Monday, 8 June 2015

An American friend, Tom Burguieres, from my very distant university days got in touch to say that he and his wife Janice were coming to Paris for a few days and would we like to meet up for lunch? Only an American…..Luckily Nichola and Paul Cannock, who live in the centre of Paris, kindly agreed to put us up for a couple of days. So…dogs to kennels, on to Limoges, train to Paris, metro to the Cannocks, a mere 6 hours plus door to door. When I mentioned this to Tom he was amazed, he hadn’t thought anywhere in France was more than two hours from Paris! Anyway we had a great time, a lovely dinner and Tom and Janice were blown away by the Cannock’s flat and Nichola’s hospitality.

Went out for lunch one day to St Yrieix la Perche, about an hour from us. Had a look around an interesting china shop, apparently St Yrieix was where they mined kaolin, used in porcelain made in nearby Limoges. Both the restaurants we planned to go to were shut, so we tried one in the town itself. You can get bad food, at least very average lukewarm food. Of course we are English so didn’t complain, but we had Rhonda with us and she’s Texan, and also shy apparently.

Rhonda and her husband David live in Vignols, the next village to us to the northwest. Although the commune is only half the size of ours, there are far more Brits living there. As far as I know in our commune there are three permanent residents and one holiday family, but in Vignols there are around 20 families, including permanent, semi-permanent and holidayers. They have a boulangerie and that’s about it, nobody really knows why it’s so popular, although it does make a great home for the bowls club.

The Rex Cinema in Brive always has a few films in VO (version originale), and he we have been there a couple of times lately. First we saw Birdman with Michael Keating, weird, but brilliantly filmed and acted. Interesting to see from the French subtitles that French is apparently nowhere near as rich in swear words as English is – “Merde” just about covered everything. A few weeks later we saw The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, good fun. We were actually the only people in the cinema, and when it finished they forgot to turn on the house lights – Judy got a bit lost in the dark.

Another good ay out was to watch Brive Rugby with David and Rhonda Lush. As a Texan Rhonda had no idea what was going on, but the atmosphere was certainly catching, and we all cheered and clapped with the best of them. Brive won what was actually a pretty poor game, more importantly they won the last game of the season and avoided relegation.

One of favourite local cheeses is called Salers, so called from the village in the Auvergne and the breed of cattle. We had a very enjoyable day out there – the village is very pretty and it was a lovely day for mid-April. We had a delightful lunch outside a nice restaurant. A reminder that the Auvergne is where the Massif Centrale really starts was the view of snow on the nearby mountains, and a sign to warn that at least one pass was still shut.

A slightly less exciting day out was to the Sorges truffle museum, this being in a village just into the Dordogne. The museum was less than fascinating, but the attached shop provided a source of gifts to take to England. Most gastronomic offerings from this area are heavily duck influenced – not always acceptable!

Very sadly just before we left for England we had to have Bertie put to sleep. He was over 14, and was getting progressively more deaf and blind. Unfortunately he was also getting rather aggressive, both with Icare our other dog and with us He really didn’t realise he was doing it, but if you came on him unexpectedly he was prone to bite – he had already bitten Judy once. Not a nice day.

At the start of May we drove to the UK. We decided to take  the whole thing as easily as we could, so after dropping Icare off in kennels, we spent our first night in Chartres. We found a great hotel literally 100 metres from the famous cathedral. And after dinner we went to see the light show projected onto to the face of the cathedral, which was simply awesome.

Through the tunnel and after a visit to Rye, night stop with my cousin Lin and her husband Keith in E Sussex. Really glad we came through the tunnel, as the channel was pretty rough. On from there to Devon. Apparently, as it was May 7th something was happening in UK, people seemed a bit pre-occupied! Met up with an old school friend, John Willis and his wife Jane, then a good night in a local pub.

 On again to Cornwall. Stopped in Helston on the way to watch the Flora dance, lots of couples in evening dress literally waltzing through the town. 

Our cottage in Helford was excellent, once you get used to driving down lots of very narrow roads with high banks. 

At first we thought we should totally relax, just take it easy and read or take short walks. Then we thought that we take it easy most days in France, so we spent a fairly hectic but very enjoyable week seeing Cornwall! We visited Truro, Penzance, Falmouth and St Ives, lots of lovely villages and ports, the Minack Theatre, walked around the famous Frenchman’s Creek, and went to the Eden Project, which was excellent. Lots of nice meals out and met up with an old friend from university, all in all a very enjoyable week.

One of the things that everyone notices on passing from France to the UK is how busy the UK roads are. Cornwall to our next stop in Essex was a less than pleasurable seven hour drive. You just have to love the M25. Thus started our visit family and friends phase!

 A couple of very enjoyable days with Nick and family, then on to Kingston to stay with Martin and Vicky, A quick detour to see an old friend from my police days, then two nights with Jim and Ange in Oxfordshire.
Thanks for the drive in the Aston Jim, very exciting!

 Pause for breath, off to Dorset, one night with Posy, one with Trish and Diane, cousins I haven’t seen for 35 years. 

Phew. Back to the tunnel, yup hello M25 again, then back to France and empty roads. Great night stop at hotel in Normandy, pick up dog and home.

Icare has taken a it of time settling - over two weeks in kennels and then to find he is an only dog. is getting a lot happier now, now we just have to explain that he is adopted....

Back to the mad social whirl! Our Vignol’s Bowls Club had their annual match against our rivals at St Robert. Sadly we lost, but everyone had a good time and the barbecue was excellent.

A few days later our English Library had a quiz and curry night at Janie’s chateau. It seemed to go very well, the food was delicious and nobody killed the quizmaster – me.

Last weekend was mother’s day in France, and also the day our local town Objat hold their Fete de Petit Pois. Lots of people buying last minute flowers in the market, and watching the displays, from line dancing to folk singing.

Things have now quietened  down a bit. Just to make us both very happy we had our annual dental check-up, and our dentist says nothing to do and bye bye for a year. The weather has been lovely for the last few weeks, temperatures varying from the mid thirties to a more pleasant 30is, which we are enjoying now. Visitors expected this month, plus a possible expedition to the Sancerre region to meet friends. Life is tough!!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

A fairly quiet time, we are saving all our energy for travelling to the UK in May!

I decided to replace a gas cylinder which fuels a couple of rings on our hob. We don’t use them often – this was only the third bottle since we got here. I decided to carry them down to the cellar where they live down some outside stairs, normally only used by the man who delivers our heating oil. I managed to slip and land on my back across a couple of stone steps, and it really hurt. Judy was a bit worried, but I don’t seem to have damaged anything vital, although I still have some back pain a few weeks later. Also had my bi-annual blood test and my cell count is holding pretty steady, so nothing to worry about there. Jude continues to be disgustingly healthy.

Each year the commune produces a report to tell you what has been happening, what will be happening and how our taxes are spent. This year our house was on the front cover - well they do floodlight us at night!

 While shopping in Brive with Judy and our friend Rhonda I found an exhibition in a local galley which absolutely blew me away. The gallery is an old church, and it was filled by a photo exhibition. The photographer works for the phone company, and asked customers he visited to pose for him in their homes holding their phones. It sounds a simple idea, but the pictures were astonishing. The Correze is still one of the poorest areas in France, and it was a salutary experience to see how some people still live, especially the rural old. I don’t know if the French viewers were as astonished as we were – we all went back to see it again later, perhaps the shock for them was not so great.

Judy had a significant birthday in January, and to celebrate we went out for a very enjoyable dinner with friends. It would probably have been a more relaxed evening if I hadn’t had a senior moment and forgotten how to find the restaurant. Anyway we all got there in the end and had a great meal.

A few weeks later we went to another birthday party - our friend Patrick who was 101. As always he was on great form an thoroughly enjoyed all the attention, especially from the ladies!

 Still picnicking when the weather is fine – had some very nice days out – especially one where visited the Cascades de Murel, had lunch (OK in a restaurant), drove along the banks of the Dordogne and finished up having an ice cream in the lovely town of Argentat. One mistake we won’t make again is going out on a very wet Monday. Everything shuts on Monday, and drenched scenery really doesn't make up for it.

We are lucky to have a local airport at Brive, if only they and the airlines could get their acts together. The airport website was months out of date, and City Jet who fly from London City Airport, and who had two flights a week, suddenly stopped, started again and have now stopped until the summer. Their website carried on blithely saying that they had two flights a week, and if you tried to book, you got a “computer problem come back later message”. Rubbish. Ryanair will be flying in from Stansted again next month. We investigated all this as I have a friend who is working in England, and getting home for weekends has been a nightmare for him.

We had a smattering of snow over the winter, but nothing settled. On one of the English-speaking websites I look at several people said they were snowed in a few times. And this is still in the Correze! It’s a big place, the nearest ski resort is less than two hours from us in the Masif Centrale. The photo below was taken in mid-March about 40 minutes from home.

 Poor old Bertie is much better, he was slowing down visibly a few months ago, but he is more his old self – just a bit blinder and deafer. Icare still bounces around the place, mainly off the walls!

 In February I was asked by the RAF Association to go to Grun Bordas, a small village in the Dordogne and lay a wreath on behalf of the RAF at their war memorial. It was the 71st anniversary of the crash of an RAF Stirling, which had been dropping supplies to the resistance further south, with the loss of all the crew. The locals turned out in force, and we even met an elderly lady who had actually heard the aircraft crash. A very poignant and moving experience.

We have been showing our friend Rhonda some of the nice places to visit – it’s her husband working in UK. So far we have been to Collonges la Rouge, Turenne, Brantome and a few other places. I take good care to tell her husband what a good time we had as he enjoys the pleasures of Woking.

A few weeks ago we ventured into Brive with friends to see “Birdman” with Michael Keating, luckily in VO – version originale, i.e. in English with French sub-titles. It was one of those films where you all walk out when it finishes and eventually someone says “Um, what was that about?”, and the others breathe a sigh of relief. We all enjoyed it, could see it was brilliantly acted, but we could see why it was playing five times a day in a French art cinema. By the way, going by what the actors said in English and the French sub-titles, English is a much richer language for swearing in.

Two short stories to finish. We went out for lunch with our friend Rhonda, and when we got home I opened our front door, to find a large black dog standing inside looking at me. I shut it again, then slowly opened it and the dog ran out. Apparently Judy had left the door open earlier, and he had sneaked in. Luckily he hadn’t done any damage, and his owners apologised profusely. Rhonda said my face was a sight to behold. Finally I went into Objat for a haircut, and decided I would tell the barber about my haircut in New York, being offered a whiskey or vodka etc. I looked up some words I didn’t know, and sat down to have a jolly chat. Before I could say anything a friend of the barber’s came in, and they chatted above my head (literally and figuratively) until I was finished. Ah well..

Monday, 19 January 2015

Although Christmas takes up most of this missive, I mustn’t forget the great victory of the Vignols bowls team v St Robert. Although the teams comprise mainly ex pats, we have a number of French players. Last week we had a young French lady play with us while her baby watched from his portable play pen! Anyway we thrashed St Robert, and then all enjoyed a great lunch out together at a local Auberge.

Knowing we were going to be away for Christmas made preparing for it a lot easier, no decorations, no tree, no food to buy. We bought everyone in the family Italian leather-bound notebooks with their names embossed on them – it will be interesting to ask in a year or so what went in them.

I currently have two SSAFA cases, where there are people with military connections who may need some help. Obviously I cannot give any details, but it is certainly very satisfying to be able to point people in the right direction for assistance.

And so to the main event – Christmas in New York! I booked the tickets from Toulouse via Madrid to JFK with Iberia. Paris is really too far away and there was no point in going back to UK. One suggested flight was with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul – seemed the long way, although as somebody remarked you would get an extra meal! I also completed the visa waiver forms so they would let us in.

After taking the dogs to their holiday accommodation the previous day we left home at just after 5 for Toulouse. As always when you leave plenty of time everything went totally smoothly and we had a 3 hour wait at the airport. The link flight to Madrid was fine, and we changed terminals and found the JFK flight without any problems. The flight was about 6 hours, as boring as they always are, although the in-flight entertainment and food were OK.

Rachel met us at the airport and had arranged for a car to take us all to her apartment in Manhattan. It is a smashing flat, just the right size for her, and very comfortable. It is very central and is only a 10 minute walk from her work. NY drivers, especially the cabbies, seem to have a love affair with their horns. Not so bad during the day, but honestly at 2am? One thing that did surprise me was that most of the cars were much smaller than I had expected, and there were lots of Japanese models, Toyotas, Hondas etc, even among the taxis. . Many of these are built in the USA, but maybe even the Americans are looking for slightly better mileage!

We decided to do most of our exploring of Manhattan on foot, normally ending up footsore and weary and taking a taxi back to Rachel’s. We looked at Madison Avenue, where Rachel works, the Flatiron Building, Park Avenue, Macy’s Store (great idea just before Christmas, not) and lots of other sights. We walked around Greenwich Village, and visited the memorial site to the Twin Towers victims.

Probably the high point in every sense was our visit to the Empire State Building. I booked tickets on line, and as it was likely to be a one-off, I got the Express tickets. These were BRILLIANT. We got there to find long queues, but we were ushered past everyone and into an Express lift. OK the viewing galleries on the 86th and 102nd floors were just as crowded, but we got to see everything and take our photos. Worth every cent.

One of the reasons we wanted to go up the Empire State was that we could see it from Rachel’s bedroom. They change the colours in which t is lit up for different occasions, we had Hanukkah, Christmas and the colours of two college (American) football teams playing a semi-final in New York. 

Another day Rae took us on the Staten Island Ferry – excellent value as it is free. You get a fantastic view of the NY skyline, plus you sail past the Statue of Liberty Island and you get a great view of that as well.

Our big cultural expeditions were to the NY Public Library, amazing building, where the original Winnie the Pooh Bear lives. The really big day out was to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We arrived too early so had a very pleasant walk around the bit of Central park behind the gallery. There was quite a queue but we got in very quickly, and Rachel had found us some complementary tickets. The place was absolutely awesome, so many familiar pictures and artists, you didn’t know where to start. Even though there were large crowds it was big enough to absorb them, and we saw everything we wanted to – although it would take far longer than we had to begin to do it justice.

Even having a haircut was something of an experience. Good trim – check. Chat with barber – check. Hot towel – check.  Even shoulder massage – check. Would I like a glass of whiskey or vodka – er, pass! All for $20.

While Rachel cooked us a fantastic Christmas lunch with all the trimmings, and lots of other nice meals, we also ate out a few times. As Rachel had chosen them all the places were good – but we particularly liked the brunches we had at the Lyric cafĂ© – good food at great prices.

We were really lucky with the weather – we packed our wellies and warm jumpers, but the temperature kept nicely well above zero (centigrade). Just cold enough to keep us moving on our walks! Another great place was Grand Central Station - so impressive that you almost forget that there are actually trains leaving from there!

 Even the best things have to come to an end, so on our last day we had a final brunch and Rae waved us goodbye. The trip from JFK to Madrid was long but bearable, we even landed early. This meant we only had 2 ½ hours to wait for our connection in an empty Madrid airport at 5am! Anyway we recovered the car from Toulouse and had a 2 hour drive home. By the time we got there we decided to leave picking up the dogs until the next day.

We missed seeing in the New Year by several hours as we had been up some 26 hours. When we went to get the dogs they were very pleased to see us, but they seem to have had a great time. Debbie who looked after them has fallen for Icare, and he even got a Christmas present, which he is still playing with (minus it’s stuffing).

Back now to the calm of the Correze. I managed to pick up a bug on the way back, but am feeling much better now. There’s a lot to be said for marrying a nurse with experience of tending to the elderly! Back too to the round of bowls, eating out, markets etc – great!