Saturday, June 29, 2013

Raising dosh

Expensive times coming up. Buying that cottage next week so bang go most of our savings. Mind you, I'd rather have dosh invested in property rather than it feeding greedy bankers in a UK savings account for next to zero interest.

And Georgie's just about to go freelance, which means loads of Apple computery stuff has to be bought. Managed to cover that cost by selling my Greeves motorcycle last week. Chap came over from the UK and whisked it off on the back of his VW camper.

Then we've the added expense of building a car port (keeps the sun off in summer - what summer? - and the snow off in winter) on the side of the house which Christian's brother is threatening to knock up sometime in July. Could be somewhere around two to three thousand euros. Rather than delve into the little that's left of our savings after the cottage purchase, I figured the best way of raising the necessary dosh would be to downsize my road motorcycle. So I advertised the Honda CB1300S for sale and a French chap from Limoges came round last week-end to have a look. Said he'd buy it and he's coming round on Sunday to do the deal.

Spent the last couple of days looking for a cheaper replacement on Leboncoin (French sales site that's much more popular than eBay). Spotted a good 'un yesterday morning (Friday), up for grabs at nearby Crocq. Rang the chap and arranged to see the bike (a 650 Honda Transalp) that afternoon. "Is your house easy to find?" I asked. "Do you know the chateau in the main street?" he responded. "Er, the big long one next door to the boucherie?" "Oui, that one, that's where I live."

I know that boucherie well. It's highly rated by the locals and it's where Isabelle and Christian buy their meats. Visited a few times myself and have always been intrigued by this adjacent chateau which appeared to be unoccupied and beginning to fall into disrepair. Came as a bit of a surprise that someone was actually living there.

Parked up out front and went to what I assumed was the front door. No sign of a bell and it didn't look like the door had been opened in years. Obviously not the entry point. Spotted a big gateway to the right of the chateau. Gates were open so I wandered in. Interestingly, the back of the chateau looked even more impressive (in a dilapidated kinda way) than the main street side, so the back was the front and the front was the back, if you get my drift. Nobody seemed to be about but there was a car parked under a massive tree so I knew someone was in. Heard a welcoming shout from an open upstairs window. Chap came down and apologised for his scruffy appearance. Turned out he'd bought the place a year ago and was now busily renovating.

Followed him to the stables and checked the Transalp over. All seemed fine. Told him that my buyer was coming round on Sunday morning so, providing my sale went through, I'd be able to buy with cash on Sunday afternoon. Fingers crossed that nobody beats me to it today (Saturday) or tomorrow morning.

Bike inspection done, we went inside the chateau so the chap could jot down my details and show me the paperwork. Blimey, thought I, this was one hell of a renovation project but the work done to the kitchen showed that this chap was setting about it the right way. Original features were being retained but tastefully complemented with modern goodies. Following my ooh-ing and aah-ing about his impressive renovation work, he invited me to follow him on a quick guided tour of the chateau. Further oohs and aahs ensued as I wandered gobsmacked from room to room. Apparently the building had stood empty for forty years but, luckily, no great damage had been done. Even the delightfully ornate (and original?) wallpapers were still looking good. Asked the chap if he was intending to strip the paper off and redecorate. "No way", he said. Then he explained that he was an antiques dealer who'd long been looking for a project like this. He'd sold up, moved down here from Normandy and his plan is to live in the west wing and convert a few rooms into holiday lets. Being in antiques he's very keen to retain the originality of this chateau magnifique whilst at the same time providing it with modern amenities like wiring, plumbing and bathrooms etc.

Finally, I asked if the French government was providing financial assistance with this challenging project. Apparently not. Such a shame. Although I guess this chap isn't short of a bob or two, I feel that he deserves a bit of state funding because not only is he saving a fine chateau from ruin but, it could be argued, he's also doing his bit for French tourism. I departed feeling that the current socialist French government hasn't quite yet got its head around the idea of supporting free enterprise and cutting back on irresponsible spending (e.g. I understand rail workers can retire with generous state pensions when they reach the ridiculously young age of 52). Wakey, wakey, Monsieur Hollande, time's running out, time for change.

If my bike sells on Sunday and I have a fistful of euros, and if some other buyer doesn't beat me to this chap's Transalp before Sunday afternoon, I'll go back there cash in hand, snap up the bike and hopefully take a few snaps of the chateau's interior - something I forgot to do yesterday due to too much ooh-ing and aah-ing.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The longest day

The thing I like about the longest day is the sunset. That's when the sun is at its most northerly point on the western horizon. It's sort of become an annual habit to nip up the back lane with Jock and take a few snaps of the sunlight passing through a tree tunnel and hitting the side of the house. Trouble was, the early evening clouds blotted out the sun so I thought I wouldn't get that annual photo this year. But then the sun blasted out from beneath the clouds, so I quickly grabbed the camera and headed up the lane. Just managed to catch the last of the sun's rays hitting the side of the house, plus a couple of other shots from up the lane. Jock was a bit miffed though as it was way past his grub time so he kept hanging back. When I turned back he was overjoyed and quickly trotted back home. Fed the brute and then lit the kitchen stove. I think this is the first year the stove's been lit on the longest day. Almost July and it's still a bit chilly. Ah well, here we go, the evenings are creeping in already. Soon be Christmas.


Rain again

Yes, I know I keep blethering on about the weather, but it really is quite extraordinary for the time of year. Take last Thursday for example, dull and chilly all day, but then it sort of brightened up in the evening so I was quite looking forward to sitting outside with a soirée aperitif in the evening sun. But it was not to be. Cathedral clouds (as I call them) gathered in the east and what looked rain headed up from the south. Watched it approach across the valley where the sunlit hills slowly disappeared in a haze of grey, then a rainbow, then the downpour. Shuffled indoors and lit the kitchen stove. Lighting the stove in June is almost unheard of, yet this year it seems almost a daily habit. Will this winter never end?!

Sunday, June 16, 2013


Spotted a glowworm last night. Took a quick snap without flash, then another with. Because it was dark I couldn't see a thing, just a luminous green glow. The flash picture turned out a bit disappointing. I was hoping that it would show the whole of the beetle's body, but it didn't. All it showed was the tail end poking out from behind a nettle leaf. Am now determined to get a better snap. Nicked a good 'un from the internet. Did a quick bit of researching and discovered that the females glow to attract a mate, while the males light up to warn hungry frogs that they taste awful so go hunt elsewhere. So what happens if a randy male cuddles up to a glowing male? Sorry mate, I thought you were a girl. You calling me a girl? Punch up.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Flowery stuff

Georgie's asked how the garden's going. Told her "fine, still seems to be there." Then she asked to see some pics. Rattled off a few yesterday morning before the afternoon's deluge. Clouds rolled in, the sky turned black and the rain bucketed down. Took a few more snaps this morning. The pouring rain battered the few poppies that had opened so they look a bit bruised çe matin. However, others have now opened and are currently enjoying some sunshine. The rain also battered the irises and I've had to prop one back up with a stick. In one of the shots of the blue flowery things, you'll notice they've all flopped outwards in a circle with the central bit open to the elements. This isn't due to the plant getting tired and having a nap, but simply because it got flattened by one of the snowstorms in May that I mentioned in a previous posting. Due to all this recent rain, the weeds and lawn have shot up. Would have attacked the lawn with the lawn mower but the damned thing's being repaired. Popped in there about a week ago and asked when it'd be ready. "Soon," they said. Mind you, they said the same thing about three weeks ago when I dropped the mower off with them. Borrowed Christian's mower last Friday and had a go at slaughtering the triffids. Exhausting work because the stuff was thick and damp. I now have a mammoth pile of damp grass out by the woodshed which, hopefully, will disappear when I get around to starting a bonfire. Need a lot more sunshine before that happens though.


Monday, June 10, 2013


The fair's arrived. Out here it's called a fête. Rolled into town last week for a three-day stint, starting last Saturday. Didn't go down there on that soirée but, despite the rain, I imagine crowds of people did. There were probably fireworks and a rockin' party atmosphere with everyone having a jolly time. Instead, I popped down there last night at around eight-ish. Discovered that Sunday evening is not the time to visit a fair. The place was dead, with just a handful of people out and about. Maybe it busied up later on but I didn't hang around to find out. Took a few snaps then headed back home and slung another log on the fire. Well into June, almost at the longest day, grey and damp outside and I'm still chucking logs in the stove! Will this rubbishy winter ever end? (Click pics to enlarge.)

Seeing the gleeful kids wandering around this fair reminded me of when the fair used to roll into Headley in Hampshire when I were a lad. Used to set up on the village green next to the Holme School - a primary school that my sister and I attended back in the mid-'Fiftes. One of my many memories of this school is sitting at a desk behind Pauline Brown and being fascinated by tiny maggots creeping about her hair. Lice I suppose. Her dad was a big black man (not many around in those days, especially out in the country) and I remember he used to earn a few bob whenever the fair visited by being 'the man' in the boxing tent. Here he'd take on anyone daft enough to step into the ring. If you lasted a single round round (about three minutes), you probably won a goldfish or a cuddly toy. I don't imagine anyone lasted more than a minute, but maybe a soldier or two did from the local army base at Bordon. Shame you don't get boxing tents at fairs any more, they were great fun. Same with coconut shys, with the coconuts glued into their cups. And music blaring out from tinny Tannoys playing scratchy records by Elvis, Buddy Holly, Paul Anka, Tommy Steele, Bill Haley and Lonnie Donegan. Ah, gay days.

Scoured the internet and found a photo of the school taken at around this time. Also found an aerial view of part of Headley which shows where we used to live (big house, bottom left, owned by the army).

Had an acre of land, mostly behind and to the right of the house. Looks like it's now been sold off and built on. There used to be walnut tree there and a mini forest of tall bamboos. All gone now. And a meat wagon used to visit the village once a week (well before the advent of frozen foods). I remember it sold horse meat. Thought nothing of it back then, but nowadays it seems shocking and possibly dangerous due to the druggy stuff given to horses. It also sold chicken and other forms of poultry (unplucked of course) which were hung on hooks hanging from the wagon's ceiling (exposed meat wouldn't be allowed nowadays thanks to Health and Safety - but still exists out here in France). I remember too gutted rabbits. Talking of which, I'm rabbiting so I'll stop.    

Friday, June 7, 2013


This time last week I was in London. Went there a couple of Sundays back and returned last Sunday. Did four days' advertising and design work with an old chum who runs a thriving business at Butlers Wharf in the shadow of Tower Bridge ( Didn't work on the Monday because it was a bank holiday so did a bit of pottering and shopping with Georgie in sunny Putney. Had the Saturday off too and visited John Lewis in Kingston with Georgie and Donnie in order to eye up Apple computery stuff  that Georgie needs to buy in readiness for going freelance when she moves out here in July.

Even though I lived and worked in London for more years than I care to remember, it still comes as a big culture shock on those rare occasions when I visit the capital city. I used to take for granted the hustle and bustle, the flashy cars, the rampant consumerism, the high prices and the constant drive for success and wealth, but now I find the whole thing rather unreal and more than a bit vulgar. Maybe it's because I'm getting old, or maybe it's because I'm now a hermit recluse from the misty backwoods of rural France, or maybe it's because I'm not a Londoner (there's a song there somewhere). Whatever the reason, I now feel like an alien from a distant planet whenever I visit.

To get to my chum's offices I'd catch a train from Putney to Waterloo, passing loads of new buildings that have shot up along the south bank of the Thames. I presume some are offices and some are flats, but who can afford such places? The rents or purchase prices must be astronomical. At Waterloo I'd then catch a train from Waterloo East to London Bridge, with glimpses of even more buildings going up in the City. Recession? What recession? These architectural towers are testimony to the fact that London's booming while the rest of Britain boards up shops in streets strewn with tumbleweeds. Scary. Then, at London Bridge, I'd walk to Butlers Wharf passing even more flashy new office buildings, including those of PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young among others. Clearly these companies are hugely successful, but what do they actually do? As far as I can make out, they're just accountancy firms. I presume their expertise lies in saving tax for big corporations and, by doing so, are major players in the money game. Call me an old hippy, but I feel these companies and their impressive tower blocks are built on far from solid foundations. Just as soon as the big money moves from London to Peking or somewhere else in the developing nations (as it surely will eventually - it's just a question of time), these houses of cards will come tumbling down. As I said, scary.

After work I'd amble back to London Bridge after sunset, but this time along the riverside with wonderful views of Tower Bridge and the City lit up with twinkling lights and their reflections in the dark waters of the Thames. Here I'd stop and become a tourist, taking out my camera and snapping sights that have been snapped millions of times before. Nay, au contraire; that City view is constantly changing as more and more buildings are constructed. The latest one looks like it's almost finished. Not sure what it is though. Maybe it's yet another rip-off bank HQ, or yet another accountancy giant making a loud statement of massive wealth. Ah well, whatever it is it looks rather pretty at sundown. Then it's onward to London Bridge station where I'm suddenly aware of a tall building stretching upwards towards the distant sky: The Shard. Once again I'm thinking what's it for, who's going to live there or work there? Beats me. Shaking my head in disbelief and incomprehension at what London's become, I stagger onwards and catch the train back to Putney. An alien in a foreign land indeed.

So that was London. On the Sunday I flew back to Limoges, rescued Jock from the jailhouse (kennels) and drove back home to the misty hills. I would have stayed longer in London and maybe visited sis and bro-in-law up north, but as it was the first time Jock has been in jail on his own (after Sprock's sad passing), I felt I had to get back quick as poss. Ah well, another time.