Friday 31st October
We have English Sky TV here so it looks as if you are having similar weather to us, but maybe not quite so hot. Here it is clear blue skies and cold in the morning but it warms up rapidly and between 12 and 3 it is really warm. Over 25 degrees every day. It soon cools off, but even the evenings aren’t what I would call really cold. The weather never ceases to amaze. Here in Eymet August was dull by their usual standards, a few hot days but many were cloudy and we had a bit of rain. Much like England, but here September and now October is just wonderful. Everyone is commenting on it.
But while we all, me included, love nothing more than sitting in the sun and feeling that gentle warmth going right through you it may be the visible signs of something else. Global temperatures keep rising and are remarkably in line with computer predictions. Even when we have a wet summer the underlying temperature, night and day, is higher than a few years ago. There have been some strange reversals such as an expansion of Arctic sea ice, though some scientists can still explain this as Global Warming. Ever since the Financial Crisis of six years ago the whole Environmental thing has been off the Agenda. Politicians pay lip-service to it but know that the public will not be happy to pay the price of reducing emissions and using less power, especially at a time of Austerity.
And now that we have fracking apparently so successful in America the whole argument about less dependency on oil and fossil fuels is harder to present. And we are all like lemmings, sitting in the sun and smiling as the planet slides into another phase. It will probably take a real disaster to begin to wake us up at all. In the meantime I must dash, just one more hour of daylight to enjoy.
Thursday 30th October
Life is a whirl, somedays. And there just doesn’t seem any time for anything. So, no time to write a blog yesterday. This will have to do. Our soical life is far far busier than it has ever been back in England. Maybe it is the good weather, or just the nature of the place, or the fact that so many people here are English, or on holiday, or retired or just far moe relaxed, but everyone talks to each other, people take the time to chat, to drop in for coffee or a glass or six of wine in the evening.
There was also the usual few odd DIY jobs to do, and a bit of Christmas shopping too. I am getting to the point of utter frustration with Christmas presents; what on earth do I buy for my kids which will not simply clutter up their homes or that I haven’t bought them before. Oh well, we will see.
Wednesday 29th October
Why is it that almost every job has to be done twice, or even three times – and still it doesn’t really work. So many things that you buy have to be assembled, put together, pieces to be attached or clicked together or even glued, and this is not for our convenience – oh no, this is completely for the convenience of the manufacturer. There is no reason at all why things cannot be sold already made, or at least all the little bits attached to each other, except for one important factor – the packaging. It is all costed in, the smaller the packaging, the less initial cost of cardboard or Perspex and the larger quantity that can be shipped in a container from China or wherever, so the lower the cost for the manufacturer. The only exception to this is of course toys, where the bigger the box the more they can charge for the few moulded bits of plastic inside. But the frustration doesn’t stop there of course because toy manufacturers almost always have at least half the toy displayed through a clear plastic bit of packaging and you must admit they look perfect, this is because they are clipped, tied, stapled, even sewn into the packaging so that while your loved little ones are screaming for their Barbie or Peppa Pig you are struggling to undo wires, unpick stitches and even find the tinest screwdriver to undo minute screws (and batteries are never included).
And why can the pre-drilled holes not be in the correct places; so often at least one piece of self-assembly furniture simply has the screw holes in the wrong place. And too many pieces look the same and so are easily muddled. There are ten different size screws and the most important job is to line them up and count them so that you can hopefully identify the correct screw 16 pages on when you are asked for J/1028/PE64. Why oh why can they not also stick little stickers on the various bits of mdf “front, back, left side” etc. Or would that be too much to ask. So as a consequence of making life easier and cheaper for the manufacturer we all live with bodged cupboards, wonky wardrobes, tacky tables and collapsing chairs. I am fairly confident that Mr. Chippendale did not deliver his furniture in a cardboard box with instruction in sixteen languages and none of them discernible as English and requiring two screwdrivers (flat and Phillips) a drill, a hammer and a brain the size of ten blue whales to assemble it.
Tuesday 28th October
The little restaurant in Seyches turned out to be not so little after all, and the vieux in the name relates to the old arch in the town just opposite to the restaurant which is in fact quite modern. Very tastefully appointed too and it doesn’t really feel very French. Except for the menu it could be anywhere really, but it is actually a wonderful find. We have already discovered our favourite place, Le Relais en St. Pasteur which is quite lovely but a long drive away. La Vieux Porche is only about fifteen minutes drive from our house so is far more convenient.
The menu is a series of formulas, starting at 16 euro and going up to 30, but believe me the 16 menu is plenty to eat. Soup to start is either Potage (vegetable) or Poisson (fish) followed by hors d’oeuvres which was plate of chestnuts cooked on bacon with some salami, simple but delicious. The main course was a steak, the obligatory Magret de Canard or the Plat de Jour which last night was veal, beautifully cooked in a poivron sauce. Dessert and coffee are also included and while not exceptional we would happily have paid five euros anywhere for my crème brulee and another three for coffee. So great value – and that is before there is a carafe of vin rouge included, which I am reliably informed they replace free if you finish it.
And the price is only sixteen euro’s on Sunday, the rest of the week it is only twelve euros. We had a great time, with seven of us on a spacious table and very good service, even to the point of them taking our birthday cake and adding candles and a sparkler for “Heureux Anniversaire”.
The amazing thing is that you can often pay double this price for a very mediocre meal even in France, whereas in England paying about fourteen pounds for four courses and coffee and wine is unheard of.
Monday 27th October
I may well have written about this before; I have probably written about everything before anyway. In France they have a festival for everything; last week (which we missed boohoo) was the Chestnut and Prune festival but this Sunday was the Foire des Potirons, where the humble squash is celebrated. It is held in Issigeac, which has a large market full of local produce every Sunday. As well as the jams, wines and all manner of plum, nut and charcuterie you could ever imagine there is also a veritable cornucopia of vegetables and there are pumpkins of every shape and size. There was a cart with mammoth pumpkins at least three feet in circumference and stalls selling pretty painted baby gourds (three for a euro); there was pumpkin soup, there were little sweet pumpkin cakes deep fried in batter and delicious, there was squash being sold by the kilo and whole. There were two mighty tethered bulls in the market square, although quite why they were there I don’t know, there was the usual banquet with tickets sold out well in advance, there was a stall selling burro – a rough once fermented raw wine, half grape juice and half a cider like murky potent brew for two euro a bottle. We bought one and it should last a week or so in the fridge, it has a vertically sliced half a cork in to allow the gases to escape. I just hope the gases that will escape when we drink it will dissipate as easily. And there was early autumn sunshine and loads and loads of people, both French and tourists, all buying everything pumpkin related.
We had a lovely cafe au lait and I nipped into the best little patisserie and boulangerie in town and bought a sloppy croissant amande and a jalousie (another regional variation on apple in pastry)
Home and unpacking all our treasures and a bit of painting. Tonight we are out with friends to a little restaurant in Seyches, so another wonderful day in the land of the potirons.
Sunday 26th October
Well. Not quite. We actually listened to Phil Collins (a free Daily Mail CD) on the drive down and that song is one of my least favourites of his – actually I only really liked ‘In the Air’ and ‘If Leaving Me Was Easy’ from his first album but there you go.
But in some ways it is close to paradise here. The weather is a lot warmer than England and hardly any rain either. The town is quite quiet now that most of the tourists have left but the square is just as lovely and the shabby old streets still hide splendid houses round almost every corner. The Pizzeria and the Creperie are still serving gorgeous meals, the wine is still good and cheap and we are at last relaxed. All that stress form working in England has slipped like a silk stole from our shoulders. We are eating lunch outside in late October and for those rare moments we are actually happy and know it. Whether spending far more time when we are fully retired will still feel as good who can tell, but for now it is lovely. So, what’s stopping you? Come and join us. Just let us know and we will pick you up form Bergerac airport. Sorry of this blog is somewhat short but that last Calvados has gone quite to my head….
Saturday 25th October
Dear Mr. Cameron – you are fucked.
As happens every year the formula for calculating each countries’ contribution to the EU budget is re-assessed and adjusted accordingly. It usually doesn’t make the news; all the countries involved know the rules, understand the process and pay up or receive a rebate accordingly. But this year is different, not only is there now an element of the black economy included, though we do not actually know yet how much that has affected things, but far more importantly there is an election next year and UKIP are snapping at the heels of the Tories. The size of our extra contribution is rather large this year; a result of our higher than expected increase in GDP and a lacklustre performance by most of our European neighbours.
Politically it could not have happened at a worse moment for Mr. Cameron. He has already lost one by-election and looks as if he may lose a second soon – and both to a rampant UKIP who argue relentlessly that we have no control of our lives or destiny as members of the EU. Added to that he has already picked a fight he will almost certainly lose over EU immigration from other European countries. He is acting as if he has only just discovered both the principle and the amount, whereas of course the civil servants at the Treasury will have known the formula and have calculated the amount themselves I am certain. But if Cameron simply pays it he will look weak and UKIP will romp home at Rochester and Strood. So Mr. Cameron does what he always does best – bluster and insist he will not be paying the amount (by 1st December). He will insist on negotiations and may well get some reduction in the actual amount, but he will not be able to change the system. Just as he will bluster and insist that he will get a significant reform of the EU by 2017. He is simply building up problems for the future. And actually I am not sure anyone believes him anyway. He should have been negotiating long before now, but in a positive way, not by banging the table and insisting that everyone else changes. I am more certain than ever before that the wind of fortune is blowing hard behind UKIP and they will do far better even than their high poll ratings suggest.
Friday 24th October
We are back in France for ten days and I have survived the journey. Survived? Well, we do it one go, driving 665 mile from London to Eymet. My partner drives and I am the passenger, but it is that inactivity that I find to be the hardest. I am getting used to it but it still makes me incredibly tired, or maybe it is that all that adrenalin from rushing about working and packing in London has now dissipated and suddenly sitting for hours doing nothing tires me out. The saving grace though are the Aires. I can remember our UK service stations which were a by-word for poor quality though they have improved of late, but there still aren’t that many – you can die of thirst between stops for coffee. On French motorways there are plenty and almost all are excellent. The French tend to place far more emphasis on eating anyway and come breakfast lunch and dinner they expect to be able to eat decently wherever they are. Even just having a coffee and croissant is always an option but a full meal (at meal times only) is also available. There are always little shops too selling essentials for travelers. There are also plenty of simple Aires which have a toilet and a few tables and chairs and parking places to take a break from the rigours of the road.
One thing I always notice is a proliferation of little birds hopping about and picking up crumbs. They dart about among the tables and near the cars where they know humans will be carelessly eating and dropping bits of bread or cheese. These tiny birds hop around and seem incredibly plump on their pickings. Sometimes especially in the summer while my partner takes a nap I take a book and lay on the grass with the dogs reading and taking a break from the tedium of the journey. Thank Goodness for these Aires, else I might go totally mad driving down here.
Thursday 23rd October
What a colossus, he has been around for sixty years and had made music for all of that time. Unlike Elvis, whose star may have shone brighter but blew out quicker he was always there. As a teen, though I was keen to reject the music of the fifties – I mean Elvis was boring, wasn’t he – and was eager for every new sound of the beat music revolution; why, even then Johnny Cash was around, with his deep voice and songs like “A Boy Named Sue” and “Walk The Line”. He sounded and looked just like a cowboy, but even then I couldn’t ignore him and watched entranced as they showed in grainy black and white Johnny Cash At San Quentin, singing to a bunch of no-hope lifers. Powerful stuff back then. He had a poor seventies and eighties as “country music” took a hammering from Pop and Disco. But Johnny was always more than just country. Then around the early nineties when he seemed all washed up he started to record with Rick Rubin and what became known as the American Recordings emerged. A whole series of classic albums, just Johnny and a guitar mostly, his voice almost shot but still beautiful and imbued now with the dignity of old age, he sung a few new songs and a lot of his favourites both old and new.
Slowly his reputation was cemented for a new generation. For me – I love all his records. Somehow even the corny songs have an edge of the genuine about them which lifts them from the average. He died in 2003, a couple of years after his wife. He lived life to the full, and suffered too with alcohol and drugs and a fair degree of personal tragedies, but through it all he could always sing. One of the greats.
Wednesday 22nd October
Europe has been the fault-line in Conservative politics for as long as I can remember. Edward Heath took us into what was then the Common Market against the wishes of almost half of the Tory party, and it has been that way almost ever since. Labour used to be against Europe, but then during the Thatcher years they began to realize that despite a virulent Tory government they could protect some workers rights by being in Europe. But the Tories were still hopelessly split with Maggie herself becoming a leading Eurosceptic in her dotage (which probably happened a lot earlier than reported). John Major struggled with his own party and has been considered a traitor ever since signing the Maastricht Treaty. Tony Blair was frustrated by Europe but sort-of played the game while a succession of Tory leaders and never to be P.M.s courted the Eurosceptic wing of the party.
Cameron promised to put Europe behind the Tory party but it has been a running sore which has just got a hell of a lot more inflamed. And with the dogs of UKIP snapping at his heels he has responded by lurching towards the Eurosceptic pose – a la Winston. “We will fight them on the beaches” – only this time he won’t win, in fact it is already looking like defeat. The tragedy is that he has boxed himself into a corner and now expectations are running so high that unless he can persuade 27 other countries to abandon the founding principle of the darned thing he will look like a loser. Hopefully the electorate will spot that well before the next election and save us all a lot of heartache. In the meantime the right wing of the Tory party may well split to join UKIP, the others and the rest of the LibDems will limp on, but whatever happens Europe will continue to divide them – just as the Corn Laws did two hundred years ago.