La Porte Property Blogs
If you'd like to read more about buying a house in the Dordogne and Lot et Garonne or about life in general in our beautiful area – both practical and quirky – then please read our blogs.
Monflanquin was built in 1252 by Alfonse de Poitiers following his acquisition of the land from Guillaume AMAGNEU. The origins of “Mons Flanquinus” remain unknown, but the site was previously inhabited. Like a lot of bastide villages the town’s charter in 1256 allowed residents to stop paying taxes or rent. Money was raised through fines and payments for privileges. It was decided that a market would be held every Thursday under the arcades and this traditional continues today.
The perched village of Belvès
Classed as one of the most beautiful villages in France and a recognised holiday spot, the medieval village of Belvès dates from the 11th century and is considered to be the ancestor of neighbouring bastide villages. Perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the green valley of the Nauze, it offers a magnificent panorama of the Black Périgord and the horizon. At the edge of the village the forest of ‘Bessède’ - a stunning natural area with many paths and tracks and a great place to explore.
Located in the north of Lot-et-Garonne, the bastide of Villeréal was built in the 12th century under the command of Count Alfonse de Poitiers in just four years. The impressive covered hall was constructed a little later than the bastide itself, the oak pillars were soaked in the river Dropt for 4 years - which has given them great strength and beauty. The church, ‘L’eglise Notre-Dame’ was set on fire in 1572 by a group of Protestants from Bergerac who were trying to take over the bastide village. In 1881 the church was rebuilt on the foundations that had survived the fire. The church had two purposes in the first centuries of its construction, it was there for the Catholics and also as a refuge for the inhabitants of the village during the war. The bastide was occupied for 174 years by the English (1279 - 1453) at the end of the Hundred Years War.
The village of Issigeac was built in the middle-ages but its origins are a lot earlier with evidence of pre-historic life. Many of the houses are half-timbered houses and are all set out in a spiral design focusing on the gothic church of St Felicien and ‘Palais des Eveques de Sarlat’ (Bishop’s Palace). The houses are all different in design and you’ll find stone and wood carvings on some of the buildings.
Have a try at Western Equitation
Since I’ve been in France I have tried many different equestrian disciplines: TREC, Endurance, Show Jumping, Dressage, Horseback Archery, Rallys, Equifeel and now Western Equitation. Having an extremely motivated and dynamic local equestrian centre - Centre Equestre du Pays de Beaumontois (CEPB) - has really helped me to ‘have a go’.
We are very lucky to live and work in Monpazier, and new visitors to the bastide always remark on how pretty they find it. Having stood for so long there is a wealth of history and folklore – and Michael Delahaye has taken the time to find out more about our very special village.
"Beaumont" derives its name from the French Occitan "bèl mont" - the hill on which the village was built (altitude: 144 m). Many believe that Beaumont was designed in the shape of an « H », in honor of Edward I’s father, Henry III of England, though this is incorrect. The bastide follows a rectangular building plan with the heart of the village measuring 338 meters by 137 meters, the streets are all straight and cross at right angles - a method used in all bastides.
Beaumont has been the main village within the canton from 1790 to 2015, and changed its name in 2001 to become Beaumont-du-Périgord. In 2016, the commune grew to include Labouquerie, Nojals-et-Clotte and Sainte-Sabine-de-Born, and Beaumont-du-Périgord then became Beaumontois en Périgord. The commune now covers and area of 72.71 km² compared to 24.18 km² previously.
The history of bastides
There are many reasons to come to our beautiful corner of France, amongst them the opportunity to see some of the most remarkable bastides in the whole country. More than 700 years after their construction, these villages remain exceptional examples of architecture.
Today there are between 300 and 400 bastides throughout France, those in Perigord both founded by the English and French.
The typical model of these villages comprises 2 major axes with a number of parallel and perpendicular paths to them. Every bastide includes a central square and contours (sometimes ramparts) which are also geometric in their layout. Unlike traditional villages which grow organically through generations, Bastides come very much ‘fully formed’ from the outset.
Horse Riding With Confidence
For those riders out there who, at some stage, have lost confidence in riding, there’s help to be had. It may be something minor, or a major knee trembling sick feeling - and this is what happened to a group of horse lovers I know. Recently they formed a social media group to support and encourage each other, and together have decided they want to conquer – and overcome - their fears.
Definition; a variable unit of time ranging (rarely) from the indicated 1/30th of a minute to infinity. And, air traffic controller like, it’s used to put whoever is doing the asking into a holding pattern while you are finishing off the job you’ve already been given, pulling on an over tight pair of trousers or waiting for the ref’s whistle to blow (having spent the last hour and a half watching the match and being in no mood to miss the end). And by your kids too when you enquire if they’ve finished whatever video game they’re playing.
I am always on the lookout for anything which would benefit our equestrian clients, and so recently joined a local group “Quercy Equestre”. After having had a good look at their website and meeting some of the members at our recent ‘Spook Busting Clinic’ I thought it sounded like fun, with motivated members who organised lots of events.
Priorité à droite
Having little else to occupy their time, bureaucrats the world over devote their lives to deciding how the rest of us should live. Regulations abound, principally to ensure that we are protected from burning ourselves on hot pie fillings, tripping over curbs, drinking fruit scented shampoo or otherwise curtailing our existence before our allotted hour. It’s refreshing then to find suitably arcane laws which have escaped the notice of the powers that be. Par example, that you can still claim trial by mortal combat in Blighty – which could make arguing about that parking fine all the more satisfying. But still a bloody sight less dangerous than le version Francaise – viz. pulling out from a minor road onto a major one without bothering to check what’s coming.
Patience is a virtue
Or so your mother told you. And at times it’s a handy quality to have in la belle France too. So whilst waiting on the line for Orange or France telecom (their interpretation of customer service and conception of time as a valuable commodity being somewhat at odds with the remainder of the civilised world), remember to count to ten (you’ll have plenty of time) and take lots of deep breaths. Similarly when enquiring about anything in the electrical department of leclerc (where you’ll find yourself rendered invisible to any assistant you may spy) or attempting to buy even a bloody baguette between the hours of noon and 3pm. In short, a balanced karma is the only way to retain your sanity - and to enjoy all the good stuff as well. Omm.
King of the hill
Under a summer sun, you’ve traipsed around the French countryside looking for that special somewhere. Tout seul, you’ve seen loads of houses, occasionally picking your jaw up from the floor when greeted by spectacular decorative faux pas or the amount that their owners (having seen your rather smart set of wheels) are now asking. Having got your head around carpeted ceilings, pink sanitary ware and clearly misplaced extra zeros in the prices, it’s back to the air conditioned embrace of your car and off to the next appointment.
Not being entirely sure of what I was getting into, I decided to take part in a 11 k trail run. Easy I thought, no need for extra training as I run this distance quite easily - and then discovered there was a climb of + 150m involved. After conferring with my “running guru” sister-in-law though, I realised that I run much harder hills at home, so no big deal. After dragging my family to support me and take photos last time, they all suddenly developed really pressing jobs to do at home and couldn’t make it, so off I nervously went.
Country life 5 ; Pink jobs and blue jobs
To guarantee a long and happy marriage - and get the most from your French rural life - some ground rules are important. So an understanding as to where you sit in the pecking order (below horses, kids and dogs, but just ahead of cats and hens) is crucial – as is an acceptance of your role as apprentice groom, pool cleaner, wood chopper, chief gardener, principal taxi driver and fixer of all things mechanical. And in the interests of an equal division of labour, while your remit includes the supply of funds into your bank account, the responsibility for their disposal (clearly above your pay grade) won’t.
My Super Star!
It's a soggy wet morning, the day of the dressage competition, I’ve trained intensively for this (see previous blog), so Sunny and I are ready and raring to go. Sort of. It's now pretty vile outside, and I’m no longer sure this is actually true. I text my friend asking her if she is getting ready - and am hoping she will come back to say she isn't going as it's too wet.
No man’s land
Across the post-Christmas, toy strewn wasteland, a truce is declared. Trench warfare began almost immediately after pere Noël left, and with the family's bruises beginning to blossom, a white flag is raised and waved from behind the sofa. The magazine of his new, automatic fire Nerf gun empty, number 2 son now has no option other than to come outside and muck out the fields. The mountain of lego, dvd's and assorted presents have all had a serious workout (unlike you and your rapidly expanding waistline) – so it's time to leave behind the mince pies and brave the world beyond wi fi and yet another Sky movie.
Exit through the gift shop
Like rings in a tree, your life will be marked with special events. Your first day at big school, a stolen kiss behind the bike sheds and learning the inadvisability of drinking luke warm Cinzano (possibly all in the same week) amongst some of the most memorable.
Intense dressage training in 4 easy (!) steps
I worked out a long time ago that to compete in France, you have to try everything - often at short notice. So when a friend found there was a dressage competition just a week away, she asked if I wanted to go. 'Of course' I said – 'it's just Sunny I'm not so sure about!' So intense training needs to start straight away - and instead of being slightly "hippy" and riding him bitless, step one involves popping his snaffle bit in his mouth.
Mid life crisis
Decades past, it’s likely you took for granted the benefits of youth, free bed and board and the advantages of a robust bladder. Blissfully unaware that your adult life would be perpetually impoverished (your bank balance a victim of fast women, slow horses and school fees), instead - and in between worrying about your supply of Clearasil and getting served at the pub - you’d have stared enviously from the seat of your Mini as some exotic two door soft top blasted by. One day, you thought, that’ll be me.
Le style Francais
Once off home turf, adjusting to a new country and its decorative quirks can present a challenge - and it's all too easy to be judgmental. So remember as you head south to la belle France that, unlike at home, not everyone has access to a lovely little Farrow & Ball shop round the corner (nor indeed its neighbouring brace of antique emporia – themselves staffed by interchangeable Annabellas who, when not applying yet more lippy, spend their time writing out extortionate prices on bijou monogrammed labels).
“Butterfly, butterfly, butterfly”
Having recently joined the Centre Equestre du Pays Beaumontois (CEPB) (http://cepb.free.fr/ ) with some other étrangères, we're all benefiting from the help and support provided by a great equestrian centre. We have always been welcome in the past at competitions and events, but now have become a real part of the CEPB family.
Fit tab A into slot B
Congratulations. Despite La Poste's best efforts to destroy it, your parcel – somewhat dented but otherwise intact - has arrived. Hidden beneath layers of bubble wrap sits an exciting new electronic thingy, covered in buttons and ports into which other devices get plugged – and which only your kids and wife understand. Nevertheless, it is (apparently) the apogee of cutting edge technology and will not only render every other bit of multimedia kit you've bought redundant, but will ensure that your otherwise meaningless existence will once again become worthwhile. So far, so thrilling - but when the bloody thing won't start and you have to resort to the user manual, you remember that it came from a French on line retailer – and the fun really starts.
Modern life is complicated. Your existence seems driven by remembering an ever increasing list of passwords and four digit bank codes (or, if you’re sufficiently decrepit, writing them all down -the list of which your kids then find and use to supplement their pocket money). An innocent trip au supermarche is monitored by a corporate main frame, your driving habits (& occasional infractions) overseen by untold numbers of cctv cameras and your credit history fastidiously checked by faceless agencies. And, just about everywhere in Europe, your address is super specific too – all the better for the legions of google street mapping cars to zoom in and share with the world your overflowing wheelie bin, peeling paintwork or unkempt front lawn.
Except, that is, in rural France.
Give us this day; 2
It’s early on a November morning, and an autumn mist has settled on the village square. The arcade on the far side is barely visible, and your rather optimistic choice of attire (T shirt, shorts and crocs) is proving a might chilly. Happily though, the lights of your favourite boulangerie are now in sight. Pushing the door open, you’re embraced by a blast of oven hot air - and the prospect of a pastry based breakfast is surely just moments away.
An evening wander
At the end of a busy day at the coalface (or laptop), what better way to unwind than with a swift half at the bar. Problem is, like most of life’s better things, there’s a catch. Somewhat unfairly, beer = calories = an ever expanding waistline - and bearing in mind your better half’s disapproval of the idea in the first place, perhaps better to head straight home, ditch your grown up clothes, find some wellies and hounds and head for the fields.
Tennis at last!
Some of you will have already discovered the wonder that is Decathlon - for those who haven’t, share with me for a moment the rosy athletic glow it gives. The first thing that strikes you about the stores are rows and rows of brightly coloured sports ‘things’, nearly every activity with its own area, each changing according to the season . Best of all, if you buy something that’s the wrong size or faulty, they’ll actually give an immediate cash or credit card refund; everywhere else you go, this always involves a long wait and an even longer argument. And when it was offered, I had to ask a few times if I’d understood correctly – and I had. Love at first shop!
Spreading your wings
Education. By and large, a good thing. If you’re of a certain vintage - and struggle to download a bestseller to your tablet - you’ll remember instead school bookshops and the page flicking pleasure of a freshly minted paperback (for readers under 20, imagine something like a bendy i pad which doesn’t need batteries - and for which you won’t get mugged). And even if the latest arrivals on the shelves didn’t grab you, some titles were required reading – amongst which was Catch 22. Long winded, self indulgent and pretty indigestible, it’s also become shorthand for the irresolvable.
Better safe than sorry!
Having just moved into your new French home, there’ll be a thousand and one things to do and see. But using the ‘hope for the best – prepare for the worst’ principal, we recommend to our clients to find out about any emergency services they think they may need. This may sound dramatic, but we have been in the situation when an emergency call out was needed in the middle of the night - and it helps to be prepared.
Viewings ; 1
Dear Abigail – how nice to hear from you again. Yes, our day together was certainly quite an adventure, and I’m glad you’ve made it home in one piece. As you say, it was a shame that Mme Dufos neglected to tie up the dog, and it’s good to hear that Toby’s responding well to the antibiotics (and that the scar is less prominent than first feared). I’m sure that in years to come it’ll provide an interesting subject of conversation with his girlfriends (who are, of course, likely to be the only ones to see it).
The annual Endurance competition in Monpazier is a big horsey event, attracting competitors from all over Europe and beyond. Over a three day period, the town’s racecourse is crammed with trailers, lorries and 4x4‘s – the latter flying all over the place as they « crew » their rider. With little warning, horses appear from woodland paths onto local country lanes, taking the briefest of breathers as crew members jump into action with water for horse and rider. Then off they go again, leaving a collection of empty water bottles and slightly soggy helpers, who then pile into their truck and head for the next check point with water bottles refilled.
Juggling day to day commitments is tricky, with weeks and even months often passing by in a blur - and despite the best of intentions, time trickles through your fingers unheeded. And as age and gravity takes its inevitable toll on various bits of your anatomy, another new school term begins - so what better time to take stock. Throughout France the rentree is a red letter day, not least since most of the kids have spent the last two months running around in 30° heat and, being in universal rude health (& possibly bored with being away from their pals), they actually turn up.
Name and shame
In an uncertain world, it’s nice to know that at least a few things will forever remain the same; a given quantity of beer will always bestow a sense of wellbeing and an inability to explain your late return home; there’s an inversely proportional relationship between how important people tell you they are and the reality and, of course, your address will stay as it now is though the millennia to come. Unless you live in a small French town, when it won’t.
Machine for living
Squirrel like, you’ve horded stuff for years, and what used to be a comfortably commodious home in the French countryside is now reduced to a warren of corridors between piles of little used furniture, books and heirlooms (ie. largely useless bric a brac your mum foisted on you and will check you’ve still got when she comes on her annual trip). Selfishly, your children have grown too and now need proper beds and somewhere they can leave toys, unwashed clothes, discarded school books and unidentifiable detritus that you’d only handle while wearing industrial strength marigolds.
Give us this day...
Part of the fun of moving to a new country is in embracing all that it offers - and spending endless hours beforehand planning your new life abroad. Needless to say, practical day-to-day stuff dominates (schools, health care, can you get ‘Neighbours’ on freeview - et al), even if it’s just a modest hop across the channel to la belle France.
Just as some Brits seem incapable of grasping various life skills which nos amis Francais handle with ease – drinking without fighting, penalty shoot outs, grammar and an appreciation that money isn’t everything amongst them, so our French cousins struggle with a thing or two themselves. Over complicated sink plugs which cease to function the moment the plumber’s fitted your new bathroom, chequebook stubs which run horizontally (rather than vertically) and fall out, cricket, edible sliced bread – and the realisation that if the entire population leave for their summer holidays at exactly the same moment, the motorway network will grind to a standstill.
Enquiries 4 ;
Dear Terry – thank you for your email. Of course I remember your early 80’s sitcom ‘Oops, Missus’ and its highly amusing racial stereotypes – pure comedy gold, I’m sure. I understand that you have now signed a deal with ITV 7+1 for a compilation repeat series, and in anticipation of the resulting royalties are looking to invest in property in our part of France.
Having spent months strimming back brambles, weeds and the rest of the jungle, you realise that your hair - unlike your land - is now quite wild, and it’s time to find a hairdresser. In our previous small village there was one coiffeur who seemed to cut everyone’s hair - a very friendly guy who, having done a good job with the boy’s barnets, assured me he was also used to "doing" ladies styles. So, off I went with my little phrase book and all the words (layers, fringe, thinning) I imagined I’d need for having a haircut.
It’s human nature not to dwell on the less attractive, but nevertheless unavoidable aspects of existence - death, taxes, politicians, that stupid background music as you scroll through the sky tv listings – and drains. Given that only larger French villages are blessed with the luxury of mains sewers, your choice to live out in the sticks means a previous blissful ignorance of where your effluent ends up is about to change.
been a keen runner for many years and spurred on by my brother's success in a half marathon, I thought it was time to leave the horses at home and try a 10 km trail race ('just a long sprint' according to said brother - right!)
A friend of mine is a successful marathon and triathlon competitor, and she gave me some pointers and lots of encouragement. It seems competing in a running race is so much easier than doing anything with the horses – you just get a medical certificate and that's it. No need to join a club, enter a week before, pack the 4 x 4 to the roof and spend hours getting your horse ready.
A little knowledge
And it was all going so well. Having spent what seemed like an eternity finding your rural idyll (or barely standing and borderline habitable wreck, depending on your point of view) and with keys now in hand, you're desperate to start work on it. You've sketched out plans, your local building equipe is ready to go (bank holidays, ponts and other half finished jobs notwithstanding) and, of a late Autumn morning, work starts. By the time the sun has burned through the Gauloise infused mist, half the roof has disappeared, and by lunchtime the frames for the new skylights are already in place. Happy with progress, you wave a cheery farewell and start the long drive home.
.......and (if you have land) the living isn't always easy. But, like money, beer and dogs, you can't have too much of it – especially if you've got a posse of fat & perennially hungry horses to feed. And if you're lucky enough to have a field or two which you can keep Trigger and his pals out of during the spring, you'll be able to cut your own hay. Depending on how much rain God has chosen to provide and how much the grass has grown (and it varies hugely – bone dry for months in 2012, when fodder prices soared - and torrents of the stuff this year, making it difficult to harvest) this can save you a small fortune – and also means you can keep an eye out for (and pull up) ragwort – innocent looking enough, but potentially deadly when dried & baled.
It's only a handful of weeks since the last school holiday and, whoopee – the next one is now just days away. Great. From the kids point of view, French trimestres - like ticks on a buffalo's backside - are but minor irritants, punctuating the calendar year and interrupting an otherwise blissful existence. For their parents, the yawning gaps in between school terms serve only to remind them that they chose the wrong profession - and how the hell they're going to fill the next 10 weeks.
Enquiries 3 ;
Dear Sky, Topsy and Ziggy – thank you for your email (which, as requested, I haven’t printed out - and yes, I’m sure mother nature will reward me in my next incarnation). I understand that your father, the 3rd Earl, has – as you so delicately put it – snuffed it. I note your other comments as to his passing, and whilst you were clearly dismayed when he eloped with the under footman, it seems his will – and final act of largesse – has proved him to be suitably repentant.
Best friend forever
You now have your perfect – well, near perfect, French home. The move went surprisingly smoothly, and now it’s time to explore more of the area. Walking is a fantastic way to see the countryside and villages, and most communes have signposted walks - maps of which you can get in the local tourist office. I’ve always thought walking without a dog was like having ice cream without a cone.... pointless! Dogs are great companions - they don't moan that it is uphill or too rocky or when you stop to look at the amazing view for the 10th time, and happily go wherever you go. And are always your best friend forever – your BFF
Enquiries 2 ;
Barefoot and booted
Years ago we had problems with one of our horse's feet. He had 'side bone' - a cartilage in his hoof had ossified, and this caused it to lose some of its shock absorbing abilities. The vet recommended Jacqueline Stensrod - a barefoot trimmer (not a shoeless farrier!). Jackie is a fantastic lady who's also extremely well qualified and experienced – and she performed a minor miracle on Chico's feet, slowly returning them to his natural shape. And within just three short months he was showing no sign of lameness.
Enquiries ; 1
Dear Mrs Buckshott – thank you for your lengthy and informative email. I was sorry to read of your husband’s demise - but, as you say, a 50 inch waistline and a passion for microlight flying rarely make good bedfellows. That all 3 of your husbands have met with unfortunate accidents is tremendously bad luck – I suppose it’s some slight compensation that each left you well provided for. And, of course, good luck with number 4!
So, the time has come to take the next step and ride Ras at a competition on my own – this time without 3 ‘bodyguards’ to protect us!
First, a solo practise was needed. Not completely alone (if you can count the company of a slightly hung over teenager), we set off into the distance with just the sounds of the birds, the footfalls of Ras and the moans of pain from our accompanier; past the wild dogs, the savage ducks, the life threatening logs piled up ready to fall onto us, we made it back to base. Not the fastest time ever though – our pace having been dictated by a certain person now lying on the floor, pleading starvation and a continuing headache!
Transports of delight
Felicitations. After a seemingly endless search, you’ve found your French idyll. The paperwork complete and your wallet suitably lightened, the family, dogs and nags are at last happily ensconced. And now you realise the flaw in your otherwise perfect plan.
Outside the yard lie endless acres of fields – most of which were left untouched by the previous incumbent, his father (& his father before him) for decades.
Those of you with a penchant for early 70’s horror will recall ‘Frogs’. For everyone else - whose early teen years were no doubt spent more profitably - this low budget movie involved Ray Milland, an isolated bayou mansion and a hoard of mutant amphibians. Naturellement, it didn’t end well for the two legged cast and was, in truth, fairy dire - and I’d managed to file the whole thing under forgettable trivia for years.
But taking the pack for their final night time wander last week, it all came back to me.
Low Flying Hooves
Shortly into your new life in the French countryside, you’ll quickly become acquainted with merde. More than just the default gros mot for adults and children alike, it’s an integral part of farming and a genuinely organic alternative to artificial fertilisers. You’ll also learn that while donkeys, mules and nicely brought up ponies will deposit their leavings in the same spot, horses and cattle won’t – and indeed delight in being as random with their night soil as possible.
Shortly into your new life in the French countryside, you’ll quickly become acquainted with merde. More than just the default gros mot for adults and children alike, it’s an integral part of farming and a genuinely organic alternative to artificial fertilisers. You’ll also learn that while donkeys, mules and nicely brought up ponies will deposit their leavings in the same spot, horses and cattle won’t – and indeed delight in being as random with their night soil as possible.
Blue van man
Horse trailers are a common sight in France, and when you go to a competition you’ll see dozens – of all shapes and sizes. A few scary looking narrow ones (and some with suspiciously rotten looking floors) somehow make it there intact, but most of the randomly parked vans (French for horse trailer) are pretty smart.
Other than the offspring of Arab potentates, and like it or not, most of us spend a fair chunk of our lives at work. Spanning those years between sponging off mum and dad and latterly trying to remember your grand children's names and where you left your glasses, lie decades of graft. All the more reason then to try it whilst still at school – if only to find out what couldn't bear doing for five minutes, let alone forty years.
A generation or two ago, when sizeable chunks of the globe were still defiantly and colonially pink, folk had more of an appetite for heroic fare. And movies based in the more far flung corners of the world invariably centered on stiff upper lipped types getting nervous, encircled and eventually speared by the locals - and usually began with a campfire conversation along the lines of ‘it’s quiet, too damn quiet’.
Of a winter’s Sunday afternoon and weather regardless, the great and good of Monpazier de camp to the rugby ground. Given that kick off is at 3 o’clock (or thereabouts, depending on the punctuality of the ref), it’s a bit of a rush for most as lunchtime has to be trimmed to an unnaturally brisk couple of hours. Fortunately though, it’s only a short walk, and having had the chance to digest a four course lunch (and the accompanying bottle or two of red) the crowd arrive in good voice.
Woodman, spare that tree
Summer’s long gone, the swallows have fled south and it’s getting a wee bit chilly at night. Given that it was bloody hot for months and even the first half of Autumn was agreeably warm, the last thing on your mind was firing up the dusty wood burner lurking in the corner of the room – which actually needs a damn good clean. So, in blissful ignorance of the volume of soot and half finished bird’s nests that await, you assess the job as one of the 5 minute variety and gleefully ram your somewhat tired chimney brush up the tube.
Au revoir et Bienvenue ; part 3
Two days into your new life in France and the house is still a bombsite. Almost every room is crammed with as yet unopened boxes and the remains of hastily scoffed meals litter the kitchen - much to the delight of the resident mice, who are hugely grateful and well aware that you’ve yet to acquire a cat. And thanks to the constant stream of welcoming (and desperately nosey) neighbours turning up on your doorstep, you now know the entire history of the farm - though in truth are getting a little tired of the endless puffed out cheeks and low whistles which accompany each visit.
Au revoir et Bienvenue ; part 2
It’s been an eventful journey. Having waved goodbye to relatives various and successfully negotiated the M25, the fun started when you let the dogs out for a final wander on British soil. Scampering around the back of the last service station before Ashford, both found something uniquely disgusting to roll in and the next 20 minutes were spent trying to clean them off – using up your entire supply of bottled water and kitchen towel in the process. Then south of Paris, sometime in the early hours of the morning and more than a little bleary eyed, you half filled the petrol tank with diesel – then had to siphon it out. With your wallet unnecessarily lighter and the lingering stink of gasoil in your nose and mouth, the autoroute kilometres thereafter glided by and all seemed well.
Au revoir et bienvenue ; part 1
The removals lorry has been blocking the road outside your front door for three hours, and neighbours are getting a tad miffed at having to find an alternative route to the shops. The driver and his lads deal with this on a daily basis, and for them it’s water off a canard’s back - as is driving through the night to France to then unload the whole lot again. For you however, the excitement of heading off to your new vie francais is morphing into panic as you’ve still got a thousand things to squeeze into the remaining space.
Having decided to invest your hard earned into some French bricks and mortar, you spend many a happy hour scrolling through a thousand property websites. Stumbling upon the odd chateau, you linger lovingly over the photos and ignore the muffled squeals coming from your wallet. You can already picture the crunchy gravel, the peacocks strutting across the manicured lawns and the oohs and ahhs of your family and friends as they arrive. And whilst all of this is harmless (and free) fun, it’s time for a quick reality check.
It’s grammar, innit
For those of you subjected to state education in 1960’s Britain and whose children are working their way through the modern French equivalent, good luck. Not for them a bunch of groovily shirted and frequently braless teachers, happy to ignore traditional teaching methods and instead into free expression, roll ups and the occasional half hearted riot. Man. Mais non – for all the frustrations of le system Francais (no one turning up if there’s a hint of snow, scary dinner ladies and an aversion to streaming kids according to their ability), they’re deeply into grammar.
Also available en blanc
It’s Monday rush hour, and despite the fact that you left home at some ungodly pre dawn hour, you’re still stuck in the slow lane of the motorway watching both your fellow work bound lemmings and a stream of enormous artics creeping past. Comme d’hab. To pass the time, you call the ‘how am I driving’ freephone number on the back of the nearest lorry and report that, as of 6.30am, the answer is surprisingly well. Head south over the channel though, and it’s a different story.
Caution; Horse and rider
Having not lived in the UK for 12 years, I’ve got used to the small amount of traffic on French country roads and taken it for granted – until a situation makes you aware of it again and you realise how lucky you are.
As I’ve previously blogged, "Ras"- my young Arab horse - can now be ridden, and he needs to get out and about to see new things. I was slightly apprehensive about taking him out on the roads, as although most people slow down, a lot of locals know my other big bay horse ‘Sunny’ and that he isn't bothered by anything.
Nos amis Francais are frugal types with their cuisine and loath wasting anything remotely edible – occasionally resulting in some peculiar stuff ending up on your plate. In order to render the more obscure dishes palatable, they’ve also become adept at masking the taste and texture of amphibians, garden wildlife and the internal workings of anything foolish enough to wander into the path of a shotgun. And given that you’re destined to spend your adult life digesting much of this, where better to find how it all works than at primary school.
Somewhere deep in the bowels of ITV, hidden away on a dusty shelf are episodes of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). For those of you who don’t remember, the private detective and his ghostly ex partner outwitted baddies various and worked out of a traditional gumshoe’s office, complete with an acid etched glass door. Not hugely relevant perhaps, but from this mental clutter came a solution to a particular problem au bureau – namely our plate glass door.
The pantry’s damn near empty, the dishwasher is claiming overtime pay and all that pere noel so kindly delivered has been opened, played with and spread around every corner of the house. The dogs have been walked endlessly, dead stuff in the garden chopped down, horses moved to a drier field and a hundred hours of tv repeats absorbed. So as the new school term looms large, it’s time for a rare trip au cinema.
Pour vieux lang syne, mon ami
Even if it’s not usually your tasse de thé, le réveillon is a big deal France, and across the country local salles des fetes are gearing up for the festivities. Under the mayor’s watchful eye floors are washed spotless, trestle tables are dusted off and bars are stocked with enough booze to incapacitate the entire commune. Regardless of the deep and crisp and evenness beyond the doors, come the night itself the temperature and humidity in the hall rise rapidly as expectant revelers arrive - having left the car park outside resembling an unfinished jigsaw. Condensation dribbles down any unopened windows and inhibitions and outer layers of clothing are discarded as the dancing and eating kicks off, due to continue uninterrupted until 4am.
Elf and safety
Comme everywhere else, French children have thought long and hard about being good, given up, and instead gone to defcon 1 in anticipation of pere noel’s arrival. Were they a little older and more attuned to la vie francais however, their assumption of his largesse might be a little more tempered.
Country Life ; 4 Prenez garde
Brought up on a diet of anthropomorphised cartoon animals, your children may have a particularly rosy view of country life. Bears chat laconically, rarely rip anyone to shreds (baddies excluded) and never defecate in the woods. Badgers, foxes, stoats and birds of prey all rub along, sharing lookout duties, snappy one liners and schemes to outwit any villainous housing developer encroaching on their habitat.
Step outside your front door though and you’ll find the la réalité francais somewhat different. Take capybara. Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris is a bloody big and virtually indestructible semi aquatic rat, introduced from South America and now found everywhere in France.
Having never before competed in an Endurance competition, I thought the time had come to have a go. And as I hate doing anything in a half hearted way, I wanted to be fully prepared. So, first things first. Read a book, browse the internet to get an idea of training, speeds and equipment and make a plan. This takes a few days and then finally I feel ready. The family are very impressed with all my preparatory work but think perhaps it’s slightly over the top for just 10 km!
Normally my choice of horse would be my Arab "Ras", but due to some saddle fitting problems, "Sunny" has unwittingly taken up the challenge and been fast tracked into a sleek and streamlined form. Not easy for a horse with a lot of Irish Draught in him.
Her name was Lola
When you were small, the world viewed through the ‘box was black and white and big - and mainly grown up too, with children’s term time programmes limited to a couple of hours a day. During the holidays though, along with the joy of dumping your satchel in some soon forgotten corner came the exotic delights of imported US tv series - long since digested by our American cousins but with great theme tunes, unfeasibly good looking and orthodontically perfect children and, best of all, guns. Amongst these was Champion the Wonder Horse who, à la Skippy, had a nose for crooks and kids stuck down abandoned mineshafts. But it was Champion’s canine sidekick, Rebel, who most impressed - not least when seizing said baddies somewhere deeply uncomfortable until the sheriff arrived.
Country Life 3 ; If you go down to the woods today……
……you’re sure of a big surprise. Ball Trap, par example. Yes, sounds painful, so some relief then when you find that it’s actually clay pigeon shooting (as opposed to something seriously sharp hidden under a blanket of leaves, specifically designed to neuter unwary ramblers). As a break from stalking Bambi - and giving their hounds a weekend off getting injured or hopelessly lost (and then spending three days finding their way home again) – our local chasseurs occasionally spend a few hours blasting away at little orange discs. Given the general quality of marksmanship, most of the clays remain intact, so other than the cost of the cartridges it’s cheap, noisy fun. En plus, you don’t have to walk anywhere, it’s easier to organise lunch and you can avoid the regular post chasse trip to the vets on Monday, along with the dogs who found their way home but cut themselves on a barbed wire fence in the process.
Closing the curtains against a chill November evening and denying yourself yet more comfort chocolate, you dislodge the cat from the sofa and grab the remote. Zapping through all the regular TV channels and despairing of weekend scheduling – crammed as it is with C list celebrities prancing around in sequined gowns and tone deaf teenagers screeching before an audience overloaded with Sunny D – you scroll down and chance upon Agatha Christie’s finest creation. And if there’s something familiar about the genteel late 50’s village she inhabits, then it’s probably because you live here.
Mon derrière; semble t il grand dans cela?
Using any excuse that springs to mind - work, prior commitments, beri-beri – frankly, whatever achieves the desired end - you may escape being dragged to the pre Christmas sales. However, undaunted by your lack of enthusiasm, your (much) better half, bright eyed and purse in hand will inexorably be drawn towards the nearest retail park. If you’re used to shopping elsewhere in Europe, then sales discounts won’t seem a big deal, but nos amis Francais – favouring as they do the ‘buy one get none free’ mantra, have a rather more old fashioned approach to their soldes -the nett effect being that all stores are obliged to hold their sales at the same time and then only for a handful of weeks a year.
Francois Hollande, Secret Agent; Chapter 1
The tingle of Moneycentime’s kiss still soft on his cheek, Hollande strode purposefully into M’s office. ‘Late as usual, cent moins quatre - vingt treize’ said the grizzled spy chief, looking up and pushing a thick manila file across the desk in front of him. Hollande thought briefly of mentioning the pre dawn roof top chase and exploding helicopter on the Peripherique, but instead slit open the ‘Top Secret’ band with an immaculately manicured thumbnail.
It’s been a long day. You were up before the jays started their God awful racket in the tree outside your bedroom window and it’s now nearly 8pm. The hens are still out, the dogs have their legs crossed in anticipation of a wander ‘round the fields and all you really crave is the opportunity to sit down and get something to eat. Then number 2 son remembers his homework and assures you that his teacher will kill him if it’s not finished – sounds severe, but there you are. So with a sigh you ferret about in his school bag and amongst the discarded juice cartons and biscuit wrappers find the appropriate book, open it at today’s page and see what the subject is. Science. Damn.
Country Life ; 2. Owls, Bats & Cats
Thanks largely to Harry, Ron, Hermione and pals – and for the first time since the middle ages – the current pre teen generation is stuffed with aspiring witches and wizards. Happily, these are enlightened times where followers of alternative lifestyles are embraced, rather than strapped into ducking stools, cast into the wilderness or burned at the stake. And assuming that your little darlings follow this unusual path through to adulthood, their subsequent attempts to cure obesity and interesting venereal complaints with a handful of herbs and joss sticks – rather than stomach staples and amoxicillin – will guarantee them admiration for their particular unhinged charm.
After attending some Natural Horsemanship clinics at Helen Green's yard (top European instructor for Reach Out To Horses www.reachouttohorses.com near Monflanquin, the time had come for Ras (my 4 year old Arab horse) to be 'started'. I wanted to be involved as much as possible and to visit him every day, not just to see how Helen would approach the task, but also to be involved in Ras’s progress.
Sönke Dose - another ROTH practitioner - came over from Germany to be Helen's ‘ground person’ and as he worked Ras in the round pen it was slightly disappointing to see how easily Ras found a new friend. I wanted him to throw the occasional glance at me and send me loving looks.... but no, Sonkë was his new BFF and he was happy.
Country Life ; 1. Patric le Facteur (moins son chat, noir et blanc)
It’s a clear, still morning and other than the low rumble of a tractor tilling a distant field, all is calm. Then over the horizon a small custard colored van appears, travelling at warp speed and kicking up a trail of dust – c’est la poste. Your relationship with monsieur (or madame) le facteur is going to be governed by three things; first your dogs – more specifically their collective views on anyone in uniform, how hungry they are and if they consider the postbox at the end of your drive part of their territory.
If you’re old enough to remember ten bob notes and have survived life’s passage of climbing into (and then falling out of) trees, drunken teenage escapades and a divorce or two, then you’ll also recall grey shorts, knitted tank tops and, of a Saturday morning, wearing them whilst trundling down to the local ironmongers with your dad. The doorbell tinkling above your head, there you were greeted with roof high dusty shelves, a cornucopia of lumpy paper wrapped packets and the background whiff of dangerously combustible lubricants. The position of each tiny nut, grommet and can of lethal weedkiller was known only to a cheerful bloke called Arnold or Wilf, who’d happily chat all day and never fail to find exactly what your dad wanted. Nowadays you’re stuck with some anonymous out of town store, staffed with pimply teenagers who don’t know where anything is and, even if they have an Atco Supermow drive shaft with ten toothed cog, can’t be arsed to tell you as getting it will disrupt their texting.
On the Eighth day - chapter 6; verses 18 – 20
And so did Hollandé return from his summer palace, refresh’ed and once more ready to enter the fray. For daily had he there bathed in ass’s milk, his brow soothed by sea zephyrs and his body anointed in precious oils. Thus did his entourage travel with purpose back to the capitol, though the messiah did note’eth the lack of palm fronds strewn in his path, for the peasants, so recently enamored of his promises, had seen’eth aught for their support appear upon their meager tables.
High summer’s passed, but it’s still over 30° - and though our flip flops are no longer melting, the pool’s still the only sensible place to be. If you do venture out into the heat, a day trip au plage will involve leaving at some God forsaken pre dawn hour and taking pot luck with the Bordeaux morning traffic - although with a hefty dose of luck you’d avoid most of it and be dipping your toes in the Atlantic by breakfast time. Trouble is that an easy journey isn’t guaranteed, it’s swiftly hot enough to fry eggs on the car roof and once on the beach there’s no escape from the sun, other than under the fishing pier - where everyone else has already set up camp.
As the summer holidays come to an end, Monpazier sheds its holiday makers and becomes a normal village once more - and we’re free to enjoy the everyday life we all had at the end of June. But before the school run starts again, there’s the annual dash to buy all the equipment the kids need. The supermarkets are stuffed with row upon row of rentrée dedicated stuff - paper, pens, bags - everything and anything your children may need (and loads that they don’t) for the new term.
Duck or Grouse
As a small boy you’d always find Sundays precious. When else in your busy schedule would you have time to dam streams, build go-karts and generally do stuff. But with mind numbing regularity you’d be bundled into the car instead and taken to visit some maiden aunt’s bungalow, there to accidently break tacky china dogs and stuff your face with stale chocolate biscuits. Other than the overwhelming reek of perfume and half empty gin bottles, it’s likely that the only thing that stuck with you over the passage of years was the knitted loo roll cover and plaque over the bog, which - in the event that your aim wasn’t as good as you’d hoped - encouraged you to clean the seat afterwards. It was all in cutesy ‘if you sprinkle when you tinkle’ prose and right up there with those irritating signs in pubs you discovered later in life, usually warning of low beams and bugger all use if you were concentrating on holding four full pints at the time.
The 13th labour of Hercules
Classical scholars amongst you will be familiar with most of the tale. Driven to insanity by Hera, Hercules committed infanticide and, distraught at his act, prayed to Apollo for forgiveness. As penitence, Apollo’s oracle dictated that he was to undertake 12 seemingly impossible tasks. Happily, with the aid of Athena (goddess of posters) and Hermes (bespoke tailor to mythical deities) he succeeded, Augean stables et al. Initially tragic and latterly inspiring tale it may be, but is a mere promenade dans le parc compared to finding a reasonably priced second hand car in France.
On the Eighth day - chapter 5; verses 15 – 17
And Hollandé was might displeased, for thrice had the majesty of his office, nay, that of his nation itself been impune’d. Firstly, had not the messiah himself (may the lord bless the path he treads) been humbled whence he visited upon Cameronius, there to dispense his great wisdom to the boiled oeuf faced one. Yet in return had he not been stood next to the emperor’s praetorian guard, his stature noted by all who so saw as diminutive in comparison.
Ras La Lizonne
A year ago I was visiting one of our excellent equestrian properties – and 'accidently' bought a horse. To be exact, a 3 year old unridden Arab - Ras La Lizonne. We bonded almost immediately and it felt so 'right'. He had started his life with an excellent breeder - Sophie Balthasar - who uses the Natural Horsemanship techniques from birth, so Raz already knew the ropes while I blundered around in the dark. And at first I was nervous, worried that I would ruin him by not knowing what things to ask for and how to ask for them.
With a looming economic crisis on your doorstep, you need someone to take decisive action – a visionary, a politician willing and able to grasp the initiative. Being part of the huddled masses, you (somewhat foolishly) might anticipate some sweeping, financial reform - in a stroke jump starting business and harnessing the power of an underutilised workforce. But that just goes to show how wholly unsuited you’d be to conduct the affairs of a nation. What you really need are mandatory, self administered breathalyser kits. Oh yes.
…’been driving all night, hands wet on the wheel’… ah – 70’s rocksters ‘Golden Earring’ and their testosterone fuelled homage to lost love - a top ten smash from the days when speed cameras were but a glint in plod’s eye. As you’d expect, the guitar combo disappeared from public consciousness as swiftly as they arrived – speed cameras however, like diamonds and mothers in law, are forever. Also long gone are the days when, other than a couple of box brownie primitive examples on the Peripherique, France was a flash & cash free zone.
On the Eighth day – chapter 4; verses 12 – 14
And so Hollandé did returnith from the weekly council of rulers, his pleadings to the queen of Germanicus to further open her kingdom’s coffers penetrating not her horne’d helmet nor her stone heart. The messiah thus visited upon his alchemists and forgers of coin and his demands were such as to make them tremble. And they did retreat from his rage to the corners of their dungeon, the tar torches adorning the walls reflecting with terrible majesty in their master’s dark rimme’d spectacles.
Run Cougar, Run
Long before Buzz, Woody et al arrived with their wonderful pixillated world, Disney had virtual carte blanche to foist whatever they chose upon pre teen children. And, deep in the bowels of their script writing department was some evil little bastard whose sole task was to ensure that the dog, cat, bear, dolphin or ocelot snuffed it in the final reel. OK, I lied about the ocelot, but you could guarantee that an otherwise rare treat to pictures would end in tears, with a hundred furious mothers assuring their kids that either there was a doggy heaven or that it was all pretend, while silently wishing Walt dead and swinging from the nearest tree.
There was once a boy who went to war. Aged just 16, he persuaded the recruiting Sergeant to turn a blind eye, got kitted out and left for France, there to join his brothers in the trenches. Two years later, he was the only one to return home. The years passed and the boy became a man, took over the farm and worked the land well into his 70’s. Blessed with an agile mind and tough as Teak, he bore the scars of working with often unguarded and seriously dodgy farm machinery – not least several missing finger joints, victims of an unruly buzz saw. And with no one about to help on the day his cab-less tractor tipped over, he bent a steel bolt to free himself from the wreck and then walked home. He lived into his late 80’s and died while finishing the Guardian crossword. Like I said, bright. And tough.
It ain’t half hot mum
If you’re fiftyish, you’ll remember that your mum never let you watch Magpie (too common and Susan Stranks didn’t wear a bra) but Blue Peter was ok. As was Thunderbirds, devotees of which will have been particularly gripped by the episode where the Sun Probe headed to its doom. For those of you who missed it (and thereby an essential part of childhood), said rocket bore its intrepid astronauts to collect particles of a solar flare, but lost control and headed for the heart of the Sun instead. Happily, our brave marionettes saved the day and all ended well, but in the interim the endangered souls ramped their air con ever higher, sweat pouring off their little plastic faces as the fans on the blinking dashboard failed to cope with the heat.
On the Eighth day – Chapter 3; verses 8 – 11
And following his coronation, so Hollandé did mingle with kings from many countries and the dark hue’d emperor from across the ocean . For the messiah had taken the mantle of ruler and the people looked to him for guidance. And lo, his first act - as promised to his devoted followers who understoodeth nor care’d not from whence the talents to pay for it came - was to let them retire even earlier.
School summer holidays are approaching, so time then to plan for what can seem like a really long 2 months of children at home. Thankfully, throughout France there are loads of inexpensive (and well organised) things for kids to do – often run by sports collectives and local centres des loisirs – summer day clubs are very popular, as are subsidized week long camps away where the children can practise their favourite sport.
You have been watching
Travel to the Far East, wander the streets of any busy city and pretty soon you’ll see your first badly translated T shirt logo – probably something along the lines of ‘hey sexy boy, you top hunky’. As you try to figure out what message the author / designer was trying to put across, your first thought is either you’re in the wrong part of town (and where can you get a taxi, sharpish) or how some cultures are like oil and water – mix them up and you get an opaque mess that neither understands.
On the eighth day – Chapter 2 ; Verses 1 - 3
And thus, followed dutifully by his acolytes, Hollandé did make his progress to the palace, there both to take the crown that was rightfully his and bid farewell to the evil priest Sarko. The procession did then pass through the streets and the sky did turneth black. And such rain did fall that, perched atop his modest cart, the new messiah’s robes became sodden. He raged silently, vowing never again to be persuaded to useth such a cart and eschew the fleet of black chariots to which he was more accustomed.
With big but not very bright dog alongside, I recently went for a ‘refresher’ dog training course near Villereal with the fantastic Polly Anne Lloyd, an animal behaviourist and trainer (www.dog-shrink.com). We first met nearly 3 years ago, after I’d heard good things about Polly and thought Danté - my 5 month old Irish wolfhound - and I could benefit from some training. The first session was held near Bergerac and, turning up fractionally late, we found that they’d already started.
Come the revolution, folk will flee their homes and the streets will become urban battlegrounds. However, amongst the chaos, rest assured that French hairdressers, butchers, bakers and grocers will be the last women (& occasionally men) standing. They care not for the laws of commerce, rationality nor time, so a little random violence and the end of civilisation as we know it will be but a minor irritation.
On the 8th day
And so it came to pass that the people hailed a new messiah. He cameth from the political desert (whence his master languished, having there been banished for an unfortunate incident with a slave girl). His NHS framed spectacles glinting in the morning sun, he looked down at his subjects. ‘Praise him’ said the unwashed throng ‘for he will rescue us from the apostles of doom and shower us with silver borrowed from the temple of Germanicus’
Standing 4ft 6 in his muddy rubber shoes, Didier Bouyssou had an arresting gunslinger’s limp, a cheery and largely toothless smile and was our best neighbour. Ever.
Tucked away in a wooded valley, our first house in France was bounded on one side by the river and the other by Mr B’s fields where, weather regardless, he happily pottered around each day.
However open your average male – especially French male - may be to constructive criticism (not very), it’s a given that he’ll be less than amenable if you suggest the following;
He’s a bad lover;
Pah! – fuelled by little more than a cheeky cabernet sauvignon and some snails, nous sommes commes les lapins. And is Paris not the most romantic city in the world, was Charles Aznavour not the world’s favourite crooner (ok, il y a un long temps but ‘la mer’ is a vrai classique) and has not Jonny ‘alliday the best capped teeth in Europe and is (even at his age) a machine d’amour.
Across the southern half of France, hibernation is over. Listen closely and you can hear legions of pvc pool covers being pulled aside, shallow pools of soggy leaf mould unceremoniously dumped onto newly mown lawns and the air being turned as blue as the sky by a thousand seriously pissed off Frenchmen.
As the chorus of expletives fades, closer inspection of the frost cracked skimmer, bulging retaining wall, burst pipe or ice damaged pump prompts a swift call to the plumber/pool guy who says that everyone else has the same problem and he can’t come over for quinze jours (an indeterminate time anywhere between two weeks and next year).
Behind enemy lines
Eggs – depending on your point of view, either God’s way of showing us all how clever He is or evolution at its finest. And when our aged bantam – daily serviced by the cockerel - laid a clutch and got seriously broody, we waited for her to produce a new and rather more productive generation of hens - but instead ended up with just a pair of chicks, both of which turned out to be cocks. And a right pair of bastards they were too – perfect coq au vin material. Evil eyed, bolshie and aggressive, all they needed were hoodies to compete in the meanest of farmyards.
Meet the Flintstones
Imagine if you will an Indiana Jones-esque tale, but with berets, a small dog called Robot and four teenagers from a village in the Dordogne forest. It’s 1940, the Nazi occupation of France is imminent and, strolling through the woods, the boys stumble across the overgrown entrance to a previously unknown cave system.
In it they discover the finest collection of pre history cave paintings in the world, untouched and unseen for over 17 000 years. But with the impending arrival of the German army on their doorstep, the families of Lascaux were more interested in the refuge the cave system offered than the spectacular artwork within.
It’s both refreshing and unusual to see your taxes spent on something worthwhile – and our local bibliotheque is a case in point. Built from scratch between two old houses at the bottom end of town, Monpazier’s public library is aimed primarily at a younger audience, has a glitzy lift and loads of glass walls (the better to smear with grubby little fingers).
All the more surprising then that amongst the well thumbed ‘Spot suivre le ballon rouge’ type books, lurk some less appropriate ‘Bande dessinées’.
Hit the road, Jacques
Long before Banksy was a twinkle in his father’s eye, the most inspired (and correctly punctuated) bit of graffiti was daubed below the Chiswick flyover. ‘’morning, lemmings’ greeted commuters for years as daily they made the last hard yards towards the traffic lights and roundabout. Even if it’s still there, it probably won’t survive Boris’s pre Olympic clean up, but was the best comment ever on the millions of wasted hours Brits spend just getting to and from work.
Pottering along empty lanes on the way to the office, we’re lucky enough to indulge in a bit of schadenfreude at what we’ve left behind. For most French (Parisians excepted), the prospect of a daily commute further than the nearest small town would be greeted with the same horror as a half hour lunch break.
Competing and enjoying your horse in France
After 11 years in France and simply riding for pleasure, I’m finally getting back into the competition world - due mainly to meeting some extremely encouraging and enthusiastic horsey people. After a lifetime of competing in the UK, we moved to France and I guessed that I would be "retiring" and just become a Happy Hacker. I missed the shows and general horsey stuff but now things have changed. It’s still great just riding out, but now I’ve found a choice of activities. There aren’t the same number of competitions in France and you do have to travel further to find those that there are, but there are a wide range of disciplines.
Here are a few pointers to get you started rather than having to wait 8 years like me!
Fuel for life
Admirers of David Cronenberg’s ouvre will remember that bit in ‘Scanners’ ( a cheaply made Canadian horror flick from the 1980’s) where the baddies heads explode - those of you unfamiliar with the film won’t, but can imagine the mess. And in order to save you experimenting, this is the effect of a swiftly downed glass of Eau de Vie. Only milder.
Years ago, it was possible to legally brew & sell the stuff at the roadside and, like the whimsically named fée verte or green fairy ( absinthe to you and me), it’s about 100% proof.
Contrary to whatever your faith may insist, God is French. It’s also a widely misunderstood notion that He created the world in 6 days and rested on the seventh – mais non. Clearly, France is the most beautiful, cultured country on the face of the planet. Its men the are the most virile, its women the most desirable and its cuisine unsurpassed – and obviously this took a further full day of our Lord’s time all by itself. In deference to this extra (but extremely worthwhile) celestial effort, and unlike most of continental Europe and the bulk of the world’s developed nations, Monday is, for many, a day off work.
If eating in general and meal times in particular (try to get anyone to do anything between noon and 2pm) are the principal fixations of your average Frenchman – and they probably are – then public sector France has a similar and inexhaustible obsession with acronyms. Every government body (and there are squillions of them - local, departmental, regional and national) feels the need to have a minimum 7 (seemingly random) character title to describe their role. Which it doesn’t.
In Paris, students were rioting - presumably as a break from snogging or pontificating about Sartre and Voltaire - and NASA were close to putting a man on the Moon. But I couldn’t have cared less - it was the Summer holidays, my dad had a silver Cortina estate and he was taking us to France. By way of Hovercraft (quick, bumpy and reeking of broken duty- free perfume bottles and vomit), we hit les routes nationals.
You’d have thought that after 100 years of mass producing cars, la belle France could have come up with a more inventive noun – I know there’s garer and stationnement (usually followed by interdit), but the first sounds like a bloke from Eastenders and the second is overloaded with consonants (and nobody pays attention to the suffix) so, like international air traffic controllers, most folk use the universally recognised English alternative.
Let them eat cake
Ask most French – other than those whose distant relatives had an unfortunate appointment with Madame Guillotine – and they’ll be ardent believers in the Republique. It’s great they’ll say, driven by a strong sense of patriotism (not entirely a bad thing) – one set of rules for all, an unimpeachably fair system that removes the jackboot (ok, possibly an insensitive metaphor) from the throat of the repressed poor.
If your life is dependent on your mobile being either hermitically sealed to one ear or tapped to destruction with endless texting, you’ll be pleased to hear that even in our sleepy corner of the Dordogne, you can carry on sans interruption. Signal coverage is really good, which for the luddites amongst us means that the devil’s instrument is constantly contactable but, as they say, WTF – you can always turn it off.
Who’s afraid of the big bad pig?
Warty old grandmothers in laddered stockings may not be in short supply in our part of the Dordogne, but are rarely to be found in remote woodland cottages as the (really good) meals on wheels service couldn’t reach them. Likewise, gingerbread houses and trails of breadcrumbs are uncommon – the legendary French appetite and sweet tooth probably being the cause. But forests we have - hunters too, and on any given Sunday between late September and the end of February, small groups of them appear to commune with the unsuspecting fauna.
New Years Resolution – Let’s parler Francais
I’ve learnt that it’s very important to take French lessons, as without a basic understanding of the language it is so difficult to do the simplest things, and for me part of the challenge of moving to France was grappling with the language.
After my first lesson I found that for 3 months I had been telling our lovely elderly French male neighbour that I was HOT "Je suis chaude" - it should of been "J'ai chaude" .... how embarrassing that I had been saying this, but never mind - it wasn't the last time I accidently said strange or rude things!
La Porte Property TREC team
After having done a fun TREC competition I caught the TREC bug. Next on the calendar was a FFE registered competition at Beaumont Du Perigord, and the La Porte Team (modestly small consisting of myself and a friend, Marije) were ready to go - normally there are teams of 4 or more.
As complete novices we had an hour long lesson in map reading, TREC techniques, equipment needed etc. Next was a practice run, so we copied out a route and tried to ride at certain speeds between predetermined points.
Return of the killer accordion
By and large avoiding the commercial frenzy of Christmas – excepting the odd unseemly tustle over the last battery powered quad in Leclerc – most folk here save their energy for New Years Eve. Blindfolded, this is the one night you could guess where in France you are by the sound of the entertainment on offer. Because once you’re in the sticks, it’s guaranteed to be some rosy nosed bugger looking like he’s repeatedly trying to stuff a jack in the box back from whence it came. Monsieur l’Accordion is in the house.
Stuff the Turkey
From Dover to the Hebridies, try as you may, it’s hard to escape the traditional British Christmas. If steroid raised fowl, gaudy hand knitted jumpers and cremated pudding are your bag, then great. But make a move to the Southern Dordogne and, although you’ll miss out on the xmas morning trip to the pub, you can at least make the day your own.
Imagine all the people
It’s the end of the Autumn term at our primary school and, as usual, the kids have gone to defcon 1 in anticipation of Père Noel’s largesse. And at lunchtime he’ll arrive astride a quad, 1000cc BMW bike, sit- on lawnmower or in the cab of the Pompiers wagon. Or on a horse.
Given that behind the beard, Santa can be a pimply trainee fireman or a rather more rotund (& realistic) dad, the mode of transport is always a lottery.
La Porte Property goes to a Natural Horsemanship Clinic
It is time for the baby of the family to go out and experience something different - Ras La Lizonne is a 3 year old pure bred Arab and as yet, unbroken.
Not far from Monpazier - at a yard near to Monflanquin, there is a natural horsemanship 3 day clinic run by an extremely talented horsewoman, "Helen", who I’ve known for many years.
Say quatre vingts dix neuf
Like most small towns in France, Monpazier has its resident doctor. Three in fact – all friendly, efficient, bright, hard working and housed in a carefully adapted surgery set above a pretty valley at the edge of the bastide. Which means that whilst being examined, you can at least enjoy the view and wonder if the cattle on the hill opposite can see that far too.
Late on a Winter’s evening, you decide to venture outside to the woodstore. In the corner, in the dark, your central heating oil supply gurgles and spits as the boiler runs. Following the torch beam, you stumble over the cat then bump against the tank to be greeted by a depressingly hollow ‘boom’. Brush away the dust from your last measured level and you find another 100 litres of fioul has magically evaporated - which is curious as your house still feels like an industrial fridge.
Moussaka hitting the fan
As our friends in the Aegean threaten to exercise a rare show of people power or, depending on your view, hold a gun to our heads, the future of the euro seems unsure – and without the benefit of a crystal ball, it’s impossible to know how this spat will end. Following a 25 year gestation, the birth of the Euro made life for most European house buyers far simpler, but Brits have always had to keep a close eye on FX rates. A small shift in value of Sterling can make a big difference to what you end up paying for your new French home – not least since between acceptance of your offer and having the keys in your hand, the process rarely takes less than 3 months. And, on occasion, you can have a 2 cent movement in one day – that’s about 1.8% at today’s rate.
Moving the goalposts
Taxes - a tedious but unavoidable part of modern life - unless you’re Greek. And the French authorities, like most, have a passion for bucket loads of them. So far, so ‘tant pis’, it’s the same for everyone – deal with it.
Until, that is, it comes to the recent change in plus value (capital gains tax) on second homes for both French nationals and overseas owners. Ok, it has no bearing on your situation if the house is your main residence, but it’s effectively a retrospective, morally bankrupt and grubby political move that will result in unexpected bills for some sellers.
Trick or treat
Like Mc Donalds and hard core rap, French kids love Halloween. Not because it evokes some kind of transatlantic bond, it’s just the sweets, stupid. From sugar laden birthday parties with full fat Coke to pain au lait & a slab of chocolate for breakfast, it’s a nation with a sweet tooth. It’s a nightmare for our dentists, but a good swop for the booze binge culture North of the Channel. So, back to business - if you’ve an office or shop in town, make sure that you have a kilo or two of Chewits in stock – as close to the door as possible is best, as otherwise hordes of goblins, ghosts and the occasional (mis dressed) Spiderman will trash the place before you can say Freddy Kruger.
La Porte Property goes Show Jumping
Shows aren't held as often in France as in the UK, so when you hear of one you have to go for it. Don't miss the chance – the effort is always worth it.
It’s an FFE run show at Sarlat, so both you and your horse need to be "official". Sunny was up to date - or so I thought - just me to get registered with the FFE then. The closing date was Monday midnight and it was only 2pm Monday so loads of time ...... 2 hours later trying to work out the FFE website I "emailed a friend" for help – luckily she was at hand and I got a reply straight away with clear instructions how to find the right page.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
With all the tact and customer service sensitivity of a Parisian waiter, the powers that be at Bergerac airport have decided to close it for over two months early next year. Seriously. Between the 9th of January and 23rd of March, they’ll be resurfacing the runways. Up to a point, fair enough. I don’t want my ‘plane hitting a pot hole on landing and I guess there are bits of the runway that need patching, but even so…
72 days. 1728 hours.
La Porte Property goes to a TREC competition.....
After a few months during a summer of hibernation, riding at 6 am, days spent relaxing by the pool while the horses chill out in the cool barns, I am now ready to see what horsey things are out there. And there are competitions or events - you just need to look and have good contacts.
Through an Anglo forum I found out there was a TREC competition not far from Monpazier at Beaumont du Perigord, so off I went to see what TREC was....
One careful lady owner from new
Or not. If you are a glutton for mental (& fiscal) punishment and a fan of challenges without reward, then invest some time in trying to find a good value second hand car in France. For reasons that entirely escape me, and despite having had to go through the tin jungle several times over the years, everything from nearly new mid price saloons to bangers are stupidly expensive. It’s not that most brand new cars cost more than in the UK (some Japanese imports excepted), nor that cars are so rare here that there’s a man in front of each with a red flag, the locals gawping in wonder.
Buy land son – they’re not making it anymore
One of the first things you’ll notice when you start looking for a house in our part of France is space – lots of it. In a country three times the size of the UK but with a similar population, you might have expected a bit more elbow room . But as most jobs are in the big metropolitan areas - and that’s where folk go – there’s even bigger lumps of unspoilt countyside left behind. And after a couple of generations of flight from traditional agricultural employment, there’s now more woodland in the Dordogne than in the Middle Ages.
Once a year, Monpazier hosts the National Equine Endurance Championships, and massed ranks of horse trailers and Land Cruisers fill the racecourse to bursting point. Once they’ve each unloaded their super trim Arab cargo, the mud splattered 4X4’s gravitate towards town to empty the tabac and stock up on essentials.
Clouds, silver linings etc
Like most of the rest of Europe, the French property market has had a torrid time over the last couple of years. ‘Lies, damn lies & statistics’ just about sums up the supposed property inflation figures thrown around in the media.
Back to school
After a long hot Summer, it’s time to reinvest in oversize packs of felt tipped pens, Harry Potter ring binders, wonderfully non smelly trainers and whatever else you need to deck out your little darlings for the new school year. So far, so pretty similar to the UK.
Good golfing in the Dordogne and Lot-et-Garonne, France
The southwest of France is famous for its great wine and good food, and for its rivers and beautiful countryside. It has always been popular as a holiday destination for international visitors and the French alike, and they have enjoyed the climate and outdoor activities like cycling, canoeing, walking and horse riding. But, did you know that you can also enjoy some very good golfing?
Don’t touch that dial – not because you like what’s on, it’s just that it’s the same on every other French commercial radio station. Ok – that’s not entirely true. There are some good news based stations and if accordion hits and obscure classical music - interspersed with monotone chat - is your thing, then happy listening awaits;
Rolling up your sleeves 4: Pools
If you’ve got the room for one and your wallet can stand the strain, a swimming pool makes a fantastic addition to your French home. But there’s a lot involved in the construction and it’s easy to overspend if the installation is down to you. Remember, for most buyers any ‘in ground’ pool is just a pool – regardless of what it costs, it’ll only add a finite amount to the value of your home.
Rolling up your sleeves 3: Major stuff
Even if your new French home is habitable – a concept that covers a multitude of sins – it’s likely that when funds allow, there will be changes you’d like to make to it. As the world over, there’s a huge choice of builders here – excellent, good, indifferent and downright awful. Having had experience of using French, Dutch and English artisans, the golden rule is recommendation not nationality. Don’t be put off using someone who doesn’t share your first language – if they are any good, they’ll be hugely helpful, prompt, competent and tidy. Equally, don’t assume that just because they’re local the foregoing is a given.
Rolling up your sleeves 2: Makeovers
Not so many years ago, you could turn on the tele almost any night and watch hordes of stupidly dressed ‘designers’ mincing through other peoples’ houses, dispensing pearls of wisdom on how they should be decorated (the houses that is, not the unsuspecting owners).
Rolling up your sleeves 1: Ruins
Stumbling through yet another patch of head high nettles, you arrive at the ruin. It’s roofless, borderline dangerous and no one in their right mind would buy it. And it’s love at first sight.
The idea of creating a home from a romantic ruin is ever popular, but the supply of suitable properties can make the search very frustrating. It’s worth remembering that the dream is not yours alone – it’s been shared by others looking to live here ever since the last war - and they’ve scoured every inch of the countryside.
So take a deep breath, open your wallet and picture it empty. For years.
Long before their football squad imploded at the last World Cup, the French developed a healthy disinterest in team sports. This means that in the event of the boys playing badly, losing or having a collective strop, Jean Pierre can pretend that he didn’t care about the result anyway. It also helps him persuade his tiny village to splash out on a brand new, synthetic surface tennis court, despite the average age of the neighbours being 70+ and the Mairie having an annual tax income of 50p. These courts seem to be everywhere, are well cared for and cheap to use. Like golf in Scotland, it’s a peoples sport, but without the loud trousers and incessant rain.
Le Conducteur – Things Best Avoided
Empty roads are great, but they do bring their own (sometimes unwelcome) surprises. Deer, for instance – beautiful but stupid. There are thousands of them and, being French, they have zero road sense and delight in blasting out from cover directly into your path. Fortunately, most of the time they breeze by, leaving no sign of their passing - other than the residual adrenaline pumping through your system.
A business other than gites
There are certainly alot of people who have small gite businesses here in southwest France. It is easy to do on a small scale and it is not heavily regulated or taxed, and can provide you with some top up income. (contact the local Chambre de Commerce for more information on www.dordogne.cci.fr).
An Opportunity for a Really Professional Equestrian Business
As La Porte’s Equestrian property advisor I try to view the properties as a prospective purchaser would. I’ve the descriptive and a brief outline of it, but the initial impression is important; it’s how the client will see it.
I know this property has fantastic equestrian facilities and is currently run as a very successful Arab endurance stud.
Le Conducteur - Little white vans
So, you’ve bought your first French country home and need a car. Perhaps you’ve dreamt of a soft top – the shade of the Plane trees dappling the bonnet as you whisk along empty country roads. Maybe even and old DS Citroen, lovingly cared for and whisper quiet. But no – what you really need is a little white van. Ideally, it’ll be a second or third hand Peugeot or Renault with a few dents and an interstellar kilometrage on the clock. A cage for your dogs in the back is an optional extra.
Summer riding in the Dordogne countryside is a constant pleasure; no more worrying about cars dashing to work or parents racing to do the school run. Sometimes I realise I am taking it for granted. I can ride for miles and never see a car and there’s no need to ride along roads or cross motorway and railway bridges. All this I have had to do in the past, holding my breath as another lorry rattles by. Here I enjoy the true experience of hacking out; even a quick “round the block” is peaceful and relaxing.
A large piece of building land for a prestige house
For those who are looking for a really nice piece of land to build their dream house – its difficult. Most of the plots with a CU(outline planning permission) all seem to be next to other houses, roads, or worse, lotissements (small developments of sometimes low cost housing). If you’re hoping to build a really nice house, you’re looking for an attractive location, without immediate neighbours and a view, and they are like gold dust.
So here’s one!
Still acres of blue sky and still no rain
So, still acres of blue sky and still no rain. We missed out on the usually reliable early Spring showers in February and March and have had little or nothing since. With March temperatures in the mid twenties and now into the thirties, it’s been great swimming pool weather for months already, but now everything’s looking a bit burnt.
A truly quiet location
Everyone is looking for a quiet location for their house in France, particularly if they come from the crowded south of England or Holland and Belgium. You would think it would be easy, but actually it’s not. There are not many houses which are truly private, without neighbours, or away from roads.