Tuesday, 15 March 2011

89. Fin

They say all good things must come to an end. Now I'm not saying my blog entries these last four years have been perfect, but I sincerely hope those of you who have visited have enjoyed what you've read.

This is my last entry to this blog.

I started by asking a question - can a metrogay from the big, bad city give up this life in favour of a rural life in the French countryside, or should he try to share the best of both worlds.

Well, you know I just spent a year living that rural life. It was amazing. Having had my house for many years I have made some friends who are now friends for life. You find some wonderful moments in the smallest things, and you find some days where you wonder what the hell you're doing here.

I have found, and it's only my opinion, that the place and the people are what you make of them. This is a truly wonderful place and the friends I have met I wouldn't swap for anything.

But I also must admit that, being a Cityboy, there are many things I love more - seeing friends I've known all my life anytime I want, Marks & Spencer, theatre, cinema anytime, English food, the wonderful smell of the city, there's so much more. And thankfully I'm still young enough to enjoy it all.

I'm back in France soon, and my view is that I will continue to have the best of the city and the French countryside. So if you ever feel like selling up in Britain lock stock and barrel, remember this - France IS fantastic, the people are lovely, but it is a foreign land, so learn the language, understand their ways, accept it will be different, but always remember that you are British. Remember that we are neighbours and while we may pretend to love to annoy each other, we went to all the trouble of building a tunnel under the sea to be closer, so we probably all like each other a lot more than we are willing to admit.

And for those who really want to know, I'm still looking for my Mr Right, there have been some nearly Right's along the way, but real love is a special thing and having tasted it once or twice before, I'm happy to wait until the real thing happens again.

Take care, and thanks for reading my blog these last four years. Maybe see you on a train sometime sous la Manche.

Oh and PS - check out this fab new site www.poitoutv.com - it's rockin'! Lol.

Homme x

Monday, 31 January 2011

88. Bike fantastic

It may still be winter, but when the sun does shine, you gotta get out there. So with a friend visiting from the south, we take on a 40km cycle one brilliantly sunny Sunday afternoon in mid-January.

Suitably wrapped in thermal cycling kit, we head for Gencay, a little town 19kms from the house. I love the energy of cycling, the movement, the speed, especially on the downhill bits and the sun is lovely and warm on our faces.

The countryside is beautiful. Clear green fields, not yet ploughed for the spring. Hollow trees, stripped of their summer leaf and evergreens defiantly splendid even in darkest winter. We speed past chateaux, petit-ponts and quaint little villages. I love it here.

We arrange with another friend who lives in Gencay to meet her for a coffee at the bar on the main square, when we arrive. I opt for a Cappuccino - well a cafe grande at least. It's a refreshing way to pass a Sunday.

However, the ride home was long and hard, most notably because the wind was against us. My poor mate really struggled and we stopped at Sommieres on the way back for an urgent injection of energy via a chocolate bar from the local bar.

I think we slightly underestimated both the ride and our lack of fitness. Well, it is winter after all, and it is a well-known fact people exercise less in winter months. At least we do! Later I cooked a warming roast chicken supper with lots of veg, stuffing and gravy. Delish.

But as we kicked backed and watched a DVD, I gradually began to feel a wetness in my nose, the sure sign for me that a cold is in the making. So I spent the next three days sipping lemsip, homemade soups, and sneezing endlessly. That'll teach me!

Monday, 3 January 2011

87. Fit for 2011

Happy New Year everyone. Well, the dust is beginning to settle on the fog that surrounds all those celebrations, and my focus is now firmly on getting fit again.

If there's one thing I really miss about life in the city it is having a decent gym nearby.

For some reason unknown to me, the 'sports club' is not something you find in abundance here in rural France. However, there are miles and miles of quiet country roads and pathways that are perfect for jogging and cycling. And I've managed to turn a corner of the study into a little gym for light-weights and yoga style workouts.

Of course, no workout is complete without having some great, upbeat music to get you going, so I plug-in my iPhone to the system and off I go.

And if you can't face all that healthy sport, there are always calorie-burning tasks such as chopping firewood and schlepping it all into the house to get the excess fat dropping away.

Okay, so it's not exactly Holmes Place, but at least it gets you moving, the only thing missing now is the lovely Jacuzzi and sauna after the burn - anyone got any ideas?

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

86. The Snowman

Like most Brits abroad, I've watched the folks back home struggle with yet another year of gruesome 'early snow'. And though far less austere, we've had quite a bit of snow down here too in the South West of France.

I'm told it's unusual for us to get snow this early here, far less that it has stuck around this time. So when the garden turns white, the younger side of me can't resist heading out to make my first snowman in decades.

Of course I have to give him a smiley face, and eyebrows too. So he stands proud - if a little short - on the terrace and appears to wave to all the neighbours as they pass by. After a few days though, he either simply melts back into the land, or cold-foots it further north - I hope it was the latter.

And then, a few more days later, I receive a call from a friend down near Biarritz, who tells me they're having 21 degrees. It's the top story on French news with the headlines reading something like 'Biarritz basks as Paris freezes'.

Right here, somewhere in between, it doesn't quite reach 21 degrees, but neither is it perishing cold like the capital. So if you see a rather short snowman with lovely eyebrows chilling-out on the Place de la Concorde, say bonjour from me.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

85. The 'ex' factor

Okay 'tis the season to be glued to ITV on Sat and Sunday nights for the all important drama of the autumn, but hey we have lives too. Yes, indeed.

One of my ex's came to stay the other week, it was really nice. But of course we missed the Saturday night XFactor episode since we were out to dinner. Bummer, though thank God for catch ups!

Now, let me first explain, we are both happy to have spent some of our lives together and we are both very cool that we have moved on and are now great friends. In fact we still care about each other very much. Just not in that way anymore.

He was very sweet in discussing my 'singleness' and assured me that all I need to do is return to London and I will find my life partner. Mmmm.

After he left, I realised that having someone around in your life IS really quite fantastic. So I felt I should start to focus on that. Then, during the week a straight mate came round to the house and practically wailed at me - 'No, this is all yours, enjoy it, don't make the mistake of feeling like you "NEED" someone to share it with, believe me, it aint all it's cracked up to be...all you need is friends etc". Clearly he has no idea of the sex drive of a typical gay guy.

Truth is, after a lifetime of partners, I am quite content with my own space, and the idea of sharing - which has always been my default position - is now thrown into question by a married hetero with three kids and a wife! Maybe he knows something I don't.

I'll have to think this one through a bit more, meanwhile, it's around midnight so really shouldn't open a bottle of fizz at this time. Bugger that, who's to say no, cheers...

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

84. Seven months

It's mid-October and I have now been at 'the French house' for seven months. From spring, through summer and now into autumn. I can't believe how quickly the time has gone.

Becoming a 'country boy' has been great fun, I've loved most of the time here. Unfortunately, the house is STILL not finished so that's a bit of a let-down, but I have made a lot of progress outside. Lawns seeded, walkways constructed (but not tiled yet) and walls built. This has all really been due to the amazing weather this year. Still easily into the mid-20s right now. So no surprise I've spent as much of every day outside as is possible.

But, and it's a considerable 'but', I am starting to miss working for a living - believe it or not - and also I'm missing my friends back home. So, while the tranquility of France is appealing, I'm now starting on the long road towards finding a new job.

The only problem is, I don't want just any job, and whatever job I do get, I know I'm going to miss this place a lot. Not least because it will doubtless become logistically difficult to make more progress when I'm stuck back in the big smoke that is central London.

Now, where is that winning lottery ticket...

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

83. Season's change

Last week, an ex (also one of my best mates) came to stay for the weekend. He was lucky to get the amazing weather that September delivered.

However, he left on Sunday and Monday brought the first heavy rain in months and it now looks like summer has, eventually, slowly, almost reluctantly, allowed autumn to show its face.

Over the weekend though, we did manage to have the roof down on the car, not only during the day, but also for the evening drive back from the fab auberge run by Franck and Frederic, where we had supper on Saturday night. It was great to drive beneath a crystal clear starry sky on the way home. I think this may be the last 'roof down' for the season, but I'm an optimist so watch this space.

It's funny, but I love the summer, and though autumn also has its charm, I miss the carefree days I've enjoyed this long summer - the night comes earlier, the wind is louder, the sun weaker. And it's strange, but I do feel the call of the city when autumn comes.

Season's change and I guess our moods do too.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

82. A long summer

It's been a wee while since my last post, but with good reason. The summer continues to stick around, thankfully, and it's been pretty busy here. Guests (pictured) arrived from Scotland so I've been in host mode - trips to Cognac, La Rochelle, Poitiers, dinners out, dinners in, village pub visits and so on.

And thanks to the national strike last week, they stayed on an extra two days and then had to be driven to Bordeaux for a flight back to the Scottish capital. However it gave me the perfect reason to swing into Ikea Merignac for some more candle and napkin supplies!

Everyone is loving the hot September sun, so getting out and about with visitors is a must. And more guests are due, so more outings are planned.

But in between there has been much work going on too. I've been shovelling spade-fulls of concrete into the cement mixer and laying foundations for the border wall to the rear of the house and mixing mortar for other little tasks, as well as clearing mountains of rubble and unwanted weeds.

It's all great exercise, which I thrive on now, having no nearby gym anymore, but I'm not sure it's the perfect mix to be so hard at work while my guests watch from the sunny terrace with a glass of rosé in one hand and sun cream in the other.

One thing I have realised though is that exercise is the key to staying active around here. Moreso giving the regular alcohol involved when holidaying visitors are about.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

81. A medal for the mayor

The charismatic mayor of Anché is honoured for her long service to the community.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

80. Twilight vampires

Some local Brit friends invite me to a vampire-cowboy party at their very chic new barn conversion.

I try to guess the reason for the vampire theme - it's too early for Halloween - but then decide it's just cool anyway.

Everyone has gone to great effort to dress up, not least the 20 or so friends who fly in from London and other places around Europe for the event, and the evening is a great success.

Of course having a pool in the garden, and what with it being the hottest day of the year so far, it isn't too long before some of the vampires - and vampirettes (does that exist?) - shed their outfits for the ambient comfort of the pool.

Despite the ghoulish theme of the night, the sight of Karen attempting to teach everyone the basics of line dancing, is by far the scariest part of the evening. Even her little dog has had enough and tries to 'leg shag' her off the dancefloor.

I watch from the safety of the impressive grand staircase in the grand salon as rows of vampire-cowboys try to follow Rachel's lead in line dancing to Lady Gaga's Bad Romance. It aint pretty, but it IS hilarious.

In the twilight hours, and after having spent a wonderful evening meeting new friends, dancing and drinking, I head home to my lair and dream of other vampire-cowboys. Thankfully, none of them are line dancing.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

79. Millau my

Martial invites me to spend a week at his parents' gorgeous hilltop villa near Montfort. The fab weather and great hosts leave me feeling like I'm the VIP guest in a 5-star boutique hotel.

We enjoy bike rides through beautiful scenery, chic aperitifs on the coast near Bayonne, and great food, thanks to 'les parents'. So when it comes time to drive home I'm surprised to find one more 'treat' in store.

Comfortably seated in Martial's father's Mercedes S320, we drive 500 kilometres east to the awesome Millau (pron Me-o) Viaduct. It's a hot August weekend and the drive is fantastic, but nothing prepares you for this amazing structure perfectly sculpted into the French landscape.

Okay, I know, 'it's just a bridge' I hear you say. But no, it is much more than that. This €400m beauty is taller than the Eiffel Tower and only a tad shorter than the Empire State Building, and spans the Tarn River connecting the main autoroute from Paris to Montpellier.

Anyways, as if simply seeing it wasn't enough, I discover we are also booked into the Domaine de St Esteve, a great new hotel perched on a mountain commanding great views of Millau town and its domineering viaduct.

We spend the afternoon lounging by the hotel's luxurious horizon pool, and dine in its chic terrace restaurant in the evening. All the time with the viaduct providing an imposing backdrop - it looks even better when floodlit at night.

For anyone who thought Paris had it all with its famous Eiffel Tower, think again. Not only has this impressive viaduct created a much needed link for Parisians to reach the Med, it's also put the beautiful town of Millau high on the tourist trial, creating thousands of jobs in the leisure sector. And for adrenalin sports junkies - para-gliding from the mountain tops is one of the town's main sports now. And, no, I didn't have a go. Maybe next time, though.

So a grand merci to Martial for once again thinking of an amazing treat. It was fantastic and confirms why I love France so much.

Go see it.

Friday, 30 July 2010

78. Tout le monde

British novelist Karen Wheeler, draws a huge crowd for the launch of her latest yarn about the lives and loves of the Poitou-Charentes. But what do the locals make of it, and is it really just a shaggy dog's tale...

Saturday, 24 July 2010

77. Crazy Cress

Author Karen Wheeler rustles up a delicious naturally sourced water cress soup for me. Favoured by celebrities as a tasty alternative guaranteed to keep you slim for that all important photo-shoot, this is truly a delish dish. Just spare a thought, though, for the cleaning staff...

Thursday, 22 July 2010

76. Five-star friends

Like most people, I value my friends and family above most other things in life. So, when Martial, a good friend I knew when I lived in the Middle East, comes to visit, I look forward to catching up.

Being French, and a former executive housekeeper at one of the world's leading hotels in Dubai, Martial wastes no time in pitching-in and helping me with the mountain of work still to be done on this not so 5-star house.

He varnishes doors and shutters, steam-cleans rugs and basically deep-cleans the entire house to a level I didn't know was possible. He speeds off to the shops to get 'bits n pieces', and helps me sand walls and paint. Trimming the boundary hedges simply would not have been done, were it not for mon ami.

In the evenings we cook great food, open quality wines (most of which he brought) and watch good movies - Almodovar etc. He is great company and we laugh about the old days in the Gulf, and what lies ahead for us both.

When the time comes for him to leave, I feel genuinely sad, because it reminds me that I love having other people around me in my life.

Of course I would have been just as happy if he'd sinply relaxed and enjoyed the sunshine, for two weeks. But when friends pitch in with a project it's all just much more fun and less of a chore. He will be welcome anytime...especially since he always gives the place a bit of 5-star chic.

Monday, 19 July 2010

75. Dig that...

In April this year, a very excited Kipling - the son of a great local friend - arrived chez moi for his first ever ride in a Maniscopic earth mover - courtesy of Pascal one of my friendly builders. A brilliant 'first moment' for a 6 year old boy - who probably now wants to drive big machines for a living, when he grows up! And, yep, that's his mother screaming with delight (or is it sheer terror?) at the top of the clip...

Saturday, 10 July 2010

74. Anché's big opening

After being closed down last year, in the midst of a rather raunchy scandal, the local bar in the pristine village of Anché is reopened by the mayor. What was the scandal? Watch the video to find out...

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

73. Piscine around

The weather has, thankfully, turned very hot and one needs to cool down. Just as I was about to fill the bathtub with more cool water, I noticed this inflatable pool lurking in a dark corner of the study.

Okay, so it's no dreamy, sexy, rectangular infinity pool with fabulous loungers and equally fabulous pool boy on hand, but needs must.

Bought years ago, this little pool has languished unused for far too long, so, while the real thing remains a hopefully not too distant dream, the old inflatable will have to do. It comes with it's own electric filter system and I even found some chlorine/anti-algae liquid, to keep those nasty germs at bay.

With the weather now in the early 30s every day, I'm certainly going to get my money's worth out of it. It's great fun, at just three metres wide, it's certainly not for swimming, but is perfect to throw a 'li-lo' into and just relax in the sun. It also means I don't need to pack a bag and jump into the car to the nearest 'plan d'eau' every time I want to cool off and there's no more need to fill the bathtub with cold water either.

Just a shame there's no hot man around to 'li-lo' with me in my inflatable piscine, but no worries. And of course, if you're passing by this way and want to cool off, don't forget your 'cossie' - unless you want to bathe au natural.

Now there's an idea...

Monday, 28 June 2010

72. The wall

When doubts creep into one's life I always tend to just go and do something creative to better occupy my mind. I've never build a stone wall before, but I knew that I wanted the steps to the garden to be flanked by two small walls made from freely sourced Charentian limestone.

So I have just spent two weeks 'borrowing' on a permanent basis a mixture of stones and bricks found buried in my garden, old stones donated by kind neighbours and rough stone allowed to me by one of the local farmers.

Okay, so it's no masterpiece of construction, and I dare say it may not last a thousand years (or even just ten), but the satisfaction of having ticked off another item on life's list of things we should all try at least once, I am justly proud.

In fact many of the locals have tooted and thumbed their approval over the period it took me to build the walls, which provided an added boost to one's confidence. And while the house and the gardens may still be a long way from finished to a standard I am happy with, I am also content that, having wilted in my enthusiasm lately, the entire exercise has re-ignited my belief in what I am trying to do here.

Sometimes you just have to give yourself permission to say 'well done me'.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

71. What now?

It's exactly three months to the day since I left behind London city life and headed to France for a six month stay. I can't believe it's gone so quickly.

So what has been achieved? Well, the terrace is done, the bedroom nearly finished, the kitchen, well almost, but STILL not totally there. New lover, hmm, well that one's still yet to happen, although there was a brief fling with a cute guy from Poitiers. Alas, it wasn't to be.

Unfortunately, there's still so much more to be done, and worse, the money's dwindling away, so looks unlikely any more big changes will come any time soon. That's a bummer, because I had hoped the place would be looking and feeling a bit more 5-star rather than the unkempt building site it is right now.

The weather so far has also been a bit off colour. I had hoped for endless days of hot sunshine, but even today, we're blanketed in cloud and rain, with only occasional bouts of the big bright planet.

I'm beginning to look for another job back in London, because one needs to work to pay for all the improvements yet to come. I'm also bored of having to watch my pennies - so not used to that.

I've even given thoughts to selling the place and just accepting that maybe it's not to be. Socially, there's always stuff going on, but I miss the gym, being able to meet the boys in a suitable bar, hang out in places that don't close at 7.30pm, and swimming - I really miss swimming!

I've had this place for seven years now. And I'd really much rather be in a smaller house, with a more manageable garden, a stone's throw from a beach on the Med, where at least the sun shines a bit more.

So, what next? Ideas most welcome...

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

70. Rachel 'lite'

I'm beginning to think Rachel's won the jackpot on the lottery and is keeping it a secret from everyone. I haven't seen much of her lately, on account of her travelling across Europe for a series of fabulous little breaks.

Last week it was Portugal's gorgeous coast and right now she's off on some killer detox week at a top boot camp in southern Spain. She says she needs to renovate her body, to get rid of all the horrible toxins she's amassed. It's costing a fortune and all I can hope is that she's happy with the outcome.

As a friend I'll be happy whatever, but for the next week she'll be eating a squirrel's diet, juiced up raw veggies and being hauled up a mountain twice a day for exercise. I wish she'd discussed it with me beforehand because for half the price I would have happily locked her up in my spare room with a packet of Ryvita and a running machine permanently set to maximum incline.

Needless to say I think changing one's entire look in 7 days is seriously risky to long term well-being. And yes I realise that many, including Victoria Beckham would disagree with me, but Rachel doesn't even have a weight issue to begin with. At least nothing a consistent exercise and diet regime wouldn't kick into touch.

And I couldn't see why Spain was a more suitable place to get into shape than the great outdoors of the Poitou-Charentes. But Rachel duly informed me that she would be unlikely to stick to a regime back home. Which begs the question, how will she stick to it when she does return?

Still, I'm sure the new brand of Rachel 'Lite' will be just as lovely as the current brand, and I'm keeping the spare room and the Ryvita's on standby, just in case she gets a taste for long term 'Lite"

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

69. Paris by night

Ah, Paris in the spring. Mum and dad come to stay for a week - yes an ENTIRE week! No, it was un plaisir to host them really. Even despite fielding endless 'what's that' questions - as if I was suddenly the oracle of all things French! Bless.

As a special treat, we booked a weekend escape to Paris, what with it being dad's birthday an' all. The comfort of a first class coach on the TGV whisked us from rural SW France to the capital in just over an hour and a half. And to make it easier to wander around the hotspots - Louvre, Champs Elysees, Tour Eiffel, le Marais etc - I booked us into the 4-star Saint James & Albany Spa hotel, directly opposite the Louvre on the Rue de Rivoli.

A bit pricey and with a very nice entrance, but the rooms were a real letdown, so be warned. Although the long pool in the spa was lovely for that early morning swim.

On the Saturday night after an early supper I took them to the Arc de Triomphe end of the Champs Elysees so we could stroll down the famous boulevard then hang a right for a view of the Eiffel Tower in all its night-time illuminated glory. Perfect, except for the dreary rain/drizzle that dogged our every step.

Eventually, the great tower turned on its sparkle, dazzling the skyline for the 5 minute duration of the spectacular show. Mum thought it was wonderful, though dad, I fear a little weary from the wet weather was typically understated in his awe. He was definitely happier once we were out of the night rain and cosy in the hotel bar, where we ordered a nightcap.

Paris by night is truly beautiful, but as dad clearly saw, probably much easier to appreciate without the drizzle of a spring evening.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

68. On a balcony

Mmmm...spring is definitely here. The air is warmer, plants are beginning to bloom and the sun is strong and welcoming, even though the wind still pierces de temps en temps.

And while the long dreamed of heat of a languorous summer day, may still be a while off, I'm happy that the new balcony is now finished. The dirty work is over, the tiles in place and the dressing has started - strategic, yet unassuming plants in subtle pots, the correct amount of lighting, and mini plants to guard the porte d'entree.

Okay, so no actual furniture yet, but it will come when I have made the final choice of the right seating and table for the space. Not that easy to find so ideas welcome!

My parents arrived today from Scotland and something happened that's made me feel more attached to this place. Not sure what it was exactly, but maybe it's because they are the first guests to arrive in this sojourn. I'm seeing other people use the space for the first time - and I like it.

After working so hard over the past two months on improvements - garden, balcony, kitchen, bedrooms, etc (all still far from complete) - it's great to see it being appreciated by others.

So, will I return to London in the autumn to find more work, or will I decide to stay here? Thankfully, that is still a choice that's some way off right now, so we'll see. Meanwhile, I'm going to enjoy the balcony and it's view, which (if I don't look too hard at the mud-flat that will eventually be the driveway) is rather pleasant and tranquil on the eye.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

67. Kitchen nightmares

It's enough to have me cursing like Gordon Ramsay on a good day! Almost one month ago I decided it was finally time to tackle that cooking place in the house - it didn't warrant actually being called a kitchen back then.

Being typically hard on myself, progress has been slow. Oh I've bought the kitchen, built the units and ordered les electromenagers - oven, hob, fan, dishwasher - but getting the room prepped and the plumbing re-organised has been a nightmare.

So today I finished off prepping the walls and shifted all the units into the damn kitchen room, in the vain hope that someone, somewhere will turn up to help me get it all properly in place. It's hard to believe there's supposed to be a recession on, given the difficulty I've had in finding a plumber and kitchen fitter out here in 'backsville' who is able to squeeze me in.

Rachel, though, offers a timely hope by referring a friend who may be able to help. She also passes on some amazing news that could mean an end to all of us having to avoid flying 'Ruinair' back to London with the news that a Hungarian airline is planning to start full service flights to London Gatwick from Angouleme - I for one will definitely be supporting that as much as I can - Mr O'leary take notice - we are all done with your pitiful idea of how people should fly - www.citylineswiss.com, we all have high hopes of you. Bienvenue.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

66. Open doors

Well it's been a few weeks since I arrived here, and it's all chaos! So apologies for the silence.

When I first got here, the weather was pretty good so I spent as much time in the garden as I could - cutting back years of overgrowth - backbreaking is the only word for it. Also, a new main entrance to the building has been constructed on the West-facing side of the house; complete with a balcony too.

Like everyone these days, I'm trying to be a little more 'self sustainable', so seeds for potatoes, carrots, radishes, beans, tomatoes, courgettes and Rocket have also been sewn - hope they deliver!

Then the weather turned - bloody awful is the only way to describe it - so I turned way focus to the inside - bought a kitchen (only partly installed so far) and set about getting the bedrooms up to grade.

Socially, there have been dinners, lunches, aperitifs and days out with neighbours. It's weird, but with so much to do, I haven't actually had a moment to realise that I'm here now for the next six months. But now the weather's turned and now that things seem to be settling on the social front, to be honest I'm really missing having a special 'significant other' to cuddle up to. Well that and helping out with the hefty list of things I still need to do to this money pit of course.

In the meantime, it's on with the work list. Hope you like the new doors.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

65. Au revoir le 'City'

A week ago I waved goodbye to City life, suits and stocks for the foreseeable future and headed south to the little corner of the Poitou-Charentes that is now home.

Since arriving here the weather has been fab, the social calendar packed and the house accommodating. I haven't even given a thought to the hectic and exhausting life I was living only a few weeks ago. More importantly, it is wonderful to be able to rise at a normal hour instead of the 4am starts I've endured over the past three years.

There's been too much to do here to think of much else really - friends to catch up with, grass cutting, garden repairs (following the awful storms of February), renovation projects to plan - and I'm making it all more difficult by filming it too. Who knows, maybe a clever TV producer will consider it worthy viewing for the masses!

The many friends I am fortunate to have out here have been very welcoming and encouraging. Last Sunday we all traipsed over to a fab restaurant called The Mad Hatters for a traditional Sunday roast - I know, rather British, but the food is amazing and the prices make it a sin to miss.

And it so nearly didn't happen. I thought we were meeting for supper, so when the party called at lunchtime to find out where the hell I was (in the garden up to my neck in dirt and grime), I had to high tail it across country, breaking practically every speeding law that exists to join them in time.

Usually, I'm very reliable about this sort of thing, but being extremely late for a very important date with friends at a place called The Mad Hatters surprised even me. It made me think, hang-on, perhaps this is less a move to south-western France and more like falling through a kind of Alice's looking glass; in which case I'm thrilled, because that means it's going to be an awfully big adventure.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

64. The right wheels

Having been made recently free from the rigour of work, I've spent the last three weeks practically chained to my laptop, surfing my way through the world of cars that is Autotrader.co.uk.

Trying to find a decent car as my transport for the next six months in France has been an ordeal. First choice was a BMW 3-Series either coupe or convertible. Then I thought perhaps I'll find a decent Merc, and then I moved onto Audi. Aaargh!

I spent entire days dragging myself from one side of town to the other and all around the home counties - Kent, Surrey, Bedfordshire - looking at would-be suitors for my wheels. Every time, there was something not quite right - dodgy engines, missing parts, shoddy bodywork, missing vehicle histories. I really was beginning to lose hope.

Moreover, I was starting to feel dizzy and quite sick of the sight of my otherwise cherished MacBook Pro - too much time spent on these things is so not good for you.

Then, I caste my net even wider and started looking a cars I'd never previously even thought would be an option. I feel like a world expert now on the entire industry.

In the end I settled for a 10 year-old Saab 9-3 convertible. It feels okay to drive, has decent mileage, all the vehicle history, and - because I bought it from a Saab dealership - I get a year's warranty to boot.

Okay, so it has a tape deck rather than a CD player, but now that we're all using wireless MP3 transmitters, even CD players are becoming obsolete. So hopefully will be heading over to the French house very soon. If you see me on the road, give me a toot!

Monday, 8 February 2010

63. Destiny calls

My bosses made 11 positions in our department redundant last week - mine was one of them. So, after two-and-a-half years of indecision and to-ing and fro-ing, I am finally faced with some real choices.

Do I just take the money and run? Should I take the position in another department that I have been offered? Do I try to find new work straight away? Or do I move to France and see what happens next?

Okay, I can hear you all yelling for the latter, so, assuming I get my recently refurbished and expanded London home rented out, I plan to move to France for the spring/summer and quite frankly cannot wait to get going.

Whilst it was indeed a fab job, the conditions of late, as well as some of the new people (they made over 100 colleagues redundant last year), were quite tedious to work with. And don't even get me started on the fact that our swish city office block was awash with mice, which were frequently seen scurrying across the office floor - yuk. No, it was time to go and thank goodness I got the opportunity of a redundancy package rather than simply, just looking for another position.

What I'm really excited about now is being in France for spring and summer, getting loads done to the house, growing my own in the kitchen garden and hopefully writing my first book. And who knows, maybe even Mr Scotland (yes, it's still bubbling under) will find it worth hanging out in the French countryside!

Monday, 25 January 2010

62. A big night out

It's late January and the big night finally arrives. In the afternoon I head to the Salle de Fete and 'dress' our table for the Disco d'hiver. We opt for an understated, but chic affair. Rachel provides the smart white linen table cloth and tea-light holders and I supply crockery, cutlery glassware and two feature silver candelabras, plus gauche pink napkins to set the table off.

One of our group, the maire from a local village treats us to pre-dinner cocktails chez-moi from an old French recipe - Champagne soup. This consists of lemon juice, Cointreau and Champagne, which is delicious, though deadly I surmise, in quantities, which we wash down with Salmon on bread snacks.

Eventually, we all troop down to the village hall, which has been transformed into 'The' place to be seen. Low lighting, candles everywhere, fabulous decorations and a full disco and dance floor. Though our table looks hot, everyone else has gone to as much, if not more, trouble and really dressed their tables to impress.

Rachel's goat's cheese and onion tarts with a side salad kick off the dining part of the evening in style. This is followed by my Boeuf Bourguignon and then a scrumptious desert of individual Black Forest Gateaux and or Apple Crumble courtesy of two of the other guests at our table.

More than 120 guests have turned up and the evening is a great success. It's fantastic catching up with friends and neighbours - French and English - and dancing the night away. There are people of every generation laughing, chatting, drinking and dancing - and fun and happiness fill the air. Though if I'm honest there is something a little odd about watching the elder members of the gathering get down to The Prodigy's 'Smack My Bitch up'!

I realise that this is very much a community, not only an international one, but one that I feel very much a part of. And I love that people in the country are just as keen as city folk to 'glam' up and make special, provided someone creates the reason for it - top marks to my friend Mich for organising.

More wine is drunk, more chat, and of course, more dancing. Typically, we are the last to leave, in the wee early hours.

As I rush around the next morning, trying to ignore the obvious hangover, and preparing to catch the train back to London, I stop for one moment, to remember how great it is out here, even in winter.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

61. Disco D'hivers

Welcome to 2010. Feels pretty good so far - apart from the weather of course. Over the festive season there was lots of time spent with family, friends, and even a little romance - okay, just great hot sex and cuddles. No need to buy a hat! Alas, it was just a fling. So on we go.

Because you have all asked, Rachel is fine - actually looking great these days and having big 'love in' with a local Italian beau, for the past year. I went for a lovely walk with her through the French countryside on New Year's day, which was great despite the small matter of a neighbour's hen being murdered by her otherwise cute little chien - it was his 5th killing in as many months - so 'serial' comes to mind.

Riley is also fine, though the cold weather has sent him packing back to Blighty. I'm guessing he's not being naked there either though - what is all that snow about? I missed him not being here for the New Year festivities, actually, but something about the cold and his 'slow renovation' means England was probably more comfortable and heck, just warmer.

I'm looking forward to a special night out in my village being arranged for late January, by an English neighbour. The venue is the the local salle de fete, which will be transformed into a steamy nightclub for a 'Disco D'hiver' (Diva, get it?) but should be great fun. I should admit at this point that I have this thing about disco's. After a certain point in the evening I always seem to lose my t-shirt on the dance-floor. Don't ask me how. It just happens.

So, if January' proving a little too much, why not just get yourself down to a warm disco and dance the winter - and all those calories - away. And if the diva inside you wants to get out - just lose that t-shirt and go for it. Party-on 2010.

Thursday, 31 December 2009

60. Au revoir 'noughties'

So it's the last day of the year, the decade even, and I will usher in the new age right here in France.

Many will be glad to see the back of the 'noughties' - a decade that was often very naughty indeed and frequently quite nasty, too. History will record it as the decade that saw 9-11, new wars in the Middle East, global financial calamity, and the threat of previously unheard of diseases such as bird and swine flu.

But for each of us there will also be highlights too. For me the noughties will always be the decade I bought a house in France (seasonal pic of local ville above); it will be the time I took a year off to travel around the world with my partner, Gary; it will be the time I decided to live in Arabia (Dubai) for three years; and the decade which taught me that happiness and love are, after, all the most important things in our lives.

As the final hours of the last day of 2009 tick away, I find myself excited and hopeful of the next decade. Excited because it's just great to be here, and hopeful that we will all learn to love a little bit more, and hurt others a lot less. Well, you have to hope!

I entered the noughties partnered, and though I'm leaving them as a single guy, I am at least happy. Of course no-one really knows what lies ahead on the relationship front. However, I haven't been able to get the guy from Scotland out of my mind. Wouldn't it be funny if, for all my worldly travels and adventures, I ended up falling for a sweet guy from 'back home'? I kind of like the idea. I'll keep you posted.

For now, I hope you all have a fabulous celebration tonight and the happiest New Year...see you on the other side, in 2010.

Monday, 28 December 2009

59. Winter wonderguy

I arrive in Scotland for the festive season and, while checking my email, notice that a neighbour has sent me this photo (left) of my house in France with the snow.

It's nothing too unusual, except that it rarely snows in the Poitou, and almost never before January or Feb, sometimes even March.

The photos are taken the week before Christmas. Scotland, too, is showered in the magical white stuff as it prepares to deliver the first 'White Christmas' in half a decade. Everything is preserved in this surreal brilliance and the whole place feels very dreamlike, almost Narnian, one might say.

Christmas comes and goes with all the usual fayre and fun with extended family - Champagne on arrival, delicious big lunch, children running around and then entertaining with carols, party games - we play pass the bomb and Outburst - both very funny and noisy affairs - and rightly so on Christmas Day.

On Boxing Day, I head to the gym to work off some of the excess. And, then, in this winter wonderland, where time appears to have stopped, I meet a lovely, sexy and smiley Scottish guy. We arrange a drink together, but don't stay long in the bar. We're both clearly very attracted to each other and need to do something about it. It's getting late, so he drives me through the snowy darkness to his family home, where we get to know each other an awfully lot better. It's a fabulously unexpected, but much needed, much welcomed treat. After all, isn't Christmas meant for sharing?

Later, we spend what seems like hours lying around in each other's arms, chatting about nothing in particular, laughing, kissing. Unfortunately, time starts to move again too soon - I have to rush back to my parents in order to catch a flight to London. For the next day I have to Eurostar it over to the French house for a week.

So here I am, right now, sitting alone in biz class on a Eurostar, on my way to New Year in a foreign land - all the while wondering if I should have invited the lovely Scottish guy to come stay in France awhile.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

58. 'Tis the season...

So how did that happen? One minute, I'm just blundering my way through yet another year of indecision, and suddenly it's less than two weeks to go until Christmas.

As usual I'm not as prepared as I should be, but I just swallow my dread and head up to Oxford Street. I dash in and out of Hamleys, TopMan, French Connection and the deliciously sexy Abercrombie & Fitch.

This year I'll be heading to Scotland for Christmas to spend some quality time with my parents, before heading out to France for a week for New Year.

Something tells me 2010 is going to be an important year where the French house is concerned. Not sure why, but am hoping things could alter somewhat in terms of the time I get to spend there. Would be great to be wealthy enough to 'decide' when I come and go.

Looking back briefly on 2009, it has to be said that some excellent progress has been made - New roof, guttering, pathway (still not finished), new cupboard, new study, new front door. Although the must have pool is still to be added, I hope to continue the progress into 2010 and already have an offer from an 'ex' to come and house-sit and project manage.

So a Merry Christmas to you all and roll on 2010.

Monday, 16 November 2009

57. Curry by a cauldron

'Fire and brimstone, what's the hurry, lashings of rice and a ladle of curry'.

Rob invites Rachel, myself and a couple of other friends round for a curry in front of his newly created fire-pit in the garden.

It's still mild, so we all venture out and the impressive cauldron he has set up in the garden does more than a decent job at keeping us all warm - the curry's pretty hot and tasty too.

I realise that the cauldron, is just the sort of thing I perhaps ought to be looking out for at Brocantes, because it is the perfect shape to hold a contained fire in the garden.

The curry, the wine and the company are a lovely way to pass an autumn evening and Rob is the perfect host. I should confess to being a tad jealous as I raised the notion of having a fire-pit in my own garden during the summer and Rob said he was thinking the same, and has subsequently, though fairly beaten me to it.

How lucky he is to be here most of the time. I admire his ingenuity though am somewhat alarmed by the border he has created around the fire. Although I can see it is an attempt at safety, one wrong move and you could be hurtling head first into the damn thing. Still, I'm sure Rob will continue to make adjustments and improvements.

Now all I have to do to get MY gorgeous fire-pit made is create the right surrounding and look out for a suitable cauldron at the next broc that comes along. Though, with winter well on its way, that could take some time.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

56. Grenier gold dust

Rachel invites me to a vide grenier in a nearby village on a hot a sweltering Sunday afternoon. It's the perfect excuse to go wonder around aimlessly with friends looking at a load of old tat, so I jump at the chance.

We agree to meet at the cute little Bar du Commerce in her village before heading off. Joining us is Rob, another expat from London, who's already been to the sale and bought lots - too much I fear - of little things that he doesn't really need. Worse, he's going back again for more!

Eventually, we arrive at the sale, and it's quite impressive. There are loads of stalls and there ARE some very buyable items. But, while Rob buys up half the boot sale, I find myself saying 'no' to almost everything, insisting that I need to spend my money on getting the house done first - new roofs (already on now), driveway, gates, border walls, etc...even a kitchen for goodness sake.

However, when I spot this chic little metal salver (pictured above), I just have to have it. I think it's copper, but I can't be sure, and the pattern is fabulously intricate with a five-pointed star at its centre. Very Templar Knights, and a worthy addition to the house.

Rob, who simply asks the price of things and then pays, is impressed when I haggle a 40% reduction on the salver. I can't help it - 'buy low, sell high' is a mantra I know well after twelve years in 'the City'.

Compared to Rachel and Rob, I have hardly gone on a spree, but as well as knowing I should get the house fit first, one of my other mantras in life is - less is more. And I can tell you, the satisfaction of my single purchase is no less pleasurable for it.

Friday, 9 October 2009

55. Bonfire of the vanities

What a week! Earth moving, landscaping, working every sinew in your body...crikey, I feel fit. I must have burned about 4,000 calories a day just shovelling soil and trying to get this land licked into shape.

I love the exercise, but I'd really rather be swimming, jogging, visiting galleries, driving fast in my hired car and looking at all the hot guys in France. Instead, I'm up to my neck in dust, dirt, flora and fire fumes.

The roofers today had a good old laugh when we sat down for beers at 5pm , when they looked at my face and said I looked so black, even my facial hair was tarred. Eventually, they left and I carried on tending this huge bonfire, created out of the huge 'Manitou magic' of yesterday.

I'm getting more and more tarred by the thick black suit of the burning waste as it smokes away, but I feel closer than ever to this rich fertile land.

Watching the fire eat its way through all the flora, on a perfect night with the moon in the background, I feel warm and happy and centred. A desk job in the City is nothing when compared to getting this kind of thing under your skin.

My muscles ache, though, and all I want is a hot guy to press away the pain in a hot bath, to kiss me anywhere and tell me this project is no vanity, that one day this place will be fab, the heavy work over and the real fun will begin.

I know it was right to buy this property.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

54. Boy toys

It's probably not the right thing for a 'metrogay' to admit, but I just love big machines that tear up the earth. So when Pascale - one of the hot French builders putting my new roof on - sees me struggling with a garden fork to re-shape my land, he offers to rip up the ugly 45 metre long border of the house with his big digger. It's all I can do to stop clapping my hands and shouting - 'Go for it hottie'.

It would have taken me probably around two weeks solid graft to deal with the years of neglect and growth that had become my village-facing border. Pascale and his great big 'Manitou' digger ripped it all out and wrapped into a bonfire heap within about two minutes.

The weather's fantastic, Pascale and Francois are topless laying the roof, and I'm topless laying around, or probably just looking to be laid, really! Seriously, though, there's just something about a guy in a big machine. I'm now trying to pluck up the courage to ask: 'Can I have a go on your Manitou?' They seem so accommodating, I'm sure they'll say yes.

We all enjoy a beer together at the end of each day, and as they leave I wonder if they've left the keys in the digger, so I go check out the 'cockpit'. Alas, the blighters have put security first. Shame. I was really looking forward to riding that Manitou!