Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Spring seems to be coming, more nice days than grotty ones and the temperature is slowly rising. We have even taken the electric blanket off the bed. Cue a second ice age.

We have been eating out a fair bit recently. On Wednesday mornings we meet a couple of friends from a local village, David and Rhonda, and play indoor bowls at the hall in their village with some other expats and French sportsmen and women of a certain age. I bet you don’t know whether to be surprised that I am playing bowls or just that I am taking part in any sport at all! Anyway, in order to negate any positive affects our exercise might have, we then retire to have lunch somewhere. We are slowly trying all the little auberges and restaurants in the area, comparing their 4 and 5 course lunches. We also went to a local restaurant for an Alsace evening - apparently the people of Alsace eat huge amounts of pork in various forms with choucroute (sauerkraut). We chose a great evening as England lost to France in the Six Nations as we ate. Our fellow diners were quite nice about it really…

Our policy of going out for picnics whenever the sun shines continues. We have had a number of excellent days out, normally aiming for a lake or a chateau. We have seen a number of very interesting places and Bertie loves coming along for the ride. 

Savignac Ledrier


We had often meant to look at the chateau in Chalus, where Richard the Lionheart met his end. It is actually privately owned, and indeed is for sale (with a large house and lots of land). Just 2.5million €. This is the nearest we got.

On one day out we came through the “Cité de Clairvivre” which was built in the 30s I believe as a place for TB sufferers to enjoy the bracing country air. It is now used by the French Health Service for a number of purposes, but it still has a wonderful Art Deco air. It also has a large hotel, and we shouldn’t forget that the French Health Service can prescribe spa treatments on prescription, so I guess that the guests are probably recuperating.

Reading the 24 Squadron Association magazine (the Hercules squadron I served on) I saw a note from the RAF Museum asking for any photos or other memorabilia about the RAF’s C130s. I remembered the DVD I had created from the videos that my crew shot when we did our 4 months in the Falklands in 1988/89. I looked for my copy, couldn’t find it, looked on my PC, disappeared! Luckily I had sent our loadmistress, the lovely Pam a copy, so she sent it back to me and I copied it. I also sent a copy of the Marham News I produced after the Falklands Conflict, and the two copies of the MAD (Marham Ascension Digest) I produced on Ascension Island during and just after the conflict. On a Roneo machine, if you can remember what that was.

I had my first SSAFA job for some time. It was to help out an ex wartime RAF veteran, who now lives with his daughter in the South of the Correze. He had his 100th birthday a couple of weeks ago, and I was able to present him with a card and a bottle of champagne from SSAFA. This had pride of place until he opened his card from the Queen!

After a visit to our library a few weeks ago, I decided to come back home the slightly quicker way. Unfortunately this was the road on which the gendarmes had set up their speed radar! 45€ fine, plus one point on my licence. As I didn’t have a French driving licence, this accelerated our decision to swap UK for French. Obviously we didn’t manage to take the right paperwork to the sub-prefecture first go, but it’s all in hand now.

Actually went out in the evening to the cinema in Brive, where we saw “the Grand Budapest Hotel”. A really enjoyable film, shown in VO (Version Originale – or English). Dinner out afterwards at a local oriental restaurant buffet not such a success. It’s very good at lunchtime, not enough turnover to keep everything fresh in the evening. Our epicurean researches will continue – there are now two Japanese places in Brive to try.

Our last big day out was to the market at the nearby town of Terrason with friends. The market wasn’t that great, but the town is rather nice, with the river Vezere running through it and an attractive old quarter. And we had a very nice lunch!  

We continue our wildlife spotting from the balcony. Judy noticed this woodpecker from there, and I am quite pleased with the picture I got with a telephoto lens. 

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Not a great deal since my last missive, at this time of year we tend to try to hibernate until the weather improves. Actually so far the weather hasn’t been too bad, no snow on our part of France and temperatures above freezing Famous last words…..  In my study we had a wood burner which we had never had fitted (very expensive), so we bought a simple fire grate instead. We thought we’d use this occasionally to heat the study and adjacent sitting room. The fireplace is huge, as is the chimney which is normally sealed off with wooden boards. Removing these, and checking the chimney was completely clear I lit a log fire. When, literally, the smoke had cleared it became apparent that the smoke was not going up the huge chimney, but had decided to investigate all our rooms instead. I can still detect a whiff….I’ll try again one day.

I believe I mentioned that our boulangerie had shut, but that our Mayor considered this unacceptable. Well after months of building work we have a new shop, with re-equipped bakery and refurbished living accommodation. The bread is delicious and the cakes are pretty good too.

We had a very nice day out driving down to the Dordogne to visit another English library. The couple who run it have it in a building which was supposed to be a garage for their new house! It is very well organised, but of course doesn’t come with the cachet of being housed in a chateau!

As usual on November 11th we attended the service at the village’s war memorial. This year I was able to get some poppies from the British Legion which I was able to sell to some  library members.

Speaking of our library we had a very enjoyable quiz night in the chateau at the end of November. More than 30 people came, and we filled them up with bacon rolls. The quiz (prepared i.e. downloaded by me) went down very well and the winning team got a case of Beaujolais Nouveau.

We had a very enjoyable drive to the little village of Gimel-les-Cascades, where we duly admired the waterfalls (from a distance) and I was unwise enough to point out a craft shop where they made and sold enamel jewellery. Well that too care of Christmas! The weather was mild enough for us to stop by a small lake and have a picnic. I even got some photos of a heron and a kingfisher (use your imagination on that one).

We had a second day out a few weeks later. I was trying to find a small country restaurant which was highly recommended on Trip Advisor. We eventually found it, but of course it was firmly shut (for lunch?). Luckily we had a backup picnic and we ate that overlooking Segur-le-Chateau, one of favourite villages.

Just before Christmas we went to the carol concert in our local church. Two choirs, one from our village and one from Varetz about 15km away. Very enjoyable, although a bit chilly. Not any noticeable religious slant, last year when it poured with rain everyone put their wet umbrellas in the font.

Christmas itself was very quiet. Our daughter Rachel usually comes over, but she was in the throes of being interviewed for a job in New York, which she got.  She has now moved there, so all holiday plans will be up in the air for a while.

I actually do a bit of high-tech plane-spotting. Using an app on my iPad I can see what aircraft are passing by, where they came from and where they are bound. Mostly quite boring, but I do like to think of the Virgin Atlantic Airbus which passes over at 11.30 every on its way to Cape Town, as I am safely tucked up in bed. I even managed to get a shot of the “Beluga”, a much adapted Airbus used to ferry very large parts to the assembly halls in Toulouse.

Both of us got bad colds after Christmas, and this time we couldn’t blame Rachel for bringing nasty bugs from London. Mine got a bit worse and eventually Judy made me go to the doctor, who diagnosed bronchitis. A course of drugs soon sorted it out, and we are both back to top form now.

Judy bought a lovely cake from the boulangerie, and we realised that it was a galette des rois, or special cake to celebrate epiphany after Christmas. We had vaguely heard that there was a special ritual attached to these cakes, and when I nearly lost a tooth on what proved to be a tiny model of the Virgin Mary we looked it up. Apparently if you are lucky (!) enough to find the hidden treasure you wear a paper crown and are king or queen for the day.

For Judy’s birthday she hit the local sales a couple of times, and we had an excellent lunch at a restaurant in Brive. She also got lots of Amazon vouchers, flowers from America and a fantastic book on chutneys and preserves. Who would have thought our son could be so thoughtful? (Thanks Lisa).

Last year we intended to go a Truffle Fair advertised in the local village of Yssandon, but it snowed heavily on the day. This year was much better so we drove up there. Somewhat disappointing, one stall selling truffles (600€ per kilo last time I looked), and a few others selling local produce. Looking at all the tables set out in the local village hall the important thing was going to be the lunch!

Just to show we do know how to have a good time we had a very busy Wednesday a couple of days ago. Morning, indoor bowls with some other Brits and French in a nearby village hall, lunch at the all you can eat Chinese restaurant in Brive and then shopping at the Brive Carrefour Hypermarket. Don’t say I don’t know how to show a girl a good time….

Saturday, 2 November 2013

On September 30th we marked our 4th anniversary in Voutezac!
We are great users of Kindles – so useful to be able to download books easily. I bought a Kindle Fire HD, with all its extra features as a tablet it seemed an excellent compromise. The main downside was that it recognised I was in France, but had a UK Amazon account, so would not let me buy apps from either store! Not very international. Unfortunately it took the Fire part too literally and started to overheat quite badly. I checked in the net and this is a known problem. Eventually Amazon France agreed to send me a replacement, but that obverheated as well. Amazon gave me a refund and Judy said that to shut me up I could have an Ipad Mini. It’s great.
Our old friends the Makepeaces have settled into their holiday home near us, and we have seen them a number of times, plus their daughter Bethany and her partner James. It is so nice to have someone else fall for this part of France as well, although technically they are in the Dordogne – which of course is inferior to the Correze.
Every so often we feel extra guilty about a lack of exercise for both us and Bertie. One of favourite walks is a delightful circle around the Lac de Poncharal, about 20 minutes from us. For most of the year it is a fishing lake, and used by walkers. In the summer there is a campsite and a nice sandy beach for swimmers – we are quite a long way from the sea here!
Talking of dogs I have been having Irish Wolfhound withdrawal symptoms, I really miss poor old Faust. However we have agreed that such big dogs are a real tie, and expensive and difficult to look after.  I did spot a clumber spaniel bitch which needed a home some 4 hours from us ( and they are very rare in France), but it had already found one by the time I contacted the owner – so Bertie can breathe again.
We also had a great walk along the bank of the Vezere river in the neighbouring village of Le Saiilant. We got as far as the hydroelectric plant that, presumably, provides some of our power. Back in the village we had a coffee in the local café, which opens on the first of July, and shuts on the last day of August.

I had a very enjoyable floorplan job to do in the Dordogne, outside the village of St Julian. The property was an old farm house, literally right on the bank of the Dordogne river. The owners are going to make an up market B & B out of it, and it should be fantastic. Judy came with me and after I had finished we had a picnic by the river. And I got paid for it!
More friends to visit in September. The Clarkes came from Liverpool to Limoges, and when we picked them up we were a little disconcerted to see large buses full of gendarmes at the airport. However this was actually because President Hollande was visiting the area, and nothing to do with a plane load of scousers arriving. Anyway Fred and Di seemed to enjoy their break with us, and we always enjoy showing off the area to visitors.
On one of our drives I found some caves on the edge of Brive in the guide book. When we got there we found that the Grottes de St Antoine are actually part of a monastery – although all open to visitors. The caves were apparently used by St Anthony of Padua in the 13th century, and they now contain shrines. From there we went to the Lac de Causse, another large public lake with beaches and lots of facilities, as long as its July or August – which it wasn’t.
Around here you can see a lot of sign for farm shops, or places selling farm products, they are quite rightly proud of their produce. However, often when you find the place you discover yourself in a farm yard with no sign of anyone selling anything. So we were pleased to find a local farm shop which sells cheese, butter and yoghurt made from the milk of the cows in the adjacent fields. They also sell fresh whole milk, normally only found in half a dozen bottles in the supermarket.
Had my annual check-up at Brive hospital, X ray, scan and appointment with the consultant. All very swiftly handled, and you get copies of the X rays and scans and lab reports. All good, white cell levels climbing very slowly and we just have to keep a watching brief.
Library news – we had an article in the Connexion, the English language French monthly newspaper. Nice picture of Judy and me and some good publicity. We went to a writers’ club meeting in Sarlat, where we had lunch with members of the Dordogne writers’ club – very interesting. We then had a curry lunch at the chateau as a fund raiser. Not as many attended as we hoped, but the food was excellent and everyone enjoyed themselves.
Rachel popped over for a quick visit, an we were back in Sarlat again for dinner with our friend Diane. Before that we had driven around some of the tourist sites on the Dordogne river, and had a visit to the Chateau at Beynac – highly recommended. A couple of days later we were back in the Dordogne to meet up with the Hulses, old friends from UK, in the lovely town of Brantome.  Ah, this mad social whirl…

Sadly Rachel left the day before we went to watch Brive play Newcastle Falcons in the Amlin Cup. A late start (9pm), but an excellent game and Brive won. We are always amazed how friendly Brive stadium is, all the fans mix, young men bring their girlfriends and there are loads of small children.

Because the roads around Voutezac are quite scenic, we often get old car rallies passing us. It is a little thought provoking when a classic car proves to be one that was our daily transport 30 or 40 years ago….Anyway a couple of days ago a fabulous Bentley swept past, British registered, that’s what I call flying the flag!


Monday, 12 August 2013

It’s been a really enjoyable few weeks since my last effort – the weather has improved enormously, so I don’t feel quite so bad about sitting around in the house all day as it comes under the heading of staying out of the sun. Also, of course, August is peak holiday time – and we don’t want to be mistaken for tourists….
 Got a floorplan and photography job near Angers, a mere 4 ½ drive each way. Sadly that day the weather wasn’t too good, but they seemed happy with what I did. If you want to buy a B & B with gite in NW France – just let me know. Or, for that matter a bar in Objat, an “English” shop or a B & B in Tulle. I’ve got contacts…

The Library is ticking over nicely. The best thing is that we are getting a number of French members – embarrassingly they seem keener to improve their English than many of us do to improve our French. One of our friends teaches English to mature French students on-line, and she says that she now teaches people who have been made redundant, and say that if they don’t have English on their CV they have no chance of getting another job.
We have always wanted to see the cave paintings for which this part of France is famous. The cave at Lascaux is a replica, and the others in the Valley of Mankind near Les Eyzies-de-Tayac are fully booked months in advance or you have to queue for hours in the hope of getting a ticket. When I found the website for the caves at Pech Merle in the Lot, just over an hour south of us, and found I could book a guided tour in English, we were delighted. And we were not disappointed – they were superb. 25,000 year old cave paintings, showing horses mammoths and bison. Hand prints. 12,000 year old preserved child’s footprints. A wonderful day.

The weather has been pretty good on the whole. Some very hot days – yet another excuse to sit in the cool and read a book. A few rather impressive storms with rain and hail, plus some exciting lightning displays.
In early July we visited the Jardin d’Eyrignac in the Dordogne, near Sarlat. I am not a great gardener (no surprise to anyone who knows me), but these lively formal gardens are really worth a visit. We went with a friend, Diane, and had a very enjoyable lunch first. Afterwards we went back to Di’s and I took some pictures of her gite for her website – see

Later on in July we went to UK for Carol, Judy’s sister’s, birthday party. We made a break of it, spending the first night in Honfleur in Normandy and seeing our friends from the old days, the Harrops, who have a holiday flat nearby.
They presented us with a wonderful painting which Ian had done of our house in Voutezac as an anniversary present:

Then through the tunnel and spent a great night with my cousin Linda and her husband Keith, who are renting an amazing house in East Sussex – who knew you could be so remote in that part of the world? Particularly nice to see the badger that picks up the leavings from their bird feeders.
Then on to stay with Posie in Dorset. You meet someone at university over 40 years ago and they still use that as an excuse to blag a room for the night! Back in our old home area we caught up with loads of old friends  - Romney Pargetter,  met up with the Titcheners for lunch and tea with Rennie Thompson. Oh the mad social round! Next to Oxfordshire where we stayed with Jim and Angela. We all went out for a very nice meal at the Five Alls in Filkins, which once again seems to be flourishing. Met up with a few old friends then and on the following morning, and even met the lady who has bought our old cottage.
Final run up to Stevenage, where we met up with Rachel, and booked into a local hotel. Had a very good evening celebrating Carol’s birthday – especially nice to see Lesley, over from California. Back to the Tunnel visa Essex where we caught up with Nick and tribe, and also saw Martin and his family. A night stop in Abbeville, a detour to pick up Bertie, and we got safely home. Tired but happy!
A few days later we had the annual Voutezac Peach Festival – a very enjoyable evening meal (peach themed of course), followed by a really excellent firework display. We especially relished the bit where at the end they light up our house with red lights, almost as if all the fireworks had set light to it! Gulp.
Speaking of the weather – not that I was – we have had some really spectacular storms in the last couple of weeks. Our friends the Makepeaces are having their first real break in their holiday cottage just over the border in the Dordogne, and I think that some of the hail storms have quite impressed them!
Just had Nick and family stay the night on the way down to their gite near Carcassonne. Very enjoyable to see them!
Since we lost Faust, I have wondered about getting another (rather smaller) dog. Today we went to a dog show in Brive – it was enormous and there were even owners from England exhibiting there. I wasn’t allowed to take too close an interest in Irish wolfhound puppies though…

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

April 14th was our 40th wedding anniversary, and we were able to celebrate it in Paris with friends and family!
Our friends from RAF days Nichola and Paul Cannock live in a fantastic flat in the centre of Paris and were not only kind enough to put us up, but also helped Rachel organise everything. We met up with Judy’s sisters Carol and Gill and their other halves Terry and Phil, Ian and Di Harrop, Dave Lockie and Richard and Clare Allnutt (and the Cannocks and Rachel of course) for a superb lunch on the Sunday. Judy and I also did a bit of romantic sightseeing of course.

As Paul was kind enough to let us use his underground car parking space, we were able to take the car to Paris. Thus we could pick up Carol and Terry and bring them back to Voutezac with us. They seemed to enjoy their stay with us, although the weather wasn’t as good as it might have been.

One of our ways of contacting friends is on the dreaded Facebook. When I had a quiet evening I put in a few names and got back in touch with several old friends – we may even get some more visitors!
We have a lovely new Mairie in the village -according to the sign it cost 760,000€, and all the work was done by local firms. It houses all the offices, a library, the relocated post office and meeting rooms. The village already has an almost new Salle Polyvalente or village hall. Our boulangerie has shut, and our mayor has said that having no fresh baguettes is unacceptable, so the Commune will buy the shop and house, do it all up and get new tenants. Oh, and there are 1,550 people in the whole Commune!

We had a good day out visiting the Cascades de Murel – when we eventually found them. Lovely waterfalls and pools in a very quiet location.

One of our friends here, Ross Hill is a volunteer on a heritage railway in the lovely village of Martel, about an hour south of us. We had an excellent day there, and it is very impressive. We were lucky enough to be on the trip pulled by their steam engine, which takes an old track which takes a course high above the Dordogne valley, so there are some wonderful views. There were a couple of coach parties from UK who were including the railway in their trip to France – and it certainly went down well. Highly recommended.
May was an interesting month – with four public holidays. May 1st for Labour Day, May 8th VE Day, May 9th Ascension Day and May 20th Whit Monday. Interesting how religious holidays are still observed despite France being an officially secular country.  And of course if any holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday then many people “Fair le Pont” – make the bridge and take the Monday or Friday off as well. Conversely if a public holiday falls on a Sunday, bad luck, no alternatives!
My oldest friend Dave Makepeace (and the saintly Juliette) visited while they finished work on the holiday home they have bought about 40 minutes from us – and very nice it is too! They moved in and have also been back for a break (teachers – more holidays than you can shake a stick at!). Really nice to have them so near.
Finally bought a Kindle Fire HD – very natty bit of kit. Actually ordered it at 4pm, and it arrived at 10am the next morning! Only problems are that the battery life is poor, and because I can’t get any apps from either the French or UK Amazon sites as apparently I live in the wrong place for both of them. Very useful to be able to make Skype calls from anywhere I can get a wi-fi signal though.
We have a favourite character called Bruno Courrèges in books written by an author called Martin Walker. Bruno is a municipal policeman (i.e. employed directly by the Mairie and not a Gendarme or Police Nationale), and the stories are set in a fictional village, but in an area in the Dordogne we know quite well. We knew the village was based on one called Le Bugue, so one quiet Sunday we jumped in the car and drove there to compare fiction and fact. Ah well, Mr Walker does say he has invented most of his places and characters, and it was a nice day out!
Bertie is flourishing. We thought he wasn’t missing Faust, but when we left him in my study when we went out he tried very hard to scratch a hole in the door – which he had never done in all his 12 years. We do take him out a fair bit – he is really a nice little dog to have around. His favourite toy is a retrieve dummy, which he happily fetches back to me when I throw it. He then trots off to his bed with it, where I expect he would happily demolish it if I didn’t take it off him.

One Sunday when we visited Objat market we found that it was also the Fete des Petit Pois. This actually involved stalls selling lots of peas, but also folk singing and dancing, horses and carriages, and a farmer with a pair of very gentle yoked oxen.
Last week had some friends from UK visiting – Jim and Ange Wiggle. A very enjoyable few days, although the weather could have been a lot better – naturally it improved as soon as they left. WE did have some good days, including a nice visit to Sarlat. They took us out for a very nice meal on their last evening with us – for which many thanks.
As a caseworker for the charity SSAFA I went to London to do a couple of courses, one on the on line form used to progress cases and one on loss and bereavement. I went over a couple of days early so that I could travel with CityJet and not the dreaded Ryan Air. I stayed at the Union Jack Club, which is a very nice club / hotel right next to Waterloo station. I managed to meet up with Rachel and Nick, and we had an excellent meal at a very posh restaurant called Rules. I also met an old friend Verena, and we met Nick at his place of work the “Gherkin”. He took us up to the top for a coffee and some fantastic views. A good trip, but glad to get home, of course.

Last night we rushed out at 11pm to watch the International Space Station pass over. I have found a website which lets you find when it is passing near you and is visible. We always find it exciting to think that there are actually people whizzing past up there!