The Beginning of the End?

We seem to have stalled. After a reasonably promising start in spring the summer hasn’t quite delivered on several fronts. Let’s get the obvious out of the way first; the weather has been almost British-like with mainly cloudy days and occasional showers. Yes, the temperature has been warm enough that I have spent all my time in shorts and t-shirt but the lack of clear, blue skies has dampened the mood. The upside of course is that it’s far more comfortable for working.

We’ve been in and around the Dordogne since February and this lack of movement has made us less adventurous and more indecisive so planning and organising our next move has become a struggle. As we’ve learnt previously the difficulty is dovetailing the various workaways and housesits into a plausible timeframe combined with the logistics of travelling between them. We had our fingers burnt last year when what looked like a sturdy structure came, surprisingly quickly, tumbling down. The offer of a summer-long workaway was far too tempting this year and as expected our hosts have again been lovely.

There’s been the added pressure this year of diminishing finances. We’re being extra cautious about every centime (penny) we spend and have tried to reduce our biggest expenses of petrol and accommodation bills which we’ve achieved. Our experiment of charging for housesitting failed dismally. It seems there’s an interesting psychology at play here and I’ve reached a couple of conclusions that may or may not be correct. Firstly, the price was wrong, perhaps one of those rare occasions when people expect to pay more and surmise that as you’re so cheap there’s something dodgy going on. Secondly, it might just be the obvious common-sense opinion of ‘why pay when someone else will do it for free’, after all, isn’t that the idea behind housesitting, an equal exchange of accommodation for time? Perfectly understandable as going on holiday is expensive enough without the added cost of financing a security guard and dog walker.

I was supposed to secure some paid employment this summer too, but to be honest, never really attempted to. I can only put this down to a lack of determination on my part and not the language barrier that provides the obvious excuse. One of the bonuses of getting work would have been the opportunity to speak more conversational French, so I could say this has been a double whammy disappointment for both lucre and lingo.

Scarce swallowtail butterfly enjoying the lavender.

That’s enough moaning for today, let’s focus on the positives. The garden here is looking really attractive, our pruning of the lavender back in early March has paid off and every bush is huge with flowers. They constantly hum with the sound of bees feasting on the nectar within as butterflies flit from stem to stem. A new sign for Dordogne Studios is now installed and another announces that the property is for sale. Drains have been unblocked and slabs of concrete laid alongside the regular chores of trimming, cutting and strimming. We’ve been cleaning the two hot tubs and both pools, there’s a morning routine of opening, hoovering and chucking in some chemicals. A young family were staying in the house last week, the children brought with them some toys to practise their underwater swimming, brightly-coloured, weighted sticks, about 150mm (6in) long with a fish or similar creature on the top. Every morning we’d find them stuck to the bottom and I’d have to net them out – to get the picture just imagine your wife or girlfriend has dropped their favourite vibrator in the bath!

New sign for the Dordogne Studios.

It goes without saying that every graphic designer (and t-shirt printer) is in touch with his feminine side but I think I crossed the line the other day. We have these big yellow hands that are great for picking up piles of leaves and grass cuttings. Imagine big triangular garden rakes but instead of a long stick, you can put your hand inside and grip a bar. Every time I use them I can hear Max Bygraves, ‘you need hands… ’ it was a sweltering hot afternoon and I was out the front trimming a bush, possibly the wisteria, when a tractor came chugging up the hill. The burly young French farmer, hot and sweaty from forking hay, sat in the cab dressed only in shorts, looking up from the roadside you’d think he was naked. As he reached me he politely nodded acknowledgement and I replied with a smile and big wave of my yellow hand. What made matters even more Brokeback Mountain was that coming up the rear was another tractor being driven by another tanned and glistening naked lad that received the same friendly hand gesture.

Enjoying the Tour caravan.

On his way to victory, Chris Froome.

We’ve picked the right location for the Tour again. Stage 10 passed through the nearby town of Lalinde and we waited on the outskirts to collect some goodies from the caravan and cheer on all the contestants but in particular Chris Froome. I think we might have even made it onto the telly! One of the helicopters hovered what seemed like just a few metres (yards) above our heads as we enthusiastically waved.

Smile, you’re on the telly!

Attractive gardens of Chateau des Milandes.

We visited Chateau des Milandes the other day. Architecturally, there’s nothing to get excited about but the gardens are lovely. Historically, there’s little to champion too and the audio guide was occasionally monotonous. However, it does have the more recent interesting tale to tell of Josephine Baker, a rags to riches and back to rags tragedy of an American showgirl famed for performing dressed only in a skirt of golden bananas. She fell in love with France, become a hero of the WWII resistance then fell on hard times. It’s not your typical day out at a castle, no knights of old or dragon slaying here but there’s an enjoyable collection of birds of prey that are brought out to demonstrate aerial acrobatics every other hour – sit in the front row and you might get an eagle owl perched on your arm! On the whole a worthwhile day out.

Birds of prey demonstration.

Common kestrel.

We’ve been out of the rat race for over two years now and for the first time I think I felt just a faint feeling of missing my old life the other day. I’m no fan of facebook – if I had a penny for every hour that people have wasted just scrolling through the 99% of shite posted… – however, I too am powerless to its addictive ways. I receive the usual posts from old friends/work colleagues now enjoying their middle class, Richard Curtis, ‘Love Actually’ lifestyles, pictures of wives and kids in tow while on holiday or out for a meal after work on a Friday night. Pleasures that I was lucky enough to sample if only fleetingly from time to time, perhaps a way of life I could have had if I’d made better decisions, if I’d not suffered the family curse and resisted the desire to be my own boss, suppressed the entrepreneur bread into my DNA.

Of course, it was only a faint feeling and I was brought back to sanity by the swallows swooping and diving around me as I sat on the balcony looking out down the valley below wispy clouds washed across a blue sky. I’m more ‘Exotic Marigold Hotel’ these days. My commute to work tomorrow will be a stroll through the garden. The summer holiday season in the Dordogne is drawing to a close and thoughts are drifting to our next move. We are at a crossroads, apprehensive, still trying to make the right decision and pick the path to nirvana.

I learnt something today… cows can lick their own bums!

‘Have you seen my party trick?’