A Knight’s Tale (78.1: The Troubles)

The 1970s was a decade in which the IRA carried out numerous bombing attacks in and around central London. A full list appears in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_terrorist_incidents_in_London. While living in Soho’s Horse and Dolphin Yard we heard numerous explosions from the safety of our flat.

On 30 March 1979,  Airey Neave, British Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was assassinated by the Irish National Liberation Army with a bomb fixed under his car. The bomb detonated in the car park of the Palace of Westminster in London and mortally wounded Neave, who died shortly after being admitted to hospital.[1] (Wikipedia – extract from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassination_of_Airey_Neave)

When younger, our King Charles III was very close to his Great Uncle Louis Mountbatten whose home, Broadlands is in Romsey, not far from us in The New Forest.

On 27th August 1979, their relationship was ended by an IRA bomb. Details of the event can be found in:

https://www.history.com/news/mountbatten-assassination-ira-thatcher

‘The gruesome 1979 IRA assassination of a beloved British royal—which took place the same day as a deadly coordinated attack on British troops—led to outrage, heartbreak and a heightening of “The Troubles,” the decades-long Northern Ireland conflict.

The Provisional Irish Republican Army claimed responsibility for the August 27, 1979 murder of Lord Louis Mountbatten, 79, Earl of Burma, great-grandson of Queen Victoria, second cousin of Queen Elizabeth II and great-uncle of King Charles III. The World War II hero and last viceroy of India was aboard his 29-foot Shadow Vfishing boat with six others near his summer home in northwest Ireland the morning of the attack. 

A Sunny Day Turns Grim

IRA assassination of Lord Mountbatten, Shadow V
Part of the wreckage of Lord Mountbatten’s boat the Shadow V after it had been bombed by the IRA in August 1979.Independent News and Media/Getty Images

August 27, 1979, a Bank holiday, had dawned sunny, following days of rain. “Dickie” Mountbatten and some of his family who had been staying at their holiday home, Classibawn Castle near the Village of Cliffoney, County Sligo in the Republic of Ireland, decided to take an outing on their boat to take in the good weather. 

Fifteen minutes after setting sail, a planted bomb was activated by two members of the Provisional IRA, a paramilitary group of Irish nationalists who waged a terror campaign to drive British forces from Northern Ireland to create a united, independent nation. Known as “the Troubles,” the conflict raged for 25 years before IRA and loyalist ceasefires were initiated. By 1998, the year the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement settled the conflict, more than 3,600 people had died.’

A Knight’s Tale (38.1 Wives And Servants

‘The Obscene Publications Act 1959 (c. 66) is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom Parliament that significantly reformed the law related to obscenity in England and Wales. Prior to the passage of the Act, the law on publishing obscene materials was governed by the common law case of R v Hicklin, which had no exceptions for artistic merit or the public good. During the 1950s, the Society of Authors formed a committee to recommend reform of the existing law, submitting a draft bill to the Home Office in February 1955. After several failed attempts to push a bill through Parliament, a committee finally succeeded in creating a viable bill, which was introduced to Parliament by Roy Jenkins and given the Royal Assent on 29 July 1959, coming into force on 29 August 1959 as the Obscene Publications Act 1959. With the committee consisting of both censors and reformers, the actual reform of the law was limited, with several extensions to police powers included in the final version.

The Act created a new offence for publishing obscene material, repealing the common law offence of obscene libel which was previously used, and also allows Justices of the Peace to issue warrants allowing the police to seize such materials. At the same time it creates two defences; firstly, the defence of innocent dissemination, and secondly the defence of public good.’ (Wikipedia)

My schooldays ended in July 1960, but even then, like every other schoolboy in the country I had keenly awaited the outcome of a trial due to take place later in the year of Penguin Books as the publisher of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which publication in August had been prevented under the auspices of the above quoted legislation, thus ruining our summer holiday reading. All copies distributed before 16th were immediately withdrawn, pending the trial opening in November.

An entertaining and informative article from the New Yorker by Mollie Panter-Downes (surely an apt name) https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1960/11/19/the-lady-at-the-old-bailey, gives an excellent eye-witness account of the proceedings which demonstrated how far certain sections of the judiciary had become distanced from the national mood.

In his summing up, the question put to the jurors by Counsel for the Prosecution, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, who was later to become a judge, as to whether they would wish their wives or their servants to read such a book, said it all.

Lawrence’s really rather mediocre novel was first published privately in Venice in 1928, but not until November 1960 could it be published in UK. Naturally the trial’s publicity boosted Penguin’s sales enormously.

A Knight’s Tale (116.1 Cumbrian Interludes)

During the early 1990s Jessica and I enjoyed a number of holidays in Cumbria.

Our August 1992 holiday was spent at Towcett with Ali, Steve, and James.

On 18th August we climbed the fells from Haweswater where we made the acquaintance of

mountain sheep who looked rather more comfortable than I felt.

The youngsters, Louisa, naturally taking the lead, ascended with the help of mountain bikes

and the rest of us hiked.

Louisa tackling daunting banana split 19.8.92 1

As we know, Louisa is game for anything, but it looks as if she found this banana split, consumed at Tudor Restaurant, Penrith, rather daunting.

We stayed at Teal Cottage, one of the holiday homes in the grounds of Towcett House, the home of Jessica’s cousin Angie, and her then husband Viscount Hugh Lowther. There, Sam manufactured a bow and arrow and an archery contest soon got under way.

Louisa firing bow and arrow 21.8.92 1
Louisa firing bow and arrow 21.8.92 2
Louisa firing bow and arrow 21.8.92 3

Louisa was first at the butts;

Sam firing bow and arrow 21.8.92 1
Sam firing bow and arrow 21.8.92 2

Sam followed;

James A firing bow and arrow 21.8.92 2
James A firing bow and arrow 21.8.92 3
James A firing bow and arrow 21.8.92 4

and James brought up the rear.

Readers may be surprised at the tale of Hugh’s microlight.  I was.  Viscount Lowther was a microlight fanatic.  A microlight is a very flimsy looking flying machine designed for two people.  Hugh would study his route, fill up with fuel, and set off, like Baron Munchausen, in the direction of the moon, reappearing some hours later.  He was quite keen that we should all have a trip.  As  I watched each member of the family in turn strap themselves into their seat, tune in their walkie talkie radio, and glide into the firmament, I determined that no way was I going to do the same.  Eventually, of course, I was the only person who hadn’t been up.  So I had to.  I didn’t want to be thought of as chicken.  After all, I had seen, and smelt from a great distance the battery chicken farm in Lowther Castle.  Lowther Castle had, many years before, lost its roof, as a not uncommon measure to avoid paying a roof tax; it had post-1960, been converted to the rearing of battery hens.

You will have to excuse that little diversion.  I didn’t really want to be reminded of my turn in the air.  Hugh’s flying machine, in which he did become a remarkable man, was of the type in which the passenger sits above and behind the pilot.  There is therefore nothing above the victim but the propeller system.  In my case, I didn’t even have the shoulder strap, because it wasn’t long enough for me and had to be secured around my waist.  I still have difficulty believing I actually did this.  Then came the surprise.  Communicating with Hugh by means of the portable radio kit, I had the sense that this rather unusual man was in complete control of his element, which made me feel safe.  It is still not an experience I would wish to repeat, but the only slightly queasy moment I remember was when he directed me to look down onto the miniature cattle below.  Actually it was rather more than slight queasiness, but subsided somewhat once I refocussed on the top of my driver’s head.

Another tale from this era concerned our attendance at a show event in the grounds of Hugh’s father, the 7th Earl of Lonsdale. Willie, Viscount Whitelaw of Penrith, was one of the dignitaries I recognised within the secure palisade surrounding the area.

When wandering around, I passed the entrance to a marquee just as an elegant gentleman dashed out unable to avoid a collision. Thus I met the Consort of the late Queen Elizabeth II. Neither I nor Prince Philip was harmed in any way.

Hugh Lowther inherited the Earldom of Lonsdale on the death of his father in 2006.

Perhaps following the principle exemplified by the raising of the castle roof mentioned above, ‘In May 2014, in order to pay an inheritance tax bill, he placed Blencathra, a mountain in the Lake District, and the title “Lord of the Manor of Threlkeld” for sale.[5] Ultimately, Lowther found other means to pay the bill and withdrew the mountain from sale.[2][3]

[The 8th] Lord Lonsdale died on 22 June 2021, at the age of 72.[2] As he had no sons capable of inheriting his titles, the earldom passed to his half-brother Hon. William James Lowther (born 9 July 1957) who is the son of the 7th Earl by his second wife.[3][6]‘ (Wikipedia)

A Knight’s Tale (Positive Postscript)

Having completed my story of my place in an era with the Sigoules disaster followed by: ‘Given that, since 9th May 2012, my WordPress blog has been a daily diary and we are now settled in comfortable twilight years in Hampshire’s New Forest, this seems an appropriate time to close the pages of “A Knight’s Tale”.’, following some readers’ responses I will expand a little on the advent of the ‘twilight years’.

For the years 2011/2012 when living in Morden Jackie and I spent weekends caring for Elizabeth’s garden at The Firs, West End, near Southampton.

Once we had decided to move to the New Forest, Danni found the ideal flat for us in Castle Malwood Lodge, Minstead.

There Jackie built her garden outside our apartment on the right hand ground floor corner of the building.

Sequoia

We have William Ewart Gladstone’s Chancellor of the Exchequer to thank for the beautiful place in which we lived while waiting for the proceeds of Jackie’s London home.  The lawyer and Liberal politician had the house built in 1880 and became Chancellor in 1886.  In this post Sir William Harcourt was responsible for the introduction of death duties as they are today.  At that time the Liberals, a different party than the one we recognise, were seeking measures to increase taxation in a more acceptable way than income tax.  The modern bereaved inheritors may have a view on that.

The great Victorian Prime Minister planted a sequoia in the garden during one of his visits there.  That tree now stands above the others which crowd the land beyond the rhododendron hedges, in an area that now merges with the forest.  It is so tall it has become a local landmark.

Eventually on the first of April 2014 we moved into Old Post House, where we began our “twilight years” which are chronicled on my Rambling blog started on 9th May 2012.

A Knight’s Tale (150: Poetic Justice)

It was an e-mail from my friend, Brigitte who lived next door to my Sigoules house which alerted me to the fact that the house had been occupied the day after I left on 11th July.

After managing to remove the squatters and their clothing, their furniture and other material were still to go. After a few days I returned home, never to visit there again.

Mark Vick, the husband of the Estate Agent who was to sell the house, was engaged to supervise the removal.

My kitchen was filled with white goods and other items presumably belonging to the infiltrators.

Before I left for England on 2nd September, I turned off the electricity supply.

Late on the afternoon of the 12th, I received confirmation from Mark, who had supervised the process on my behalf, that almost everything belonging to the people who were living in my house had been removed that day. Exceptions were the contents of the cellar and an additional freezer that was in the kitchen. This was not mine, and I was unaware that it had been connected and filled with food. It had been lined up against a wall with other white goods, and couldn’t be accessed without moving the table. It was now crawling with maggots because I had disconnected the power and thrown the huge amount of food that had filled my own large fridge freezer into the local refuse dump. There seemed to be a certain poetic justice in this. Mark had turned the power back on to freeze down the contents. All these items were to be removed the next week, as indeed they were.

It was to be more than three years before a buyer was found. Although, after numerous delays and errors that held up the process, a completion date was set for 31st March 2018. I wasn’t even confident that this would be met – which turned out to have been sensible, because it didn’t happen.

The elements intervened. France had experienced even more rain than we have. Such weather makes the house a little vulnerable to an underground stream. For that reason an electric pump was installed in the cellar. A rounding off of my Sigoules residence which had begun with a far more serious flood before I took possession.

On 12th March the estate agent and buyer discovered that the cellar was flooded up to the fourth step, and that there was no electricity in the house.

The agent’s husband undertook to pump out the water. He used his own generator. The electricity company couldn’t investigate until after Easter. They established that there was a fault on the line outside the property.

There had been more rain. The fuses kept tripping. The power points in the cellar needed drying out. This was done with a hair dryer. On the evening of 5th ApriI I received the information that all was well and that completion would take place at 7 p.m. that day. This did happen.

There followed a barrage of e-mails from the male squatter and phone calls from the decorator who had allegedly been unpaid. This lasted for some weeks. I am not sure they were not in cahoots. I cannot be bothered to go into more detail.

Anyone who has been burgled will understand why I felt that No 6 rue Saint Jacques was contaminated, and never even went back to collect my belongings. I sold them with the house for a third of what I had paid for it.

Given that, since 9th May 2012, my WordPress blog has been a daily diary and we are now settled in comfortable twilight years in Hampshire’s New Forest, this seems an appropriate time to close the pages of “A Knight’s Tale”.

A Knight’s Tale (149: Farewell To Sigoules)

On the morning of 29th August 2014, beginning with my bedroom, I started the task of reclaiming my rooms. I filled eleven black refuse bags with shoes and clothes from my boudoir, labelled them, and transported them to the hallway, along with the television and its various attachments.

Karen Vick, from Leggett estate Agency, came to view the property and set in motion the process for its sale. An Englishwoman, she had been recommended by Garry and Brigitte, and was a local councillor.

Broken cardboard box

The two large walk-in cupboards in the attic had been filled with the occupiers’ property. Right at the back I found some of my own belongings from the sitting room, including ornaments that had belonged to my grandparents. They had been thrown higgledy piggledy into a broken cardboard box. Stuffed into a stiff paper carrier bag that was dirty inside, were my two raincoats. My books, at least, were still stacked neatly on a set of shelves as I had left them. 

Broken table

A broken bedside table had been dumped into one of the cupboards. Miraculously, my grandparents’ rather fragile tourist purchases from one of their trips to St Malo were undamaged. The same could not be said for a much more robust lidded pot that stood on my bedroom mantelpiece. That, a present I had given my parents many years before, had been smashed and tossed into a waste bin.

It is actually nowadays a physically painful operation for me to crawl about in a packed attic, attempting to avoid boxes, bags, and beams. I have a few scars from the heavy timbers which I sometimes nutted.

I can’t now remember where I found my underclothes and socks. Possibly with my shirts in a wardrobe in another room.

My toiletries, including electric toothbrush, razor, hairdryer, comb, etc., etc. were all missing.

The following morning, I continued the task of cleaning and tidying the house, and separating the intruders’ belongings from mine.

My friends in Le Code Bar were very supportive. Laurence, even though we had not met for a year, was most warm in hers.

David and customers
Feet in silhouette
Duck and chips

The lowering evening sun cast a splendid light across the forecourt of the bar  as I dined on magret of duck, chips, and salad, with sparkling Pellegrino to drink.

Before that, I had struggled to unblock the wash basin in the bathroom. This involved undoing the pipes underneath, draining off the water, and peering down the plughole which contained a perfectly fitting little round scent bottle. From beneath, I pushed it up and out with the handle of a wooden spoon.

The key to the letterbox on the wall outside had gone missing.

I think it was the next evening that I was visited by a decorator who claimed to have painted the house and not been paid for his work. There followed a very difficult exchange, not only because he spoke no English – only his own language with a strong local accent. He wanted his money. I maintained that his contract was with his employer and that wasn’t me. Not only that but I had no information about his work and he seemed unable to provide any.

The following afternoon I was visited by two local policemen, again without any English, who were asking for a woman who lived there. Eventually grasping that they sought the teenage daughter, I explained that this was my house and she didn’t live there any more. Brigitte later told me that there had been a fight in the street.

On the morning of 2nd September during my last walk around the village,

Cart

with flowers still blooming in the old cart resting in the grass around the community centre, I

Footpath

discovered a wooded footpath I had not noticed before. Signed ‘rue de la Moulin Cave’, it ran along the backs of houses until it emerged on the outskirts of the village on the road to Bergerac. A stream accompanied it on the final stretch. Beyond this, stone steps led up to a private garden.

When I returned to the house, the female partner and one of the young men who had been occupying it, were waiting to collect their clothes and shoes. I helped them carry out the eleven bin bags, two travelling cases, and one briefcase. I also handed the woman a batch of letters I had managed to extract from the box on the wall outside.

Later, Brigitte drove me to Bergerac airport.

The saga was not yet quite complete.

A Knight’s Tale (148: First Stage Of Repossession)

Every Friday evening throughout July and August Sigoules square is covered in long tables and chairs;

various food suppliers put up their stalls;

Les Caves and others produce the wine; and people swarm in from miles around.  There is a pop group singing a fair number of English songs.  With respect to those who want to sleep, everything closes down around midnight. Given my proximity to the square I’d best join in.  If I didn’t there would be no point in going to bed early.  In any case these are delightful occasions, and at one we met Judith and Roger Munns, whose friendship was to prove to be particularly helpful.

On our early morning arrival in Sigoules on 28th August 2014 I immediately visited the police and alerted them to the fact that I was about to reclaim my house. I had been advised that they would help me regain my property. This was denied by the officer on the desk who stated that it was a civil matter and not their concern.

Allowing a reasonable amount of time to avoid waking whoever was in the household, accompanied by Michael, I rang the bell. Having no response, I opened the door, which was unlocked, and confronted some of the occupants. These included the mother of the family, a teenage girl, two young men, and two small children. The conman who had groomed me was away.

Despite pleading from the mother and the two pre-school children clutching at her skirts I was adamant that they should leave today. The father was suddenly able to telephone me and ask me to retract. Naturally I refused.

The woman claimed to have no money, no transport, and nowhere to go. I did not believe her and would not relent.

Leaving them to pack up, we visited Garry and Brigitte next door. I spent the morning with my neighbours while Michael went off to make some work phone calls. Brigitte cooked a splendid lunch which consisted of a piquant tomato salad; sausages with fried potatoes, onions, and haricot beans which Garry had topped and tailed; and strawberries. We drank rosé wine and water.

An emergency locksmith reinforced the security of the front door. Obtaining that locksmith was just one benefit from the friendship of Judith and Roger mentioned above. When others had been unable Judith quickly tracked down a man to change the locks.

My unwelcome guests did actually leave at the appointed time. In truth, Michael had found the language – only Garry spoke any English – too stressful and had resorted to a café meal. This meant that my son was able to witness the female squatter using a bank card to fill a car with petrol before moving off – the significance of this being that fuel there was only available by card.

I began the task of reclaiming my rooms by making my bed which contained cheesy snacks similar to Quavers lodged between the mattress and the headboard. The bedroom itself had been taken over. My clothes had been removed from wardrobes, and an array of shoes were lined up on the floor. An enormous television stood on my chest of drawers.

That evening, although I hadn’t slept for more than 24 hours, I was still not tired, so I settled down to watch Prime Suspect 3. I got the gist of it, but some of the detail escaped me because I kept dropping off into deep slumber. I went to bed at midnight and slept soundly for six hours.

All was not over yet, because much furniture, many clothes, bedding, and personal effects belonging to the squatters remained to be collected.

A Knight’s Tale (147: Ten Hours At The Wheel)

During my early years at Sigoules I engaged a national company of repute to carry out various window repairs. The work was completed to my satisfaction. Soon after this, the two representatives visited saying that they were setting up their own business. There followed more internal improvements over the next year or so. This involved one of these two men having a key to the house while I was at home in England.

For ten days during August 2014 I exchanged a stream of electronic communication between me and people in France concerning my house in Sigoules.

A family to whom I had agreed to let the house, and had thought were friends, moved in ahead of the drawing up of a contract without letting me know. The first I knew of it was when I received complaints from neighbours about noise throughout the night. Texts and e-mails to the male partner of the couple who seemed to be in possession gleaned no response. When, earlier in the month he had, on the telephone, told me the internet had been installed I asked him if he had moved in. He denied it. In case you have not guessed, the miscreant was the man mentioned in the first paragraph above.

Having had very little sleep during this period, I set out on a long journey on 27th of August 2014 to attempt to remove my squatters. The first step was Jackie driving me to Michael’s home in Sanderstead. There, we were greeted by Emily who scanned my passport and proof of ownership documentation and e-mailed this to a solicitor Michael had researched on the internet and engaged on my behalf. The police were aware of the situation. I would not have been able to manage all this alone.

When, in the 1970s and ’80s, as a Social Services Area Manager, I had been responsible for my staff going out on potentially difficult and stressful visits, I had always insisted that they had all the necessary help to have administration, relevant forms, and potential back-up in place, so that all they had to worry about was the job in hand. I now have direct personal experience of how necessary this was. Without the support and practical help of my friends in France; my lady and my son and granddaughter at home, I would not have been able to carry this through.

IMG_9968

An hour after Michael arrived home from work, he drove me to No. 6, rue Saint Jacques. The only respite he had from more than ten hours at the wheel was the 35 minutes on the Eurotunnel train. I am known for falling asleep as a passenger. Remarkably, however, I remained awake, except for momentarily dozing on occasions. Having arrived in Calais from Folkestone, we set off into the night, taking the faster toll road route skirting Paris.

Michael, driving me through the night, was probably skirting Paris when the digits of the clock turned to 00.01 on 28th. We became aware of the metropolis as the dark midnight sky brightened with the multicoloured lights generated by urban living. A surprising number of other vehicles were on the road, most, as we continued further south, heading north towards the capital.

My son had not enjoyed the dubious sandwiches he had bought at Calais, so we made a number of stops in search of more sustenance. These were unfruitful, as every outlet was closed. Fortunately there were a number of all-night public conveniences, albeit of variable cleanliness.

The indigo sky was largely cloudless and sprinkled with numerous stars. It was not until about six in the morning that light, then eventually a strong sun, began to emerge behind my left shoulder. Parts of the landscape seemed to be scattered with creamy white pools amid the undulating hills. Nearer to hand, swirling mists, which is what these were, rose from moist fields and drifted upwards to dissolve into the air. The low sun cast long shadows across the pink-tinted countryside.

I regretted that we had ‘no time to stand and stare’ nor, more importantly perhaps, to photograph such evocative scenes.

What happened on arrival must await my next instalment

A Knight’s Tale (146: Big Clean Days)

My penultimate day in Sigoules during February 2013 was what David had termed a ‘big clean’ day.  It is the mandatory preparation for the next visitors.  Washing and ironing was the least of it, because that had been done throughout my stay.

I worked my way down from the top.  First the sweeping and hoovering, including the removal of any of the previous year’s lingering cobwebs.  Then the dusting, although there was very little of that.  Beds needed to be prepared, and the porcelain attended to.  The final task was swabbing down tiles and staircases.

When I had the luxury of more than one day I could be more thorough.  I first dealt with those rooms I either had not used or would not be using again before I left.

No-one this time had used the attic rooms accessed by the upper staircase.  They therefore didn’t need much attention.  Attic rooms 2 and 3 each lead off room 1.  What this room loses in privacy it gains in the presence of two spacious walk-in locked cupboards.  I think it was Elizabeth who pointed out that it would be possible to get two more bedrooms out of them.  The exposed original stone wall is interlaced with huge wooden beams from the dismantled barges that could only navigate one way up the Dordogne.  Only two entrance beams were a danger to heads.  These, as in the doorway of room 2, had warning flags pinned to them.  Otherwise a stepladder is required to reach the roof.  The chest of drawers in room 3 occupies a niche which  terminates below head height.

When Michael and Heidi  and their family first came here it took Oliver about thirty seconds to get up to the top and bag the bed in room 1.  The girls were quite happy with his choice, although Alice soon rigged up a truckle bed beside her brother.  The cupboard in room 3 had reminded her of a scary story.

After the attic came first floor bedroom 2 which, although large, needed a minimal amount of furniture as it had a built-in wardrobe.

I descended to the downstairs WC and shower-room and gave it a good once-over. Finally, I swept and swabbed down the upper staircase and the utility corridor leading to the shower room.  The only hazard in this area was the front wheel of Oliver’s outgrown mountain bike that hangs from the ceiling.

I spent the next morning hoovering and tidying the rest of the rooms.

Following Elizabeth’s sensible suggestion, I changed my bedding in the main bedroom just for the last night.  This obviated the need for trying to get it washed, dried, and ironed on the morning of departure.  Possible in the summer, but certainly not during that time.

As I had only eaten two meals at home on that trip, the kitchen didn’t need too much attention.

The sitting room and entrance hall have had the heaviest usage.  The defunct washing machine and ancient ironing board in the hall are waiting for a kind friend with wheels to help me take them to the municipal dump.

I did not venture into the cellar that lies beneath a trapdoor in the hall.  At the bottom of a narrow winding set of stone steps the entrance required me to bend double, and I was not often up for that.  This opens out into a spacious area Mike had kitted out as a workroom.  It would then have ben used to store winter fuel, had I got round to buying any.  When the Kindreds first lived here, a friend fell through the open trapdoor and broke his leg. This prompted Mike to build one of his inventive constructions.  He fashioned a retractable balustrade to surround the entrance to the nether regions when open; rigged up a wall-mounted pulley such as would hold an elephant; and equipped this with a powerful webbing strip to be attached to one of the iron rings from which the trapdoor can, by slowly cranking the winch, be raised.  The instructions for doing this are pasted, in French and in English, on the wall beside it.  Mike is not a games inventor for nothing.  I kept the balustrade hooked in place on the wall and covered the tiled trapdoor with a carpet.  Jackie’s sunhat concealed the machinery.

The bathroom would have a thorough clean in the morning; and, in order to allow time for drying overnight, the ground floor tiles and lower stairs would be washed before I went to bed.  My mobile phone lies on the ledge behind the loo because that is the only place where I could sometimes receive a signal.  It beat keeping a stack of joke books beside the seat.

The last three weeks had been so wet that I hadn’t been able thoroughly to sweep the tiles in the courtyard garden, although there was a brief window of warm sun that afternoon enabling me to sit outside for a while and even get a king sized duvet cover iron-dry.  The birds were joyful.  Maybe the chicken would finish the sweeping.

A Knight’s Tale (145: Banking On The Bar)

On a scorching 25th July 2012, Elizabeth drove me to Southampton airport where I boarded a plane to Bergerac to be met by Lydie, my very reliable French taxi driver, waving her arms and striding across the tarmac to embrace me.  She is, incidentally, about a foot shorter than me with the grip of a bear.  I had to drop my bag.  Before paying I asked her to deliver me to the Credit Agricole cash machine in Sigoules market square.  Still dopy from the plane, I entered the wrong pin number.  I searched in my trouser pocket for the correct one, hidden in an electronic device.  So well hidden, that by the time I had retrieved it I had run out of time.  Lydie patiently waiting in the taxi.  Me scrabbling in my trousers, concerned that I was keeping her waiting.  An Englishman just off the plane.  I had to start again.  The machine gobbled my card.

I had given Lydie a list of trips for my friend Don, joining me next week, and me up to 14th. August, the first being in three days time.  ‘No problem’, she said,  ‘Saturday will do.’  Unfortunately this bank is only open two mornings a week , and the next day wasn’t one of them.  Any visit there also had to wait until Saturday.  Now, my French account is with Barclays.  I originally opened this in Bergerac.  Sometime the previous year I discovered that that branch no longer does everyday banking.  Without my knowledge my account had been transferred to Paris.  I could walk to Bergerac, but no way was I walking to Paris.  There was, therefore, nothing for it that day but to telephone my personal banking manager in Paris.  Despite what it says on his card he wasn’t there.  There followed conversations with two different, very helpful, women interspersed with holding, biligual, messages.  Thank goodness, with their English and my French, we got by.  My card had been cancelled and I would be sent a new one which would cost 16 euros.  So far, so good.  But.  They could only send it to England, not to my house in France.  If I could get to Bordeaux, two and a half hours drive away, I would be able to collect my replacement card there.  Patiently, oh, so patiently, I explained that Bordeaux was a very long way away, I had no car, and NO MONEY.  Ah.  I could, however, use my chequebook, I was assured, without the card, although some people would not accept cheques for small sums like 2 euros.  Throughout this I naturally remained my usual calm, unflappable, self.

(It took nine months for me to receive my new card. The bank would not accept my Council Tax receipts as proof of residence because these documents gave a similar, incorrect address, and that is where Barclays insisted on sending correspondence. NatWest does not have French branches.)

I then drew 90 euros on my NatWest account.  This, of course, will cost me a transfer fee.  And I had just transferred almost everything in my current account in England to my French one in order to pay for replacement shutters and windows, the work to start in two days time.  I may even go into overdraft, incurring another fee, despite having more than enough in a special interest bearing account which earns peanuts.  Now I knew why NatWest had changed their Gold Account to a Black one.  Somewhat stymied.

It was definitely time to visit my friend David in Le Code Bar.  David readily allowed me to run up a tab for the duration of my stay and let me have cash if I needed it.  Given that this is a very recent friendship I would call that a generous display of trust.

It was only a month since David and Frederick took over, renamed, and changed the face of what was La Renaissance.  That establishment had been run by Joel and Nicole, an equally friendly, but more retiring couple.  I believe they struggled because they were unable to keep the hours maintained by the current partnership, who are open all day and every evening seven days a week.  They were perhaps less naturally gregarious than this new team.  David spends much time chatting in a pleasantly unobtrusive way with the clientele.  There is a lively, friendly, atmosphere and David and Frederick speak pretty good English.  In Franglais we do rather well.  The name, incidentally, is a wordplay on ‘barcode’.  When David had explained that this was his idea I knew we would get on. A pool table upstairs attracts the younger element.  The piped music is usually of French artistes performing English songs. 

The lunchtime menu offered by Joel and Nicole was excellent and took some matching.  I believe it had now been matched.  This evening I began with classic French onion soup saved for me from midday, followed by a very good ham and egg salad.  This was only the prelude to an enormous platter of chicken and chips which not even The Martin Cafe could have rivalled.  Double-fried frites.  Marvellous.  In England the heart and liver are not included when you buy a bird to roast at home; I have often shredded and eaten the meat from the neck after boiling it up for stock; never have I had all three served up on a plate with a leg and part of the torso.  Delicious.  The chicken was not stuffed, but I was.  I shouldn’t have finished the second basket of bread.