Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Off for our holidays – two weeks in England.

Uneventful drive to Coquelles next to the Euro Tunnel. Having Icare with us does mean we have to ensure we stop more often! We spent the night in an Ibis, where dogs are allowed in the room for a few euros. Icare behaved himself perfectly; Jude just says she now has to cope with stereo snoring. The French riot police – the CRS – use the hotel car park as their vehicle area, and also stay in the hotel itself. Really secure parking! 

The train trip was fine, just the normal culture shock to drive in England again – there are so many cars! I am sure the SE of England is full. We had a very nice lunch with my cousin Joyce and her husband Richard, and managed to persuade them to visit us later this year.

We crossed through the Dartford tunnel (having remembered to pay on line first of course) and so on to the cottage in Orford.  We were very pleased with the cottage, it was a perfect size for us and the quay is only a hundred yards away. Plenty of lovely walks for the dog as well, and Orford itself is a very pretty village. Also a pub 100 yards away!

No rest though as the next day we drove to Leigh on Sea to see Nick and family, and it was lovely to see everyone too. The next day was Esme’s 14th birthday and the day we were there she was having a party for 40 + 14 year old girls. Sadly we had to leave before they arrived…..Jake did door duty, and Nick and Lisa retired to their new shed/workroom at the bottom of the garden. Just out of sight….

Back to Orford where the next day we had Sunday lunch with Carol and Terry – great to see them both.

We had some very enjoyable days out from our cottage in the surrounding area. We particularly enjoyed the complex at Snape Maltings, missed the opera but some very nice shops and cafes.  We also visited Aldeburgh and we had a proper seaside day – horizontal rain!

Another good place to visit was the village of Dunwich – or rather looking out to sea, where most of the village disappeared under the waves over 700 years ago.

We caught up with an old friend, Florence Gardener, in Norfolk, and while discussing mutual acquaintances realised that another old RAF chum lived virtually on the route back to Orford, so we descended with very little warning on Adrian and Liz Richardson.

Back in Suffolk we found a lovely old ruined abbey at Leiston, which we pretty much had to ourselves. We went on to Southwold, another very attractive coastal town.

After a week in Suffolk we moved on to Gloucestershire, where we stayed at Fossebridge with the Thompsons. Here we were able to catch up with a lot of old friends – including the  Titcheners, Romney Pargeter, the Ashforth-Smiths and the Wiggles, as well as visiting our old haunts of Filkins, Burford, Stow etc.

We also ventured to Marlborough where we caught up with Dave Lockie. We had lunch by the Kennet and Avon Canal and then Dave took us to the modern long barrow where the ashes of his late and much-missed wife Juliette are. A beautiful place.

 We had another very enjoyable day out in Dorset to see Posy. When we went to the local pub for lunch we were very surprised when someone came in with a Clumber spaniel puppy – probably the only two in Dorset in the same place!

Our last trip was to Newent in Gloucestershire the home of the International Centre for Birds of Prey. It’s a very good day out, with a large number of birds to see, an excellent series of flying demonstrations and a very good café! I first went there in 1968 to help out when I slept in the summer house – it has changed a bit!

On our last day we took the cross country route to Folkestone and had lunch in the Crown Inn in Chiddingfold, the village in which Judy lived as a girl. Back through the tunnel, another night at the Ibis and the long drive home.

The weather on the way home was hot and sunny – it has pretty much rained ever since!

Judy’s eyes are still fine after the cataract operation. She has had another check and a got a prescription for new glasses. They seem to be very expensive here – opticians only sell glasses, they don’t do the eye tests. Judy had one lens replaced and it was 140€, of which the state insurance paid just over 4€. Luckily the rest was covered by our top up insurance.

Soon after we got back we had a visit from the McGahans, Malcolm being an old friend from my police days. Sadly because of threatened ATC strikes they had to leave early, so I hope they enjoyed their brief time with us.

We had a nice day out in the Dordogne as I drew up a floorplan of a large house for a friend who acts as a project manager. The place needs a lot of work, but including outbuildings and attics over 13,000 square feet plus a fair bit of land, near a river, for 640,000€ seems like a pretty good deal. Not surprising it was snapped up by a couple of London lawyers!

Back to the normal routine - bowls and lunch out with the Lushes – great!

The English Library had a social evening at the Chateau de Bellefond a couple of days ago - a quiz night with fish and chips. It seemed to go off pretty well – we had 22 keen quizzers. More social events to come as we (hopefully) go into summer.

A brief rest for couple of days, then friends for dinner on Friday and lunch on Sunday, followed by a visit from Judy’s sister Gill and her husband. It’s all a bit like hard work….

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

For a quiet period where we try to stay in out of the cold and not do much – quite a lot has happened.

Rachel came to visit! We weren’t able to do a lot but we did have a very nice afternoon tea in the café attached to the Lamy Chocolate shop in Brive. Just feel those calories. 

Sadly she could only stay a few days but it was great to see her.

Our washing machine decided to finally pack up – tripping the circuit breaker each time we (we? – Judy) started it. Our local electrical shop took it away twice to try and fix it, loaning us a machine each time. It finally packed up, and the shop offered us a new one with all we had paid for the repairs deducted. Shop Local!

This year I was asked again to go to the village of Grun Bordas in the Dordogne to lay a wreath at their war memorial to honour a Stirling crew shot down over the village in 1944. Judy and I are always touched how the locals still remember and honour these young men.

 Judy had the operation on the cataract in her right eye on Thursday 21st April. In for 1230, all done and out just after 2. Jude will still need some assistance with her left eye, but now she spends most of her time with no glasses at all. Brilliant!

A trip into Brive to the latest Coen brother’s film, Hail Caesar, with George Clooney. In VO (Version Originale – i.e. English) of course. We both really enjoyed it.

I found a couple from the Dordogne who do floorplans and property photography, so as I have officially retired I offered them all my elevated photography gear. It cost a fortune, but as the market for it in rural France is somewhat limited I was glad to give it to a good home.

Talking of photography I am continuing with my “post card project”, where I find an old postcard and then try to take a photo of the same scene. Sometimes I can actually overlap them, but they also look great in a slideshow fading from one to another.

I had my 18 month cancer check-up – no change, all very OK. When the doctor asked me my weight I muttered it embarrassedly, but she said that with such things it is always better to be over than underweight. Result!

Managed one of our picnic days out while it was still a little wintery. Went to the village of Gimel les Cascades, then on to the village of Correze. Had lunch on the Suc au May, the highest point in the Correze. Still quite a lot of snow about – in mid March. Strangely nobody else about.

In our village we have an organisation called “A.S.V.S”, which both makes a record of the history of the village and the surrounding area, but also ensures that the older parts are properly looked after and even restored. I bought a copy of their history of Voutezac, and translated it for my own use and that of friends. I sent a copy to the Society and so we were invited to their meeting a couple of months ago. There was a video of the village in the 1990s, and information on their work – for example this used to be a wine growing area and they are saving the small stone huts which the vineyard workers used. I have also translated a walking guide to the village, to keep visitors busy.


            (A C
hâtellenie (the property of the lord of the chateau) – a Parish – a Commune)

(Third edition, revised and supplemented)
Translated by David Clifton

This booklet has been prepared based on the following works:
• A Dictionary of Parishes, by Father Jean Baptiste POULBRIERE
• A History of the Parish of Voutezac, by Father Marius ECHAMEL
• A History of Limousin and the Marche, by Joseph NOUAILLAC
• Corrèze as the crow flies and in a zigzag by L. Dautremen
• The Corrèze, by Abel HUGO
• Name places of the Corrèze, by Marcel Villoutreix
• The Lemouzi review
• Original documents from the archives of VOUTEZAC

Deliberately written without too much scholarship, it has been drawn up by the ASVS (Association for the Protection of Voutezac and its sites) with the sole intention of preserving the history of the inhabitants of the commune.

Invited by friends from our neighbouring village of Vignols to a “Repas des Ouefs”, or a meal of eggs. The organisers go door to door in Vignols and everyone donates fresh eggs. The first course was devilled eggs. The second a nice plain omelette. Third a potato omelette. Followed by a mushroom omelette, then a herb omelette…..Then some cheese with no apparent egg connections, finishing with a crème caramel. Phew!

For our 43rd wedding anniversary we treated ourselves to a meal at Brive’s only Michelin starred restaurant – Le Table D’Olivier. As you would expect a memorable meal!

 One Sunday a couple of weeks ago as we went to Objat for our visit to the market, we came across the annual agricultural show. Here that means cattle, and more specifically Limousin cattle. All very well behaved they were too!

Also a couple of weeks ago was the SSAFA AGM and training day. Great to meet other people from all over France working or the charity. Learned a few things, and was updated on what they are doing at HQ in London! Went to dinner with everyone in the evening, but had to get home and miss the second training day as Jude had her op that day.

Summoned a few days ago by David and Rhonda Lush to take photos of a baby tawny owl on their balcony. Used time lapse facility on camera and obtained some 250 shots of what appears to be an old sock. Forbidden to tap on the window or throw anything at it...Eventually it deigned to stand up and look at the camera, before going back to sleep.

Off on our hols tomorrow!

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Well it’s been quite a mild winter so far, touch wood! We have had a couple of days of snow, some quite heavy, but it has never settled. So much depends on where you live here, a few hundred metres in elevation can make all the difference. We recently met an English couple who were house-hunting, and they were quite surprised when I told them to invest in an altimeter!

I finally sorted out where my sinus pain was coming from. Our dentist got me to have an MRI scan (had to wait almost a week!), and eventually decided it was “just” a bad tooth. Out it came, and no problems since.

We haven’t had too many days out – while the weather hasn’t been too bad, it’s been quite grey and cold. We did have a very enjoyable day in Perigueux, window shopping and having a nice lunch.

With the fall in the price of oil, the cost of diesel for the car and heating oil have both fallen quite sharply. We topped up with heating oil before Christmas, and while the price stayed low, we filled up last week. Sadly the exchange rate has rather been against us – ah well its all swings and roundabouts!

The old favourites continue – I still manage to get to our bowls club most Wednesdays – followed by lunch out to undo any possible health benefits. The library seems to be in the depths of hibernation – not sure if it will actually wake up again!

Christmas itself was very quiet, just the two of us. We treated ourselves to a really nice meal out as our present, went to 6’ieme Sens in Brive. So many restaurants, so little time!

We recently discovered an ex pat organisation called Connect 87 which meets up in the town of St Yrieix, just over the border in the Haut Vienne, only 40 minutes away. I had never heard of them, but went to one of their monthly meetings to sell poppies for the British Legion for Remembrance Day. We were astonished to find some 60 people there! It was actually founded by some Dutch people, for English speakers. As well as the social meetings they also have a theatre club, choir, book club, gardening club and other things. Very sociable they are in Dept 87! Anyway they bought all my poppies.

I have carried on with my new hobby of finding old postcards of local views, and taking a photo from the same place. Great fun and Jude says it would keep me off the streets, except that is where the views are….

Our washing machine decided to trip all the electrics one evening. Called at the electrical shop in Objat, they came out the same day, took machine and lent and installed a temporary replacement. Two days later all fixed and re installed. Great service, shop local!

Judy had a problem with what we thought was an eye infection. Saw our doctor on a Tuesday, he tried to get an appointment with an ophthalmologist, but as he couldn’t get one as quickly as he wanted he gave Judy a note to take to A & E at Brive. Went next morning, seen very quickly by duty doctor, who referred Judy to duty ophthalmologist. She did a number of tests, and told Jude to go and see her boss at the hospital in Tulle that afternoon. More tests and she told us that Judy has cataracts in both eyes, and they have probably been present for over 10 years. She has referred her to another hospital for an operation, just waiting for a date. Before the end of the week Judy had also had a Doppler test on her carotid artery (went to hospital, got appointment for following week – they called us back in on mobile and did it same day) and blood tests.

Been for a few good walks, up to the other side of the dam at Le Saillant – when it was first built it powered the trams in Limoges! Also the standard walk around Lake Poncharal – Icare is definitely a water lover.

 Played around with my camera – is one Judy enough?

Also used the facility to take photos at intervals automatically, so took 300 of the bird feeder every 10 seconds:

The annual village report came out, the usual 64 pages of accounts and reports. The commune has an annual budget of over one million euros! Happy to find out that our Auberge, which shut about a year ago, has been bought by the commune who are now looking for a couple to run it - this certainly worked well with our boulangerie. Once again our house is on the front cover - no really, down there in the bottom right hand corner.

We have a number of people coming to stay soon, and lots more invited – just thought I’d give an idea of our accommodation in the overflow block…..running water…what more could you want?

 Just joking. Rachel our daughter is here at the moment – she’ll probably need a whole blog just for her….

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Although we haven’t had as many friends to stay as we expected this year, for a variety of reasons, we have had some visitors and also made some new acquaintances.

Towards the end of August we ventured into the high Correze to visit Chris and Sue Simmons. It’s called the high Correze for a reason; their lovely house and garden (including pitch and putt golf course) are at some 580 metres above sea level – that’s over 1900 feet. No wonder their winters are a bit tougher than ours. We are at about 130metres, or 430 feet. It always amuses me when I read about people asking what the weather is like in the Correze – it really does vary! Chris and Sue are ex-army, but are still nice people. Ho, ho. Chris has had a few recent medical problems, but is recovering well, and has nothing but praise for the French health service.  A very enjoyable day out.

Still going to the bowls club every week, and even getting a bit better. We had a club lunch at the house of Caro and Ron Caldicutt, who do most of the running of the club. A very pleasant time was had by all.

We did have a few visitors – Paul and Nicky Cannock were on their way from the UK to Provence (missing out their flat in Paris) and stayed over for a night. Lots of chatting about the olden days in the RAF.  Paul now works for the European Space Agency, and gets a nice large Mercedes on diplomatic plates. How upset I was he almost got the huge thing stuck in the underground car park in Brive. Of course as he said, he could have just left it anywhere with the diplomatic plates!!

Another couple who were meant to come and see us, Mal and Eileen McGahan, called us the day before they were due as Eileen had lost her passport. Everyone’s nightmare at 8 in the evening the morning before a 0730 flight, and they never did find it. We hope they can reschedule next year.

I managed to track down a very old friend, John Bostock, who I met during my brief spell at university. He had been lawyering in the oil industry in Houston for many years, oddly the place two of our good friends Rhonda (Texan) and David (Oil) met and lived. Anyway John and his husband Chris have retired to near Carcassonne. They were on their way back to the UK, and stopped overnight. Gave them a quick local tour, and we hope they can come again. We pointed out to John that he was our daughter Rachel’s godfather, but apparently you don’t have to pay in arrears. Told him that he’d done a rubbish job spiritually….

Another old RAF friend, Brian, found himself at a loose end between Thailand, Northumberland and Florida, so stayed for a very agreeable few days.

A few days out – one good one was with Rhonda and David – Auberzine, Argentat and back – nice picnic by a lake, and Judy’s favourite, ice creams by the Dordogne in Argentat.

Still doing my photo project – trying to copy old post cards. Given a few away to friends – must have a lot of damp patches on their walls!

Has a few sinus / tooth problems. Had an x ray and an MRI scan, but looks as if it’s just a tooth problem, so making an appointment to have the damned thing out.  Went to the doctor one Monday morning and got a prescription for an x ray. To one of the hospitals in Brive after lunch to make an appointment. Receptionist seemed very puzzled – why did I want to make an appointment, wouldn’t I rather have it done now? In and out with x rays in my hand in 30 minutes. Took them to the doctor that evening – sinuses clear.

In the first part of  November we had really great weather – temperatures in the low 20s. too good to last of course – now it’s a proper November – grey and cold. And the shops are all full of stuff for Christmas. Saw a post online for a lunch for grumpy old men – sadly too far away…

A few months ago I decided that my floorplan was not exactly thriving, so I officially gave up. Of course a few days later I was asked to draw up a plan for a friend – so I did that, from sketches (the places were in Southern Italy and my offers to measure up myself were not needed), plus another in the Dordogne which I did for the petrol money. Makes a nice day out!

Still getting to Objat market every Sunday. One week they were making fresh apple  juice, the old fashioned way – and it was delicious. Last week took a few more pictures – the butcher’s van actually only sells horse meat – odd that we Brits find that so difficult.

Again this year I have been a collector for the British Legion Poppy Appeal. I shamed almost everyone at bowls into buying, then I discovered that about 45 minutes away in the next department, Haute-Vienne, in the lovely town of St Yrieix la Perche, there is an expat organisation called Connect. They have a monthly coffee morning, book club, choir, quiz nights and a theatre club! Went to the coffee morning and amazed to find some 50 or 60 people there! Sold out! And very nice people! Able to send over 100€ to the Appeal. Of course we went to the Remembrance Service in our village on the 11th. The children all singing the Marsellaise was very touching.

I have been “translating” a history of the village into English. Well I scanned it, used Optical Character Recognition, copied it to Word, and then used Google Translate. Simples! Actually, as we all know, Google Translate does about 70% OK, some poor, and a lot of gibberish, so I have spent a lot of time with my dictionary. Its worth it as its very interesting. Also just re-read a book about Filkins, the village we lived in in England called the Jubilee Boy. Written by George Swinford who was born in 1887 and died at over 100. Fascinating to see how primitive life was in the 19th and early 20th century in England! Highly recommended.  

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

On my regular visit to the doctor to pick up the prescription for my blood pressure tablets (it’s the pace of life here!), he told me that I had to go to see the cardiologist in Brive. He quickly explained that this was just a check, he doesn’t have an ECG machine in his office. So two visits, one for an ECG, one for a “stress test” on a fixed cycle machine. All went swimmingly (and seen before the appointment time on each occasion), back again in 10 years!

On one of our picnic sorties I aimed for a location in the Dordogne which seemed to be interesting and have a picnic area, the Chateau d’Herm. Found it, at least I thought we had. In fact I had pulled into the car park of the Coteau d’Herm, which is a naturist camp site. Close but no…..Found the Chateau a few kilometres on, and it was shut for June. Eventually found another one (no shortage in the Dordogne) at Commarques, a very impressive ruined fortress. Then tea overlooking the river in St Leon sur Vezere, and home via Amand de Cole, with its huge church (defensive purposes for the use of). A lovely, and interesting, day!

The English Library ticks over. We have decided to become an “on-demand” library, as being open for only two hours on a Saturday won't suit many people. Also we had so many surplus books that we have got over 700 in our dining room, and have declared ourselves a branch library. Not exactly a rush so far…

In mid-June our friends Ian and Di Harrop asked if would like to meet up with them in the Loire valley, near the town of Sancerre for a couple of days. They were having a wine-hunting trip; we just enjoyed a very nice break. We stayed in a delightful hotel overlooking the Loire River, and visited a number of beautiful towns and villages. We also had a couple of really excellent dinners! A very pleasant break with great friends.

Being a nice friend myself I was happy to take our friend Rhonda to pick up her husband, David, at Limoges airport. Nice run up the motorway, shopping in the Asian Supermarket and lunch in the centre of Limoges. Pick up David and home. I think it was mean of them to laugh so much when I got the speeding ticket a couple of weeks later! It’s incredibly easy to pay on line, and no further points on my licence.

I have got a new hobby. I found a site that has pictures of old postcards and I have been selecting ones of our local villages, and trying to take new photos from the same point. I have also tried “merging” them, with mixed results! Very interesting…..

 Once again we went to the Peach Festival in the village. The high spot for us is the evening meal, served in the arcade by the Mairie by the festival committee. For the first time we went with friends – David and Rhonda, and they really enjoyed it. There was another group of our friends at another table too. The food was booked to start at 8pm, so we got our first course at 9, and left before the coffee just after midnight. The music was great (accordion and trumpet) and lots of enthusiastic dancing. The next night they had a drum troop playing in the road by the church, and they were brilliant.

 When we came to France I set up a small business doing floor plans for estate agents under the scheme called Auto Entrepreneur – a very simple regime where you declare your income every quarter, and they take about 28 per cent straight from your bank account. As I hadn’t done any business for months I decided to cancel my registration, and with much trepidation went to Tulle (the departmental capital) and the appropriate office. It was really easy, I signed various bits of paper, paid 18€ and that was that. Of course three weeks later one of my old clients contacted me and asked if I could draw up a floorplan for her….

During July and August a number of local villages have a weekly evening Marche des Producteurs – where a large number of tables and benches are set out, barbecues lit and you can either take your own food or buy it from a the stalls of local producers, meat, bread, fish, fruit, vegetables, wine etc. Great fun with friends, especially if the weather is friendly!

Someone pointed out that I had a puncture on a rear tyre on the Alfa, so I pumped it up and drove slowly to the local tyre depot. There the receptionist first said they would repair the tyre, but I said that as the other one was badly worn I would rather replace both. A bit surprised she offered me a price for some Michelins in stock, which I was happy with. But no, we can get you some cheaper ones! No problem and the price I worked out later was virtually identical to that in the UK.

When we go out on our picnics we try to have somewhere to aim for, even if we are diverted by sites en route. A few weeks ago we decided to go to Perigueux, and find a C & A clothing store we had been to some years ago. Sadly when we found it, it was full of the most awful tat. However we had our picnic near a lovely little village called Ajat, which has a huge church, chateau open if you ring the bell and a very attractive looking auberge. In fact the auberge looked so good we went back the following week, and very good it was too.

Found another clumber spaniel owner in Correze! Jenny and Bob Arber live about 40 minutes away, and we dropped in for a coffee on one of our picnic days. Bob was an RAF nav, so we had plenty to talk about. They have a very old clumber bitch, who basically ignored Icare as he whizzed around. Off from there to find  apicic spot at one of the highest points in the area – lovely views and we had it all to ourselves.

Talking of dogs there was the annual Brive Dog Show – the real thing – hundreds of dogs of every breed imaginable and their owners – all taking it very seriously. Saw some nice wolfhounds, but the clumbers had been judged and all gone home by the time I got there.

That evening Judy, David and Rhonda and I had an evening at the opera. There is an arts festival in the area every year, held under the name of the Vezere Festival, the Vezere being the river that runs through the area. On this evening a performance of the Marriage of Figaro was held at the Chateau de Saillant, a couple of miles from us and in our commune. The chateau has been in the De Lasteyrie family since 1320 – what price the French Revolution? The opera was held in a converted stable block, and was really enjoyable. An Austrian composer, Italian librettist, French chateau and all sung by an English company!

A few months ago I got back in touch with one of the lads who worked for me when I was Operations officer at Honington. He lives in Surrey, another of the boys (boys?) lives in Orlando Florida (working in real-estate and as an Elvis impersonator) and another in Peterborough. The latter, Nigel Noble, got in touch to say that he had  a place in France near Carcassonne, and would we like to meet up halfway. We RV’d in the gorgeous hilltop village of Puycelci, an old favourite of Judy and me. It was great fun to meet up with Nigel and his family and catch up on old times. The boys are having a reunion next year, and I am invited as long as I grow the moustache again!!

Enough for now – must try to enjoy the last of the hot weather!