A few Saturdays ago Fiona and I were invited to the opening of an exhibition of paintings at a local gallery that also houses a delightful restaurant. Run by a French couple, he is an artist and she is a sculptress as well as being the 3rd generation owner and chef. Sadly the opening was not terribly well attended, as it was an extremely hot day, but the hospitality was generous and we met several friends there, which was nice. Returning home we made a light meal with some local ham and salad washed down with a glass of the local wine. As we were sitting and relaxing after our meal, there was a knock at our door. This was our next-door neighbour with a huge bowl of cherries from her extremely heavily fruit laden tree. We had already sampled some before; I had even made a cherry tart with them but she suggested that a flan was the easiest, and quickest, thing to do with them. Putting them in the fridge I decided to try that idea within a day or two.
An hour or so later another knock at the door - this time it was the builder from the house on our other side, the one that said that the work would be finished in February! He was bearing a gift of a bottle of wine that he said was to thank us for the music that he had heard coming from our house the other day while he was working. So, there we go, the ingredients for a cherry flan, a lump of Brie and a nice bottle of wine. What more can one ask for?
I wrote the above piece earlier in the month while it was still fresh in the memory. Oh dear! Oh dear! I should not have done so when I was so full of optimism! The cherry flan turned out very well but my computer complained - don't ask. It crashed last week and has been out of commission for several days while I get everything back up and running again. Hence the reason that this update is a bit shorter than normal. Hopefully, I will be able to add another bit this month, but I thought that I had better send this while the system is still going strong. Well, for the moment. The sympathy that we have had from our friend Alain has been tremendous, so much so that he has been bringing a bottle of wine to us, almost everyday it seems, in order to enquire how everything is going. This unfortunately (although very pleasantly) has impeded my progress in getting my technology back to normal. I have been bleary eyed by staying up and trying to re-install boring things like software. Alain, however, does put it into perspective (in a French way) by saying "ca-va". It covers it all!
At least the computer will never suffer from a plague of cockroaches. We bought a new can of fly spray - at this time of the year they are a huge nuisance in this area - used it several times and Fiona and I said it does not seem to be so effective this time round. I checked the can which had "New Formula" on it and realised it was for cockroaches, something that we have never suffered from! Oh dear! See this French language!
This may seem a strange question but, as we live on a hill, without much pond or river life close by, I have been amazed by the amount of frogs that have appeared recently. I am sure that there will be someone out there that can give an explanation as to why there are so many dead frogs on the main road. We are, after all, a 1000 metres high on this plateau that we call Salignac. The reference to fleas is because our cat, Gemma, succumbed to her yearly infestation of fleas (particularly bad this year) and the treatment of powder and new flea collar (at least we got the right stuff!) has been a great success but she has lost weight because of this. All has been eradicated - so if you want to visit, don't be put off! - I just raise the question are frogs and fleas connected? Just a thought.
Apart from all this 'tittle tattle' the village has become alive again with the start of the proper holiday season. The Friday market has started up for the season, more tourists are about and the village has an air of being quite lively now. The building works next door are still going on as have other new projects and properties in the area. Sadly, my bookings for film courses and work are down this year but on the other hand Fiona has had more enquiries than ever before. Nadine (our little old lady) has disappeared this year, I'm still afraid to ask about her. We have had several new incomers who have bought houses close by. Unfortunately they are English, nothing against the 'rosbeuf', it is just that we would like to hear the odd Scots (or celtic) voice about now and then. We did come here to live and work amongst the French and have made some very strong friends here. They have made us most welcome and been supportive for which we are very grateful and love them dearly.
The downside is that when the holiday season starts, all the French go on holiday! I have been trying to organise some sponsorship for The Salignac Foundation in the form of going totally digital and have been having talks with some of the major manufactures about this with varied results (i.e. Yes, No, Maybe etc) the trouble is no one can make a decision until after the holidays are finished. September, maybe?
Rural France? I love it.
Barry Paton © July 2003
This article should have been written over a week ago but due to some unforeseen circumstances I was unable to do so. One evening, while Fiona was checking her e-mails, she decided that the keyboard was a little thirsty and managed to spill about half a litre of red wine over it and the desk. On realising what she had done, everything was switched off and the clean up began. After everything was dried off, I decided to see if any damage had been done to the keyboard. It no longer had all the keys working. It had become a qwert-keyboard! No huge problem I thought, leave it overnight, and upside down, after soaking in some cleaning fluid. Next morning after switching on it was still the same, the right hand side was not working at all. Keyboards are not particularly expensive and as Fiona was going into Sarlat I asked her to try some of the shops there. Now, this is a British computer with an English keyboard and English keyboards are very difficult to find in France. The French have their very own, and very awkward, layout and I didn't think that they would work with my computer. Fiona had no success in locating one in Sarlat and I had to do some hard thinking, eventually phoning a couple of British friends here who had recently upgraded their computer on the basis that they might have a redundant keyboard in the attic.
After a couple of calls I found one at Ron's who lives just 5 minutes away and drove over to borrow it while I pondered with what to do with our drunken one. I was advised that the best course of action was to run it under the tap after opening up the back and leave it to dry for a few days. I thought that this was a wind-up as I had always been led to believe that water and electricity did not mix but on questioning this advice I was assured that it should work and, even if it didn't, I had nothing to lose! After several attempts to separate the top and bottom casings (I eventually found a few screws under some keys!) I drenched the innards with lukewarm water and a little washing up liquid and put it out the back door to dry where it has been for several days. I have just reassembled it and am about to plug it in and see if it works???.Bang!
With building work next door almost completed (thankfully) we have met our new neighbour who turns out to be a masseuse and is setting up her practice there. Very handy, I thought, just in case I should need a massage. She also has a most interesting white Boxer dog, which our cat, Gemma, is not convinced about but we shall see if they become friends. While pondering about what I should write about this month over a glass of wine in the café, I was approached by a man who said, "Are you Barry Paton?" I replied cautiously that, indeed, I was. I always think that some bit of my past will come back and hit me, a bit like feeling guilty when you see a policeman! As it turned out he is the new owner of a rather lovely house just outside the village and he had seen my photo on our website. He had also been reading this column avidly to learn a little more about Salignac, so Pat, you have a reader from Dublin now. We had a very pleasant meal together and seemed to get on well together. It is always a joy to hear a fellow Celt and Fiona and I are looking forward to meeting his family when he comes over here in August. Another new neighbour (relatively speaking), who we have recently met, is a Swiss director/cameraman who has bought a place just outside Salignac. Given our similar backgrounds it gives me another excuse (as if I need one!) to go to the café for a natter.
French men (when they want to) have a particular style when it comes to looking smart, the casual sweater or jacket thrown over the shoulder. Our mayor, Mr Dubois, is no exception to this and Fiona and I have speculated how long it takes in front of the mirror it takes him to get the angles and the look just right or is it just Vercro'd in place! As every French president started their political life as a mayor in a small village I suspect that he has one eye on the Big Job, anyway, he gets Fiona's vote for his stunning blue eyes, greyish hair and smart but casual look. Certainly, if he gets to the top he will look great on the TV screens and will charm the socks of the women voters. Fiona wilts every time she meets him! I have some footage of him at a few functions and he does come over well on the screen. Apart from this, he is a thoroughly nice man and has done wonders for the village. Since we came here, we have had a new sports centre, football pitch, many derelict properties have been bought by the commune and turned into council houses, all the overhead wires (always an eyesore in rural France) are being put underground and many more improvements in and around Salignac. We wish him well.
We had our first bed and breakfast guest a few weeks ago and with the exception of not having been prepared with enough things for breakfast it went well. When he arrived it was after the shops had closed, so I rushed up to the cafe to borrow some butter and fruit juice (as if I needed an excuse!) and laid the table out in preparation. As it turned out he didn't want breakfast after all and left at some ungodly hour in the morning! My thanks go to Cecile and Lilliene at the Cafe de la Place anyway for their help.
Rural France? I love it.
©Barry Paton June 2003
The other day when Fiona and I were having a pizza in our local cafe, Fiona mentioned the old children's rhyme "Tinker, tailor, beggar man, thief" while she was putting aside the olive stones. It started me thinking about what I have been in my life recently. As we were just completing the guest room for the bed and breakfast enterprise that we are taking on, as well as everything else, and as everyone will know, when you start to redecorate, it does not end there. Everything else starts to show up, especially in the bright sunshine of France. Thinking about how multi-talented I have been, I started going through the list. I made the new curtains (tailor); I was once a soldier, beggar man (who hasn't gone cap in hand to the bank manager at some point?), thief - I reckon diving into a skip covers that one. I have been rich and poor at various stages in my life and I once owned a small dinghy. Oh and I dress like a tinker! I can, however, add to this list quite considerably as I have been a plumber (the shower, once again), electrician, plasterer, painter, carpenter as and when these skills were required as what was to be a two day job of re-decoration turned into a two weeks marathon throughout the house! All is finished now, bar the hoovering, and our sign for Chez Fifi is being put up outside the front door. All we need now is some customers for the extremely pretty room that we have created. Only time will tell!
When I first arrived in France some 3 years ago, I had a lot of business to do in Sarlat, which is our nearest town and also the beautiful capitol of The Perigord Noir. One evening, after having dinner in The Cafe de Paris, I went to remove the car from the main car park in the square. This is a paying car park with barriers to enter and exit. On arrival you collect a ticket and before leaving one 'validates' the ticket at a cash machine prior to inserting it in the exit barrier.
This particular night, almost midnight, the ticket refused to work, going back to the cafe I asked what one did and was told that there was a button on the back of the exit barrier which allowed you to speak to the local Police whereupon they remotely opened the barrier for you. Several weeks ago, Fiona and I were in Sarlat and the same thing happened, the ticket refused to work. I asked Fiona to go and poussez le bouton and ask the nice police to open the barrier for us. I had told Fiona that this had happened before but had forgotten to tell her that you had to kneel down, assuming a ridiculous posture at the same time, in order to speak into the little squawk box at the back. At the same time there was a dreadful racket coming from one of these little mechanical street sweepers cleaning up after the market. All the while there was a queue of cars building up behind us. After a few minutes, Fiona recovered her dignity and got into the car and the barrier was opened for us. She was not impressed with the performance that she had to give in front of the hundreds of people about in the square! On our return to Salignac some wine was demanded at the cafe and she began to see the funny side of things, fortunately for me!
Whilst not singing about the dust that I mentioned last month, which has been coming from all sides due to the building work going all around us, I started screaming when the water board decided to dig up the road outside the house as well! Just as we were getting the house ready to welcome guests, after cleaning the windows, sweeping the entrance etc., a tipper lorry and a digger appeared and starting creating a new desert on our doorstep. Every time any one went in or out a huge wave of dust swept through the house. Fortunately, our friend Alain visited us with copious volumes of wine, which tempered my humour as we sat at the table and chatted while the dust visibly gathered in the sejour. I have lost count of how many times the brush and vacuum cleaner had been brought out but my despair was mellowed during the course of Alain?s visits. All this was compounded by a severe, if short, rainstorm, which has managed to coat the front door of the house with a light, sandy mud! Do I need to add that a cleaner has been added to my talents?
Meanwhile life goes on at The Salignac Foundation, bookings and enquiries are beginning to look interesting and the other day I was asked to be the director of photography for a film being shot in Cannes this month. The only problem was that is was a deferred payment job and, as a professional, I had to turn it down. I cannot afford to go away for several weeks and then wait forever (if ever) for money to come in. But at least it shows that there is some interest being generated at the moment. Fiona at least has some bookings for the summer and has been very active in putting out our publicity, which is starting to become noticed. This is more than I can say about the repaired clock above the Mairie. It is still working (and keeping good time) however; the elm tree in front now screens it from view unless one stands directly underneath! I don't suppose that you can win them all, can you? On the other hand, our next-door neighbours' cherry tree, which overhangs our low roof at the back, is just about to fruit so I look forward to having some nice, fresh cherries very soon. Yum-Yum! Fresh cherries and a newly baked baguette, all we need now is the wine.
Rural France? I love it.
© Barry Paton May 2003
What with all the building work going on around us, the changing of the clock, Fiona's return from Scotland and the war in Iraq. It has inspired us to add Bed & Breakfast accommodation to our portfolio. First off was the sejour (kitchen/living/dining room) on the ground floor. This has mostly achieved by humping furniture about and selling off some pieces that were far to big even for such a large room. Next step is our spare bedroom, As I write, I have just finished stripping off the wallpaper - along with a hunk of loose plaster - more dust again! However, our local friend, Alain, is coming to re-plaster the offending hole and, with a bit of luck, I have started the re-decoration and all should be ready for the end of the week. We will be ready from Easter onwards - I hope! Amongst doing all this, I realised that many of my mother's paintings were stored there and I need to do something about them. We just do not have the space to hang them in the house. My mother was a Scottish artist in the latter part of the 1900's and exhibited all over Scotland. I don't want them to go to waste, so if anyone would like to see any of the pictures, then contact me as they are now up for sale.
My mother went under various names including - Irene Osgood, Mary Irene Grant, Mary Charlton Paton, (amongst others) and produced a vast amount of work in her lifetime. She exhibited widely in Scotland and it is my regret that she never got to see where we live now. Wonderful sketching and painting country. E-mail me for details - firstname.lastname@example.org)
Our next stage is to slightly change the bathroom around a bit. The WC is cunningly placed to crack your shins as you come in, not a good idea when you have guests! The shower also needs de-calcifying, as always. Coming from Glasgow we were very used to the soft water but the amount of calcium in France is unbelievable! I shudder to think what the inside of our ancient washing machine must be like!
Surprisingly it still works though I suspect that this may be due to the additives in the washing powder. I believe that vinegar is one solution! (White wine vinegar, of course.)
I suppose that, like everywhere, when the clocks go forward, the blossom starts to come out on the trees, everyone begins to feel better about life. Certainly Salignac village has a bit more life about it just now, although there is a distinct lack of tourists as yet (The Gulf War? SARS?) Easter is late this year and the village markets do not start for another week. We desperately are waiting for some decent vegetables to appear when it does - not the usual supermarket suspects. Oh, for some decent parsley!
The Nadine mystery continues???Nadine, of whom I have written about before, seems to have disappeared from the village, certainly she has not been seen around for several months and her name is never mentioned, not even in the cafe where she has a room above. It always seems to be tempting fate to ask about her. I do have however, my own pet theory. I reckon that she has a villa in the South where she goes to hibernate in the winter months. One of these days I will manage to find out the truth.
Alain, our decorator friend, has been looking after us very well with lifts to the station to collect Fiona on her return. This was necessary as I had lent my car to another friend, Fred - 'The Cooking Copper' - so called because he was an policeman in England and had appeared on the final of TV's Master Chef as his car decided to quit French living, leaving him a bit isolated. I didn't need my car for a few days so he was most welcome to mine while he went out in search of a new one. I do know this feeling only too well, as you will have seen in one of my earlier articles. Fred's search for a car took him a bit longer than expected so I was without transport (apart from relying on Alain) for 10 days. The bonus was that on return, Fred had put in the fairly new battery from his, now, deceased Ford. This was most welcome as I was getting fed up parking on hills!
I first met Fred when we were both writing for the same (now defunct!) magazine and it turned out that we only lived a few miles apart and when we got in touch he invited us to lunch - he is an excellent cook and what he prepared for us should make his proposed cookery courses a great success. Fred, sometimes known as Jim, bought a very run down farmhouse called Bombel with the intention of turning into a cookery school with Gite's attached for his customers. He and his charming wife Lucy and daughter Jenny, have worked so tirelessly on this project and they have transformed the big barn into a lovely home with a Gite sleeping up to 8 people.At the moment he is working on the farmhouse, recently he put a new roof on it and is proceeding with the interior. I am astonished at the amount of work that they have put into it all and when the cookery school is up and running they should be very proud.
Bombel stands in a commanding position overlooking a valley, surrounded by countryside but not far from a local village and the major towns. I can highly recommend it to anyone. Fred is also a bit of a 'Jack of all trades' having helped me out recently with one of my many computer problems (once again!) and has also offered another pair of hands for any of my renovations here. As if he did not have enough to do on his own projects. You can have a look at his superb facilities and scenery on www.dordognebreaks.com I have just realised that I have been plugging Fred and myself in this article but it's that spring in my step, the blossoming trees and the village coming back to life. And that's what friends are for.
Rural France? I love it! - My mother would have loved it too!
©Barry Paton April 2003.
Salignac is a very quiet and conservative French village. Perched on a plateau some thousand feet up, with the chateau keeping guard to the east, the villagers in the winter time just go about their business getting the shopping in, going to work, lingering and chatting in the Post Office. Isn't there always a queue in a Post Office?
I live in one of the little quiet roads that leads to the chateau, only really used by tourists in the summer and by a couple of our neighbours leisurely walking their dogs, which is all very nice and peaceful but I would like to see a little more activity after 6 pm, passing the door while I sit at this keyboard trying to drum up business from all over the world. I console myself that this is the reason that people want to come here to The Salignac Foundation. Peace and quiet.
Well, not anymore! The house next door was empty, apparently for a couple of years before I moved here. It needed some work done, and I use the word 'needed' in the French way of things. The house on the other side of us looked the perfect model of an upgraded French village ?maison de ville? and directly opposite that there is an old carpenters workshop in need of desperate renovation. I have a friend that had been trying to buy this one for several years in order to turn it into a 'gite' but to no avail. The retired carpenter just was not interested in selling.
All of a sudden, these three properties have been sold, and in consequence there is so much activity on either side of my house that it is unbelievable. The noises that are coming through my 800 year old walls defy belief! From 7 am - till 7 pm the hammering, sawing, thumping and chipping is tremendous. The only relief is between 12 and 3 when lunchtime is upon them. I may add that this lunchtime is flexible, as everywhere in rural France. In many ways I am happy about this, as it means that the value of my property will go up, if it hasn't been knocked down in between! With all this work going on around me, it has given me the idea of doing some, minor, alterations around the house. Move the kitchen to the back, put a new floor in the cave - Well maybe?
When I leapt into my daily shower the other morning, I realised that the soap had run out. Nothing daunted I grabbed a bar of soap from the bowl beside the basin. We are always given all sorts of soap around Christmas time from various people. I suspect that this is not a criticism of myself and my cleanliness, more a token of respect for Fiona, as she is very fond of these highly perfumed and unusual soaps. Rushing back into the shower while I tore the wrapper off I proceeded to soak in the shower. Realising that there was a familiar, and not unpleasant aroma coming from the soap I completed my ablutions and went to get dressed. Suitably dressed I picked up the wrapper ready to throw it in the bin and, because I had my glasses on by this time, I looked at the label. Horror of horrors, it said 'Pure Anis' Pastis, Pernod no less. No wonder that I had liked and recognised the smell!
I was now reeking of Pernod and about to go out into the big wide world in my car. Knowing my luck, I would be stopped by the first Gendarme that I saw and would then have to explain why I was wafting Pernod fumes at him. It did not bear thinking about, so an executive decision was made - back into the shower with normal soap! As it was, I didn't see a single Gendarme that day but was left thinking - what if?
As Fiona is away in Scotland at the moment, I have been keeping a low profile in the village, venturing out for (the constant) cat food and some basic victuals for myself. This of course, involves the odd drink in the café where I have met several people that tolerate me as a stranger in the village. Though as the café was closed for ten days, this kind of restricted me for a little bit.
February is when the French have their school holidays, usually away ski-ing, although, God knows, there was enough snow around here recently. Because of this I have seen very few people about. The village at this time seems to go behind closed shutters only going forth to get shopping. It seems as though they are waiting for springtime to arrive and getting their strength up. Certainly, the beautiful clear blue skies, the stillness of the air and the wafting smell of wooodsmoke seems to make me feel that it is imminent even if it is still a little on the cold side.
I bumped into Alain (a local plasterer) who has befriended us today. The only trouble with Alain is the fact that he is from Brittany and has a very different dialect from the locals (despite having lived here for a long time) and he also speaks very quickly. When I am at the same level of alcohol consumption as he is then this proves to be no problem at all. It is just getting that bit right that is a little tricky!
Rural France - I love it!
© Barry Paton Feb 2003.
What an interesting month December was. Not just for me but for the populace of Salignac.One of the first customers that we had was a Brazilian girl over here to do a 'Dance for Camera' workshop. As this involves both Fiona and myself we were keen to see what sort of ideas that she had and how we could help her achieve her ambitions. Her ideas were certainly different and we put together a video that really pleases me. Now this is unusual for me, I normally tend to think, "Well it's OK" until I look at something a few weeks later. However, I feel that we have a festival entry on this one. She was staying in the local Maison Familiale, a cross between a youth hostel, holiday chalets and a hotel. One evening several of the young people staying there had asked her what she was doing here and could she demonstrate? As the piece that we were working on was purely for the camera this was difficult, so she gave a demonstration of Brazilian dance, which apparently went down a storm with them. Another first for Salignac!
The following week we had a break-dancer from Swindon, complete with the backwards baseball cap. His mission was to learn a bit more about the filming process as he has been commissioned to make a break dance film in the future. We decided to film some of his extremely energetic moves in and around the village. This was all new to me, as I have only seen break-dancing on TV so it was a learning curve for both of us. We started of by warming up on the dance floor before venturing out into the village square, this brought people out to watch, people hanging out windows and impressed teenagers watching every move. We shot quite a lot of footage in various locations much to the astonishment of some of the residents, eventually doing some shots on one of the pedestrian crossings on the main road. A bit like The Beatles 'Abbey Road' album cover, but with a difference! The French, as I am sure you will know, are not noted for driving slowly so the timing of these shots was crucial if he wasn't to be run over. However, at this point along came the slowest car in France which kind of upset everything, eventually it passed and he started the dance moves over the crossing. Sadly, half way across, and while he was upside down, his wrist gave way and he collapsed on his back in the middle of the main road. This brought a round of applause from the staff of the café who had been standing on a wall watching it all. Fortunately, he managed to leap out of the way before being run over by a 40 ft articulated lorry that was hurtling along the road. Time to re-shoot! At the end of the week we had shot a total of 45 minutes, which I think is a record for us. He was also staying at the Maison Familiale and was apparently organising some of the teenagers staying there into break-dancing classes every night. On the Friday night before he left he was taken to the local disco, which starts at midnight and runs to 5 am where he did several demonstrations, which went down a storm. The only problem being that his taxi was to collect him at 6.30 am. He did get home though they still talk about him several weeks later. Salignac will never be the same!
You would think that there is no connection with the above but there is a tenuous one. Let me explain. As our local commune (local council) has been spending money in making the village more attractive and bringing it into the 21st century, we have things like new lampposts, landscaping, a new sports centre being built. The landscaping is taking the form of planting shrubs, new pavements and street furniture all along the main road into the village. Once this is completed the entrance will look very attractive as the road is very long and straight and definitely needed something done. A landscape contractor was working on this project over a couple of weeks carefully planting all the shrubs on either side of the road. Imagine everybody's surprise when about twenty shrubs disappeared overnight just after this work was finished, rumours abounded about whom could have done this dastardly deed. Lots of "Tut, Tut's" and "How dare they?" in the café. Now I know that we had the cash machine stolen from the bank a couple of years ago but the stealing of shrubs was serious stuff. Apparently the same night some plants were stolen from outside the mayor's office as well, all very bad form. While we were in the café that evening listening to all this disgust and theories my eyes lit upon a brolly, which was lying next to the radiator next to the table we were at. I was reminded that I was going to write about this brolly many months ago. The reason being that it has not been moved since Sept 2001. It has lain abandoned by someone who had come in from a rain shower at that time. Obviously left by a visitor, as it has never been claimed. My point is that no-one would dream of taking it, even temporarily, because that would be stealing and that is just not done in Salignac. Stealing is done by outsiders, especially shrubs. Incidentally, the brolly is a tartan one!
Rural France? I love it.
© Barry Paton Jan 2003
Over the last 2 years that I have lived in Salignac, and for some years before that, the clock on top of the Mayor's office has been stopped at 3 minutes to ten. This has often puzzled me especially when I have been sitting in The Café de la Place in the square opposite wondering why, when the Mayor, Mr Dubois, can organise funding for new roads, streetlights and other improvements in the village. Surely putting the clock back into action could not be that expensive? Was it just the case of a new battery or was it something really technical? Because of this, I never bothered to look at the clock when passing by, a touch of familiarity breeding contempt.
The other week, shortly after Fiona had returned from teaching in Scotland, we were walking past the Mairie when Fiona exclaimed, "Look at the clock. It has changed time." So it had, and it was at the correct time as well! Now, in all the years that I have known this village, I have never seen the clock working. In light of what has happened to me recently (see below) I cannot pass by without checking the time on the clock and, yes, it is still working some weeks later.
Contrary to popular belief, living in the south west of France in the wintertime is not all a bed of roses as far as the temperature is concerned. I can, and does, get quite cold here especially as we live on a plateau up beside the chateau. With this thought in mind I decided to remove a large storage heater from the spare room on the top floor and bring it down to our sejour (day room and kitchen combined). The reasoning behind this was the heater was a bit of overkill for the small bedroom and it would be far more usefully employed downstairs giving a bit of background heat before the wood-burning stove got up to speed. With this plan in mind I moved, slid, the heater to the top of the stairs in order to take the bricks out and disassemble it before moving it downstairs. Armed with a screwdriver I started to take the panels off the heater, unfortunately it decided to have a life of its own at this point and with the pressure I had applied it started to slide down the stairs. Those of you who know about these things will understand that these heaters are very heavy. I later discovered it is about 200 kilos. With the speed and velocity of a steam train the runaway heater took me with it despite my totally futile attempts to stop its progress. Halfway down the stairs it turned upside down embedding itself in the wall at the bottom. In addition it had embedded my left hand in between. Ouch!
Somehow I managed to remove myself from this and took stock of the situation, and my injuries. I was half trapped with an upside down heater in the wall; I had severe bruising and a very large gash of missing flesh on my left hand. Climbing awkwardly over the obstacle and applying some first aid to my arm I went to sit down in a slight state of shock at the events. After an hour or two I realised that I had no alternative but to try and take the bricks out and remove the heater. This was tackled with the stepladders, a screwdriver and one sore arm in a sling. After an hour or so the mission was accomplished, albeit somewhat painfully, but the bricks and the carcase of the heater were downstairs. It was at this point that I weighed one of the bricks, 8 kilos and there are 18 of them! All that remains for me to do now is heal and then wire it in to the right electrical circuit. After all this nonsense I realised that my watch had been smashed, it had probably saved me from more serious injury, but it does make the working clock on the Mairie much more useful!
As I have mentioned before, I drive a Fiat Tipo, which, apart from some very minor problems, has been a great success until a couple of weeks ago. The day before Fiona was due to arrive home from Scotland it decided to stop completely. No amount of coaxing would get any sign of life out of it; fortunately I was only about a kilometre away from the garage so I walked along to get some assistance. Once I was towed in they started to have a look at what was wrong. An electrical fault in the form of a microchip in the ignition, "not to panic" the garage said "we will get a new part by tomorrow" "only - an hour to fit". Relieved that I would be able to pick up Fiona from the station the next evening I went home to have a glass of wine. On phoning the garage the next day I was told that as the car was Italian it was going to take a day or so to get the part. Panic started to come into play when I realised that Fiona was coming to Brive some 40 kms away in another 4 hours - how was I going to pick her up? She was on the train by this time and totally out of contact. While pondering whom I could get to help, I saw my neighbour, Renee, loading her car and went to ask her if she was able to assist. By good fortune (not for her though) she was going to a funeral in that direction and would be happy to collect Fiona from the station. When Fiona eventually arrived home she found me injured with my arm in a sling, a rather sad and slightly bent storage heater in the middle of the floor, a large gash in the wall in the top stairway, the house in a slight state of chaos and, of course, no car. I got the feeling that she was not amused.
On phoning the garage I was told that the required part was still not available and that it would be Friday at least before I could have it back. A lot of insinuation that if I had bought a French car, not Italian, it would have been no problem. They also failed to mention which Friday but then it is France! The wrong part was sent the following week, it turns out that I have a slightly unusual model of Tipo, I got the car back last week some 10 days after the breakdown but at least it was on a Friday!
Rural France, I love it.
© Barry Paton. Nov 2002 email@example.com
It is not by accident that I call my production business Full Moon Productions. I chose the name because strange things seem to happen around the time of a full moon and I thought it might bring me luck. Well, I don't know about the luck bit, but I recently had the strange things reconfirmed to me in October. Just as one of the most glorious full moons that I have ever seen was beginning to wax, starting very low in the evening sky over the hills behind the Chateau, glowing orange with wisps of cloud passing, my computer began to behave very strangely. It apparently had got some sort of bug in it and refused to connect properly and allow me to access certain things. After several hours of trying to sort out the problem I began to realise that it was something more serious than normal and decided to take up the offer from a friend and neighbour (4 kms away in France is a neighbour!) to upgrade to Windows 98. He had earlier this year upgraded to 2000 and had the installation for 98 left over. Carefully backing everything up, so I thought, I then got rid of everything on the hard disk and started the installation from scratch, all seemed to go well after a few false starts, and the system was back up and running well. At least until I tried to connect to the internet.
Could I get the modem configured correctly? No, of course not. The computer refused to recognise it totally and I tried everything that I could think of, so much so that I spent all night tearing what is left of my hair out. All this time I was feeling a bit low and slightly feverish, not sleeping well, hot and cold flushes and full of aches and pains. However, a couple of days later I phoned another friend and neighbour who came round to help but to no avail, after a few hours he left me to re-install everything again. At 2pm I was beginning to feel extremely unwell and collapsed en route to the toilet. Dragging myself to my bed where I sweated and froze alternately, finally falling asleep. I woke up 3 days later feeling a bit like Rip van Winkle and not knowing what day (or week) it was. The cat, of course, was not impressed with this sort of care and as Fiona was away in Scotland teaching for 6 weeks, no one was there to feed her. All this time the full moon was shining ever so brightly through my bedroom window. Still very shaky and ill I ignored the computer for several days despite the fact that our business relies totally on the internet and e-mail. 10 days later I managed to struggle into Sarlat and the computer shop. Within 24 hours they had it up and running again for the princely sum of 23 Euros. On returning the computer to its usual place under the desk and connecting everything up I tried to connect to my server. Not this time either! Going onto their helpline and receiving several different solutions I finally found someone who knew exactly what to do and he led me by the hand through the setup procedure (they had changed all the parameters without letting customers know) and eventually was connected. Phew! Then came over 450 e-mails, which took over an hour to download. Not an offer of work or bookings came in between the porn, spam and viruses that is inevitable with e-mails. In the meantime over 2 weeks the full moon had waxed and waned over the sleepy village of Salignac, in fact the village had gone to sleep, the cafe had closed for their two weeks holiday, the hotel has closed for the winter, the clocks had gone back and I had lost a fortnight. Now beginning to feel a little bit better I then discovered that the car battery was flat but, then, that's another story.
All Saints Day to you. A national holiday here in France and coming in Halloween week I should have known. Needless to say that I had totally forgotten about this and that all shops, banks and virtually everything else are closed. The cemeteries aren't, though, with massive amounts of flower sellers outside them. Not a great deal of use however, when all I have in the fridge is one egg, some Camembert and no cat food. To compound this fact I was down to my last 10 ?uros, I did have plenty of other cash but in the form of sterling but nowhere to change it! With the cat looking at me dismayingly for my bad management I decided that I had no alternative but to drive to Sarlat (another 20 mile round trip), at least I knew that if the worst came to the worst, the local petrol station stocked a very basic level of provisions. Getting in to Sarlat I found my worst fears were confirmed. Everything was closed!
Anyway, off to the petrol station, which is run by a delightful friendly family who I made friends with some years ago at least it was the prospect of some food, however minimal. Not a place to go for cheap prices mind you but in this case served the need. Armed with a tin of cat food (which costs more than a bottle of wine in our village!) a tin of ravioli, 1 litre of milk and a bottle of wine - a necessity in my case I set of home. The cat was still looking slightly disapprovingly at me when I came in the door but cheered up a bit when she saw a tin come out of the bag. Mind you, when I opened it and gave her some she just had a nibble at it and then went and sat on the rug at my desk. I think this behaviour is because she has not forgiven me for sending Fiona to Scotland for six weeks! It's all my fault you see.
At least the shops and banks are open tomorrow and I can have a boiled egg for breakfast before venturing out to see what else befalls me.
Rural France? ? I love it.
©Barry Paton Nov 2002
I have just returned from a location shoot in Geneva, a city that really disappointed me on this visit because of all the graffiti that seems to be everywhere. I was staying in one of the international chain of hotels which despite all comforts offered, I always find these hotels as being rather soulless and lacking in any warmth. You get the feeling that you could almost be in any city in the world. Also, hideously expensive.
So is Geneva!
On my drive there my car decided to do what it often does when going somewhere important, to develop a sort of stutter. This annoying fault has been with the car since I got it last year but every time I take it to the garage it disappears, a bit like having toothache which goes away when you go to the dentist! One of these days I shall get to the bottom of it. Apart from that the trip was uneventful (unlike the filming which was beset with technical problems ? but that is another story) and it was nice to travel across France in glorious weather through many of the famous wine growing areas. A pleasant change from sleepy Salignac. However after a week of hectic filmmaking, it was a very tight schedule, and I was ready to return. This I had to do alone as my assistant, Jerome had to go to Paris instead of returning with me. Jerome is just about to have a book published and had to go and see his publisher about some last minute changes. Setting off from Geneva at lunchtime I travelled through some very typically Scottish weather conditions, all four seasons in one day! After a relatively uneventful trip I arrived home in Salignac at 10pm to a most needed welcoming glass of wine.
Salignac has seen quite a few changes in the last month as the 12th century convent, which is just up the street from us, has been sold and we wait to see what the new owners will do with it. Madame Hutin, who was the owner, decided to sell and move into a more modern house some 20 miles away near Terrasson. As she is now in her seventies, this seemed a more sensible option. The convent is a very large, draughty and rambling building, cold in the winter but very full of character as I am sure that you can imagine. Her sons totally disapprove of this move, however. We shall miss her as a neighbour. On the other side of our courtyard we have a new neighbour though. Anthony, a totally charming lad who works in The Café de la Place, has taken over the house next door. This house had been empty for some months