Monday, 1 September 2014

Summer!


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. 

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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!





Wednesday, 18 June 2014


Spring is turning quickly into summer – as its too hot today to do much else I’ll catch up on these words of wisdom….

On April 14th Judy and I celebrated our 41st wedding anniversary – yes she really has put up with me for that long.  It was a fairly low key celebration, as a few days later we returned to UK. We were meeting with our niece Leslie from California and her family – and it would be the first time we had met one of her sons. It was family do at Langan’s Brasserie in Mayfair – and it was very enjoyable. And yes, that was Michael Parkinson on the other table.



We had flown from Brive on the new Ryanair service. More convenient for us, and they are actually getting slightly better to deal with. Mind you Stansted will never be anyone’s destination of choice. Be nice when it’s finished. As we landed quite late we found an excellent B & B a few minutes from the airport, whose owners also own a pub just down the road. Perfect.

We then stayed a couple of days with our friend Romney who runs a fantastic B & B in Buscot in Oxfordshire. 


We were able to meet up with lots of old friends in the area too. From there to Shropshire where we stayed with more old friends, Fred and Di. A lovely area and a very pleasant visit. We also met up with Jane and David, more old friends who are (still) renovating an old watermill near Welshpool – to be fair they have built a lovely house next to it!




Cross country to Leigh on Sea and a night with Nick and his family. Back to Stansted and home, not forgetting to pick up Bertie from the kennels. We needed a rest to recover from the holiday!

As I mentioned in my last missive, we were swapping our UK driving licences for French ones. We were given temporary French licences, and I was hoping that we would get the new ones in the post before our trip to UK, as I wasn’t sure if the hire car people would accept the temporary ones. In fact there was no problem, and when we got back we went to the licensing office in Brive, to ask where the licences were, and the answer was they were there waiting for us all the time! Silly old me.

Our English Library continues to run fairly happily. I say “fairly” as we had a couple of very ill-tempered resignations from our committee, and to be honest we are still not sure what the kerfuffle was all about. One thing it has reminded me is that it is not wise to send e mails when you are really worked up – we decided not to respond and things appear to have calmed down. We did have a fairly peaceful AGM, followed by a quiz night which seemed to go very well. The pie and chips refreshments may have helped.

We saw an edition of "Country File" a few weeks ago that had a segment on dangerous cattle - and they said that the Limousin was one of the worst breeds for attacking people. it must be the English air, because here they are the gentlest cows I have ever encountered. at a recent cattle show in Objat they were all tied up and everyone just walked around them. Must be the French air...



We have had a couple of friends to visit – very nice to show people around this area we love so much. Posy is an old friend from my (brief) university days. She seemed to enjoy herself, and being a professional gardener se was more interested in the flora than the architecture. She was staying a further week with friends near Carcassonne, so we drove her down there and her friends very kindly put us up for a couple of nights in the superb house they were renting. 



 On our way back we stopped off for lunch in one of our favourite villages, Puycelsi in the Tarn department. Being on top of a hill the old village ha survived untouched - it's highly recommended.



Bertie came with us, but he hasn’t been too well lately. He had a bad stomach upset, then managed to do something to his leg a few weeks later. He was hopping around on three legs, so the vet gave him a couple of injections and he was better that evening – I can’t believe he likes going to the vet that much.

After Posy’s visit we had a couple of days before friends from UK, the Hulses, came for lunch. They bring their caravan over to France for a few weeks, and weren’t far away in the Dordogne. We then had an old RAF friend stay, Terry Anning. He has a holiday place in Normandy, so it wasn’t quite so far for him. He was telling us one evening about a distant relative, Mary Anning, who was a very early archaeologist, recovering fossils from the cliffs in Dorset. The next morning she was the Google anniversary person for the day!


A couple of weekend ago our local town, Objat, had their annual Fete de Petit Pois, Lots of folk dancing, displays, and yes, peas. On market days Objat always has some music played over the speakers in the town centre, so we had an interesting mix of Beatles from the speakers, folk singing from one street and American line dancing music from another. Just had to sit and have a coffee and let it wash over us! Each year some very tame oxen wander through with their owner as well.




Going out one morning I discovered that  the car had a puncture. I drove very slowly down to my local garagiste, the sainted Jean-Louis. Nobody there so I left the car and called him later in the morning, to be told that he was already repairing it – it was all done by lunchtime. That day we went out for our post- bowls lunch, and it was our turn to choose. The café we chose is in a small village near Objat, and we found that the dish of the day was tete de veau, yes veal head. Not quite as bad as I thought, but not voted a success!

Had another good day out, visited a Papeterie – a paper factory at Vaux about 30 minutes from us. It is a fascinating place that used water power to run a continuous process to make paper from straw, and was in use from 1861 to 1968.  Sadly it doesn’t run any more, but all the plant is still there and the staff do show how paper is made.



As I said above Bertie has been very unwell recently – not eating, which is not spaniel like behaviour. The vets investigated yesterday and removed a large tumour, and he seems a lot happier and his appetite and energy are returning. We thought we were going to lose him, so are really hopeful about him making a good recovery.



Ah well, back to World Cup…….

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


Chalucet


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.