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 a month, 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, March 11, 2024

March: A Short History of Nearly Everything About This February

Yes, you guessed it, during the long train journeys of last month I read Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. Mind-boggling concepts aside, my mind was boggled by the sheer audacity of taking on such a project and making it all entertaining, beautifully written and just about intelligible. Concepts like the solar system will remain forever inconceivable: for all the sun's astonishing capacity to supply energy, it was notable that its lack this month caused both my solar watches to stop dead in their tracks. His book should be required reading in every school in every land. Had it been so for me in my schooldays, I may not have dreaded Physics, Chemistry and Biology as much as I did Maths. It's thanks to Bill that I now see science as something interesting and not just the province of weirdos with bad haircuts.

You need a good book on a train, and we decided to do our travelling by train rather than by road or air as a fairly feeble gesture to help our chronically ailing planet. We were to travel out on a Friday and back on a Friday, and therefore our journeys wouldn't be subject to French rail strikes that tend to happen on a Tuesday and/or a Thursday. But... we were travelling at half term. And what better way for the SNCF guards and conductors to ruin people's holidays than by laying down their tools on Friday through Sunday? Thanks to Bill Bryson, my design of an apocalyptic device to plant deep within SNCF HQ has now progressed beyond the conceptual stage.

February generally belongs to my Good Wife and February 2024 was no exception. The still-radiant Aquarian turned 66, a time to think seriously about hanging up her essential oils and massage couch. The Daughter had organised on our behalf a special and secret late-birthday treat for her towards the end of the month at Sadlers Wells, London. Only our destinations – first to Brussels to see old friends from the Corrèze and thence to London – were known to the birthday girl. Rather like the time I 'took her' from Sheffield to Robin Hood's Bay on the North Yorkshire coast. I couldn't drive at the time, so had to sit in the passenger seat and give road directions. Drive, he said...

Her 66th birthday was deeply symbolic: she decided to sell the clinic in Brive that has served her so well for almost 20 years. While the physical massage (and there was a time when she couldn't use that word for fear of upsetting the medical mafia here), while that will go, she will carry on the EFT face-to-face with clients thanks to the miracle of Zoom (which Bill didn't get around to explaining).

Anyway, we were on our way back from a summit meeting with our appointed estate agent, when Debs received an alert from SNCF to tell her that our train had been cancelled. Credit where credit's due, they had given us more than the customary 24 hours' notice. Life has taught me to be thankful for small mercies. Quick as a flash, she looked up an alternative for the day before. (I was driving.) Two seats available on the 17h59 train to Paris. First class for no extra charge. Book 'em! the driver cried. Too late! Gone in a nano-second. And then there were two more. Second class, but an €8 supplement to pay per passenger. Now how do you figure that? The compounded indignity! The French rail company moves in mysterious ways, its miseries to perform.

And so it came to pass that the intrepid travellers left their cosy home a day earlier than planned. The cats would have to endure the food dispenser for a day extra, and the dog would have extra playtime with her best pal. Thus it was that we arrived in Paris just before 11 bells on Thursday night. Since Line 5 of the Metro was out of action, we took the bus to the Gare du Nord. Three buses, in fact, since two of the drivers decided to clock-off before their ultimate destination. We spent the night in a dreary hotel bang opposite the terminus. Another hundred bucks plus to circumvent the guards and conductors, curse their generous occupational pensions.

The next day, the incessant rain of February rained some more and, on our way by foot to a little West African vegetarian restaurant we identified for lunch, my sole, like my soul, came adrift. My favourite Palladium boots. How could I possibly walk around Paris, Brussels and London with a right boot that thought it was a flipper? I don't know if it had something to do with all the North African men clustering mysteriously outside a building of indeterminate but perhaps religious purpose, but as we turned the street to find our restaurant... lo! A miracle. There, before our very eyes, was... a cobbler! What are the chances?

I cannot, with my hand on my heart, recommend to you West African veggie cuisine. You would have to like tasteless root vegetables prepared blandly. But I can recommend that saintly cobbler. An application of glue and 15 minutes in a shoe-mender's vice and hey presto! That right boot of mine held – all the way back to the Gare du Nord, all the way to Brussels, all the way to London and all the way home again.

And we did a lot of walking. In the rain. Paris, it always seems to me, is overrated. Brussels was a gas: not a pretty city, but a lively multi-cultural one with a great tram system and terrific music venues that could theoretically (one day) accommodate refugees from the French countryside. London is cripplingly expensive and far too big, but a lot of fun with a daughter for a guide.

Soon after arriving in London, she took us to – and I paid for – Bubala in Soho for a Middle Eastern vegetarian feast that was possibly the tastiest meal I have ever eaten. After our late lunch, we walked all the way from Soho to Sadlers Wells, past a bevy of barbers around Tottenham Court Road advertising haircuts for less than the price of the service charge in Bubala. Since my hair was shaggy and we had time to kill, I urged the female sex to tarry while I popped in to see Herr Kutt. Tilley the Kid wouldn't hear of it. I would come out looking like a geezer. So discretion got the better part of valour.

Though a native of London, it was my first-ever visit to Sadlers Wells. The Good Wife once worked there in her youthful prime, ushering punters to their seats and selling white and 'non-white' coffee. Her birthday treat was a performance of Pina Bausch's Nelken. Carnations. Modern dance; her favourite choreographer. From our prime seats in the circle we looked down on a stage 'planted' with silk carnations. The madness and audacity of the venture seemed to rival Bill Bryson's. I didn't know what to expect, but came out of the theatre blown away by the ambition and, surprisingly, humour of the piece. 

So now you know how the sole of my boot was saved by a young Parisian cobbler. But, oh capricious irony, when we got back home to Camp Street... No, not the boot, that was still roadworthy, but I found another copy of Bill Bryson's book on our shelves. My mind these days is increasingly muddled. I grow old... I grow old/I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. Ah well. Anyone want a spare copy of A Short History of Nearly Everything? Requests please on a postcard...


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