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


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!