Flaming June

Added on Saturday 16 Jul 2005

June has been such an extraordinary month here in 'sleepy Salignac' that it is difficult for me to know where to start. However, here goes -

One evening a few weeks ago Valerie, our neighbour, Fiona and myself were sitting on the wall opposite the house sipping a glass of wine or two and trying to get some air as it had been so hot during the day. At about midnight we went inside and shortly afterwards we heard a loud 'Whoosh'.

Photo: fire building.Looking outside we saw flames coming through the roof of the house opposite, immediately we phoned the fire service and then I rushed to move my car which was parked just beside it, I then started to take some photographs of the blaze which by this time had really started to take hold. I was concerned about some gas bottles that I new were in the house and Valerie went into her house to wake up her children and evacuate them out of danger, while I made sure that all our windows were open in case of a blast. By good fortune both the owner of the house and his neighbour were away that night. Within 20 minutes the entire house was ablaze and when the fire trucks arrived in about a further 10 minutes it was all burning ferociously. The nearest fire station is 30 kms away so they were pretty quick at getting to the scene and were incredibly efficient in tackling the blaze with water cannons mounted on a lift type vehicle, searching neighbouring houses for anyone inside and making sure that everyone was at a safe distance.

Photo: fire. As a news person I have covered many fires in my time but I have never seen one take such a quick hold and, as I later discovered from the date/time stamp on my digital camera, it only took about 20 minutes from the first sight of flames to when it was a raging inferno with the entire building engulfed. However, the fire service took about 4 hours to get it all under control. The following morning, as the owner was in tears at seeing his house destroyed, the insurance assessor and the Gendarme investigation team arrived and I showed them the photographs that I had taken. They both asked for copies, which I put on a floppy disk for the insurance assessor but the gendarmes transferred them on to a USB key, which he then put into his laptop.

It was the first time I had ever seen one of these in action and it has now become top of my 'must have' wish list! Fiona and I have felt desperately sorry for the owner, as he had spent the last three years carefully restoring the property where he was brought up. All very sad.

Motoring Problems

Some weeks ago the Gendarmes on motorbikes in the nearby village of St Genies stopped me when I was going for my cigars. The reason I was there is that the local tabac in Salignac closes for three weeks in June and St Genies is the nearest one to us. In the process of checking my documents for the car it turned out that some of the papers were out of date and I had to regularise the situation by going to the sous prefecture and applying for new ones, getting a new controle technique (MOT) taking these to the Brigade Motorise (the traffic police). This proved to be something of an ordeal as they are located in an obscure part of Sarlat, where the office was not open, even though it should have been, and they had a speaker phone which connected us to Perigreux some 60 kms away, which was not a lot of use! Returning the next day after phoning to make an appointment, we went into the office, which was in total darkness to be confronted by a very officious gendarme who took all my papers and photocopied them to be put in a file. I have also had to get a French driving licence as I have committed an 'infraction' as they call it here and may have to have some points deducted from it. We do not yet know if this will be the case, so we just wait and see.

The week after the fire Fiona and Valerie witnessed a very nasty accident involving an English couple. On their first day of their holiday they had turned out of a side road and he had unconsciously driven on the left hand side at a bend and slammed head on into a French car. At this time of the year this sort of accident is very common on French roads. Both of them were very seriously injured and Fiona and Valerie helped with the translation between the gendarmes and the para-medics before they were taken to hospital in Sarlat. A few days later we went into the hospital to see how they were and to offer any help that they needed. Getting his property, suitcases, glasses and their documents back from the gendarmes proved to be a little time consuming as no one seemed to know where they were, however we eventually traced them to the Gendarmerie in Sarlat, bought him an adapter for his mobile phone and a suitcase for all the other bits and pieces that were in his car which was a total write-off. Both of them are progressing slowly from their injuries and hope to be flown back to England very soon. We wish them both a speedy recovery.

In the same week we were in Bergerac to attend a court case involving a friend of ours who was caught drink driving with 3 times over the limit. We drove him through and also wanted to support him at the trial. After a slow start to the proceedings, we watched in amazement at the theatre that is French law. All very impressive! He was very worried that he was going to get a prison term, as this was not the first time that he has been caught. However after a very severe dressing down by the lady judge lasting about half an hour during which time she said that he deserved a bronze medal for the amount of alcohol and that 5pm was ?not a Christian hour to be drinking?. The final result was that he was banned for ten months and the threat of six months in prison if he ever did it again. Lucky Alain! All very extraordinary.

Oh! And by the way, one of our cats produced another two kittens this morning. Any one want a kitten?

Rural France? I love it.
Barry Paton ? July 2005