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Fumbling About In The Dordogne

The Start Of The Adventure

By Derrick and Sally Rand

Copyright 2017 Derrick and Sally Rand

All Rights Reserved

ISBN: 978-2-9560443-1-4


This book is dedicated with love and gratitude to a couple we met when we were young and who introduced us to the joys of France.

He had fought all his life against ill health and this book was started as an email diary to amuse him during his last battle.

About the Authors

Just a normal and frankly fairly boring couple in their fifties, thankfully saved from becoming even more normal and boring by Sal’s re-kindled sense of adventure.

About the Characters

The characters and events in the book are real but because of the nature of some of the events their names have been changed.

Even those that we met in our routine life have had their names changed to save any guilt by association.

Table of Contents

Introduction. She tempted me.

Chapter 1. The start of the folly.

Chapter 2. Everything in France is better?

Chapter 3. The welcoming party.

Chapter 4. They eat horses?

Chapter 5. Three in a bed – well almost.

Chapter 6. Like a butterfly.

Chapter 7. Condoms and fleas.

Chapter 8. White spirit.

Chapter 9. The dungeon at Chateau Pompette.

Chapter 10. The dompteuse.

Chapter 11. Le mélangisme.

Chapter 12. Electric Blue.

Chapter 13. Progress?

Chapter 14. Saint Valentine.

Chapter 15. Raclette.

Chapter 16. Cravate de notaire.

Chapter 17. Goodbye hygienist, welcome male cows.

Chapter 18. William the Conqueror.

Chapter 19. France – Just the good bits.

Chapter 20. Jumping potatoes and the meaning of life.

Chapter 21. Amusing biscuits.

Chapter 22. Del’s sword.

Chapter 23. The Genius.

Chapter 24. My little whore in France.

Chapter 25. A rich man's Southend on Sea.

Chapter 26. La Récompense.

Chapter 27. Del’s Language Academy.

Chapter 28. Toboggan run.

Chapter 29. Pissos and Sore.

Chapter 30. Georges.

Chapter 31. Pour mon cheri.

Chapter 32. L'heure de l'apéritif.

Chapter 33. Le jour du poisson.

Chapter 34. Le Grand Large.

Chapter 35. Poor Jason.

Chapter 36. Poor Sal.

Chapter 37. Couilles de chien.

Chapter 38. Casse croûte.

Chapter 39. Bon anniversaire.

Chapter 40. Petit gris.

Chapter 41. They are all tarts!

Chapter 42. Le 15.

Chapter 43. Confusion and threats.

Chapter 44. Come Home Del!

Chapter 45. Sex in the sand?

Chapter 46. The house is a prison.

Chapter 47. Tears in the eyes.

Chapter 48. Roast Beef.

Chapter 49. Ni barbe, ni moustache.

Chapter 50. You are my dustbin.

Chapter 51. Sympa réponse.

Chapter 52. Playing games with Jason.

Chapter 53. Everybody’s playing games.

Chapter 54. MadMad.

Chapter 55. Merde.

Chapter 56. Help! We have a wig in a tree.

Chapter 57. I’m the mummy mouse.

Chapter 58. The Famous Last Straw.

Chapter 59. Un Appel.

Introduction. She tempted me.

My wife, Sal, and I have found that, in our life, nothing much works out to be as expected. Perhaps if we had followed a straighter path then our life together might have been more predictable. Previously, all the daft ideas have been mine. This crazy idea of going to live in France was Sal’s idea. At least I am innocent of that.

Sal’s marketing to me of my long-standing idea for a sexual adventure was strategically excellent. Previously, Sal had always had an excuse, sorry Sal, a good reason to reject my suggestion. It was amazing to now hear Sal propose something that I had been suggesting for an age. There was however a catch, we had to go to live in France, not my favourite holiday destination, but as Sal pointed out this was not for a holiday. Not at all a holiday, since there was the additional problem of having to learn French, not part of the original bargain!

Even Sal found day-to-day life in France very frustrating, not so much the language but the French people! Most books about Brits going to live in France paint it either as a paradise or a country full of dodgy builders. We found it a wonderful country but the French people could be very unforgiving when we made mistakes with our use of their language.

We did add some complications to our life, one four legged and one four wheeled. Both were fun but quite beyond the original plan, such as it existed. The lack of planning was not really a problem since some of the ‘adventures’ were outside of any reasonable person’s foresight.

As I have said, Sal did a very good job on the marketing of her idea to me and to be fair she did come up with her part of the sexual bargain. In fact she took to the sexual adventure much more easily than I did, so much so that a couple of times when writing of our adventures she toned down some of her part in the escapades.

If you do feel tempted to read this book, firstly I hope that you will enjoy it and hopefully smile a little, perhaps even laugh. If you do then please try to believe that the most bizarre things cannot be invented, there is nothing as strange as people and this applies just as much to the French as to a slightly quirky English couple.

Chapter 1. The start of the folly.

It is a rainy day in May 2008, I am looking across the terrace, that’s French for patio, at acres and acres of vineyards and watching leaves floating in the freezing cold swimming pool. Normally I find this view beautiful but today it is just alien, we are not at home in England.

We are in the Dordogne. I thought that this was the south of France and not the south west of France. So do the idiot people who live here since they do not heat their swimming pools. Even if the rain stopped we could not use the pool since the water is always freezing, at least so far. Perhaps in July and August it is better. At least we are told that it is. The floating leaves are restful, in an irritating way.

So why are we here? It started last autumn in England. I can remember exactly the evening that it came to the surface. I had a surprise for Sal but it transpired that she had a much bigger surprise for me.

I had cooked a fantastic ready meal from Tesco, our favourite supermarket, and had opened two bottles of Sal’s favourite Chilean Merlot. I had forgotten to buy a starter but it did not matter, we just drank the first bottle of wine. We were eating Coq au Vin, which is French for cockerel in wine. I had chosen this very carefully as Sal had recently become very keen on exotic French food.

At just the right moment I told her about the wonderful BMW that I had seen for sale at a bargain price. I told her that it was just her thing. The rest of the conversation become a bit of a blur but went something like this.

‘I do not want a BMW, that is your choice not mine. It is strange though that you mention cars since I had thought about a new Renault Laguna for you,’ suggested Sal.

‘What the hell do I want a Renault Laguna for? It’s an old man’s car. I told you that at 50 I wanted a decent car or a mistress or a boat,’ I said reasonably. ‘Now I’m coming up to 55 so something exciting is a must, and not an old man’s car!’

‘Don’t be so unreasonable,’ said Sal getting irate quite quickly since we have had this conversation before. She knew all about my next impending mid life crisis.

‘The Laguna is the latest model, a series 3,’ and after a long pause she added, ‘and left hand drive.’

‘What the hell can I do with a left hand drive old man’s car, and who cares if it is the latest model?’ I asked getting annoyed about this nonsense about a Renault Laguna since it was about as interesting as my Ford.

‘It will be safer driving a left hand drive car in France,’ said Sal smiling. ‘Please don’t get angry Del. It’s horrible.’

‘I don’t want to have another holiday in France,’ I asserted. ‘Last time it rained all the time that we were there.’

‘This is not for a holiday,’ said Sal. ‘We have the chance to go to France for a year, free of charge, we can let our house, there is a new Laguna to use and a swimming pool and if we do go we can expand our horizons.’

‘Look Sal I don’t much like France or the French, I don’t want a Renault or any other type of Laguna, you know that I can’t swim and as for my horizons, yes I’d like to expand them, so I guess I have to settle for a mistress!’

‘Well just make sure that you get one that can cook, wash, iron and clear up after you since I won’t be around!’

‘OK the mistress was a joke. Look this conversation started with me trying to sell the idea of a nice BMW instead of the Ford to you. Perhaps I didn’t do a very good job of the selling exercise but not half as bad as your selling of the crazy idea of moving to France!’

‘Del I agree, the car was not a good enough selling point. However we have the chance to try a new life and with little cost or risk, not to say hardly any effort in trying it out,’ enthused Sal. ‘Just imagine going to a market in the morning and bringing home lovely fresh food to cook and then sitting by the pool in the afternoon sun and eating, having a drink and then making love together beside the water.’ Eventually Sal stopped.

‘You’ve being reading too many holiday brochures Sal.’

‘And you are just too romantic! We have lost a bit of our romantic sparkle, so just imagine meeting a nice sexy French couple for a romantic dinner, some flirting and seduction and then to make love together. It could really give our love life a boost!’

‘Are you really serious, or is this just a pretext to get me to go to France?’ I asked, not quite sure if I was hearing correctly or was this just a wonderful sales ploy.

‘No it’s not a pretext Del. I feel that we have stagnated so it would be part of a radical change to our lives.’

‘Are you really re-considering swinging?’ I queried hopefully. This was a long-standing discussion between us. Normally the answer is ‘no’.

‘Yes, in the right environment,’ was the reply.

‘You always say that, but it’s always a case of the right people, not people that we know or people that we might know, or people who live too close or live too far away. Always a good excuse, sorry reason,’ I said a little belligerently, forgetting that I was in the middle of a selling exercise for the BMW.

‘No, I’m serious. Perhaps we could make some new friends where we could combine some culture as well as sexy things. It would give us a new interest, help to keep us feeling young.’

Sal is very persuasive. She had some very good negotiating points. The probability of trying swinging was a strong motivation.

When we were young ‘swinging’ was called ‘wife swapping’ and to us this seems a more honest and less nasty name, whereas to many the thought of either is probably unappealing.

In our youth, we had a couple of very close friends with whom this nearly happened. At the time there were scandals in the newspapers about groups of neighbours who would put their house and car keys in a hat, at the end of a party, and each man would pull out a set of keys and then take possession of the car, the bed and the wife for a night.

Over dinner in a restaurant we discussed this with our closest friends and everybody thought that it sounded fun. The sticking point was some idiot didn’t want his best friend driving his car. That idiot was me. That was the end of it and so nothing happened in that dim and distant past, which is probably just as well. The style of these things has changed and I certainly would not mind who drove my Ford or somebody else’s Laguna, but keys in hats have now been replaced by the internet.

So, back to autumn 2007. It transpired that two friends, Jeremy and Margaret, were leaving their home in the so called south of France to work in Dubai for a year and we could have their home and their car, the wretched Laguna, for a year. No charge, we just needed to look after their house. There was a swimming pool, a gardener and wine in the cellar, thrown in. We just needed spending money.

Sal had seen an agent and the income from letting our house was incredible. We could lock away our valuables, my porn collection and Sal’s collection of glass elephants, sell my Ford and her Mazda. We would keep the old Toyota 4x4, affectionately known as the tank.

Sal had it all worked out.

As it turned out it was not exactly as we expected. There was a swimming pool, but as mentioned it was not heated and it was not the gardener’s job to clean it. It had to be cleaned otherwise it looked horrible and quickly turned a nasty green colour, as I was to find out. Cleaning somebody else’s green pool that is too cold to use must be one of the greatest time wasters ever, especially if you can’t swim.

Whose job it was to clean it, was to a degree, academic as we did not see the gardener until mid March.

Also there was a fantastic wine selection in the cellar, but it was all carefully labelled and priced! It was a pay as you drink system, complete with a webcam watching it. I had a look but the wines, the vintages and the prices were out of my league.

So, in reality, three of Sal’s selling points were not wholly worthwhile and having a webcam in the cellar meant that there was one area of the house that I never went into.

That is not entirely true since one night, when I was feeling just a little pissed off since we did not have any decent wine to drink and I was thinking about this crazily priced wine, I did go into the cellar and have a look around. As I looked I realised that knowing how Jeremy’s mind worked he would probably get an alert to say that his collection was being looked at.

As I imagined Dubai time was about two hours ahead of us and as it was 11 pm in France I hoped that he would be awakened by an alert and he was now watching. So I browsed, took bottles out and put them on one side, in clear view, with the labels towards the camera, and then checked the prices. In total, about 600 euros worth. I laughed thinking of Jeremy thinking of his profit. I then slowly put them all back, waved goodbye to the webcams, and went back upstairs, opened a couple of beers and shared the beers and the joke with Sal.

In one of my irritated moments when I emailed Jeremy asking about the gardener who never arrived, I told him that I would clean his freezing cold pool but I would not dust his wine collection, it was too expensive to touch.

We don’t have kids or any real family, both our parents having been dead for a long time. Sal does have a sister who is with her latest flame in India so there was little chance that we would see her or more importantly him. The sister is OK, for a women of sixty who has been married three times and has had many ‘boy friends’. The latest is a real pratt but there was little chance of seeing them, thank goodness.

Sal had worked out flight times to and from Bergerac and with Bordeaux as a backup. I work just three days a week in the office, or less, with the rest of the time working from home, so travel would not be a problem, at least not for Sal.

She explained that there was a large ex-pat community where we are going so we could learn French gradually. Also there was an evening course starting in two weeks time, and she had enrolled us on it.

‘An evening course, that’s a bit of a liberty Sal, enrolling me on a course, my evenings are busy!’

‘That is rubbish Del, just less time for you in the pub. Something to take your mind off work and cars.’

‘It’s OK for you. Your education included French and you always like to practice when we’re there. For me, I didn’t learn any French and the only French that I need to know is to ask when will it stop raining?’

‘The house is in the south, not in Brittany or Normandy, so it won’t be raining all of the time,’ said the weather expert.

So, that conversation was last year and we have now been living in France for almost five months. Most importantly I have a new car! That is actually not true, I had spent rather a lot on a car but it’s not the most important change, so what is?

Perhaps the most important thing to happen is the addition to our family, a four legged addition, but more of that later. Perhaps too much!

The sexy side has worked out, and we have made some real friends, both in that way and by chance. There have also been some disastrous sexual encounters which were amusing, but only in hindsight! We have met some people with weird ideas, even stranger than ours!

The language has not been a problem for Sal, in fact for her it seems to be a real plus, a new interest. For me it has become a new problem. Sal is fond of saying that language is all about communication. In my opinion this is complete rubbish. To me it is often giving another person the opportunity of making me feel inadequate.

Other problems for me centre around work, the general feeling of uncertainty about my age and a greater feeling of isolation. Being that much further away from the office is one aspect. Working from home in England for some of the time was great and when there was a need there was the possibility of getting into the office in less than one hour. Being a flight away is another matter.

Now almost half way into our trial we are thinking about what to do next. Sal is talking about opening a bed and breakfast. It seems like a crazy idea but who knows. It is a very big decision, more of that later!

All problems with work or where to live next are nothing compared with trying to persuade French friends that the English can cook. It’s hard to get past the French preconception that all English cooking is awful and that the English live on a diet of fish and chips followed by a pudding made from stale bread.

We have learnt a lot about French food and wine, the hard way, that is by consuming it, sometimes in error but mostly with pleasure and if not real pleasure at least with amusement.

During the last while the need to resort to ready meals has diminished, since Sal has re-discovered her ability to cook and has in fact become quite a decent cooker, as the French call it. Whilst we are not considering publishing a French cookery book, Sal’s French cooking is appreciated by French friends, quite unlike our attempts to show that English cooking can be good!

When we do have a problem and get a little sad our new family addition is around to bring us back to earth with a smile.

Chapter 2. Everything in France is better?

The autumn was very hectic preparing for our forthcoming year living in France, at least it was for Sal. Of course I helped by making sure that she made all the right arrangements for letting the house and I did the man’s stuff, I sold the Ford and the Mazda to friends in the pub.

However, it wasn’t quite as simple as that. Those were the last things to do, which were easy but before that I had the not so small task of negotiating with my boss, Mike, and my team that I would be working from France. I tried the subtle approach and asked if other people had thought about living abroad and working from home but, it didn’t work, I was soon found out. We had informal chats in the pub and then got down to details in the office. After a bad start it seemed to go well.

The conversations with my boss were too easy. He thought that it was a good idea right from the start and that he would love to, but could not, do the same thing. The way that he agreed and helped me was unnerving, was he looking to ease me out? Only time would tell.

Very quickly, much too quickly, the evening of the first French lesson arrived. We were not the first to arrive. There were two men waiting for the class to start, one youngish and one our age. The younger one looked typically French, shortish but not in blue overalls and a beret with onions hanging around his neck, but in a tweed jacket and cords with a pink shirt and a scarf around his neck. I was to see this scarf many times and I invariably had the same urge, to tighten it. He always had two days of stubble, never more, never less.

The older man was also short but dressed in jeans and an overcoat. The school room was cold and very stark. The man was pale and almost bald.

Mr Stubble stood up languorously and said to us, presumably in French, ‘Bienvenue, je m’appelle Jerome. Enchanté.

Sal explained in her best school mistress manner.

‘He has said, welcome, I call myself Jerome. It’s a funny way to say that my name is, but that’s how it’s done. He then said enchanted, how nice.’

Sal then replied to him in the same flowery manner.

Not to be outdone, I said, ‘Bonjour, I call myself Derrick Rand but you can call me Del or Randy.’

‘Bonjour Monsieur Derrick,’ was the reply followed by a limp handshake.

The pale man then joined the conversation in fluent English.

‘Hello I’m Peter the Painter.’

More handshakes, not limp this time.

‘What do you paint?’ Sal asked.

‘Still life,’ he said, and after a long pause he added. ‘Normally walls but sometimes ceilings, they always keep still.’

We laughed at his joke, this time, but by the end of the evening we had heard it enough and just smiled. Jerome was not amused, still it was his second time of hearing. We were to learn how different a French sense of humour is to the English style.

The next to arrive were a couple, who introduced themselves, in quite decent French, as Rick and Sue, at least it sounded quite decent to me but the teacher did not seem to understand.

Again they were about our age, or probably older. It transpired that they were school teachers who had taken early retirement. They had a school teacher look about them, heavy jumpers and heavy tweed trousers for him and baggy jeans for her. He talked all the time in French, which was clearly not as good as he thought, since nobody seemed to understand him. Sue was giving the English version for the benefit of the small group. It seemed that they spent a lot of time in a holiday cottage in Normandy but wanted to live there permanently.

Sal seemed very taken with them, me less so, the man was too fond of his own voice for my taste.

Next to arrive was a fairly smart couple, younger than us, they introduced themselves as Cliff and Suzanne and announced that he was a school head teacher and she an artist. They certainly did not look like a teacher and an artist. From the little that they spoke it seemed that their knowledge of French was very limited and that they were on the course for stimulation and pleasure. Pleasure to learn French? Well it takes all sorts!

We were getting a little impatient by now as it was well after the alleged start time but Jerome told us that we were waiting for one more student to arrive.

When he finally arrived my feeling was why had we bothered waiting? He was young, tall, with blond hair just a little too long, and too good looking. All in black, black trousers and a black jumper.

‘Bonsoir’s’, all round and handshakes all round, and he prattled to Jerome in French, well at least it sounded like it. What was clear that he was Simon, a banker, and was just dying to buy something near Nice as ‘somewhere private.’ As he was a banker I thought that a couple of years in solitary confinement in one of Her Majesty’s prisons would probably suit him on the privacy stakes.

The French lesson was now in progress and rather than repeat it word for word I will try to give you a flavour. If you want to experience it for yourself then just enrol in a local course and you will have the whole ghastly thing on your doorstep, complete with the local version of Jerome or whatever the female equivalent is.

What was interesting was the interplay between the people. It was clear from the outset that the levels of French understanding were very different.

Rick, of Rick and Sue fame, the school teacher, thought that he was pretty good, while his partner was in the also-rans group.

Peter the Painter just kept quiet, presumably thinking about Still Life.

Cliff and Suzanne, the head teacher and artist, also just kept quiet. They were probably in the also-rans group.

Simon, the banker, was competing with Rick for top dog in the best student stakes.

Sal was keeping quiet and was the dark horse of the also-rans whereas I was there with Peter the Painter, very pensive, but thinking about wasted drinking time at the pub.

After about one hour there was a break to give us a chance to ‘pratique’ according to Jerome.

‘I don’t need to practice,’ I said to Sal. ‘I need a fag. I’m going outside for a smoke.’

‘Del you don’t smoke,’ said Sal.

‘I’ve just taken it up,’ I said heading for the door.

The cold damp air drove me back inside quite quickly and I was amazed to hear how well Sal was doing chatting to Simon and Rick. The three of them seemed to understand each other. It was remarkable to hear my wife talking in a foreign lingo and being understood. I felt very proud of her and also a little envious.

Peter the Painter was taking to Jerome, in English, about paint colours for his apartment. Suzanne, the artist, was adding a few ideas about colours and Cliff, the head teacher, was reading a French phrase book.

I joined him, to cement the also-rans grouping.

‘Does it give you any useful phrases like please take your clothes off?’ I asked, regretting my suggestion as soon as I saw his reaction.

‘No, I don’t think so. It’s more of an everyday phrase book, directions and that sort of thing,’ he replied very seriously.

I tried to explain that it was just a joke, but I felt that I had already created a terrible impression.

Our less than successful conversation was happily cut short by the class being re-convened.

Jerome asked each of us to explain in English why we wanted to learn French. If we could do it in French so much the better, if not to do it in English, and the class would help put it into French.

As luck would have it I was asked first.

I stood up and decided to keep it brief.

‘I don’t want to learn French,’ was my reply.

There was some laughter but not much and certainly not from Sal.

‘Bizarre,’ was the only word uttered by the teacher, and he asked Sal her reasons for wanting to learn French.

Nos amis,’ and after a pause, ‘are lending us, I’m not sure what that is in French, leur maison pour une ane.’

Well that sounded pretty French to me, but Jerome was not impressed.

‘Non, non, non. Une ane is not correct, you made it sound like une âne,’ he said sharply. He then added, une âne is a donkey, une anneé is a year.

‘Does that really matter, surely nobody would make that confusion in a conversation?’ I asked.

‘For you it would probably not matter,’ he replied, ‘but for a serious student it does matter.’

The ordeal continued in the same way.

Rick was next to speak and started prattling away and in the end Jerome had to ask him to limit himself otherwise there would not be time for the others.

Even so it took almost ten minutes to translate his version of French into the real thing according to Jerome. This involved Rick writing out his phrases on a white board and Jerome correcting them with a red marker pen.

His wife Sue was the next victim but she had been preparing herself with a dictionary and came up with the perfect phrase.

Les mêmes choses,’ she said in a very froggie way.

Jerome was not impressed.

‘Jerome does not like that, since it means the same thing, and above all she got it right,’ whispered Sal.

Peter the Painter was next and did not even try the French side.

‘Well I have a little apartment, well not so little really. It’s very nicely decorated and I have a new friend. She’s quite a lot younger than me, and she’s French, so that is the reason that I am here, she does not know much English,’ he said.

Cliff and Suzanne were next, well actually it was Cliff who was next and there was no attempt to speak French.

‘As a professional head teacher, he said looking at Jerome in a knowing way, ‘I had to keep my brain active in my work and as part of my career progression. I have enjoyed doing that, but now with retirement on the horizon Suzanne and I are looking for new intellectual challenges. We hope that there will be enough intellectual challenges in these classes to fulfil some of our needs.’

What a poser! Still it took some translating and was actually the only interesting bit of the evening. Perhaps Jerome had noticed the jibe about professional teachers, since he took the text in English, wrote it down carefully on the white board and together the class translated it.

‘It is interesting that in France you call a brain a servo. In England the brain is the driving force but a servo is something that receives commands and acts upon them,’ commented Cliff smugly once the translation was completed.

‘You will learn that between the two languages there are many words that are the same but have quite different meanings. They are called faux amis or false friends.’ Jerome replied pompously.

Well, at last we had learnt something, perhaps things were looking up. Perhaps with three teachers in the class Jerome would have to buck up a little.

However, not for now. Things went downhill again when Simon had his turn. He started spouting away in his version of French and he made the same mistake as Sal had made and said ‘une ane’.

Simon’s rivalry with Rick came out to the fore with a very loud ‘hee haw, hee haw,’ from Rick.

Most of the class laughed.

Later in the pub, after the usual chatter with faux amis, it split into two groups. The men’s group of Simon, Peter, Rick and myself talking about serious matters, cars and houses.

The girl’s group were centred around Jerome and they were talking about things French. Cliff had joined the girl’s group.

Despite the rivalry between Simon and Rick they were getting on pretty well. In fact we were all getting along quite well as we had something in common, apart from being in this class. We all had or wanted, in Simon’s case, the possibility of living in France for extended periods.

Simon was the difficult one as he was so full of himself and his desire for somewhere private near Nice. I am not an expert on French property prices but Simon was making it clear how expensive something near Nice was, and he would have to limit himself to under 100 square metres as a sea view was essential even if it was a restricted sea view. Being a banker he just could not resist talking about money and especially his money.

Peter the Painter was the opposite. During probing it came out that his girlfriend was twenty years younger than him but the real problem was where he lived.

He complained about the problems of living in France with burglaries and theft from cars. I naturally imagined that he was living in a bad quarter of a large industrial town so I asked him in the end.

‘Sorry to be nosey Peter but where do you live?’ I asked.

‘Well the town is basically nice, my father bought the apartment and we had lovely holidays there when I was a child. It’s only 150 square metres plus a terrace but it was large enough for the four of us. It is now mine and we have a sea view but these days the beach does get too busy in the summer but that is to be expected in Saint Tropez.’

Simon spilt his beer.

The second week I, very sadly, had an evening meeting and so missed the class. Afterwards Sal was so enthusiastic about the progress that the other students were making, although Cliff and Suzanne were also absent.

The following week I was present along with the defaulters of the previous session, Cliff and Suzanne. The evening had a theme, which was food and wine. Jerome, being French, was an expert on both of these and especially the superiority of the French varieties.

His lectures were given in French with pauses and then questions and answers. It was a reasonable way of getting people involved but there was often a delay at the start whilst the also-rans tried to catch up with what was going on. There was also, at least on my part, a reluctance to accept the border between teaching and preaching. Yes, we were there to learn the French language but not to be told that our culinary heritage was less important than that of the French.

Afterwards Sal told me not to be serious about the content of the lectures, the content was just to get us interested and involved, to make the learning process more interesting.

The French class each week became a highlight to look forward to for Sal and for those who had a reasonable start point in speaking French it did seem to be quite good. People could talk about the allotted subject for the week and be corrected, sometimes quite rudely, by Jerome, but at least they would remember.

For the also-rans it was not so good. Rick’s wife Sue and I were so behind our partners that we were getting nowhere. Cliff and Suzanne were obviously spending a lot of time studying between the weekly class that they were catching up. No doubt their education had included French language lessons so they were in with a chance. It transpired that the reason that they did not attend the second class was that they were too busy catching up!

Peter the Painter was catching up rapidly to everybody’s surprise. It transpired that he was having private lessons each week with a French girl and so he also was making good progress. In a quiet moment in the pub he confided that she had become a ‘friend’ not just a teacher. How does he do it, I wondered? Also how would he manage when his new ‘friend’ wanted to visit the apartment in Saint Tropez which was perhaps already occupied by his other French ‘friend’. At the very least she would want to visit him. Poor chap, what a problem to have!

Perhaps I would do better if I had a young French female ‘friend’ to help me. Why didn’t I ask my lovely Sal to give me some help? Pride, I expect.

Even worse than the classes were the evenings in the pub after the class. The men’s group had unofficially been disbanded and now the whole evening was centred around Jerome. He groaned on about life in France, the importance of the family, the importance of food and wine, the beauty and variety of the countryside, rural life etc. etc. It sounded like a setting for Midsummer Murders and I could think of the first murder victim.

Sal tried to interest me in these discourses as she said that we would get more out of our time in France if I became more involved. That seemed pretty reasonable but frankly I would rather that we discovered things for ourselves rather than running down a check list from the pratt Jerome. After all if France was so bloody wonderful why didn’t he go back? I’d happily give him a luggage label.

Chapter 3. The welcoming party.

The build up to moving to France was terrible. Sal became more and more interested in French life, she tried some new recipes, which were horrible, and bought French wines which seemed low in alcohol and taste. Although Coq au Vin from Tesco, our favourite English supermarket, has a French name it tastes OK. However Sal’s version, made from a recipe from someone in our French class, took forever to cook and tasted no better with bits of totally overcooked chicken. Apparently the Coq, the cockerel or rooster, is a male chicken and is much tougher and takes more cooking but it seems that they do without male chickens in England so the recipe used with a chicken was a waste of mediocre, but expensive, French wine.

There were some practical things which normally have to be done when changing country for a year but I thought that these could pretty much be ignored. Most people going to live in France would probably have wanted to learn some French and undoubtedly learning about French rules and regulations would also be near the top of the To Do list. We did not actually have a To Do list but as Sal was handling the language bit so very well I opted for the rules and regulations.

In fact as I was to be paid and taxed in England, not quite as it should be done but ignoring that small point, then the rules and regulations really came down to health insurance and driving. As it is Sal who normally needs the doctor she agreed to handle the health bit so I just had to work out which side of the road to drive on and the speed limits.

I also needed to bone up on swimming pools as we had never had one. Not being able to swim could be considered a handicap and I did consider swimming lessons. After careful thought I decided to skip the lessons since in reality the actual swimming was not too important, I just needed to wander about with a beer in my hand and make sure that nobody pissed in the pool.

The need to be able to communicate quickly and easily with the office in England was critical but as Jeremy had said that his internet works so well then there is not much more that I can do about that. It really is amazing what a fuss some people make about a simple move.

Sal and I had found a good balance in the process of organising the move. Put simply Sal did the work and I moaned. That seemed fair to me as it was her project.

I can remember one notable conversation when this balance broke down. In fact the balance broke down very badly, and was perhaps a turning point.

It was after a tedious session with Jerome and his class and everybody was doing well except me. Sue, the other also-ran, had dropped out some time ago so I was now in a league of my own.

‘Have you worked out everything that we need to take to France?’ Sal asked.

‘Yes, it’s all done,’ I said proudly.

‘Can you tell me what you’ve purchased or have I to do that as well?’ Sal asked a little peevishly.

‘Of course the shopping is for you, but it’s easy, all we need are power adapters for our computer kit and your hair dryer.’

‘That’s it! We’re going to live in a foreign country for a year and that’s all you can come up with,’ said Sal angrily.

‘Look your vibrators are all battery powered so we do need a power adapter for the battery charger. What else is there?’ I added jokingly.

‘Very funny Del. Why can’t you take this seriously? What about kitchen equipment? Have you checked what they have?’

‘There’s no need, they will have a microwave and a bottle opener. Bound to. Margaret can’t cook, just like you, so she’ll have all the microwave kit. Perhaps she can tell us if there are decent freezer stores? I’ll send her an email. You know that there are not any Tesco supermarkets south of Paris?’

‘Yes you told me all about the problem with Tesco, but let’s get one thing straight, I did enjoy cooking when we were first married. However with your unwillingness to wait for a meal to be cooked we’ve lived off expensive and boring ready cooked food for years. I want to re-discover and develop my cooking skills and not be held back by you. I want to improve and develop over the next year and you could start thinking along the same lines.’

‘That’s nice,’ was all I could find to say.

‘While you’re thinking about improving you can start by trying to improve on the choice of wine that you serve. I am totally fed up with Chilean Merlot so going to France will be a chance for you to get back some of your old interest in wine. At one point we used to drink wine from France and Spain not just from South America.’

‘I thought that you liked Chilean Merlot,’ I said, really hurt.

‘Yes, at one point I did, but the same old thing, time and time again. There does have to be change, even if it’s only to realise that sometimes the old things are the best.’

‘Is this why you are considering swinging? You want a change, because I’m boring?’ I asked with dread. Up to now I had thought of the excitement of being with another couple was the incentive but was it the same old thing that was a problem?

Was I the problem?

‘Firstly Del, I detest the word swinging. It sounds so naff and casual. Can we use the French term, monde libertin please?’

‘Of course we can if you tell me what it means,’ I replied.

‘It would probably translate as libertine world,’ replied Sal.

‘I thought that somebody who was libertine was somebody who was casual about sex. Sounds like swinging to me but in French,’ I said.

‘I still prefer it in French,’ said Sal.

‘OK so you would like to enter into the monde libertin because you are bored with sex with me, is that it?’ I asked very defensively.

‘No, that is not true. I love our sex together but we have become predictable, very predictable. Being with another couple might help us find new pleasures. We might even break down some of our taboos,’ Sal replied.

‘Taboos! I don’t have any taboos, it’s you who has the taboos. Taboos are for women,’ I replied, too hastily.

‘Would you suck another man’s cock?’ Sal asked.

‘Of course not, but cock sucking for men is a perversion not just a taboo. Surely I can say no to a perversion?’

‘In the same way that I can say no to anal sex, that’s a perversion,’ said Sal.

‘Perhaps but an awful lot of people try it,’ I replied. ‘It’s not the same as cock sucking. For example, is your taboo about anal sex a taboo that might go?’

‘Well I might try it in the right circumstances. For example if a sexy evening went really well and I was sufficiently excited by the situation, I might give it a go,’ Sal said provocatively. ‘Tell me Del, how would you see a sexy evening progressing?’

‘Well I thought that I undressed the other woman and gave her one. Clearly there has to be some finesse and foreplay first, therefore I might snog her a bit, pinch her tits, stick my hands up her skirt and give her my magnificent cock to suck, but basically it is just like being married, but with somebody else’s wife,’ I said without smiling.

‘And so says the last of the great lovers! I know that you said that as a joke Del, but I could just see it happening like that,’ said Sal, also without smiling.

‘Who said that I was joking?’ I asked.

‘Why can’t you take anything about this move to France seriously and just help a bit? Your constant jokes and jibes are really spoiling the start of this adventure for me,’ said Sal looking really upset.

‘Sal I’m sorry. Joking is a bit of a defence mechanism for me. This is really your adventure but I have more to loose, for example my job. I know that I’m a hopeless case for the language, so what do I do, do I get depressed or do I pretend that it doesn’t matter and joke? Frankly I’m as much scared as I am excited. For the things between us, I realise that I’m boring, I’ll try to do better.’

Fortunately there were not too many moments like that and at last all was set for our departure from the UK in early January. Christmas and New Year had passed well and we were a little sad to be saying goodbye to England for a whole year but there was no possibility of changing our minds. The house was let for a year, two cars were sold and we were left with the old Toyota tank.

Friends had been fascinated by what we were doing and we were told by so many that they would like, just like us, to get away for a while and try something new. Of course what I was doing was not new, just more complicated, more expensive with flights back and forth to be paid for, and an extra degree of uncertainly added.

The letting of our house to a nice young couple had been simple and their large deposit gave us a good feeling. The house needed re-redecorating anyway so if the nice young couple made a mess we could use their deposit to pay for the re-decoration. I hoped that they would have a few exciting parties.

The really good news was that the French course had finished and there had been a very sober last night in the pub. All of the class had made good progress, except one, but I had expected, for a long time, to be the dodo of the course.

The office party was even less sober than usual. The fact that I was going away meant that there was an additional excuse for excess and I just managed to stop myself making a fool of myself with a certain lady. There would be time for that sort of thing next year, was what I told myself the next day when I was having mixed feelings about my good behaviour.

Sal was to drive down to our new home with our Toyota tank loaded with our belongings and I would fly over a few days later. I had a couple of important meetings that had come up at the last moment so we could not drive together. Frankly I hated driving the tank so a flight would be much less unpleasant.

Sal would stay with Jeremy and Margaret for a few days to get all the hand over details sorted, like electricity and telephone accounts to be changed into our names and to open a bank account. This would be simple stuff for Sal and a chance for her to practise her French. She was then to meet me at Bergerac airport.

So I arrived at Bergerac on a Sunday evening and waited for Sal. I then waited some more. I phoned her mobile but no answer so in the end I left her an irate message. Half of me was anxious and half angry, the last being the stronger since everything was closed and it was cold. There were slot machines for coffee etc. but I did not have any euro coins.

After almost an hour my phone rang.

‘Sorry Del darling,’ said Sal, ‘but I could not find Jason.’

‘Who the fuck is Jason?’ I demurred.

‘He is a sweetheart and just two years old and has been rescued. Please don’t swear in your first sentence in France,’ said Sal.

‘Sal you cannot go about rescuing children, even in France, you must give him back it’s not legal.’

‘He was rescued by Jeremy and Margaret, not by me, they have just passed him onto me,’ protested Sal.

‘Are you trying to get us in put into prison Sal?’ I asked.

‘Don’t be silly Del, by the way Jason is black,’ Sal said and paused.

I died a thousand deaths, had Sal really become party to theft of a child, a black child?

‘Sal, this is awful!’ I exclaimed in fear.

‘He is black, he’s a black Labrador,’ Sal said laughing.

‘That was a good windup, you sod. You complain that I swore and yet you’re over an hour late and you trick me into thinking that you’ve stolen a child. On top of that I dislike dogs especially large black ones, just get here I’m cold and hungry, what’s to eat?’ I asked.

‘That’s a point, with all the time spent with Jason I did not sort out a proper meal, but the car’s warm. There is some bread and pate that I bought in the market and some wine in the house. See you soon,’ and so saying she rang off.

I was about to ask why they gave a child’s name to a sodding dog but it was too late.

It was a mud coloured Laguna that arrived. I recognised Sal and saw the dog on the passenger seat. Sal opened the window and suggested that I get in the back quickly so that Jason did not escape from the car. It was apparently better that I stayed in the back as Jason must have been used to sitting in the front with his last owner and to move him now was too difficult. I was too tired to argue, so I shoved my luggage in the boot and got into the back of the car. I suggested stopping in a restaurant but Sal told me that I was being silly as it was Sunday night and most restaurants closed on a Sunday night.

‘OK let’s stop for a curry,’ I suggested.

‘There are not any curry restaurants,’ said Sal.

‘Just a take away curry will do if it’s good.’

‘There are not any curry restaurants, take away or eat in, good or bad. There is a choice of pizza restaurants and one might be open,’ Sal replied.

We opted to get home. During the journey Sal told me that Jeremy and Margaret had had to rescue Jason as some friends were leaving the area and could not take Jason with them. In that way he was now being passed on again.

‘Poor Jason has not settled in yet, but look at him looking at you,’ Sal cooed.

‘I would rather that you watched the sodding road, how much further is it?’ I asked.

‘We are almost there Del, do not worry, I have a nice surprise for you,’ she said smiling at me in the mirror. ‘Do not worry about Jason the poor thing was insecure. Having had three owners in three weeks is a lot for a sensitive young chap.’

‘He is not a young chap, he is a bloody dog but don’t you worry Sal,’ I said. ‘We can leave his settling in problems for the next lot. He’s not staying with us.’

We continued the drive in silence and in the end we saw Jeremy and Margaret’s house. It looked bigger and older than I remembered and I momentarily thought about heating bills.

I was about to get out of the car but Sal stopped me, clipped a lead onto Jason’s collar and asked me to hold it and the dog whilst she got out of the car first. I was then instructed to pass the lead to her. Sal explained that this rigmarole was so that Jason could not escape easily. Sal took Jason to the house whilst I was left to get myself out of the car and to heave my luggage out of the boot. The wind was freezing cold so, wasting no time, I rushed into the hall to be met by Sal coming out of the kitchen with a funny look on her face.

‘Supper’s off,’ she said gloomily.

‘What’s the problem?’ I asked.

We went into the kitchen together. There were some torn bags of food and crumbs on the work surface.

‘What’s this black shit?’ I asked figuratively.

‘Exactly that, shit, mouse shit,’ Sal answered gloomily. ‘I am sorry, but with all of the fuss over poor Jason I forgot to put the food that I had bought in the market for supper into the fridge. The result is that the bloody mice have been around again. I’ve had such a problem with them.’

‘Sal, you can get the gardener bloke to deal with the mice, if he comes from around here he must know how to deal with a few mice,’ I suggested.

‘That’s a good idea but he’s ill. He can’t work at the moment as he is recuperating,’ said Sal.

‘Can’t we just telephone and ask him the best way to get rid of them and if not when can he work again?’

‘You mean can’t I just telephone. Well I can’t. He had a small accident and developed an hernie when he was working here last autumn. He has had an operation and so in a few weeks after lots of rest he will be able to work. He is staying with his family in Nantes to rest so I cannot even disturb him, I had thought of that,’ said Sal miserably.

‘He developed an Ernie, what’s an Ernie?’ I asked bemused.

‘Sorry it’s spelt hernie, but pronounced ernie, as in the name, it’s a rupture.’

So we had a dog, mice, a ruptured gardener and no food. Was life in France going to continue like this?

Chapter 4. They eat horses?

Monday morning. I had slept OK, as at the last moment I had found some Johnny Walker so I had a good glassful to make up for the lack of food. The previous evening I had left Sal alone to clear up her mice shit. When I woke up the following day and went downstairs for a coffee Sal was around but things were a little cold between us. Not much was said until I mentioned that I would walk to the town and buy some bread.

‘The Boulangerie next to the church is the best and please take Jason, he needs to open his bowels, don’t forget a plastic bag, a large one,’ instructed Sal.

‘I will buy bread where I like and you can keep Jason here,’ I replied firmly.

Jason and I walked to the town. He was actually quite good company and seemed to understand some English. At least he stopped sniffing when he was told to ‘Leave those turds alone’. We found the church and the bread shop. It was closed, or rather they both were. So was the second choice of bakers. We almost stopped at the bar but I was totally lost as to what to say so we wandered around. Jason crapped outside the Gendarmerie, the French for the fuzz. I did not have a plastic bag so I kicked it, the shit not the dog, into the road, not a good idea as it turned out.

The town seemed to consist of a very old and impressive church, two bread shops, a butcher, a grocery shop, a bar, a florist, a hairdresser, a toilettage, whatever that is, the Gendarmerie, a cemetery, a junk shop, a pizza shop and a pharmacy. The pharmacy and the bar were open, but other than that everything seemed to be closed. Many of the buildings were very old with just modern frontages. It was actually very picturesque and not spoilt by lots of people rushing about doing shopping, or to put it another way, it was old, closed up and dead.

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