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, December 15, 2018

December: Among the Yellow Vests

The final month of the year, a time when one is traditionally slipping into the lead-up to Christmas, has been dominated by the yellow vests. The infamous revolting gilets jaunes have been burnin' and a-lootin' in Paris, and stopping traffic in the provinces and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Christmas can't come too soon.

The Good Wife of La Poujade Basse is out on the road more often than her house-bound house-husband, travelling back and forth to Brive four days a week. So she was the first one to notice the cars driving about with their fluorescent yellow security vests (an obligatory part of every motorist's kit for a number of years) folded or scrunched up above the dashboard. When I started spotting them myself, I realised there was something more going on than the breakdown-drill of a few over-zealous motorists.

Now I spot them everywhere I go. There's a couple in the nearby hamlet who have hung one on their front gate. I would say that one in every three cars now wears its yellow heart (as it were) on its sleeve. Maybe more. The drivers are a motley crew to look at: ranging from old people to brawny white-van-men to serious-looking young urban professionals. It's depressing. For some reason, I feel most down-hearted when I pass female yellow vests. It depresses me to think that the involvement of womankind is a sign that things have really escalated. I live with this touching faith that women generally know better than men and it's perturbing to realise that they can be just as dumb. It's only good manners that stops me giving them the finger, too.

Not that there's anything necessarily stupid about protest. It's high time for a revolution. We all wanna change the world. But I question whether the impulse for demonstration in this case has anything to do with a desire to change the world in the kind of truly radical way it needs to be changed. It seems much more about preserving the comfortable status quo. Being charitable, you could say that the yellow vests are doing what the Peter Finch character did at the end of Network, bellowing to the world that they're as mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore. God knows, we have enough to be mad about in France. After Denmark, it must be the most taxed country in Europe. Over 50% of your income disappears without even seeing it. So the rise in diesel prices can of course be seen as the straw that breaks the camel's back. And yet...

On my way to the local supermarket last Saturday morning, a whole bevy of yellow vests had occupied one of Martel's fistful of roundabouts. They were handing out leaflets and proclaiming themselves on makeshift banners as citoyens en colère. I drove past one such angry citizen before he could thrust a leaflet at the car, employing the tactic I use for hunters: denying eye contact. Fairly tame, I know, but a little more ambiguous than flipping the bird, which could end up in the kind of scuffle that would leave me significantly worse off than my opponent. 

Yeah, mate, I snarled from the safety of my car, I'm angry too. I am angry that Macron is revoking the wealth tax that will make the rich even richer. I am angry that the deputies of parliament have, I believe, voted themselves a nice fat pay rise. But I'm also angry that it takes a rise in the price of the filthy pollutant that fuels our cars and fouls our air to get people off their arses and out on the street to demonstrate their displeasure. And how telling it is that they employ the traditional French tactic of setting fire to old car tyres, just to confirm how little they are concerned by what's happening to the planet. Many of them, too, will no doubt come out with the Trumptonian angle that climate change is just a big hoax, anyway, and has nothing to do with the way we go about our daily business on this fragile over-populated planet of ours. It's just the media and liberal bleeding hearts trying to push an inconvenient truth down our throats.

I'm angry that my ungovernable compatriots seem happy to fiddle while the world burns, voting every four years for someone espousing much-needed change only to take to the streets each time he tries to enforce it. I'm angry that they will go on repeating the pattern until finally they put their faith in some strong and charismatic leader who persuades them that life will be better if they get rid of Jews, blacks, migrants, homosexuals and anyone else who doesn't conform to the norm.

I'm angry that instead of lobbying their representatives and the Fat Cats of big business, they take to the street and make life doubly difficult for the ordinary people they purport to represent. Brive was like a ghost town on Saturday morning when I went to buy some pipes for our imminent new water cisterns. Admittedly, I went early to avoid yellow militants, but I can imagine that shoppers are staying away in droves. And how's that going to help the small shopkeepers who are already feeling the pinch of online trade at the one time of year when they can normally rely on a bit of human traffic?

I'm angry, too, about all the Frexit posters popping up all around town. Instead of trying to reform the institution that has managed to keep Europe war-free for decades at a stretch, the gilets jaunes are just the very people to bring it down by voting instead for a trip down memory lane. Ah yes, the glory days of insular self-interested nation states. I remember them well.

Of course, when you talk to the folks at the barricades they'll tell you that some of their best friends are 'coloured' Jewish homosexual migrants, that they've got nothing against them on a personal level, but when you get them en masse... At which point, I should stress that I've got nothing personal against individual gilets jaunes. The couple down the road who wear their vests on their gate, for example, are good people. They walk their dog instead of letting her run wild, they've adopted two orphans from somewhere like the Reunion Isles, and Monsieur once gave me a whole basket of girolles he found in the woods. I know some of these people and appreciate how marginalised they feel here in the Styx, far from the capitalists of the capital. No, it's the thought of them gathered together in a mob that feeds my ire.

I fear the mob, even bearing legitimate grievances. The gilets jaunes could be the 21st century reincarnations of the sans culottes. They'll be there cheering at the guillotines when it's time to round up the scapegoats and despatch swift and summary justice. Every day in every way we reinforce our ignorance of what history teaches us. The next financial crisis is just around the corner now. The big one is coming to push us over the edge. Then we'll see how many of the good citizens of France, the ordinary people, swap their yellow vests for brown shirts. Be afraid; be very afraid.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

November: Dogs and War

If there's one thing worse than a sick infant, it's a sick animal. People who deny that their pets are a child-substitute are generally talking pish. I have been through the parenting business; my daughter is, as Chuck Berry would have it, 'almost grown' and now my paternal instincts are directed mainly towards our scruffy mutt. Daphne's our little girl until our real little girl comes home again. Good grief, I even talk to her in terms of 'mum's going to take you out for a walk this morning, because dad's got some urgent work to do'. I know, it's sad – but probably not that uncommon. At least I don't dress her up in dolls' clothes.

Daphne got sick this month and her papa was worried sick. Mama, too, for a little while, but she has much more faith in things like recoveries than her woebegone husband. Woe, woe and thrice woe. All is woe. The world is a terrible place and no good will come of it. We're half way through the neutral month of November and so far it has been dominated by dogs and war. I'm hopeful that the twain shall never meet.

Let's start with the war; get the worst stuff over with first. It didn't come much worse than what was laughably termed the Great War and, on the 11th day of the 11th month in the year 2018, we celebrated, or remembered at least, the signing of the Armistice in a railway carriage a hundred years ago. Other than sparing a few more million lives (for a few months until the Spanish Flu carried them off), nothing much good came of it, since it sparked a chain of events that led to the rise of Nazism and another great-in-terms-of-misery-and-blood-letting war a mere 20 plus years later.

My paternal grandpappy fought in the Great War and my eternally jammy father joined up just at the end of its follow-up, just late enough to miss out on active service, which would have pleased him no end. I think he inherited his good luck from his father, who developed a virulent case of trench-foot while waiting to be slaughtered at the Somme. He was sent back to England, from where – by some serendipitous quirk of administration – he was sent to Arkansas to help train the American troops to be slaughtered in the trenches. He took up with an ice cream millionaire's daughter, who taught him how to dance – and maybe one or two other things besides, although those were very different times and my grandfather was a reserved man. My sister and I used to call him Grandpa Quietly. My delightfully Bohemian grandmother used to rib him about his dalliance with Anna-Fae Solliday, the ice cream millionaire's daughter, and he would chuckle to himself.

Perhaps one of the reasons he was so 'quietly' was to do with the fact that he must have seen the horror, the horror in the time it took for his foot to turn horrid. He never spoke of the war to his grandchildren until a time late in his long life when he recounted a few details to me over one of his ruinous gin-and-tonics. One of my grandmother's brothers was killed in the trenches, and another – favourite – brother was so shell-shocked that he took to alcohol and became a shadow of his former self. 

Thus it was that I had a few ghosts of the past to remember on the 11th day of the 11th month. I proposed to the Good Wife that we should go down to the mairie on the Sunday to take part in our local ceremony. Perhaps yearning for a quiet Sunday morning at home, she questioned my motives. Did I simply want to be seen by my fellow communards to be respectable and respectful? Probably, partly. But I also argued that it was only right and proper that we should remember all those innocent millions who lived with the rifles' rapid rattle and died like cattle.   

We were both glad that we went. Even though we didn't get to sing La Marseillaise – again – the mayor put on a good solemn show outside the mairie and afterwards we all trooped off to the Salle des Fêtes for a little exhibition of memoranda. The mayor's elected henchmen and women read letters home from the trenches and vice versa, which were very moving and poignant in their concern for the routine from which they had been torn. Let me know how much corn you manage to harvest from the top field... One woman signed off by telling her husband to be brave, but not too brave. That kind of thing tugs at your heart-strings.

As does the look of a hungry dog that can't understand why you're denying her breakfast for the second day running. We didn't stay for the meaty nibbles – zero tolerance as usual for vegetarians or anyone with dietary disorders – but went back home to be with our poorly pet. In fact, she was already better. I took her on a walk earlier that morning hoping that she would perform for papa. The vet had stuck a gloved finger up her fundament a few days before and diagnosed something like haemorrhaging diarrhoea or some such joy. Daphne got a shot of antibiotics, something peculiar in a chunky syringe to take mornings and evenings and some probiotics to mix with her food when she was allowed to eat once more.

For two or three days, we could only let her out on a lead, since she wasn't allowed even to eat grass. Too abrasive for her irritable bowel, apparently. I don't suppose that our vet imagined that her prescription would trigger a situation in which Daphne's parents would respond to barks in the night by getting up out of their warm bed to give their patient a quick walk. Well, you'd do that kind of thing for a sick child, so why not for a sick dog? In actual fact, it was quite memorable in its way. There was just enough light from the moon to cast a stark silhouette on the occasional dead tree and everything at such an unearthly hour was as quiet as a nun. Only the patter of paws on tarmac and the abrasive squeak of my jacket's artificial fibres. Think about it: one normally sleeps through the night and misses out on such an experience. On balance, though, I prefer to sleep.

Anyway, Daphne was quickly restored to her customary playful, affectionate self. She loved the fish that I bought from the supermarket as a soft substitute for her customary croquettes. My concern was that something was still lodged in her gut. Some shard of an illicit bone perhaps. So I needed to see some evidence of transit before I could properly relax. That Sunday morning, just before the ceremony of remembrance, our dog performed for her papa during the morning walk not once, not twice, but thrice. Good solid healthy-looking stools each time. I walked home with a spring in my step.
The worst seemed to be over. The end of the bloody faecal matter. If only one could say the same thing about war.

Monday, October 29, 2018

October: When I'm 64

This month, I came of age. That age. The age that Macca wrote and sang about. How did I get to be so old? My wife assures me that she still needs me and will continue to feed me – whenever it's her turn to cook. To supplement her birthday greetings, she presented me with a bottle of wine. A nice one, too. St. Emilion, bio, gold medal winner. There are no grandchildren on my knee as yet, although the Daughter is discovering that there's more to life than long hours in a fashion house and wants to have a family when the time is propitious. Knowing her, I doubt whether they'll be named Vera, Chuck or Dave. I'm sure she'll find some suitable equivalents.

How did I get to be so old? When I was my daughter's age, it seemed inconceivable that one day I would be 64. There were decades to go; I could rest easy in my big brass bed. But here I am and they've all gone. We're obsessed these days about keeping young and beautiful: whether it's a vigorous work-out in a gym or just a teeny-weeny injection of Botox or a little 'lifting' or the newly discovered ingredients of some elixir of life. But I don't think it's sour grapes on the part of this old codger to suggest that youth is an overrated commodity. When I think about Our Kid, somewhere near the first step on her career ladder, I'm rather glad that I'm not that young again. I wouldn't relish the idea of setting out once more on a road ahead, paved with hard graft, painful decisions and unsettling discoveries about human nature.

All that in exchange for what? A little more energy and vim, clearer vision and Iggy Pop's 'lust for life', which probably boils down to sex drive for mere mortals without the means for fast cars and wild parties. At 64, the body's still willing, it just recognises its limitations. This weekend I was helping some friends stack straw bales under a hangar, snug for the winter prior to building in the spring. I was chatting with a guy I hadn't seen for a while. He'd turned 60 in the interim and we were both pondering why we had to pause for breath so regularly. What had happened to our former energy and strength? In our minds, we were still the same age that we were before.

I wonder sometimes whether I've simply got the numbers round the wrong way. Like my wife's godmother, who's sneaking up on 96 in a very sedentary way. When Debs saw her last year, not long before her own 60th birthday, her godmother suggested that they were both the same age. 59. 'I think you'll find you're a little bit older than that,' my wife suggested. 'Oh am I? I don't know; I think they must have got it wrong somewhere,' her godmother chuckled. 

We've just seen the old dear a couple of times during our recent stay in the Frozen North to mark the bitter occasion of my mother-in-law's 90th birthday. She, the godmother, slips in and out of reason these days. She recognised us both and even introduced us by name as husband and wife to her helper, but a few moments later she was questioning the whereabouts of her mother-in-law. 'I don't know where she can be,' she fussed. 'She's been gone a long time.' 40 years or more, to be precise. She took on the old woman when she married her deceased husband, the local butcher, in prehistoric times. Such was the deal that she ended up having to change the old woman's nappies. What with that and the stench of animal carcasses, married life can't have been a bowl of pot-pourri. 

Back when she was turning 80, my mother-in-law told her daughter that she didn't want to live another decade and end up as a burden to her friends and family. So you can appreciate that the 90th birthday was something to be endured rather than celebrated. For all concerned. Things have moved on apace in 10 years, if that's the mot juste for entropy, slowing down and general deterioration. She's as deaf as a post, her knees are failing her, and the eyesight has faded to the extent where she's wary now of driving her car, her only feasible way of getting around the wilds of Cumbria, where the wind bloweth and the rain raineth seemingly every day (apart from the brief respite of summer). 

It wouldn't be so bad if she were as innately idle as my dad, who is only too happy for others to do everything for him. My mother-in-law, however, is proud – and stubborn – to the point of hostility. And my poor wife is the one who has to bear the brunt of it. On the Monday morning, for example, while I was swanning about on Appleby's deserted golf course with a friend from my days in Sheffield, wrapped up against the wind but basking in some rare autumnal sunshine that lit up the Pennines on one side and the Yorkshire Dales on the other, the Good Wife was in conference with her mother and a young woman from some organisation linked to the local Social Services. Any helpful proposition about extra cleaning or converting a cloakroom into a walk-in shower fell apparently on determinedly deaf ears. Debs slept fitfully that night and shed tears of frustration and sadness for the passing years.

The birthday meal – cooked traditionally to order by my wife, who obediently put away her Yottam Ottolenghi recipe book – went not with a knees-up but a polite whimper. My mother-in-law drank just enough champagne to render her affable and pliable, and her three local friends all parted at an hour that left sufficient time for recuperation in the sanctuary of our bed. It was enough of a success to leave us feeling that duty had been done. Interestingly, though, in an age of ceaseless snapping and posting, not a single photograph had been taken. On the way back to our 'love shack', as we christened it, at the other end of the village, I expressed the wish that there wouldn't be a 100th birthday. Debs muttered something dark and un-filial about a 91st birthday. 

Safely restored to our French home, a safe distance from the stark beauty of Cumbria, I can reflect on the week away and wonder when I the Visitor will become me the Visited. When will Vera, Chuck or Dave come to rouse their grandfather from his torpor? It's a daunting and not very salutary thought. When I turned 24, the thought of reaching 42 seemed like a fantasy. When I turned 46, the idea of being 64 seemed a bit whimsical. But if I add the factor of 18 to the same equation, I get 82. And that's no joke. I'm not even sure that the law of averages will permit me such an age.  

I hope it does. It's a strange thing. Even though the world seems to shift monthly further to the right as the apparent majority denies the obvious inconvenient truths about life on planet earth, I'd still rather be here – gnarled fingers and all – than six feet under the sod.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

September: A Wee Trip

It was ever thus before the birth of The Daughter and, now that she's flown the nest, we are reverting to type by taking our annual holiday in September. It seems apt now that we're in the late summer of our days. 

There are fewer white touring Plastic Fantastics on the roads of Ireland than there are in France, but then the weather's less inviting. We went on holiday with low expectations in that respect. The Good Wife's all-seeing phone suggested rain, rain and more rain. It was raining when we arrived late in the evening at Cork airport and it was raining spitefully the next day when we drove to Dingle on the first leg of our Tour d'Irelande. We picked up a pair of bedraggled young Finnish hitchhikers at Killarney, who'd missed by a minute their bus to Dingle. When we dropped them off in the town centre, we imagined their day and felt rather apologetic (although Finnish summers apparently also leave much to be desired).

The rain cleared overnight, giving us the mountains of Kerry with our breakfast at Mrs. O'Whatsit's guest house. She persuaded us to drive around the stunning headland as a prologue to our epic haul to Donegal. The sun stayed with us off and on for the 400 kilometres or so to the wild north west. Since we had little time or desire to visit the latest bizarre tourist attraction of 'Famine Cottages', there was nothing much to see inland until Sligo. There the table-top mountain of Benbulben dominates 'Yeats Country', as featured in the second film of Michael McDonagh's 'suicide trilogy', the bleakly bleak Calvary

It then rained bitterly the day after our overnight stay in Ardara, County Donegal, in one of the tiniest rooms ever offered for Air B&B. I spent a holiday near there as a child, when I ate myself to a standstill in a hotel that burnt down a few years back. In the rain, the beach did not look as inviting as I remembered, and banal new bungalows now pimple the erstwhile virgin land. Clearly the Irish and/or the Americans have discovered Donegal since the so-called Celtic Tiger sprung briefly into life during the '90s. 

Beautiful as the coast is, driving across the barren windswept heartland of the county made me wonder why anyone would choose to settle there – but hey, each to his or her own. In Letterkenny we stopped for a half-way decent coffee in a café decorated throughout in apophthegms. Many a maxim makes Mark a muddled man. One thought for the day is OK, but 60 more will only bore. Quite a few were jokey sentiments about the uselessness of husbands. My wife, who tends to stand up for men (sweet innocent that she is), observed that had they been derogatory comments about women, the perpetrators would have been dragged off by the thought-police. On leaving, I asked the woman at the counter roughly how long it was to Derry. 'Oh, about 40 minutes. Is that OK for you?' On the road to Derry, we speculated about what she could have done for us had it not been.

From (London)derry, we pushed on, ever onwards, to the north coast. In Coleraine, it was surprising after so long in France to see school children in uniform. Just another reason perhaps for feeling instantly at home again, even though I only spent 12 years of my life in the province. Roots I guess are what make people return to, say, the inhospitable heartland of Donegal. Roots are what stir your emotions for no sensible reason. Walking along the great sweeping strand at Portstewart, with the dunes to our left and the north Atlantic to our right and far off in the distance obscured by drizzle, Malin Head, Ireland's most northerly point, it was all I could do to stop myself from skipping like a wee child across the sand.

And it's the roots that make you want to hug your host for the night for lighting a wood fire, showing off his rock-solid triceps from 'years of lifting beer kegs', giving us the run of his extensive bungalow and generally reminding you of just how welcoming, big-hearted, voluble and funny the Norn Irish people are. Nothing was too much trouble for Michael, a big softly-spoken man who re-acquainted me with some of the indigenous grammatical quirks: 'Now go youse to the end of the road and turn right onto the main road. Then go youse straight over the wee roundabout and keep going straight, straight, straight till youse see a Tesco there on your right. D'youse know Tesco?' 

We knew indeed Tesco, even though the supermarket hadn't penetrated this far in my day. At Michael's insistence we picked some pink ladies off his apple tree to take with us the next day for our trip along the north coast. And behold, they were as good as yer man proclaimed. Behold, too, the coast was every bit as beautiful as they say: the White Rocks, White Park Bay, the miniature harbour at Balintoy, the ruined castle at Dunluce hanging on precariously to the edge of the cliff... If anything, the miraculous Giant's Causeway was the biggest disappointment – simply because of the number of tourists swarming over the pillars of basalt. When I went there for the first time around 30 years ago, I was about the only person there and this wonder of the world exuded the kind of mysterious power diluted this time by so many people. A young married couple posed for the telephoto lens of a photographer, striking the kind of Hello! attitudes that would register their brief time in the limelight and leave us with a sickly taste of Facebook. 

The tourism stats have been boosted by visitors from all over the world, come to see the locations for Game of Thrones. At Cushendun, another family holiday destination back in the '60s, we stumbled upon some caves that were apparently used in episode x of season y. Tourism has even transformed Belfast – where dozens of gigantic cruise ships tie up annually in order to visit the Titanic museum. Buses and taxis take you to see the ironically-named Peace Wall, as if a relic of a past that's ancient history now. But is it? Catholics and Prods probably mix more these days, but it was an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu I felt while driving down the glorious Antrim Coast Road to pass through villages bedecked by flags flying the red hand of Ulster. Ireland has become a modern European nation in the decades since the Troubles. The omnipotence of the Catholic church has dissipated. Even if the south really wanted a united Ireland, the hard-liners in the north would have nothing much to fear today. I had hoped that they might have grown up and put away their foolish Orange regalia, but I fear not. 

Nevertheless, Belfast has changed out of all recognition from the time when we teenagers used to queue up to be frisked by the army at the turnstiles that cordoned off the city centre. It's a lively, swinging urban affair these days. Even the drab little family-run hotel where we spent our first six weeks or so in a new city in the winter of 1961 has been transformed into something bigger and grander. Reputedly the food's good, too. They probably serve something other than meat, cabbage and potatoes now.

We parked opposite in the drizzle for a look at our last house in the city. It has been joined at the hip with the house next door to create a crèche for wee babs. Their strap line states Happy memories of childhood, which was too delicious to miss the opportunity for one of those awful posed photies that should probably end up in the Delete bin. We walked down to my old school, there on its little hill – or monticulo in Latin, according to the fairly absurd school song that we would sing with gusto on public occasions.

After wandering around the Botanic Gardens, inspecting the refurbished hot houses and browsing a fascinating photographic exhibition of The Troubles in the Ulster Museum, our friend Joan drove us through the city centre to the Titanic area. Once it thronged with Harland & Wolff ship-builders; now it throngs with visitors. Time being tight, we decided to forego the attraction, instead visiting the Dock Café for tea and cakes. It has survived for six years as an 'honesty café', where you can spend a whole afternoon if you wish on an old sofa with your laptop and pay what you feel the refreshments are worth. On the whole, Belfast people are kind, honest folk. 

That night at our friend's family farmhouse, we went out with a night camera to watch for badgers by the set in their wood. One or two beautiful creatures duly obliged soon after dark, but they knew only too well that we were there. They didn't perform for the camera, so we were only too happy to leave them to the nocturnal cold and retreat indoors to watch the first half of our host's favourite film, the suitably madcap Hotel Splendide.

We left the North after breakfast the next morning, driving the surprisingly empty arterial road down to Dublin. Somewhere around the now indiscernible border, we passed the Belfast-to-Dublin 'express' train. What will they do once our moronic politicians go ahead with their suicidal Brexit? Will they stop the trains so that armed officials can climb on board to check the passengers' passports? And will they pull over tractors on the lanes in Tyrone and Fermanagh that wind back and forth between the two nations? 

The M50 that now by-passes Dublin resembles a second-cousin-once-removed to London's M25, but otherwise the journey all the way down to West Cork was long and tedious but easy enough. We spent our last three nights with friends who once ran a gallery in this part of France and now live in a house by the water's edge at the end of a narrow winding lane that menaced the paintwork of our hire-car. The weather was surprisingly benign despite ominous warnings of a full-throttle storm coming in off the Atlantic. Our hosts – like many of the local fish and farming folk – seized the opportunity to bring their boats in for the winter. We witnessed the tricky business of steering a craft onto a tractor-driven trailer early Saturday morning. The Good Wife, it transpires, has always dreamt of having a little vessel. Me, I'm not so keen.

The wind, more of a harbinger than the actual tempête that struck a few days later when we were tucked up tight once more in our own home, turned frisky on returning the car at Cork airport. No scratches this time, mum! Even so, they find a way to add a surcharge or two. On this occasion, it was the second driver whom I had assumed was covered. Never mind, it's the nature of holidays to bleed you dry. The flight was only mildly delayed by the wind and when we swooped down on Bordeaux, lit up like a vast printed circuit board as we banked steeply from the Atlantic coast, it was still 27 degrees at 9pm, a good 13 degrees or so warmer than the mean Irish temperature.

We both loved Ireland and the Irish. If ever circumstances and resources permit, we shall consider spending August there, when it's unconscionably hot in south-west France: two weeks near Balintoy or Cushendall perhaps and two weeks in West Cork. They say that the older you get, the more nostalgic you also get. I'll be zipping up my boots and going back to my roots more frequently now for a dose of the craic.