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La Porte Blogs

If you'd like to read more about buying property in the Dordogne, Lot et Garonne and the Lot, about some of our interesting houses, or about life in general in our beautiful area – practical and quirky – then please read our blogs.

 

No man’s land

Across the post-Christmas, toy strewn wasteland, a truce is declared. Trench warfare began almost immediately after pere Noël left, and with the family's bruises beginning to blossom, a white flag is raised and waved from behind the sofa. The magazine of his new, automatic fire Nerf gun empty, number 2 son now has no option other than to come outside and muck out the fields. The mountain of lego, dvd's and assorted presents have all had a serious workout (unlike you and your rapidly expanding waistline) – so it's time to leave behind the mince pies and brave the world beyond wi fi and yet another Sky movie.

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Exit through the gift shop

Like rings in a tree, your life will be marked with special events. Your first day at big school, a stolen kiss behind the bike sheds and learning the inadvisability of drinking luke warm Cinzano (possibly all in the same week) amongst some of the most memorable.

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Intense dressage training in 4 easy (!) steps

I worked out a long time ago that to compete in France, you have to try everything - often at short notice. So when a friend found there was a dressage competition just a week away, she asked if I wanted to go. 'Of course' I said – 'it's just Sunny I'm not so sure about!' So intense training needs to start straight away - and instead of being slightly "hippy" and riding him bitless, step one involves popping his snaffle bit in his mouth.

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Mid life crisis

Decades past, it’s likely you took for granted the benefits of youth, free bed and board and the advantages of a robust bladder. Blissfully unaware that your adult life would be perpetually impoverished (your bank balance a victim of fast women, slow horses and school fees), instead - and in between worrying about your supply of Clearasil and getting served at the pub - you’d have stared enviously from the seat of your Mini as some exotic two door soft top blasted by. One day, you thought, that’ll be me.

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Le style Francais

Once off home turf, adjusting to a new country and its decorative quirks can present a challenge - and it's all too easy to be judgmental. So remember as you head south to la belle France that, unlike at home, not everyone has access to a lovely little Farrow & Ball shop round the corner (nor indeed its neighbouring brace of antique emporia – themselves staffed by interchangeable Annabellas who, when not applying yet more lippy, spend their time writing out extortionate prices on bijou monogrammed labels). 

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“Butterfly, butterfly, butterfly”

Having recently joined the Centre Equestre du Pays Beaumontois (CEPB) (http://cepb.free.fr/ ) with some other étrangères, we're all benefiting from the help and support provided by a great equestrian centre. We have always been welcome in the past at competitions and events, but now have become a real part of the CEPB family.

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Fit tab A into slot B

Congratulations. Despite La Poste's best efforts to destroy it, your parcel – somewhat dented but otherwise intact - has arrived. Hidden beneath layers of bubble wrap sits an exciting new electronic thingy, covered in buttons and ports into which other devices get plugged – and which only your kids and wife understand. Nevertheless, it is (apparently) the apogee of cutting edge technology and will not only render every other bit of multimedia kit you've bought redundant, but will ensure that your otherwise meaningless existence will once again become worthwhile. So far, so thrilling - but when the bloody thing won't start and you have to resort to the user manual, you remember that it came from a French on line retailer – and the fun really starts.

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Dunromin

Modern life is complicated. Your existence seems driven by remembering an ever increasing list of passwords and four digit bank codes (or, if you’re sufficiently decrepit, writing them all down -the list of which your kids then find and use to supplement their pocket money). An innocent trip au supermarche is monitored by a corporate main frame, your driving habits (& occasional infractions) overseen by untold numbers of cctv cameras and your credit history fastidiously checked by faceless agencies. And, just about everywhere in Europe, your address is super specific too – all the better for the legions of google street mapping cars to zoom in and share with the world your overflowing wheelie bin, peeling paintwork or unkempt front lawn.

Except, that is, in rural France.

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Give us this day; 2

It’s early on a November morning, and an autumn mist has settled on the village square. The arcade on the far side is barely visible, and your rather optimistic choice of attire (T shirt, shorts and crocs) is proving a might chilly. Happily though, the lights of your favourite boulangerie are now in sight. Pushing the door open, you’re embraced by a blast of oven hot air - and the prospect of a pastry based breakfast is surely just moments away.

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An evening wander

At the end of a busy day at the coalface (or laptop), what better way to unwind than with a swift half at the bar. Problem is, like most of life’s better things, there’s a catch. Somewhat unfairly, beer  = calories = an ever expanding waistline - and bearing in mind your better half’s disapproval of the idea in the first place, perhaps better to head straight home, ditch your grown up clothes, find some wellies and hounds and head for the fields.

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Tennis at last!

Some of you will have already discovered the wonder that is Decathlon - for those who haven’t, share with me for a moment the rosy athletic glow it gives.  The first thing that strikes you about the stores are rows and rows of brightly coloured sports ‘things’, nearly every activity with its own area, each changing according to the season . Best of all, if you buy something that’s the wrong size or faulty, they’ll actually give an immediate cash or credit card refund; everywhere else you go, this always involves a long wait and an even longer argument. And when it was offered, I had to ask a few times if I’d understood correctly – and I had. Love at first shop!

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Spreading your wings

Education. By and large, a good thing. If you’re of a certain vintage - and struggle to download a bestseller to your tablet - you’ll remember instead school bookshops and the page flicking pleasure of a freshly minted paperback (for readers under 20, imagine something like a bendy i pad which doesn’t need batteries - and for which you won’t get mugged). And even if the latest arrivals on the shelves didn’t grab you, some titles were required reading – amongst which was Catch 22. Long winded, self indulgent and pretty indigestible, it’s also become shorthand for the irresolvable. 

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Better safe than sorry!

Having just moved into your new French home, there’ll be a thousand and one things to do and see. But using the ‘hope for the best – prepare for the worst’ principal, we recommend to our clients to find out about any emergency services they think they may need. This may sound dramatic, but we have been in the situation when an emergency call out was needed in the middle of the night - and it helps to be prepared.

 

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Viewings ; 1

Dear Abigail – how nice to hear from you again. Yes, our day together was certainly quite an adventure, and I’m glad you’ve made it home in one piece. As you say, it was a shame that Mme Dufos neglected to tie up the dog, and it’s good to hear that Toby’s responding well to the antibiotics (and that the scar is less prominent than first feared). I’m sure that in years to come it’ll provide an interesting subject of conversation with his girlfriends (who are, of course, likely to be the only ones to see it).

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Partnership

The annual Endurance competition in Monpazier is a big horsey event, attracting competitors from all over Europe and beyond. Over a three day period, the town’s racecourse is crammed with trailers, lorries and 4x4‘s – the latter flying all over the place as they « crew » their rider. With little warning, horses appear from woodland paths onto local country lanes, taking the briefest of breathers as crew members jump into action with water for horse and rider. Then off they go again, leaving a collection of empty water bottles and slightly soggy helpers, who then pile into their truck and head for the next check point with water bottles refilled.

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Trop vite

Juggling day to day commitments is tricky, with weeks and even months often passing by in a blur - and despite the best of intentions, time trickles through your fingers unheeded. And as age and gravity takes its inevitable toll on various bits of your anatomy, another new school term begins - so what better time to take stock. Throughout France the rentree is a red letter day, not least since most of the kids have spent the last two months running around in 30° heat and, being in universal rude health (& possibly bored with being away from their pals), they actually turn up. 

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Name and shame

In an uncertain world, it’s nice to know that at least a few things will forever remain the same; a given quantity of beer will always bestow a sense of wellbeing and an inability to explain your late return home; there’s an inversely proportional relationship between how important people tell you they are and the reality and, of course, your address will stay as it now is though the millennia to come. Unless you live in a small French town, when it won’t.

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Machine for living

Squirrel like, you’ve horded stuff for years, and what used to be a comfortably commodious home in the French countryside is now reduced to a warren of corridors between piles of little used furniture, books and heirlooms (ie. largely useless bric a brac your mum foisted on you and will check you’ve still got when she comes on her annual trip). Selfishly, your children have grown too and now need proper beds and somewhere they can leave toys, unwashed clothes, discarded school books and unidentifiable detritus that you’d only handle while wearing industrial strength marigolds.

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Give us this day...

Part of the fun of moving to a new country is in embracing all that it offers - and spending endless hours beforehand planning your new life abroad. Needless to say, practical day-to-day stuff dominates (schools, health care, can you get ‘Neighbours’ on freeview - et al), even if it’s just a modest hop across the channel to la belle France.

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Black Saturday

Just as some Brits seem incapable of grasping various life skills which nos amis Francais handle with ease – drinking without fighting, penalty shoot outs, grammar and an appreciation that money isn’t everything amongst them, so our French cousins struggle with a thing or two themselves. Over complicated sink plugs which cease to function the moment the plumber’s fitted your new bathroom, chequebook stubs which run horizontally (rather than vertically) and fall out, cricket, edible sliced bread – and the realisation that if the entire population leave for their summer holidays at exactly the same moment, the motorway network will grind to a standstill.

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Enquiries 4 ;

to;  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dear Terry – thank you for your email. Of course I remember your early 80’s sitcom ‘Oops, Missus’ and its highly amusing racial stereotypes – pure comedy gold, I’m sure. I understand that you have now signed a deal with ITV 7+1 for a compilation repeat series, and in anticipation of the resulting royalties are looking to invest in property in our part of France.

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Wonky bobs

Having spent months strimming back brambles, weeds and the rest of the jungle, you realise that your hair - unlike your land - is now quite wild, and it’s time to find a hairdresser.  In our previous small village there was one coiffeur who seemed to cut everyone’s hair - a very friendly guy who, having done a good job with the boy’s barnets, assured me he was also used to "doing" ladies styles.  So, off I went with my little phrase book and all the words (layers, fringe, thinning) I imagined I’d need for having a haircut.

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Flush

It’s human nature not to dwell on the less attractive, but nevertheless unavoidable aspects of existence - death, taxes, politicians, that stupid background music as you scroll through the sky tv listings – and drains. Given that only larger French villages are blessed with the luxury of mains sewers, your choice to live out in the sticks means a previous blissful ignorance of where your effluent ends up is about to change.

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Long Sprint

been a keen runner for many years and spurred on by my brother's success in a half marathon, I thought it was time to leave the horses at home and try a 10 km trail race ('just a long sprint' according to said brother - right!)

A friend of mine is a successful marathon and triathlon competitor, and she gave me some pointers and lots of encouragement. It seems competing in a running race is so much easier than doing anything with the horses – you just get a medical certificate and that's it. No need to join a club, enter a week before, pack the 4 x 4 to the roof and spend hours getting your horse ready. 

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A little knowledge

And it was all going so well. Having spent what seemed like an eternity finding your rural idyll (or barely standing and borderline habitable wreck, depending on your point of view) and with keys now in hand, you're desperate to start work on it. You've sketched out plans, your local building equipe is ready to go (bank holidays, ponts and other half finished jobs notwithstanding) and, of a late Autumn morning, work starts. By the time the sun has burned through the Gauloise infused mist, half the roof has disappeared, and by lunchtime the frames for the new skylights are already in place. Happy with progress, you wave a cheery farewell and start the long drive home.

 

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Summertime,…………….

.......and (if you have land) the living isn't always easy. But, like money, beer and dogs, you can't have too much of it – especially if you've got a posse of fat & perennially hungry horses to feed. And if you're lucky enough to have a field or two which you can keep Trigger and his pals out of during the spring, you'll be able to cut your own hay. Depending on how much rain God has chosen to provide and how much the grass has grown (and it varies hugely – bone dry for months in 2012, when fodder prices soared - and torrents of the stuff this year, making it difficult to harvest) this can save you a small fortune – and also means you can keep an eye out for (and pull up) ragwort – innocent looking enough, but potentially deadly when dried & baled.

 

 

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Le Kermesse

It's only a handful of weeks since the last school holiday and, whoopee – the next one is now just days away. Great. From the kids point of view, French trimestres - like ticks on a buffalo's backside - are but minor irritants, punctuating the calendar year and interrupting an otherwise blissful existence. For their parents, the yawning gaps in between school terms serve only to remind them that they chose the wrong profession - and how the hell they're going to fill the next 10 weeks.

 

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Enquiries 3 ;

Dear Sky, Topsy and Ziggy – thank you for your email (which, as requested, I haven’t printed out - and yes, I’m sure mother nature will reward me in my next incarnation). I understand that your father, the 3rd Earl, has – as you so delicately put it – snuffed it. I note your other comments as to his passing, and whilst you were clearly dismayed when he eloped with the under footman, it seems his will – and final act of largesse – has proved him to be suitably repentant.

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Best friend forever

You now have your perfect – well, near perfect, French home. The move went surprisingly smoothly, and now it’s time to explore more of the area. Walking is a fantastic way to see the countryside and villages, and most communes have signposted walks - maps of which you can get in the local tourist office. I’ve always thought walking without a dog was like having ice cream without a cone.... pointless! Dogs are great companions - they don't moan that it is uphill or too rocky or when you stop to look at the amazing view for the 10th time, and happily go wherever you go. And are always your best friend forever – your BFF

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Enquiries 2 ;

Dear Svaarl / Colin – thank you for your email. You’ll have to forgive the informality, but your address This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  was a little confusing – and Mr Destroyer didn’t seem quite right. Anyway, I understand that you are looking for a property in our area. Ideally this would be a ruined castle, complete with battlements, drawbridge, moat and dungeons. As far as I’m aware, there’s an almost total absence of trolls, orks, goblins and wizards in the vicinity, but not being an expert on the subject, would defer to others.

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Barefoot and booted

Years ago we had problems with one of our horse's feet. He had 'side bone' - a cartilage in his hoof had ossified, and this caused it to lose some of its shock absorbing abilities. The vet recommended Jacqueline Stensrod - a barefoot trimmer (not a shoeless farrier!). Jackie is a fantastic lady who's also extremely well qualified and experienced – and she performed a minor miracle on Chico's feet, slowly returning them to his natural shape. And within just three short months he was showing no sign of lameness.

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Enquiries ; 1

Dear Mrs Buckshott – thank you for your lengthy and informative email. I was sorry to read of your husband’s demise - but, as you say, a 50 inch waistline and a passion for microlight flying rarely make good bedfellows. That all 3 of your husbands have met with unfortunate accidents is tremendously bad luck – I suppose it’s some slight compensation that each left you well provided for. And, of course, good luck with number 4!

 

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Scary stuff

So, the time has come to take the next step and ride Ras at a competition on my own – this time without 3 ‘bodyguards’ to protect us!

First, a solo practise was needed. Not completely alone (if you can count the company of a slightly hung over teenager), we set off into the distance with just the sounds of the birds, the footfalls of Ras and the moans of pain from our accompanier; past the wild dogs, the savage ducks, the life threatening logs piled up ready to fall onto us, we made it back to base. Not the fastest time ever though – our pace having been dictated by a certain person now lying on the floor, pleading starvation and a continuing headache!

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Transports of delight

Felicitations. After a seemingly endless search, you’ve found your French idyll. The paperwork complete and your wallet suitably lightened, the family, dogs and nags are at last happily ensconced. And now you realise the flaw in your otherwise perfect plan.

Outside the yard lie endless acres of fields – most of which were left untouched by the previous incumbent, his father (& his father before him) for decades.

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Ribbit

Those of you with a penchant for early 70’s horror will recall ‘Frogs’. For everyone else - whose early teen years were no doubt spent more profitably - this low budget movie involved Ray Milland, an isolated bayou mansion and a hoard of mutant amphibians. Naturellement, it didn’t end well for the two legged cast and was, in truth, fairy dire - and I’d managed to file the whole thing under forgettable trivia for years.

But taking the pack for their final night time wander last week, it all came back to me.

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Low Flying Hooves

Shortly into your new life in the French countryside, you’ll quickly become acquainted with merde. More than just the default gros mot for adults and children alike, it’s an integral part of farming and a genuinely organic alternative to artificial fertilisers. You’ll also learn that while donkeys, mules and nicely brought up ponies will deposit their leavings in the same spot, horses and cattle won’t – and indeed delight in being as random with their night soil as possible.

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Brown stuff

Shortly into your new life in the French countryside, you’ll quickly become acquainted with merde. More than just the default gros mot for adults and children alike, it’s an integral part of farming and a genuinely organic alternative to artificial fertilisers. You’ll also learn that while donkeys, mules and nicely brought up ponies will deposit their leavings in the same spot, horses and cattle won’t – and indeed delight in being as random with their night soil as possible.

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Blue van man

Horse trailers are a common sight in France, and when you go to a competition you’ll see dozens – of all shapes and sizes. A few scary looking narrow ones (and some with suspiciously rotten looking floors) somehow make it there intact, but most of the randomly parked vans (French for horse trailer) are pretty smart.

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Hard Work

Other than the offspring of Arab potentates, and like it or not, most of us spend a fair chunk of our lives at work. Spanning those years between sponging off mum and dad and latterly trying to remember your grand children's names and where you left your glasses, lie decades of graft. All the more reason then to try it whilst still at school – if only to find out what couldn't bear doing for five minutes, let alone forty years.

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Noises off

A generation or two ago, when sizeable chunks of the globe were still defiantly and colonially pink, folk had more of an appetite for heroic fare. And movies based in the more far flung corners of the world invariably centered on stiff upper lipped types getting nervous, encircled and eventually speared by the locals - and usually began with a campfire conversation along the lines of ‘it’s quiet, too damn quiet’.

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Au Stade

Of a winter’s Sunday afternoon and weather regardless, the great and good of Monpazier de camp to the rugby ground. Given that kick off is at 3 o’clock (or thereabouts, depending on the punctuality of the ref), it’s a bit of a rush for most as lunchtime has to be trimmed to an unnaturally brisk couple of hours. Fortunately though, it’s only a short walk, and having had the chance to digest a four course lunch (and the accompanying bottle or two of red) the crowd arrive in good voice.

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Woodman, spare that tree

Summer’s long gone, the swallows have fled south and it’s getting a wee bit chilly at night. Given that it was bloody hot for months and even the first half of Autumn was agreeably warm, the last thing on your mind was firing up the dusty wood burner lurking in the corner of the room – which actually needs a damn good clean. So, in blissful ignorance of the volume of soot and half finished bird’s nests that await, you assess the job as one of the 5 minute variety and gleefully ram your somewhat tired chimney brush up the tube.

 

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Au revoir et Bienvenue ; part 3

Two days into your new life in France and the house is still a bombsite. Almost every room is crammed with as yet unopened boxes and the remains of hastily scoffed meals litter the kitchen - much to the delight of the resident mice, who are hugely grateful and well aware that you’ve yet to acquire a cat. And thanks to the constant stream of welcoming (and desperately nosey) neighbours turning up on your doorstep, you now know the entire history of the farm - though in truth are getting a little tired of the endless puffed out cheeks and low whistles which accompany each visit.

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Au revoir et Bienvenue ; part 2

It’s been an eventful journey. Having waved goodbye to relatives various and successfully negotiated the M25, the fun started when you let the dogs out for a final wander on British soil. Scampering around the back of the last service station before Ashford, both found something uniquely disgusting to roll in and the next 20 minutes were spent trying to clean them off – using up your entire supply of bottled water and kitchen towel in the process. Then south of Paris, sometime in the early hours of the morning and more than a little bleary eyed, you half filled the petrol tank with diesel – then had to siphon it out. With your wallet unnecessarily lighter and the lingering stink of gasoil in your nose and mouth, the autoroute kilometres thereafter glided by and all seemed well.

 

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Au revoir et bienvenue ; part 1

The removals lorry has been blocking the road outside your front door for three hours, and neighbours are getting a tad miffed at having to find an alternative route to the shops. The driver and his lads deal with this on a daily basis, and for them it’s water off a canard’s back - as is driving through the night to France to then unload the whole lot again.  For you however, the excitement of heading off to your new vie francais is morphing into panic as you’ve still got a thousand things to squeeze into the remaining space.

 

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Unhinged

Having decided to invest your hard earned into some French bricks and mortar, you spend many a happy hour scrolling through a thousand property websites. Stumbling upon the odd chateau, you linger lovingly over the photos and ignore the muffled squeals coming from your wallet. You can already picture the crunchy gravel, the peacocks strutting across the manicured lawns and the oohs and ahhs of your family and friends as they arrive. And whilst all of this is harmless (and free) fun, it’s time for a quick reality check.

 

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It’s grammar, innit

For those of you subjected to state education in 1960’s Britain and whose children are working their way through the modern French equivalent, good luck. Not for them a bunch of groovily shirted and frequently braless teachers, happy to ignore traditional teaching methods and instead into free expression, roll ups and the occasional half hearted riot. Man. Mais non – for all the frustrations of le system Francais (no one turning up if there’s a hint of snow, scary dinner ladies and an aversion to streaming kids according to their ability), they’re deeply into grammar.

 

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Also available en blanc

It’s Monday rush hour, and despite the fact that you left home at some ungodly pre dawn hour, you’re still stuck in the slow lane of the motorway watching both your fellow work bound lemmings and a stream of enormous artics creeping past. Comme d’hab. To pass the time, you call the ‘how am I driving’ freephone number on the back of the nearest lorry and report that, as of 6.30am, the answer is surprisingly well. Head south over the channel though, and it’s a different story.

 

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Caution; Horse and rider

Having not lived in the UK for 12 years, I’ve got used to the small amount of traffic on French country roads and taken it for granted – until a situation makes you aware of it again and you realise how lucky you are.

As I’ve previously blogged, "Ras"- my young Arab horse - can now be ridden, and he needs to get out and about to see new things.  I was slightly apprehensive about taking him out on the roads, as although most people slow down, a lot of locals know my other big bay horse ‘Sunny’ and that he isn't bothered by anything.

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Component parts

Nos amis Francais are frugal types with their cuisine and loath wasting anything remotely edible – occasionally resulting in some peculiar stuff ending up on your plate. In order to render the more obscure dishes palatable, they’ve also become adept at masking the taste and texture of amphibians, garden wildlife and the internal workings of anything foolish enough to wander into the path of a shotgun. And given that you’re destined to spend your adult life digesting much of this, where better to find how it all works than at primary school.

 

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Bump

Somewhere deep in the bowels of ITV, hidden away on a dusty shelf are episodes of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). For those of you who don’t remember, the private detective and his ghostly ex partner outwitted baddies various and worked out of a traditional gumshoe’s office, complete with an acid etched glass door. Not hugely relevant perhaps, but from this mental clutter came a solution to a particular problem au bureau – namely our plate glass door.

 

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Version Original

The pantry’s damn near empty, the dishwasher is claiming overtime pay and all that pere noel so kindly delivered has been opened, played with and spread around every corner of the house. The dogs have been walked endlessly, dead stuff in the garden chopped down, horses moved to a drier field and a hundred hours of tv repeats absorbed. So as the new school term looms large, it’s time for a rare trip au cinema.

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