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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.

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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.

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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. 

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Endurance, ensemble

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.

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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.

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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.

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Mademoiselle Marple

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.

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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.

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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.

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Devoirs

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.

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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. 

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Starting Out

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.

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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. 

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Retail Therapy

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.

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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.

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Splash

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.

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La Rentrée

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Trivial Pursuit

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.

 

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Radar love

…’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. 

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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.

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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.

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Flashing lights

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.

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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.

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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.

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Les Vacances

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. 

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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.

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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.

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Leave it!

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. 

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Multiplicity

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.

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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’

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Mr. B

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. 

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Trois Choses

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.

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Shrivel

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). 

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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.

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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.

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Indomitable Gauls

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’.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Monday Monday

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.

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Alphabet soup

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.

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1968

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.

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Le Parking

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.

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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.

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OMG

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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