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.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

August: In Search of the Lost Sofa

I have been much perturbed this month by the fact that I managed to lose a sofa. It was a Knopparp, too. When, at the suggestion of the local gendarmerie, I went along to the municipal Lost Property office, the woman at the desk laughed when I told her that I had come in search of a missing sofa. She explained by way of tacit apology that people usually come into her domain to enquire about a missing wallet or a misplaced bag. I assured her that I quite understood. Her ridicule was less excoriating than the kind of self-punishment I have been meting out most of the month. I can take it, like a man: on the cheek or on les fesses.

With all that has been going on in the world this merry month, I really shouldn't be getting quite so upset about a lost item of furniture. In the long run of things, the renewed terrorist attacks, the fires in Corsica and the south of France, the Trump-tastic diplomacy in Korea and the renewed threat of nuclear annihilation, the assassination of another environmental hero in Tanzania and the sheer awfulness of the 21st century all add up to something much graver. It's an interesting facet of the human condition that we frequently expend far more mental energy on little aspects of our little lives than we do on the big issues that really matter. I keep finding myself, for example, re-living in my head the sorry sequence of events that led to the disappearance as if doing so could magically bring my missing sofa back to life.

To be fair to myself, said sofa was still in its flat-pack. Had it been a fully-formed sofa, then I might really have cause to wonder whether I am already succumbing to Alzheimer's Disease. It's kind of understandable that a busy person might just prop a heavy carton against a wall in a public street while trying rapidly to empty a car full of Ikean effects – and then go off and forget all about it. Once I realised, several days later, just what I must have done, I posted a Perdu – CanapĂ©! (note the ironic exclamation mark) notice and my subsequent enquiries revealed that the mystery package had been seen for several days until the day came when it was seen no longer. I can only hope that some impecunious person took it away and that the sofa has brought a little joy and comfort into his or her life. Since it didn't cost a great deal of money, I have my doubts though about its solidity and durability.

Such is life and one has to get over its little disappointments. The visit of old friends from Sheffield helped. The weather wasn't great for tourists. In marked contrast to last year's aridity, August has been neither too hot nor too dry, which suits me – and the vegetation – down to the ground. Nevertheless, we sat and/or ate outside whenever the opportunity was there.

I had one particularly interesting al fresco conversation with Nigel, which exposed our differences and probably explained why we've been friends for so long. Like my dear wife, he's an incurable optimist. He exudes so much positivity that it can be exhausting to try and keep up with him. Together, he and the Good Wife could move mountains. Like Fitzcarraldo, they could certainly at least have come up with a way of moving a boat over a mountain. Both believe in the transcendent power of love to right all wrongs and put everything back on an even keel. Whereas, I explained, the wildfires in Corsica, say, offer me a compelling example of why evil will ultimately prevail. Many of these fires have been started by an individual who, for one reason or another, wants to create mayhem. All the collective good in the world won't bring back the beauty that has been scarred or re-build the houses that have been destroyed or breathe life back into all the creatures whose existence has been snuffed out by scorching flames. So surely one person's evil is much more potent than a hundred people's good. Think Hitler, think Stalin.

In the end we decided that it was much more fruitful to go and play golf. It's a game about which we both agree, only Nigel practises it a whole lot more than I do. Consequently, he's a whole lot better than I am. Being much more competitive, too, he came up with an elaborate handicap system that would create a more level playing field. Since we were playing on the hilly course at Puy d'Arnac created by an enthusiast with the money he made from the swimming pool trade, it seemed irrelevant – particularly as winning the match really didn't interest me. It might be maddening to my playing partners, but when I play golf, I'm competing against my own incompetence. If I can play even a handful of shots that feel sweetly struck, then my happiness will overcome the frustration of customary ineptitude. And if a handicap system meant that technically I beat someone who hit the ball properly just about every time, then victory would seem Pyrrhic and just plain wrong.

It's a lovely little course and the patron's enthusiasm is delightful to behold. He bombed around the place on his motor mower, shearing the greens as if for our sole benefit, so our putts would roll that much more quickly. It's only nine holes, so you become quite familiar with its quirks in going round twice to make up the customary eighteen. One hole is effectively spliced in two by a runway for light aircraft and I played the shot of the day by driving onto the tarmac and watching the ball bounce along it until it disappeared over the horizon. The joy, the untrammelled joy!

Being a professional coach in the wonderful world of business, Nigel has a coach's eye. He spotted all kinds of little things that would help my game. One thing, however, I discovered for myself – and not for the first time – is that it helps a whole lot if you keep your eye on the ball. I thought I'd learnt this invaluable lesson last time I played with my brother in the county of Hampshire, but apparently not. Try it sometime. It works a treat. Such knowledge has renewed my appetite and I'm determined now to dust off my discarded second-hand clubs at least a few more times this coming autumn.

Our friends went off after breakfast one Sunday to a wedding in distant Brittany. They were hoping for at least one swim in the sea as they drove up our drive, GB sticker resplendent on their rear. There have been noticeably fewer on the road this summer. The pound has sunk to near parity with the euro, which makes my British credit card painful to use. So the droves of Brits seem to have kept themselves far hence. Indeed, the number of visitors to UK shores has risen in direct ratio to the fall of the value of sterling.

There were plenty of perennial Brits in the local cinema the other night, though. Two whole rows of us, in fact. Chattering away in English, which makes for uncomfortable seating – particularly as the film in question was Dunkirk, with all its concomitant Anglo-French issues. It was De Gaulle and the Free French who won the war, wasn't it? The British did (literally) desert the sinking ship in 1940, didn't they? I'm sure I heard murmurs of discontent within the auditorium and I turned around to shush my loudest compatriot in best exaggerated pantomime fashion.

Fully prepared by a very unfavourable review to dislike the film, I found it a remarkable cinematic experience. Certainly not enjoyable in the way that I enjoyed Christopher Nolan's earlier films, Memento and Insomnia – it was way too harrowing for enjoyment – but impressive for sure. The scenes from the cockpit of a Spitfire, looking down at the carnage on the sea as seen in different chunks of the film in different timescales from inside a small boat or from the jetty or the beach where the soldiers waited for rescue, were especially memorable. Quel cinematography! I could have done without some of the musical bombast and a few of the jingoistic notes towards the end, but it gave a vivid impression of what this kind-of-victory-from-the-jaws-of-defeat must have been like. The so-called lack of character development didn't worry me, because it was much more about the collective endeavour rather than any individual heroism that needed a 'back story'.

While I came out of our local cinema feeling like I'd been through a tumble dryer in search of a missing sofa, neither The Good Wife nor The Kid surprisingly found it particularly harrowing. The skies were too blue, there was too much pomp and circumstance and it was generally too handsomely staged for them. We must have been watching different films. Well, each to his or her own. They don't agree about good and evil either. Nor do they find golf such a beautiful but frustrating game. Life is, as I think Talk Talk suggested in one of their songs, decidedly what you make it.