Friday 4 May 2012

The Ex-pats went home, two-by-two

Our phone was playing up a little bit last month, so maybe I missed a call from Him upstairs, advising me to build an Ark and load up the sheep, two by two.
Yes, in just over a month we have gone from an arid desert to sodden paddy-fields, as it rained solidly for 40 days and nights depositing 400mm of water – no, that’s not a misprint, 400mm - over a foot, in old money! Already the lambs in the lower field have all been issued with snorkels, the dogs are permanently wearing water-wings and the postman now arrives by boat, bringing with him our previous year’s extortionate water bill. Plants that had been scorched near to death by 15 months of drought, then battered by a month of arctic temperature are now standing forlornly in a foot of water wondering what the hell is going on. But, for once, I’m not complaining. It had to come. Mother Nature will always balance itself, so Spring is as good a time as any to put it right. Thankfully I planted the potatoes in time.
The sun is out again today though, feebly pretending it has never been away, and facing me with the arduous task of cutting the grass which is now a couple of metres high and harbouring a thousand species of swamp-life. This morning, Tommy the tractor took one look at it and shook its bonnet, coughing uncontrollably, its pistons protesting so much I nearly called in the paramedics. Surrounding crops of wheat that were heading towards another French famine are now a vibrant dark-green and bulging at the gateways, ready to flood the Common Market and send local farmers rushing to buy more new shiny machinery with their exorbitant profits.
All in all, things around here are looking a little bit healthier.
Unless, of course, your name is Nicolas Sarcozy.
As I write, the electoral race is still on but at least Madame La Penn’s neo-nazi party is no longer a serious contestant, although she did get a rather alarming 17% of votes in the preliminaries, as the nation showed its support for the tightening of France’s immigration laws. If she had her way, the country would be cleansed of all people and things un-French. Her policy on banning the wearing of sandals with socks would have possibly emptied three-quarters of the population of the Dordogne in one fell swoop and - for a while there - my little enterprise of selling berets, garlic strings and rusty bikes to ex-pats in Eymet market looked like a Nobel-prize contender.
However, the general word on the street is that the Left will get back in to power and that France’s soaring unemployment problem will be addressed by creating a few million new government jobs by the turn of the year. This, of course, will inevitably lead to thousands more complicated forms dropping through our letter-box and another rain-forest will fall in the name of bureaucracy. The fact that the next 5 years of this head-in-the-sand administration will leave France more bankrupt than a Greek building contractor seems to have conveniently eluded the narrow minds of the electorate, who have chosen the Left purely because they are fed up with Sarcozy’s haircut.
Anyway, enough with lunatic politics – if I ever have to vote, it will be with my feet.
Recently, this hermit has been approached by a company specialising in global travel, to write a series of short travel guides about these parts. Despite the limited financial incentive on offer, it was a challenge I relished with both hands and feet. Nothing motivates you to take notice of things around you more than having tourists visiting, apart from having to write about it - sensibly. Last week I found myself waxing lyrical about a few places I have never visited, using research rather than first hand insight. However, after a night of disturbed sleep, the cold-sweat of dawn persuaded me that we should perhaps validate some of this information before submitting it - for fear of being exposed as cad.
So it was last weekend, we visited the delightful town of Monpazier, an hour north of here, with some friends. Having written-up that it claimed to be the most beautiful village in France, I was on tenterhooks, to say the least, that it wouldn’t disappoint. I need not have worried. Monpazier is probably one of the most charming and idyllic Bastide towns imaginable – if I may go into travel-geek cliché mode for a second – sitting atop a raised mound with stunning views, it offers ornate archways surrounding the cobbled square, leading into quaint narrow streets littered with fashionable boutique shops and delightful up-market bistros – unquote. I had also read up on one of the delightful bistros on the internet, towards which we were destined for lunch. Imagine, then, my sudden empty feeling when we discovered that it was….er…Empty! And we all know what to think about eating in an empty restaurant?
Should we, shouldn’t we?
Should I just go home and scrub the paragraph I had eloquently penned about its superior location overlooking the medieval gates to the castle? Not to mention its menu full of sumptuous dishes?
Or should we take a plunge, announce our mission and unscrupulously demand the best seat in the house and four free meals? In the end we over-came our indecisions and nervously shuffled in -  anonymously – and I am so glad we did. The food was nothing less than exquisite, the service impeccable and the ambience – once a few more punters followed our initiative – exceptional. It was only after we paid the bill that I mumbled that I was writing up this very bistro – called simply Bistrot 2 - in a global travel guide that could possibly bring them up to a million punters. We Brits are so gracious, aren’t we just?
On the way home, we called in on Chateau Beynac, another place I had advised my readers to visit for its opulent uniqueness. It was the setting for the film, Chocolat, I advocated – a must see! What I had failed to mention, until I visited it personally, was that it was so busy with endless buses full of obese American tourists that it was nigh on impossible to find a seat at its overpriced poorly-furnished street cafés, whilst choking on the fumes of grid-locked horn-honking traffic being bottlenecked into its one street via one of central France’s busiest main roads.
A valuable lesson learned, we are this summer tasked with visiting a lot more of France’s hotspots; not the worst chore one could bestow on a couple of near-hermits, I suppose. I might even get some calling cards printed.
Now we are back into social season, the other week we invited a couple of friends for dinner and, last minute, they asked if they could bring along their daughter and boyfriend who had come to stay for the weekend. Never being one too bothered about extra numbers – ‘no problermo’, said I. Now bear in mind these two friends are both Irish, from Galway, and live in Amsterdam, although they have recently acquired a holiday home near us in France which they are renovating. When they arrived, Wendy suddenly reminded me that both the daughter and boyfriend were chefs, - a fact I had forgotten – at Claridges in London, no less. And I was serving them rabbit-bloody-pie! Too late to change the menu to something more Gordon-bleu now, they would have to slum it like the rest of us! At least I wouldn’t be written up in a travel guide? In an attempt to distract them from the misgivings of my meagre table offerings, I engaged Pat, the boyfriend, in polite conversation, only to discover that, although he lived in London, he was from Kidderminster.
‘What a coincidence, I’m from that area,’ says I.
‘Well not exactly Kidder,’ he revealed, ‘but a tiny village called Clows Top, near Rock!’
 It transpired that I knew his Father, also Pat, Mother, Uncle Mick and pretty well all the rest of his family, the Langdons, personally. What a small world… the topic certainly took the heat off my rabbit pie!
On the subject of pie, with lambing well and truly over, and gigot d’agneau looming mouth-wateringly on the near horizon, we were somewhat startled to find 2 more of them born this week. Not just two ordinary lambs either, as one of them is a quite striking piebald colour. I’m not too sure what his father is, but with those spindly bow-legs and black and white striped body, he looks like he is crossed with a grand piano! I have named him Minstrel.

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