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.