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 café – 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!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

OK winter is definitely here. I chickened out and put the central heating on a few days ago, and we may even fit the electric blanket soon. We have had a lot of rain recently, although with a few sunny days. We haven’t managed a picnic for what seems like ages!

The library staggers on. We have collected a number of books recently from kind donors, and Janie at the chateau tells me that we now have enough, in fact more than enough. Just have to open a branch library!

We went to a garden party raising funds for Macmillan cancer funds in September – a lovely sunny day and very enjoyable. Janie offered a night’s B & B at the chateau as a raffle prize, and we raised a good sum for this really good cause.

Saw my Consultant regarding my leukaemia – it is standing still and she doesn’t want to see me for 18 months. Excellent news.

Our new Clumber puppy Icare is settling in very well, in fact I am sure he now thinks he owns the place. We did library shift at the chateau a few weeks ago, and left him to have a wander around the grounds. After a few minutes he came trotting in with a pair of glasses carefully held in his mouth. He presented these to me very proudly! They turned out to belong to a previous guest at the chateau, who had look everywhere for them – he is now the toast of Pennsylvania! He also watches TV, especially if there are animals being shown, and he barks at other dogs that appear.

We have carried on with our picnic days out – had a very nice day out near Tulle, and another near Rocamadour. On one of the days out I was keen to find the Chateau de Buzaneix, having seen a picture of a lovely little chateau surrounded by a moat. The description said it was not easy to find. We actually found the sign to it, indicating it was down a fairly rough track. We drove down this quite gingerly, to find that the place was very firmly closed and marked as private. Also there was nowhere to turn around, so we had to carry on down a track that degenerated even more. We emerged thankful we still had an exhaust!      

From there we went to the Chateau de Val, and from the number of car parking places, in the summer this is very popular, and with good reason. A lovely building on the edge of a beautiful lake. We also found some wonderful views over the upper Dordogne valley. 

A brief day out on my own was to meet up with someone selling a Flymo lawn mower, near Limoges Airport.  I hope that it will make it slightly easier to curb our jungle, although it is still in our local garage being serviced. I was also able to visit an Asian supermarket near the airport, to stock up on some of the more exotic ingredients you can’t find in the local supermarkets.

Just when I thought I would forget about my tiny business, I actually got a job. It was to do floorplans and photos for a large manoir just south of Limoges. Good fun and it seemed to go OK. The strange thing was the place was located only a kilometre or so from a breeder of Irish Wolfhound puppies we had visited a couple of months earlier. Apparently my nearest and dearest tell me that this is NOT a sign. But the pups are so cute….

Although we aren’t members of the Correze branch of the Franco British Chamber of Commerce and Industry any more we were invited to an event in Brive organised by the new person running it.  We were to do some networking, socialise, eat and watch Brive play Gloucester in the second tier European rugby competition. It proved an interesting evening, held in a local sports centre. The networking and socialising went well, the meal took a very long time to order and by the time we finished eating, Brive were well on the way to losing by 55 points to nil, so we didn’t stay too much longer.

Rachel very kindly gave me her old IPhone 4S, and it has only taken 5 months to get it working! Unfortunately when she finished her contract in UK it was locked, and apparently Orange is the most difficult network to unlock. Of course Orange France couldn’t do it, and, amazingly, neither could Orange UK. Eventually, with lots of help from Carol and Terry, I did get a working mobile. I checked the tariffs here, and found that for the amount I had been paying for my landline, internet and mobile – no calls included, I could pay 4€ more each month and get loads of free landline calls and mobile internet time.  

Got stung by a mosquito or other unpleasant flying thing a few weeks ago, and it had to be on the bottom joint of my ring finger. It swelled up beautifully, so visit to the doctor who gave me a prescription for loads of antibiotics and sent me straight to the jewellers to have my wedding ring sawn off – and that was fun! All back to normal now, and the ring has been repaired (slightly larger) and it is back in place.

We are getting quite excited about visiting Rachel in New York over Christmas, more about all that next time!

Monday, 1 September 2014


According to the French tourist industry Summer is officially open. We went out for a picnic yesterday – the last Saturday in August – and many cafes, campsites and attractions seemed to have shut already. I think that the coming Monday is the Rentré, or back to school day. Anyway we had a very enjoyable picnic, topped off later with wonderful ice cream sundaes at a café on the bank of the Dordogne in Argentat. We had the picnic in a small parking area which was at the start of a path leading to cave in the cliffs overlooking the Dordogne, and which had been a hideout for one of the earliest resistance groups. 

Back to chronology.

First things first – Bertie is fine. He hasn’t looked back since his operation, and seems to be in pretty good health. He also has some competition, of which more later.

At the end of June we decided to take a short break, and had a couple of nights in a really nice hotel on the Atlantic coast. We had a nice easy run down, stopping in the town of Cahors, where we visited the lovely bridge. 

The hotel was the Hype Hotel in Biscarosse, built and run by a French / Rhodesian couple to their own specifications – highly recommended. Biscarosse is only a couple of miles from the sea, but is on a large bay, and is, of course, the home of the French seaplane. The villages on the coast south of Biscarosse itself were all fairly well developed, all sand and surf. There aren’t any harbours on this stretch, so no quaint undiscovered fishing villages. Arcachon to the north is the large town and port, and reputedly very attractive. I say reputedly because when we went there the holidays had obviously just started, and the place was absolutely bursting at the seams.

On the way back we came through the small town of Eymet in the Dordogne. At first glance this is a delightful bastide town, but it has the reputation of being the most “Anglicized” town in the Dordogne. Some estimates say up to a third of the residents are Brits, and certainly all the shops are carefully bi-lingual. It gave the idea for a ghastly TV programme called “Little England”, in which a plummy voiced presenter talked of “Blighty” and introduced ex-pats who really, really missed their fish and chips and beer. Very false, and we are well aware that the producers induced people to do and say things that were for dramatic effect, not veracity.

Just got back in touch with two of my long lost cousins, Di and Trish Hetherington, after over 30 years. They now live in Dorset, so we are looking forward to meeting and catching up one day soon.

I have been keen on getting another dog, so we could integrate it with us while Bertie was still around. We went to look at some German Shepherd puppies, and they were really nice. However although I have always liked this breed, I found that I was not really enthusiastic, so we didn’t take it any further.

Sadly Judy’s Mum passed away in July, so we travelled to England for the funeral. Obviously a very sad occasion, but at least closure for the family as she had not recognised anyone for many years. Nice to see people, we promised again to try and meet up in happier circumstances. We had some time before our flight home so had a day out, visiting the Air Museum at Duxford, the village of Clare where my father came from and up into Norfolk. We dropped in on Florence Gardener, the widow of an RAF friend; it was really nice to see her. On the way to Stansted we went via Cambridge. It’s a lovely city, but we were glad we were there early, as we left at about 1130 it filled up rapidly and we passed loads of coaches bringing more visitors in.  

One of our favourite walks is along a footpath above the river Vezere in the local village of Le Saillant. It leads to a hydro-electric dam and generating station, and until recently they were shut off for security reasons. You can now cross over the river and return down the road on the other bank. During July and August you can finish the walk in a little café, which only opens for these two months.

We had another of our picnic days out and visited the very interesting Gallic and Romano-Gallic site at Tintignac, about 30 minutes from us. We had known about the site for some time, but it has only just been properly opened to the public. It is very much a work in progress, although the archaeologists have made some superb finds.  There is a small amphitheatre which has yet to be excavated, so it’s a place to return to. Looking for somewhere to have our picnic we ended up at another Roman site at Cars. On the way back we found a rather lonely looking Chateau at Mazeau, privately owned but easily accessible.

Voutezac had its annual peach festival, literally dampened by a huge thunderstorm. Luckily it was all under cover, so we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves as usual.

So no GSD puppy, what could I look at next? Yes, back to wolfhounds! I found e very good breeder who has 4 or 5 litters of puppies a year, so as he is just south of Limoges we went to visit him. Really nice dogs, he has about 10 adults and he had two litters as well. Judy and I really like the cream wolfhounds, so asked when he might have any cream pups. He is expecting two of his bitches to whelp in September, and they have cream puppies. So that would be my Christmas present sorted!

Janie Busch held a Jazz evening at the Chateau where our library is, and we all piled in to help out. Judy makes a great barmaid, and says that she really appreciates it when all the drinks and food are all priced at 1€. The music was very well appreciated, the only problem was that it was planned to be outside, and an hour before the start the heavens opened. Everything was moved inside; luckily Janie has a music room just off the library! The evening broke even, which was a pretty good result.

We had planned for some friends to visit, but sadly one couple had to be cancelled when we  flew to the UK. The other friend, Nick Edwards, was on a short cycle tour and stayed with us for a couple of nights. He was head boy at my school, so I suppose that swapping school stories was a change for Judy from RAF ones.

The cancelled couple were the Ayliffes, who were RAF friends. Alex’s uncle had died in a Mosquito crash in 1944, and it was the 70th anniversary. It all happened in a tiny hamlet some 3 hours south of us near Agen. We thought it would be a quite low-key affair, although we knew that a number of Alex’s family would be there. When we arrived in the hamlet just after 10, we had missed the mass in the local church, but caught the ceremony in the cemetery with the obligatory speeches. There were a large number of locals in attendance, as they were also honouring the resistance fighters who had rescued the Mosquito pilot and buried Alex’s uncle. Back to the church for a brief speech, then everyone went to the local town, where there were lots more speeches and wine and nibbles. We did manage to speak to Alex and his wife Jilly, but they had to leave for the arranged lunch (for 120), so we set off home again. A long day.

 One Tuesday evening we went to the Le Saiilant marche des producteurs with our friend David. His wife Rhonda is back in her home state of Texas for family reasons, and we all miss her and make sure David is fed. He claims to be fading away, but we aren’t so sure! Anyway the marche des producteurs involves a large number of tables, lots of stalls selling bread, meat, salads, cheese, wine, chips etc and a number of barbecues. You just turn up, grab a space and buy and cook what you want. Being married to a Texan we naturally let David do the barbecuing honours, and he did very well. A good evening, although it would have been much better with Rhonda there.

 Rachel was back in UK for a visit, and nipped over to France to see us, which was very enjoyable, if too brief! We had a very good day at Pech Merle the caves and grottos near Cahors. Judy and I have always been very impressed by the cave paintings, and I think Rachel was too. We were also invited to Dave Makepeace’s birthday party, and were delighted to meet up with his daughters and their boyfriends.

After dropping Rachel off at Limoges airport for her trip home, we continued on for a couple of hours to the Charente Maritime, near Cognac. I had seen an advert in Leboncoin, a web site where almost everything, from cars, to houses to pets can be advertised. It said that there was a Clumber Spaniel puppy looking for a new home…..Say hello to Icare! His owner had changed jobs, and could no longer look after him during the day. Icare (French for Icarus) is 10 months old and settled in with us and Bertie better than we could have hoped.

Yesterday seemed to be the day for car rallies, there was a steam of lovely cars going past over several hours. They varied from 1920s models to modern Ferraris and Aston Martins. There were even some cars we have owned ! Well a couple of 2CVs anyway!

So as summer is supposed to be over, the weather has improved and the sun shines. Lots more fun to be had yet!