Sunday 10th June
And so we return to England, for a while. But we did succeed in signing the papers for our new house in France. We should complete by August, so we will return then, hopefully to fit out our new home. We have met quite a few English people out here, and they are all so welcoming and helpful. It does seem a delightful life; though I am not sure I could abandon all ties with England and come here to live permanently. Having a foot in each camp seems the best of both worlds. So, we cannot wait for August, first of course the Olympics, which Julia is running away from, and then at least a week or so back here in Eymet.
So, in the space of just a few years my life has turned around. I finally sold the big house in East London, which had it been in West London would have been worth three times as much, still never mind. Now I have a small house in Walton on the Naze, and an even smaller one in France.
One of the secrets of life is not to be envious of anyone else; you have no idea what their lives are really like anyway – for all you know they may be envying you. Remember that for every one who has a bigger house or car, better job, or prettier partner, there is always someone else who is renting, or unemployed, or just plain miserable. Make the most of what you have, and remember that whatever filling you find when you open up your lunchbox, you make your own sandwiches.
Saturday 9th June
I love swimming, but hate swimming pools, especially indoor ones. The smell for a start, all that chlorine, which because the water is so heated they have to overdose on. The noise secondly; I am sure that the body of water acts as an amplifier to all the noise, kids screaming, water splashing and even normal background talking seems far too loud – you are never alone in an indoor pool. There used to be so many open-air pools around, lidos were especially popular in the thirties. My favourites were Parliament Hill Fields, Chingford and Finchley, all sadly closed now I believe. The trouble was that the climate meant they could only open for the summer months and if it was poor weather, as it is in England at the moment, they would be empty and if it was sunny they were overcrowded. For about 6 months I once had a job buying fruit and veg at New Covet Garden Market. I would wake at 2 a.m., read my ansaphone, work out what I needed to buy and putter down on a little Honda 50cl motorbike. I not only loved the job, but also I finished at 10 in the morning, came home had a sleep, then would pick Justin up from school and we would spend the afternoon at Finchley Lido, which was pretty quiet and we had most of the place to ourselves.
I first swam in a lake in Slovenia in 1974, or Yugoslavia as it then was. Lake Bled, high up in the mountains, glacial fed and bloody cold. Since then I have loved to swim in lakes. Recently Lago Maggiore, Lac Lucerne, and a small lake near cognac with friends Brian and Sue, and again on this holiday a few miles from Eymet at Lougasse; a lovely sandy beach and a nice slope, there is even a diving platform to swim out to. The water is soft and unlike the sea you aren’t being bashed by waves full of sand, and no salt means you don’t get sore in those delicate places we all know about. And here at the beginning of June the water is quite mild, almost warm, and I was the only swimmer in this lovely expanse of gentle sun-washed water. Heaven.
Friday 8th June
The French system of buying a house has much to commend it, though it does take a bit longer. Firstly, after verbally agreeing a price, the estate agent draws up an official offer letter which is signed by both parties, then the vendors usually appoint a Notaire to handle the contract, the purchaser can either use the same Notaire or one of their own choosing. Either way makes little difference as there is absolutely no adversarial aspect. The Notaire is there to make sure that the interests of both sides are looked after. Both parties then sign an initial contract, with a 10 day cooling off period for both sides, and provided the purchaser deposits 10% of the purchase price with the Notaire the sale is legally binding on both sides. The Notaire does all the searches and informs both sides of any issues arising. This should take about 6 – 8 weeks, but a longstop date is put into the initial contract and barring any unforeseen circumstances it should happen in that time frame. The buyer pays the Notaire for all of their work plus taxes and stamp duty, and unlike here, the buyer pays the estate agents fees.
No side can gazump, or throw stones in the road, or change details or threaten to pull out unless such and such, (usually more money) is paid. The beauty is that once the ten days have passed, provided that you have the money to purchase, you know the house will be yours. The nightmare of the English system is that as each parties solicitor is only working for their own client’s interests there is inevitably the blame game, and also as both sides are free to walk away at any time before exchange of contracts, one, especially the vendor, can end up paying for surveys and searches and drawing up of contracts without ever being guaranteed of a purchase. So viva la France, and their much more civilized approach to house-buying.
Thursday 7th June
A bit too much confidence and a bit too much to drink and a few hours later after another lovely dinner and a pichet of house rose, of which I drunk the lion’s share, I was quite ill. I knew during the meal, but for reasons of stupidity and sheer happiness I ignored the warning signs and just kept on quaffing. We watched the end of the Jubilee concert on TV with Tom Jones and Robbie brilliant, Shirley Bassey quite amazing, Elton atrocious, Kylie boring, Stevie Wonder (why did they bother) and Paul simply sublime. But I was fighting sleep all along and went to bed at 12. By 2 I was awake and needing the loo badly, then came the feverish shudders which got worse and worse until finally at about four in the morning I was actually sick. Amazing how we fight being sick, breathing deeply and walking around trying desperately not to let the waves of anti-peristalsis actually reach your throat as head pounding, body shaking and sweating and regular visits to the loo; still we fight the solution, which is to be sick. It is the presence of all that alcohol and undigested food in ones stomach that is causing the trouble; your body desperately wants to get rid of it, so why, oh why, do we fight it? Ten minutes after I was fast asleep, though waking with a pounding head and a resolution to NEVER drink again. Hahaha
The next day, though still feeling weak has been great too. So, as long as I stay sober the rest of the trip should be fine.
Wednesday 6th June
Apart from being a beautiful song, it is also a wonderful sentiment. When all the possibilities come together and create that perfect day, it is the only refrain you can sing. We were up quite late, travelling through France had tired us out, and we had a gorgeous pizza in the square, and returned to watch by French time 10, and by English 9, the final of the Apprentice. The show is brilliantly edited so that you only get to see the best bits, and of course who could argue with Alan (I refuse, unlike all the other sycophants, to call him Lord) Sugar’s choice of Ricky Martin. Almost the best bit of The Apprentice, is Dara O’Brien’s pisstake – You’re Fired, where the unlucky loser relives their time and mistakes on the show. Happy to bed we slept quite late and wandered into the square about 9, stopped at Kismet for a latte, an almost un-acquirable object in most of the country, and decided to have a breakfast sandwich while posting tomorrow’s (Tuesday’s) blog. Then we packed some bread, cheese, tomatoes and sliced fillet of pork and set off for Marmande. It was a bit too large and lacking in character, but as it was on the Garonne, I looked for somewhere nearby that was smaller and also on the river. Couthures-sur-Garonne looked promising, and it surpassed all our hopes; very small – a few streets, a church and a quayside. Just along a bit was a lovely sloping grassy bank and some picnic tables. We had our tea and made our lunch there, and just a few yards away the greeny-brown waters of the Garonne swept slowly by, although the current in the middle was quite fast. So relaxing just gazing out at a wide river, and the sun was intermittently breaking free of a few white fluffy clouds, so it was never too hot or too cold, just perfect. We drove back via Duras, another beautiful Bastide town, dominated by Chateua Duras itself, which like many in the region looks more like a medieval fort than a house. As we sat in the sun drinking a Monaco I was suddenly so happy. No more work worries, no need to rush, I finally really felt on holiday. And we still have this evening to go in this quite perfect day.
Tuesday 5th June
So nice to be back; and this time with warm pleasant weather, such a change from Easter, where it was cold, windy and full of rain. We camped on the way down near Blois, and there was a thunderstorm overnight, but it was thirty degrees during the day, and we swam in the heated pool. Just like summer, I thought, which of course it almost is, though these early June weeks can catch you out. It was quite a long drive and we made the error of trying to run through Paris, a big mistake as every Parisien was trying to escape and the peripherique was blocked most of the way. Still as we headed South and hit the Dordogne, all of those pleasant memories came back to us. I was especially struck by all the vineyards, the old stock was just stumps back in April, and now they were covered in green leaves and tendrils growing up to the wires, can’t wait to see them in midsummer and then again heavy with fruit in October. The gently rolling hills sweeping down to the rivers, and even the few houses dotted around seem sympathetic to the landscape, with their orange tiled roofs and light stone walls. This part of France seems particularly untouched by the modern world, one imagines that viniculture has been going on for hundreds of years, and though there are now roads and traffic, it seems less intrusive than in much of England, where vast fields and disappearing hedgerows have changed the way the countryside looks from even fifty years ago, let alone hundreds. And Eymet herself is quite beautiful in the sunshine, such a contrast to the rainy London. We have just walked around in the sunshine in shirts and shorts, had a Monaco and glass of wine in Café de Paris and are now watching brave London in the pouring rain as the flotilla of boats goes down the Thames. So sad for you all.
Monday 4th July
As America will be waking to another Independence Day weekend, and England will be basking in the reflected pride of the long Jubilee weekend we are once again returning to France. This time we are hoping to actually buy one of the houses we saw last time. Whether this is a good idea what with the Euro in crisis, and the world teetering on the edge of another depression; this one threatening to make the 2008 banking debacle look like a jelly-exiting-the-mould-wobble, only time will tell. But the money in the bank is earning hardly any interest, and if everything collapses what good will money be anyway. So, wish us luck as we go on our way. Blogging may be slightly disrupted but ‘Kismet’ internet-café permitting, you should still receive them. Enjoy the Jubilee, as we enjoy La France.
Sunday 3rd June
There is nothing quite like warm Summer rain, so different from the cold biting pellets of winter. Here the plangent plash of gentle droplets is cool and refreshing, and cling to leaves and flowers like early morning dew. And there is nothing quite like the smell, it is quite unique and so evocative, it takes you right back to childhood. The very grass seems to smell fresher, and is the greenest green you will ever see, the pavements, sticky with sap and days of dry weather are washed clean in a few minutes, and as it is only a passing shower, though it may inconvenience for a few minutes, you know it will soon clear up and again in no time the sun will have evaporated the water and the pavements be drying as you watch them. But now breathe in and smell that rain as it is absorbed back into the air, only to fall on someone else. Enjoy it while you can, as too soon it will be Winter again.
Saturday 2nd June
One has to almost feel sorry for David Cameron, every time he tries to move on he is dragged back by the Leveson inquiry and his disastrous relationship with News International. And, long-running sore that this has become it will not be the trigger that fires the gun. There have been many predictions that the coalition will break up; some observers gave it a year or eighteen months at best, but it has outlived that. The LibDems are in a bind, their popularity is at an all-time low but they still don’t quite understand why. It is not because they are part of the Government and therefore suffering from the usual mid-term unpopularity, it is because they have betrayed everything they ever stood for. Imagine that you were a habitual LibDem voter, what were you voting for all those years, when you knew that your party would most likely never form a Government on their own? You were voting for a party that you believed had some integrity and honesty, and you were certainly NOT voting for the Tories. Those who did vote Tory may not be perfectly happy with them but they can hardly be surprised at the policies being pursued. As the clock ticks on and it becomes more and more obvious that unless the LibDems break from the Tories and state that they will not go into coalition with them again then many LibDems MPs will lose their seats, the pressure will grow.
But before that even I believe the pressure will come from the other side. There may well be a feel-good, or feel-a-little-less-bad factor, this summer, with the Jubilee, the Football and the Olympics, and the poll lead Labour enjoys at the moment may begin to close, especially if Europe gets worse. And then the right wing of the Tories may well seize their chance, of both winning an election without the nuisance of going in with anyone else, and they will push for a referendum on Europe itself. And I suspect that David Cameron might be up for it, or if not him there may even be a coup and George Osborne will try his luck. Whether they would ever win a referendum is not at all certain, but giving people the opportunity of a vote on it might be enough to make an election worth a try. So, remember, you read it here first.
Friday 1st June
What can I say about Colin, his voice is one of the most instantly recognizable and wonderful sounds in Music. He was in the Zombies, who had an instant hit in 1964 with ‘She’s Not There’. In 1968 they recorded their swan song album ‘Odyssey and Oracle’; after its poor reception and a string of under-achieving singles the band decided to break up and go their separate ways. Colin actually returned to try his hand at his old job in insurance, before making a string of beautiful albums in the early seventies; One Year’, ‘Ennismore’ and ‘Journey’ where he performed with a string quartet, as well as the more usual pop backing. He has always remained friends with his former band-mates, and they have reformed from time to time and still tour occasionally. Colin has recently released a couple of albums with Rod Argent, another Zombie, but it is the early trilogy I return to time and time again, those and the constantly re-issued work of the originally Zombies, who are now recognized as one of the great seminal voices of British Pop, and the album that was so neglected in 1968 is now rated as their masterpiece.
But through it all, like red lettering through a stick of rock has been the crystal clear and yet slightly vulnerable voice of Colin Blunstone singing ‘Her voice was soft and cool, her eyes were clear and bright, but she’s not there.’ Or ‘The nearer we got to Andorra, the sun set on the land.’ And best of all ‘I realise that I’ve been in your eyes some kind of fool, so say you don’t mind, you don’t mind, you let me off this time.’