the afternoon heat makes you realise that they – and we – were never meant to contend with such temperatures as we've been witnessing this July. These are Spanish temperatures. Moroccan, even. Down in those parts, they sensibly take siestas. We, alas, come from a different culture. Spurred on by the good old Protestant work ethic, I have tried to soldier on at the computer. But I may as well have retreated to my bed, given what I have managed to achieve. You can't think straight, let alone create. Heat like this saps the will to live and it doesn't surprise me that so many of our older citizens have given up the ghost.

One compensation of mid July is normally the British Open. But our digibox that converts the satellite signals into images gave up the ghost and we had to await the visit of Satellite Stu on Wednesday afternoon. He put things right. Typically it expired at a time when there were three excellent films to record on Film Four. And at a time when I normally allow myself a few hours on the sofa to watch the gentle, sedate events on the golf course. It's St. Andrews this year, too. The filthy weather mocked our parched and ailing landscape, but provided one of the most exciting competitions for years. Alas, it was won by an American and not a European.

However, I did manage a round of golf one Monday morning on a new course that a passionate fan of the game has created out of old farmland, presumably with the money he must have made from selling his business. My friend and fellow Packers fan, John from Madison, Wisconsin, took me there and lent me his new-generation clubs. And because John is getting a little too old for dragging a bag of clubs around on foot, we got to hire one of those electric buggies, which was almost as much fun as riding a dodgem car.

It was my first round of golf in 12 years and I didn't disgrace myself. Not altogether, anyway. I hit a few shots sweetly and sunk a long putt and, despite the searing heat, it was a lot of fun. At one point, teeing off on the fourth hole, another buggy came racing towards us. It was the owner, bearing two cups of black coffee on a tray. Most of it had spilled on the tray, but I very much appreciated the gesture. Nor would he let us pay for our slopped coffees, because it was the quatorze juillet. Only in France, eh?

As we arrived at the green for which we were aiming, we chanced upon a pair of hoopoes. It's seemingly weeks since I last saw or heard one of these exotic birds. They flew off towards the surrounding woods on our approach. Like I am, they're probably looking forward to the end of this month. Normally, I do not welcome August, since it augurs the end of summer, but lower temperatures are forecast. If only it would rain.

Rain, rain, rain/Beautiful rain...