Willkommen Bienvenue Welcome

Welcome, gentle readers.

This is an everyday tale of regular folk, who moved from Sheffield to the deepest Corr├Ęze 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.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Jan '18: Endless Crap

In all honesty, there's little about this time of year to get excited about. The rain at present, it raineth every day. The hearty partying has been done for another year. The new Paul Thomas Anderson film (D D-L's last apparently) won't be coming to the cinema at Vayrac till next month at the earliest; the Six Nations rugby happens in February; the Green Bay Packers failed to make the play-offs; and England well and truly lost the Ashes down under. There's a feeling of suspended animation as we wait for the first signs of spring, 2018.

If I could hibernate, I would. But I can't, so I shan't. Besides, the 21st December has been and gone, so the graph is going upwards and the days are elongating imperceptibly. Which gives me a little more choice when it comes to walking Daphne. I've taken to going on foot in the morning, so I can listen to all things bright and wonderful on my MP3 player, and by bike in the evening when there's still enough light to get me from A to B and back to A.

These days, every time I go past the farm – and specifically the big ugly house that the brothers built together before we got here – the light of the telly flickers in the front room on the other side of the hedge. I reckon the telly's got bigger since Jean-Louis died of lung cancer and his widow took up with the new man (not the brother), who keeps the expanse of grass all around the house neat and tidy (perhaps in exchange for board, lodgings and flat-screen television). Certainly bigger since the last time I ventured inside, to ask Jean-Louis for some tractor-aided assistance with our roof tiles.

Without fail, morning, noon or night, the reflected images from that probably enormous telly flicker brightly on the glass of the French window. It makes me think – and wonder what on earth life inside that ugly house must be like. Like a modern still life, I guess. No books, no music and possibly no joy. Just a soundtrack of endless crap from that huge inanimate object that dictates or at least underpins so many lives.

And if that sounds like the reflections of a snob, well I put my hand up like a guilty footballer who knows that he has just committed a foul, but hopes that the ref will show leniency. I am an inveterate snob. But it just seems to me that life is so precious and so fleeting that it's a terrible shame and a terrible waste to spend it in front of or within earshot of that big rectangular box. It smacks, too, of that grim song by Townes van Zandt, 'Waiting Around to Die'. Turn it off! I want to yell. Get out there and live a little. Join a club. Do something for your fellow creatures! That might send them scurrying from sofa to window to see who was so rudely interrupting their reverie.

On the way back home, I often imagine how my own life might be and look to others if I gave in to the call of the telly. Oh the lethargy, the lack of energy, the sense of hopelessness! I was once quite capable. As a young boy, I could sit and watch a test match from 11am, or whenever it was that play began, to close of play at 6.30pm. But I was a cricket fanatic and I needed the real stuff to fuel my fantasy world. The extraordinary thing was that neither of my parents would do anything to limit my viewing. Mark, you've watched quite enough telly for one day. It's time to turn that thing off. Maybe my mother said that kind of thing once or twice – those words must have come from somewhere – but my folks were archetypically lazy parents and my mother probably saw it as an ideal opportunity to shut the door of her bedroom and hammer away at her typewriter. Maybe they knew me well enough by then to be reassured that I had plenty of other things going on in my young life. I wouldn't suffer unduly from a diet of concentrated cricket.

But these days, I wonder. The older you get, the more there is to do. Or so it seems. Which makes me generally far too guilty to indulge in frivolities and the simple pleasures of life. It would make an interesting experiment to try it, I think sometimes. Something akin to that marvellous documentary by Morgan Spurlock, Super Size Me!, in which our director almost kills himself by subsisting on a diet of McDo crap.

Could I do it? What would happen to me if I pigged-out on a diet of endless visual and aural crap? It doesn't bear thinking about. First, I'd have to move the set down from the mezzanine to dominate the living area. Then I'd have to watch breakfast television over breakfast (and beyond). That would involve a partial diet of news. Start the day with gloom and doom. (It sounds like a new breakfast cereal – slack, fizzle and slop!) Where would I go next before Film Four starts for the day? Although that could be construed as cheating. I love films, even bad B-movie westerns from the '50s. All those Budd Boetticher films starring the deliciously wooden Randolph Scott. But there's a school of thought now that Boetticher was, in his way, a kind of auteur. I suppose you could argue the case for almost anyone, even Ed Wood. 

So that may not count as crap. In which case, I'd have to flip to Channel 5 for truly execrable films of the genre that go straight from production to DVD. And I suppose I could watch Bargain Hunt, with that awful chinless presenter, the one with the specs-on-a-chain and the silly moustache. Or that property programme with Dion Dublin. Lovely man, Dion Dublin, although I really think he should stick to Football Focus, my own private weekly crap allowance.

Towards the end of the afternoon, there would be game shows like Countdown or Pointless and then the early evening news would really add to my sense of futility and put me in the mood for some utilitarian food. After dinner? Well, I suppose BBC2 and BBC4 would be out on the premise that they could stimulate grey matter (even before the 9 o'clock watershed – if that still exists). So... there might be a super-hero action film on Film Four that would waste another couple of hours. After which maybe I could find some suitable tripe on Channel 5 in which people expose parts of their anatomy that are guaranteed to make you gasp or curdle with embarrassment. And then, if I had the slightest will to live left, I could ease myself out of the sofa and toddle off to bed...

But hang on! I hear you cry. How does this inveterate snob know about such programmes? Surely he's been secretly indulging in crap all these years? Well, yes, I do scour the listings every day in search of something worth watching or recording. And I have sat with my antique father many a time watching programmes like Bargain Hunt. A friend of mine who worked with me in my days in the Civil Service actually even featured in one episode – and typically I managed to miss it. 

Anyway, where was I? Yes, one day in the life of a reluctant viewer. That would be quite enough for me. I couldn't manage more; I'd lose all feeling in my head. I'll leave such experiments to Morgan Spurlock, Louis Theroux and the like. Besides, it's almost time to walk the dog again. No doubt there will be bright flickering images on the window at the farm as I hiss by on my bicycle. I wonder whether the inmates will live as long as my dad. He's 90 now and I'm happy to report that he's having a good life – even if much of it is spent in front of the telly. He's certainly not waiting around to die.