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, November 25, 2017

November: Lounging Lizards and Bonding Ties

Well I woke up this morning, and I found a lizard in my bed.../Said I woke up this morning, people, and I found, that's right, a doggone lizard in my bed/Thinking how it got there's sho' nuff breaking up my head... 

It was only a little lizard. One of those dark green rapiettes that used to scuttle into and out of every joint in the stone walls of our old farmhouse. People say that cats like to eat them to stay slim. Our current killer, Otis, occasionally finds one to mutilate, but they're a rare sight now. They were plentiful during our tenure in the Corrèze, but these days – like every other species on earth except for human beans, rats, flies, ants and cockroaches – their numbers have declined to the point where they are now classified as endangered. It won't stop Otis, just as the tragedy of elephant poaching won't stop the Trump family from shooting some more as trophies.

Anyway, it was a shock. It's the last thing you expect to find when you pull back the duvet to air the bed of a morning. By the time I'd found an old card and a tumbler for removal purposes, the rapiette had scuttled under the bed. Was it one of the cats that brought it in? Did it come in of its own volition to find a nice warm spot for a bit of hibernation? Who knows what goes on in the mind of a lizard. Underneath a winter-weight duvet would certainly be a cosy niche for the season.

For the season is upon us once more. I always try to remember the 5th November. Catesby & Co. The plot to blow up parliament in the name of the perennial religious wars. Sounds familiar. Even the punishment of hanging, drawing and quartering the plotters, obscene as it might have been, is probably no more brutal than what goes on in many a dark nefarious corner of the globe. 

This year our British friends, Tim and Gilly, marked the occasion. They held what I thought was going to be an intimate little bonfire party. Being punctual souls, we arrived at seven on the dot, having followed a procession of two or three other cars bound for the same venue. All were driven by Parisians with second homes and an eye on the clock. I was introduced to one woman whose name was Daphne. I told her that our dog shared her name and I don't know whether she was too pleased. It's a lovely name, I hastened to add. And it is. So redolent of the British Raj and the jolly awfulness of those times.

Unlike the Parisians, the 'Meyssac Crowd', as they are known in these parts, kept themselves to themselves. I've given up trying to make the effort to communicate. Parisians are easier on the frontal lobe: generally speaking  they're more widely travelled, more educated, more cultured and less concerned with apparence. As we all gathered around a bonfire that raged as bright and as fierce as a cliff-top beacon in Napoleonic times, the French contingent must have wondered about this strange tradition of ours. Burning some poor Guy in a conflagration is not a nice thing to do. A long, long time ago, I mingled with the crowds at Lewes on the 5th to watch crazy men run about with barrels of burning pitch strapped to their backs. Never again.

After a few desultory sparklers, we got back to the serious business of eating, drinking and dancing. The Meyssac Crowd stayed in the sitting room by the open fire, only to emerge like excited teenagers to shake their booties in time to Gloria Gaynor's 'I Will Survive'. Why, I wondered later, do people still get moved by the spirit of Gloria Gaynor and Hot Chocolate? Nothing much has changed in that respect since the first party we were invited to at the same venue almost 20 years ago. Which on one level is quite reassuring, but on another is a little mystifying. 

The Good Wife of La Poujade Basse came over all emotional while talking to our host about the passage of time – and in particular the remembrance of little children past. I think it was the first occasion that our daughter met their daughter. They were tiny tots at the time and now, still bosom friends, they've both blossomed into beautiful young women. Proper warms the cockles of a parent's heart it does to witness the vicissitudes of your progeny's friendships. The bonds that tie. Or is it the ties that bond? Or rather, bind?

We met another nice Parisian at another occasion on another significant date. The 11th November, Armistice Day. Waiting for the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month was all very well and all very neat, but it's heartbreaking to think of all those needless deaths when the end was in sight. None more poignant than that of Wilfred Owen, who might have gone on to become the greatest poet in the English language had it not been for a stray bullet during some futile face-saving mission.

This Parisian is an élu, or elected one. Part of the mayor's team. It's one of my first perks of French citizenship that I was invited to hob-nob with the top table on the 11th day. The mayor invited us as citoyens d'honneur. The commune's honoured new citizens. We waited in the wings with a motley crowd in the car park in front of the mairie on a suitably sombre, even dismal morning. There were a few problems with the sound system before we got underway. The mayor gave a little address, then handed the mic over to a minion who read out each name on the war memorial followed by the collective chant of mort pour la France. It was surprisingly moving. Maybe it was the effect of the incantation and remembering individuals who once lived here in the same commune rather than the faceless slaughtered multitudes.

After this, there was a recorded version of the Last Post followed by the familiar roll of drums that ushers in the Marseillaise. Surely our chance to shine. We had run through the words again on the drive down. But no! It was the instrumental version. The crowd were mute. Debs reckoned it was because we were the only ones present who can actually sing it.

Then the mayor called us up to the microphone and introduced us with a surprisingly generous and surprisingly brief speech. Neither of us was aware that he really knew anything about us. Fortunately I had prepared a little address for such an eventuality. I sketched the family history and how we came to be in this neck of the Lot. Our search in my wife's bottle-green Beetle for a house with a septic tank et cetera. I resisted any mention of cuisine, but did suggest – ha ha ha! – that we could bring le feeshancheeps as a cultural offering in return for the indigenous love of nature and the land. Or térroir, to use a term often employed in viniculture (of which there's not much in the immediate vicinity).

My little address to the multitudes went down rather well. A round of applause chuffed me to the core. My French can't have been too bad. Afterwards, we trooped inside the mairie and his worship's team passed around the appetisers, which were mainly pâté-laden bits of unappetising bread. For maybe the first time in my tenure here, and maybe fortified by my new official standing, I felt able to turn them down on the grounds that ours was a vegetarian family. The servers looked a trifle surprised, but didn't direct us to the naughty-step. Food for thought, I considered. It would do them good to know – and even reflect. Who knows, in another decade's time, they might hand around pieces of bread bedecked with tapinade. Green or black, I'm happy with either. 

Now, the end of the month is nigh. We've had about two days of genuine cold. Not even a snap-ette, really. The leaves are the colour of copper and the temperature's unseasonably high. In another few weeks, 't'will be Christmas – and already local villages have decked their main streets with electronic decorations. Couldn't they at least wait till December? Everything is topsy-turvy and up the Suwannee River. Pity those poor lizards, who will be emerging from their duvets, believing that that a false spring has sprung.