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!

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..