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.

Monday, February 17, 2020

February 2020: Quarantined

There's a headline in a recent Grauniad welcoming us to the quarantine era – 'where bored, lonely and trapped indoors may be the new normal.' I shied away as per from investigating the depressing headline and headed for the sports page – my opioid fix to reassure me that some things never change and that if we just go on a-wishin' and a-hopin', everything will be all right. Ultimately. Maybe. Probably not. 

It struck a chord, though, because I've been toying with the idea of a visit to the Disunited Kingdom, where the 52% now rule. I want to see my dear old father, one of the 48%, bless his new multi-coloured dressing gown, which rarely seems to be off him these days when we talk on Skype of a mid-morning. But should I go or should I stay? Having contracted air-travel-shame, it would mean a long-distance train journey. While the threat of disruption has now eased, I still trust SNCF as little as I trust politicians, bureaucrats and big businesses. But more to the point, there's now the spectre of quarantine. If I got over to England, would I get back to France? Much can happen in a week when a super-virus is abroad.

Is this finally The Big One? If Mother Nature were to fight back big time, this could be the next Spanish flu. No doubt clever medical scientists will cook up some kind of vaccine in a secret laboratory somewhere to delay the Time of Reckoning, but until that day cometh we may well be faced with the prospect of face-masks, travel embargos and quarantine.

Being of an unsound mind that conjures constant worst-case scenarios, I may well opt to stay here unless I can somehow guarantee a quick in-out, there-and-back, aller-et-retour. In which case, I must consider the 'bored, lonely and trapped indoors' element of the equation. Just recently, I have concluded that maybe I am a trifle bored and lonely, at least on days when the Good Wife is in Brive, attending to clients. I have Daphne, of course, and to a lesser extent, Otis and Mingus the cats, but they all seem to spend the whole day sleeping. 

The locals don't provide the kind of stimulating conversation I crave. I may be quite wrong, but no one in the near vicinity would wish to discuss film, music or literature with me, so I have been renewing my efforts to find a new radio show. If people won't talk to me, then I'll jolly well talk to them. I dropped in on a little local radio station in Meyssac when I went to see my tattooed lady for a hair cut the other week and I met the head honcho. He seemed reasonably enthusiastic, but he hasn't got back to me since I wrote to him with details of what I was planning to do. He probably doesn't trust me, as he believes I'm not French (ha!).

I'll be OK, though. I've got my work to keep me busy and, whenever that dries up, I've got my literary ambitions to feed, so I'm not going to turn to drink, drugs or unspeakable practices. Living, too, in the middle of the countryside, they couldn't confine me to barracks in the same way that they probably can in a city. The local gendarmes drive by only once in a blue moon to check that everything appears to be normal. Same as it ever was; same as it EVER was!

I spoke to my sister the other morning. She still watches the news on telly and told me of the horrifying images from China, with people being dragged from their homes like criminals to be shipped off to some quarantine detention centre (or QDC when the time comes for an acronym). It didn't surprise me. They treat humans only marginally better than they do animals. I dare say they'll probably find a way of profiting from the deceased when the numbers really start to stack up. Body parts or leather for cheap shoes. 

I suppose that's the worst thing about spending so much time alone in effective quarantine. Your mind starts to dwell on such morbid, rabid thoughts. Without 'rivets', his metaphor for work or some such gainful preoccupation, Joseph Conrad's heroes would find themselves straying into the darkness at the heart of our existence. That's what must happen to all those deranged loners of life, who spend too much time reading Trump's tweets or staring at dreadful images on the dark web. They get themselves a semi-automatic lethal weapon and, the next thing you know, there's another massacre at a school or a shopping centre. While I might fantasise sometimes about gunning down hunters or dangerous motorists, the last time I picked up a rifle was during the cowboy phase of my development.

Life in solitary has made me understand what happened to my mother, bless her peculiarities. Never much of a traveller, she became positively agoraphobic towards the end of her worried life. I remember watching from a first-floor room in my parents' rather dismal last home together – in a faceless suburb of Southampton – as she returned from a morning constitutional: once briskly around the block, and customarily alone because my father was and is such a lazy sod. I remember looking at her and thinking That woman is stark staring mad

Latterly, those brisk constitutionals represented the sum of her excursions from the house. There's something genetically similar in my system. I don't think it's yet critical; I can still be saved from such a fate. But the notion of 'out there' is definitely becoming increasingly scary with every passing year. The other evening we watched one of the Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki's wonderfully quirky films, The Other Side of Hope I think it was called. A tale of a bewildered Syrian asylum-seeker adrift in Helsinki, it was compassionate, frequently funny and always slightly grim. As ever, he managed to make Helsinki look like the kind of place that you so do not want to visit. The trouble is: everywhere these days is looking to me like that kind of place. Even Paris.

Where's it all going to end? We talk sometimes of moving back to some small town in Yorkshire, somewhere with a strong sense of community where we could join a book club and a jazz club and a film society. Maybe places like that exist in Brive, but it's so much easier to converse in your own language. It probably won't come to anything. For one thing, quarantine might become a reality. And even if it doesn't, quarantine is also it seems a state of mind.

Monday, January 20, 2020

January 2020: Back to Academe

2020. My God. Perhaps because I'm listening to Sun Ra's spacey music as I type, the mere idea of 2020 seems positively intergalactic, redolent of travel in rocket ships manned by Dan Dare and Digby, his overweight sidekick with the kiss curl. Given what's happening on Planet Earth, anyone with any sense should be off travelling the space-ways in search of a place where life (in harmony) is possible. 

Had fate dictated that I would follow a career, I would be thoroughly retired in 2020. I'd be living off a pension, that thorny issue that has provoked anarchy in France these past months. When I took our daughter to the railways station in nearby Souillac at the beginning of the month, hers was the only train running south to Toulouse that day. It was late and neither of us – worriers both – believed in it till its sudden appearance, seemingly driven by someone on amphetamines. Tilley the Kid fretted about missing her plane back to the Yuke, but she made it in good time and I wasn't required to drive her to the airport after all. The amphetamine-fuelled driver must have picked up sufficient time on the journey south.

By then, her last-minute dissertation was almost in the bag. Looking back, a career lecturing on some obscure niche subject in a provincial university might have suited me down to the ground: the odd tutorial, the odd seminar, the odd lecture, the odd academic paper, and plenty of time to chew some rarefied intellectual fat with fellow wasters. The trouble was, a Masters year at Sussex provided fairly conclusive proof that university lecturers were a load of tossers. Their rarefied lives and their concerns seemed to bear no relation to the reality of life. My marks plummeted from a double A to a double D as my interest faded and my disenchantment grew. To find a post somewhere, I would have had to go through another three years or so, researching and writing a PhD. Foolish youth that I was, I wanted to get out into the real world. 

The real world of work opened up a can of mediocrity. Pretty soon I came to the stark realisation that my glory, glory days were behind me and the only cerebral stimulation I was going to find would be outside the wonderful world of work. And then, of course, I began to think, Well maybe it wasn't such a bad idea, an academic career. After all, the only thing I'd been really good at was passing exams, so I could help the youth of the day pass theirs. But then came the realisation that it was probably too late in the day to start all over again.

Just as well, judging by our girl's dissertation. For days, once Christmas had been digested, she sat in her bedroom with her laptop, giving her parents the misguided notion that all was well, that she was getting on with it. Then the Good Wife, for 't'is usually she, discovered that our kid was well and truly blocked. She'd been doing more and more online research, without getting down to the business of writing her 6,600 words or however many it was. Why don't you go and speak to your dad, Debs urged her. Despite all her best efforts, EFT had failed this time to shift the blockage. She works miracles with clients, but her nearest-and-dearest often put up the most stubborn resistance. No, I refuse to get better!

So she came to see her dad – for a dose of academic Kruschen Salts. It didn't take long to figure out where the blockage was located. All through her education, she has been hidebound by rules about what she can and cannot do. I thought it would be better once she got to the Disunited Kingdom, but apparently not. The introduction had to be xxx words, the conclusion had to be xxx words; she couldn't use the shorter conversational form of words like cannot, should not, do not etc. Anything personal seemed to be frowned upon. Rules schmules! I reassured her that the best essay I ever wrote in Academe was one in which I ignored all rules, lectures and what not and wrote from the top of my head. That reassured her, but not much. The French system has drilled it into her that she can't, sorry cannot, step out of line.

So, I worked within the parameters she gave me. I showed her how she could structure her wealth of notes and gave her some pointers for the introduction and the conclusion. That did the trick; it got her started. For the next few days, she sat on her bed with her laptop and knuckled down to the last-minute task at hand. I kept her nose firmly to the grindstone with my intermittent visits to enquire how it was going or to throw in an idea or two.
'Dad, do you think I'll get it done on time?'
'You have to get it done on time. There's no alternative.'

And she did. When I read through it to check her spelling and correct a few grammatical tics, I was hugely impressed. It was interesting, to-the-point and very well written – especially since she never learnt to write English at school, only how to spick it weeth a vairy shtrong Frainch acksonte. It was gratifying, too. She done me proud. Perhaps I did miss a vocation after all, helping the youth of the day to tailor their work to meet the stringent rules of Academe.

But, as Elton John once sang, then again no. What I have seen and heard about today's academic institutions does not lead me to believe that things have changed much. Only the fees that one now has to pay. The lecturers still seem to have their heads stuck firmly up their fundaments and they have minimal time for their young clients who pay, or whose parents pay, the fees and thus their fairly generous salaries. My Protestant work ethic would have been constantly at odds with all that swanning about. Even now, in my rapidly approaching dotage, it barely allows me time for Sun Ra, Dan Dare or my current tome: Barry Miles' biography of Paul McCartney, a helluva lot (sorry, hell of a lot) more entertaining and insightful than some po-faced academic paper.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

December: Chance Encounters of the Random Kind

I was on my way home for Christmas via Paris when I had one of those rare, magical experiences that made all that followed worthwhile. Well, just about.

With hindsight, it was madness to have gone to the music festival in Rennes, capital of Brittany and a million miles away from the comfort of my own bed. All for the sake of a paltry commission and a deluded ego. The auspices were not good: the press liaison officer informed me before leaving that my train back from Rennes to Paris on the Saturday morning had been cancelled. Hence my ride back – and my chance encounter – on the festival bus. I had a very valid reason for not shifting my arse, but for once I resolved to be optimistic. At my time of life, I should have known better. 

I encountered the striking hordes face to face in Rennes – and it was not a pretty sight. My hotel overlooked the big modern square that they must have constructed with demonstrations in mind. The Bretons, who don't necessarily consider themselves French, have a long tradition of dissent and disruption. On the Thursday, a national day of wrath when public 'servants' came out in force to voice their opposition to the latest attempt to reform the ridiculously complicated – and palpably unfair – retirement system, I could hear their riotous assembly in the square below, pumped up by a soundtrack of thumping electronic music.

Thinking nothing of it, I ventured out in the afternoon to pick up a takeaway from a nearby Lebanese that the Good Wife and I had discovered during our weekend in Rennes for France Magazine a couple of years ago. I found myself caught up in a madding crowd, trying to move against their momentum. Scary. I flattened myself against a wall to edge my way along between the buildings and the human throng. One or two looked at me as if I were completely mad and I growled my displeasure at them under my breath. Forcing my way to the back of the march, I saw for the first time the ranks of gendarmes with shields and full battle dress, blocking access to the Lebanese takeaway. Uh oh, I thought, I could get kettled here. Whereupon, I turned tail and allowed the crowd to carry me along in the opposite direction.

Across the main road and on the way back to the hotel, I watched with disbelief as a group of youths took a hammer to the window of an estate agent. No one seemed to turn a hair and I certainly wasn't about to confront them. Now look here, my good fellows, what on earth do you think this is going to achieve? What indeed? The following day, teams of white-van men were at work, boarding up broken windows everywhere and clearing up the debris of demonstration. No doubt the shopkeepers' insurance companies would pay, but it would mean higher annual premiums. Ironically, the estate agent's window was intact. Unbreakable glass unbroken. So the fighting anarchists had sprayed it with blue paint instead. Surveying the aftermath of humanity at its worst – mindless and multitudinous – only underlined the brilliance of Cole Porter's couplet: Use your mentality/Wake up to reality. What matters pension regulations to many of these people, decades from their retirement, when their world is facing an apocalypse of fire and flood?

I was right about the festival. There was a lot of hanging around and waiting – not helped by getting the 24-hour clock wrong on the second evening and turning up two hours too early at the Parc Expo, a vast tract of pre-fabricated exhibition halls next to the airport, each one big enough to house four or five thousand music fans. Somehow I bamboozled my logical mind into thinking that 21:45 meant a quarter to eight. Senility must be creeping in. I sat around, cold as an abandoned dog, till it was time to stuff some cotton wool in my ears and slope off to one of the three arenas to choose from in order to watch an act I'd pre-selected with the help of YouTube.
So, I was glad to be off on the Saturday morning, particularly as my poor wife's cough was getting so bad that she couldn't speak to me on the phone any more. There would be two stops before the festival bus's destination of Charles de Gaulle airport: one at a motorway service station and the other at the Porte de Vincennes, just off the périphérique. On the east side of Paris, whereas I needed to get to the west side for the night. No one knew whether any Metros or buses would be running. My heart was therefore heavy and full of the sorrows of this bedraggled winter as we set off, finally. We actually made a third stop, at Rennes' railway station to pick up a motley crew, whose garb suggested musicians from a far-off country.

On the road, I half-decided to hitch south and avoid the capital, if I could persuade the driver to drop me somewhere strategic. But the service station selected was of no use to me: it was northbound to Paris and before the confluence of the two motorways, one west to Rennes and the other south to Brive and beyond. So I wandered forlornly around the car park in search of a car with a 19 or a 46 number plate, someone heading my way who wouldn't mind helping a stray waif. Nope, all the plates bore the numbers of Paris and its surrounding departments.  

Outside the WCs, I spoke to one of the waifs who had boarded the bus outside the railway station. I asked him whether he'd been at the festival, but he didn't understand French. His English was passable, though, and I discovered that he was with a rap artist by the name of Edgar. Of course! He had put in a guest appearance on the new Nomade Orquestra album I'd recently reviewed, Vox Populi. So they were heading back to São Paulo, which kind of put my own journey in perspective. The musician pointed out their manager, who spoke better English.

He introduced me to a man called André, who indeed looked more like a manager than a raggle-taggle musician. We started talking about music, as one would, and I told him that I thought some of the best music in the world came from Brazil's biggest city. I dropped the name of an album I bought back in 2003: Alta Fidelidade by André Bourgeois and Mano Bap. Electro jazz from São Paulo via Brive la Gaillarde.

'But I'm André Bourgeois.'
'What!? You're André Bourgeois? That's just incredible. I keep that album with my favourites in the bedroom.'
'You really like it?'
'I love it. I always play "I love u" at parties.'
'It was the only album we made. I decided to leave making music to real musicians and manage their careers instead.'
'So you manage Edgar? Nomade Orquestra?'
'Not them, no. A singer called Céu...'
'Oh, I love Céu. Her version of "Concrete Jungle" – fantastic.' 

We wandered back to the bus together, both of us flabbergasted by the coincidence. André sketched his background: a Franco-Swiss who moved to São Paulo about the same time as I moved to France. He had a love/hate relationship with his adopted city, he told me. A vibrant but violent megalopolis, where you can never see the horizon. He and the band lived in a quartier by the sea, perhaps a little like Ipanema but uncelebrated in song. As for Mano Bap, he replied to my query, they'd met every day, seven days a week, for however long it was – a year, I think he told me – to work on their album, and he was now playing bass in a Frank Zappa tribute band. You couldn't make it up... 

Back on the bus, I moved upstairs from my seat down at the driver's level. There was clearly no chance now of jumping out somewhere to try my luck with the thumb. The band members were like hyperactive kids. 'Pancho Trackman' produced some funky sounds on a synthesiser not much bigger than a laptop computer and Edgar improvised words, and everyone laughed and clowned the rest of the way to Paris. They're like this all the time, André told me with a mixture of weary resignation and parental pride. 

I waved to my transient friends when we stopped at the Porte de Vincennes, clutching Edgar's CD as a parting gift. A music journalist who writes for Libération directed me to the Metro station, explaining that Line 1 would be running because the service is driver-less. I got off at the Champs Elysées, then headed for the Seine and speed-walked all the way past the Eiffel Tower as far as the Radio France building. I made it to my friend Sophie's flat just as our mutual friends were leaving for a concert in Montmartre. Their train back south had been cancelled, so they were stuck like me. They had planned to meet friends from London, who had sensibly decided to cancel their trip on account of the mayhem. While reading in my air-bed that evening, the thoughtful people at the SNCF sent a text to tell me that my alternative train home on Sunday had also been cancelled.

Next morning, I heard about the concert and the party afterwards, where they had found themselves sitting next to Jarvis Cocker. So we both had musical-themed stories to tell. Without a Smartphone to my name, I turned to my friends for help before they headed off in the rain for a lift home from the Place d'Italie they'd managed to secure. They booked me a BlaBlaCar for Monday morning at 9.30 from the same roundabout where I got off the festival bus the day before.

Meanwhile back at the ranch... Debs was getting worse. She'd had to cancel her clients for Monday and Wednesday. While clients fairly frequently cancel their appointments, things have to be really bad for the therapist to cancel a client. So the Doomsday scenario in my head became increasingly morbid. If I couldn't get out of this infernal city to administer to my wife, she might... 

Lying awake at 5 o'clock the next morning, with the rain beating down on the Velux window of the bedroom, it all felt like the plot of some sick deity. I was out of the flat by a quarter to six, prepared if necessary to walk all the way to the Porte de Vincennes. Such was the force of the vengeful deity's deluge that I got soaked in the 200 yards to the bus stop on the Avenue Mozart. After 20 minutes or so of wishing and hoping that I wouldn't have to traverse Paris on foot, a bus turned up. Getting off at the Arc de Triomphe, I wandered blindly in the dark in search of the Metro. I must have asked five or six people where it was. Each in turn pointed vaguely to 'just over there'. When at last I found it, my Metro ticket wouldn't work and I got stuck in the barrier. Having the figure of a Giacometti sculpture has its advantages. Somehow, I squeezed through. Waiting for my driver-less train, I realised that I must have used a used ticket. So I stood for the entire journey on the constant qui vivre, ready to duck out at the last second and wave smugly at the ticket inspector as Fernando Rey does to Gene Hackman in The French Connection.

I made a pact with the vengeful deity that, if I got to the penultimate stop without a ticket inspector getting on board, I'd get out and walk to the Porte de Vincennes. I regretted it, because the rain was heavier and the distance further than I'd reckoned on. Still, a bargain is a bargain and, if dishonoured, I would surely die on the motorway south. Despite the extra walk, when I checked out my pick-up on the périphérique, it was not yet 7.30. Two hours before the nominal departure. The traffic below was moving at the approximate pace of a garden snail. 

A nearby café sheltered me for almost two hours of watching people pass by under umbrellas. A TV camera crew popped in periodically for a coffee and some warmth before re-mounting their motorbikes to brave the elements. Inside, a big-screen telly beamed the images they were taking of listless traffic. By the time I ventured out for my lift, both the rain and la circulation had calmed slightly. In fact, once off the périph and heading south, there were few cars on the road – which was just as well, as my chauffeur drove like the clappers through driving rain. I sat up front, simulating relaxation as I chatted to my host, while the other two paying passengers slept in the back: a woman from Gabon and a young Chinese student who had to meet someone at the Asiatic eat-all-you-possibly-can emporium near Carrefour, where I would catch my bus into town and pick up my car.

When I finally rolled down the track to Sleepy Hollow, I found my wife 'under the doctor'. Please could I go back out again to pick up some medication from the pharmacy? Debs never takes medication and she hadn't taken antibiotics since living in France, but was coughing so much she could barely say hello and goodbye. However, the wrathful god had seen fit to deliver me safe and sound to cook her dinner and administer succour. Later, I listened to Alta Fidelidade – just to check that it was as good as I'd thought it was. It was. Even my invalid agreed. I wrote to André Bourgeois to reassure him. 

He wrote back from his urban jungle to say hi and thanks for the feedback, which made him want to make more music in Mano Bap's living room. I wish.

Friday, November 15, 2019

November: Black and Blue

'What did I do to be so black and blue?' asks the existential hero of Ralph Ellison's unique novel of alienation, Invisible Man, referencing an old Louis Armstrong song. I use the word 'unique' advisedly. Ellison never managed another novel; the brilliance of his first must have weighed too heavily on his creative shoulders. 

What did my wife do to be so black and blue, I wonder? She went upstairs to fetch a towel for her shower and stubbed her little toe on a poof. If that sounds a trifle absurd, I should point out that the poof in question has a wooden frame on which she must have caught her toe. We bought it off our friends Keith and Miranda when they sold up and moved back to Ireland. It's big enough to accommodate both pairs of feet when we curl up on the sofa to watch a film. 

She made so much noise that I thought she dideth protest too much. Six days after the event, however, her left foot is badly swollen and the colour of something you might dredge out of a rock pool. The upshot is that she's walking with the aid of a crutch borrowed from friends. I drove her to work this morning and am planning to act as the company chauffeur for the next couple of weeks. Anything to keep her at the coal face, bringing in just enough dosh to keep us living in the style to which...

Now there's a thorny issue. When it comes to making money, we're a couple of air-heads. Whether or not it's our fairly feckless upbringing, but we both recognise a complete lack of acumen when it comes to making more money than we absolutely need. Perhaps it's partly to do with living in France, where wealth is generally discouraged socially and hampered politically. Both of us have the skills and experience to make more, but – faced with the prospect – we either lose it or give it away, or both. Result: an element of tension come the end of each month. Will we, won't we make it without going into the red? Thus far, we've managed it, but the ageing process brings a diminution of our powers and our value in the market.

Things have come to a head this month. My dear newly disabled wife has been grooming a successor for some time. She tries to pass new clients her way in preparation for a day when she can take her restored foot off the gas and prop it up on the poof a little more than at present. The trouble is that her reputation goes before her and, understandably I suppose, new clients want to see her rather than her colleague. For all the mentoring she provides (probably gratis), it doesn't remedy the situation. So she in turn consulted a mentor. An American one. Given Americans' propensity for making money, the advice was simple: put your own prices up. If people want to pay less, they can opt for the less experienced, less expensive colleague.

This advice has put Debs in a whirl. Can she simply put her prices up again after raising them six years ago (and ten years before that)? Is she worthy? Will she price herself out of the market? What if no one comes to see her? I wish I could advise her. I haven't put my own prices up since I started paying my income tax in France, over a decade ago. What's more, being a writer, I've seen my fee as a journalist slashed over time due to the impact of the internet. Where once I got £25 for a 200-word music review – a tricky, time-consuming business – I now receive £15. Squeezed margins, an undervalued profession, vicious circle, the way of the world and all that.

If I put up my prices, no journal would have me. Writing e-learning is more competitively remunerated, but I choose to work for one employer only now: a lovely ethical man, who pays my invoices on time without so much as a how-many-hours-did-that-take-you?, I have no wish to interfere with his bottom-line. However... I get to eat some fine cheese once a month for my ongoing column with France Magazine, I get to keep the CDs that I review for Songlines, and there is the occasional jaunt. 

Early next month, for example, I shall be travelling to Rennes to cover the TransMusicales festival: a kind of nursery for upcoming global artists. The likes of Björk, Portishead and Amadou & Mariam have used it over the years as a stepping stone to a bigger stage. With accommodation and travel paid, plus customary pittance for the final product, it bolsters my self-belief. So I've said affirmative of course, but the whole of France will be going on strike on the 5th, the day after I travel and I don't know whether there's any prospect of getting home. Besides, at my age, the thought of all that hanging around waiting for bands to perform has rather lost its glamour. The one band I really want to see – the Minyo Crusaders from Japan, a huge outfit that plays traditional Japanese music with salsa instrumentation – won't be on stage till 5.30 in the morning. I did that once in Den Haag when I was a lot younger, for heroes of jazz rather than unknowns, back in 1986 or whenever it was, and it nearly killed me.

Anyway, my wife eventually decided that she would follow the American woman's advice. She tried it out the other day at the end of a Skype session with a client. Asked what her fee was, Debs quoted the new fee. No humming and hahing, no justifications, just a bare-faced statement of fact. The client took the hit without a murmur. I guess it's the phenomenon of high-end retail: a customer seeking quality will sniff at anything too cheap. The moral being: if you don't value yourself, who else will?   

So the Good Wife is raising her prices: for one-to-one sessions and for training courses. After all, women in particular – and I'm sure I don't risk the wrath of #MeToo for suggesting such a thing – will think nothing of paying good money to sort their hair out. Isn't it reasonable to expect to pay an equivalent to someone who helps them sort their lives out? We shall see. Will her protégé – her amanuensis, as the peerless W.C. Fields might have described her – now have all the clients and the all the work that she can cope with? Will my wife have priced herself out of the market? Will we be able to pay the mortgage right up until April, '21, when the place becomes ours? 

I don't know, but I'm happy to ferry valuable, limping cargo from here to Brive and back again for as long as it takes for a broken digit to mend to find out the answers. The role of part-time chauffeur will help to build my portfolio of domestic duties and justify my limbo-like existence. What did I do to be so slack and askew?