Tuesday 21st August
There is a market on most days of the week somewhere locally, and Sunday is no exception. Sunday market is in Issigeac, a small town not so far away, maybe 30 kilometres. But this market is huge, it takes over not only the town square but several streets and spills over in all directions. And it is full of tourists, mostly English of course, but what did you expect. There are a couple of fields given over to car parking, and even here there are stalls and more stalls. And all pandering to the tourists, there are all manner of clothes, tee shirts, dresses and shorts. There are items from North Africa, leather slippers and lampshades and hubbub pipes. There all manner of soaps and candles and jewelry that frankly you can find all over the world. There are the regional produce stalls, cheese and tinned fois gras, and charcuterie galore as well as the usual array of fruit and veg. There are gammons roasting in a big log tray, there is wine galore too. There are donkey rides and people dressed in ‘medeaval’ costumes. But it is all a bit too plastic for me, too much put on for the tourists. We came to France to get away from the idea of being tourists, so in future we will give Issigeac, the middle-class Blackpool of the Dordogne a miss, thank you very much.
Monday 20th August
The town has a really nice atmosphere. It is at least twenty per cent English, but remember these are English who have either escaped the gloom and doom of Blighty, or are actually on holiday or visiting relatives. So all the English, even those working out here as estate agents or running small shops are so much more relaxed than back home. The French are a bit like the French anywhere, a bit arrogant, a bit pompous, happy in the knowledge that French food and culture is far far superior to anyone else’s, but actually if you engage with them and attempt to converse in French are very chatty and will babble on. You, making a nod here and there as you register a word they are saying, and putting your little French into use. They almost always compliment you on your French, but I suspect this is more for the attempt than the execution. Fairly soon you feel as if you know a lot of people in the town, or at least recognize them to nod too, and even those you do not know as you pass appreciate a Bonjour Monsieur. The town is small enough to feel like a large village, but big enough to have a few Boulangeries, a Charcuterie, a couple of half decent Supermarche, and even a Laverie. Incidentally the French do have a sense of humour as one Laundromat we passed had a big Bugs Bunny outside and the name was Tex Laverie. And wandering into the square for coffee at Kismet you always bump into someone to talk to. Earlier in the year we were the newcomers, now when we are asked, like old pros we say, ‘Mais Oui, nous avons un maison en Eymet.’
Sunday 19th August
Is it me, or is everyone so much friendlier out here. The shopkeepers actually seem to want to serve you, and will take their time explaining things or simply chatting. Our neighbours always say ‘Bonjour’, and even people you do not know will respond with a cheery wave. Yesterday we heard quite a lot of banging a couple of doors down, and two quite old French workmen were tipping bits of rock and stone into a skip outside yet another old house being ‘done up’ prior to be sold to ‘Zee Ingleesh’. I walked over and said ‘Bonjour’ and was immediately waved in (no hard hat requirement in France) where they regaled me in quick-fire French, showing me the house and garden, as I trod gingerly over planks and exposed culverts. They were so happy just to show me around, and although I only understood about a third of what they were saying, with my few questions we understood each other in no time. An old French lady who lives down the street wandered in and they repeated all they had told me and then Julia came to find me and she was given the grand tour too. I explained that we had bought our house ‘juste en une semaine’, and we all, workmen and old lady walked over and admired our house too.
I simply cannot imagine this happening in England. ‘Fuck Off’ being the usual reply to asking a workman anything. And although sometimes if you are in a hurry and in a queue at the till it can be a bit exasperating, I could really get used to this way of life.
Saturday 18th August
And it’s getting hotter. Not that I really find it too much of a problem. Believe me, travelling with long trousers, jacket, shoes and socks and a heavy briefcase on London’s overcrowded tubes is mugginess personified. At least out here one is dressed appropriately, shorts, light shirt and of course no socks; I stupidly packed at least 6 pairs which will remain stubbornly unpacked for the duration. And we have learnt quickly to keep the house cool. Downstairs is tiled throughout, and we have dark voile panels and heavy dark curtains, and even without a fan on it is cool and bearable during the heat of the day. You also learn to get up quite early and do odd jobs and housework before the sun really gets up. Then a bout of relative inactivity in the afternoon,(writing, writing, writing) shopping if the store is air-conditioned and then a shower and out for a drink about seven or eight, eating round nine. And if you really want to sunbathe you can, we have a nice terrace and there is always the lake at Lougratte, or just sitting in the square, where you can happily while away an hour or two just watching the world go by. The temperature, normally in the mid to high thirties is threatening to go above forty this afternoon. So, if you are stuck in the tube, or in a hot airless office, spare a thought for pour moi, down in the Dordogne, sipping my demi boissons of Leffe.
Friday 17th August
The day I arrived, Wednesday, was the annual Oyster and Wine Festival in Eymet. It had already been going on all day and we got there at seven in the evening. It was just an excuse to eat loads of food really; there were of course plenty of oysters; plus moules et frites; char-grilled salmon and prawns; roast chickens; duck risotto; kebabs of duck and apple; kebabs of duck hearts; rillettes of duck; cold lobster; melons filled with fruit; crepes sold by the half-dozen; and lots of wine at two euro a glass. The whole square was filled with table and benches or little stools and you sat anywhere. The place was packed with people eating and drinking and everyone was so relaxed and friendly that you found yourself chatting to your neighbours; a family from Austria; English like us or traditional French, smoking at the table. As night fell the food stalls slowly packed up and the music started – euro disco dance music and it was simply wonderful to just walk around and see so many people having a good time. What a welcome back to France. You just couldn’t imagine this happening in England, and even if it did the food would be cheap and the wine out of wine boxes from Tesco. The whole French attitude starts with food, which has to be good, and the wine always is. And everyone joins in. simple.
Thursday 16th August
I never really expected that much out of life; too busy fucking it up anyway to be seriously thinking about expectations. Like John Lennon, I always knew I was a genius; I just couldn’t understand why no-one else had noticed. But genius or not I realised only too well my faults. And maybe through my parents constant nagging and deprecation any sense of self-worth was well and truly knocked out of me at an early age. I knew I was a ne’er do well, who had been lucky to escape expulsion on numerous occasions, and I felt the die was well and truly cast. Running away from home with only 6 crappy ‘O’ levels probably didn’t help either, and I really didn’t care what I did to earn money, it was all just a job. The constant failures of my relationships only confirmed my lack of any self-confidence, but hey I was a survivor. Okay, so other people were climbing the greasy pole but I was still alive, which was an amazing achievement in itself. So I never expected much, and any crumbs which fell my way were appreciated by this unworthy recipient. By more luck than judgment, and a dread of debt inherited from my parents I did manage to buy a house and pay off my mortgage early. Forced by circumstances to sell at what turned out to be just after the height of the market I suddenly ended up with quite a large sum of money in the bank. I felt totally unworthy of this; it was unearned income and like so many of my and my parents generation house price inflation had rewarded us; only I realised this had nothing to do with my achievements, unlike so many who think they were clever and deserved it. And now I am busy de-cluttering and trying to live more simply, with even fewer expectations – after all I could die tomorrow. I am truly grateful for anything which has come my way, and can assure you it was all just luck. And though disappointed at my own lack of ambition I have never been disappointed with my lot in life, after all I never expected much.
Wednesday 15th August
It is commonly accepted that wisdom comes with age, that as one gains a maturity of years some accumulation of experience acts as a brake on the impetuosity of youthful decision making. I am not sure though. Maybe one does learn a certain reticence, which may well be disguising indecision and possibly any vestige of a clue whatsoever, and this slowness in passing judgment may be discerned as wisdom. I think that actually we just learn to rationalise better, to explain away our mistakes in a different way rather than that we have actually gained any wisdom. Time was maybe when this was true, and old farmer Jones who had worked the land for fifty years and knew how the price of wheat would always return to a median figure could exude real wisdom over his cups. But now the world is moving so fast that old people are usually left behind at some point. No matter how clever we silver surfers think we are there is always a point at which technology defeats us, and we just cannot be bothered to keep up anymore, so we stick with the Blackberry and cannot face an i-phone, or do not upgrade to Windows 19, or whatever will take its’ place in years to come. And a lot of wisdom is actually just accepted wisdom rather than any innate discovery of one’s own, so as we age we simply settle for the ‘wisdom’ of others rather than come up with any of our own. Politcians are getting younger, which may be no bad thing; you need the optimism and impatience of youth to counter all us old fogies with our ‘cannot do that’ attitude. In a poem I once wrote the line ‘Older time begets, not wise’ and I still stick to that maxim, so don’t expect any wisdom from this old fool, just let me carry on in the same crazy way I always have done, thank you very much.
Wednesday 14th August
The thing about writing is that you keep putting it off; it isn’t that it is unpleasant, quite the contrary really once you get started. It is the vast expanse of that white paper, or nowadays the empty Word document, that is so daunting. And anyway what do you write about? Is anyone at all interested in the musings of moi? So, you drag open the laptop again, re-read your last entry, which usually feels pretty dire, then try to begin. And somehow the words just write themselves, well you sincerely hope that they do.
The secret is not to hit the backspace button in despair and reverse delete what you have just written, no matter how trite it might sound. Better to just keep going and review it later, plenty of time for deletions once the darn thing is written. I do intend to do a bit of writing in France; hopefully this longer break will not be quite so hectic. Once I get going on the rewrite of the new book I do really enjoy it, and get back into it quickly. It is just finding the time to do it.
And then again, look at all the time one wastes just watching TV, if I could just manage to find the off button on the remote think of what I could achieve.
Monday 13th August
I fell asleep towards the end of the closing ceremony, and woke up to the nightmare of Boris with his hands on the flag. Oh not again, I thought, as déjà vu threatened to relive his bizarre flag-waving in Beijing. I am sure he was tempted but it was his job to hand it to the mayor of Rio. After 17 days of Olympic sport and 24hour coverage I am all Olympic’ed out. The closing ceremony was not anticipated in quite the same way that Danny Boyle’s Opening ceremony was, and consequently it was a bit anticlimactic and not so exciting. Also I was so tired that I was just willing it to end. I missed the Who at end too, which is a pity, and there were some spendid highlights; Madness, Jessie J, even the Spice Girls and the John Lennon tribute were marvelous. But after the Bowie intro I was quite surprised that he wasn’t there in person, he seems to have become a bit of a recluse. There didn’t seem to be any real theme either, except ‘Top That if you can.’ I am sure that even America would struggle to match our great Pop-stars on show, so I suppose that ‘Music’ itself and our part in it was the theme. And now for a few days rest…..though I have two and a half tough days at work, but at least I won’t be glued to BBCNews websites and the TV will get a well-deserved rest. Thank God the Olympics are only ever four years and we have a rest before Rio in 2016.
Sunday 12th August
I am sorry if you are suffering from not having your regular dose of my blog but I have been somewhat busy. But busy in a nice way. We finally got the house signed for on Friday and I have been assembling sofas and beds and hanging curtains and washing floors, and all the jos you have to do when you move in somewhere new. And I have simply been too busy to wander aimlessly into the square and see if I can pick up internet from Le Pub, or Kismet. We will sort out some broadband coverage for the house in the next week or so. So, work has dissolved and is just a thin blur on the horizon. I am flying back tonight, because (well it is a bit complicated) anyway I will be returning on Wednesday, so it is only a short-term hiatus. The weather here in France is gorgeous, hot – but not too hot; sunny but with a few clouds; a gentle breeze and a hint of coming rain just a day or so away. We already feel so relaxed here in our new, but what is beginning to actually feel like our real, home.
I have been doing this blog every day for over a year, and while I still enjoy communicating my thoughts and rants to you all, I think I may begin to slow down a bit, stop worrying if I haven’t posted it every single day, stop panicking to post it every morning.
We are going to swim today at Lougratte in an open-air lake, which I am really looking forward to, so must dash.