Thursday, 13 January 2011

Last Post

How did that happen? All of a sudden it's 2011, family have come and gone over Christmas and New Year, our own bedroom has been redecorated to stunning effect, the new centre island has been installed in the kitchen and I am in the middle of the refurbishment of the two letting apartments. It's half way through January already and the new season clients will be be upon us in three weeks time. Blimey!

Painting any of the rooms in these apartments is always a major undertaking because of the sheer scale of everything. So I was very happy to get our bedroom revamp out of the way before Christmas - and fabulously sexy it looks too in it's new deep blue colour. Debrah is very happy with the outcome and anything that makes Debrah happy is good news.

Nothing got done at 42rvh during the three weeks of family visitations for Christmas and New Year - too much cooking and clearing up after to leave time for anything constructive - but that is as it should be over a festive season. We had some clients who were charming, we had a Christmas tree tumble and a few broken baubles, we had a very drunken New Years Eve dinner. All very much par for the course.

We had hoped to install the new kitchen island before the festivities but were frustrated by the sudden non-availability of a key part of the design - it has been my experience here in France for four years now that when you want something urgently there seems to be a sudden nationwide shortage of said product - grrrr. The missing items were finally acquired in the first week of January and the new island was installed last Monday. It's fantastic. A very big thank you to Ian Gillan and his carpentry skills for a fabulous job. The new layout is perfect for the cooking days and for cooking prep for both in-house and outside catering.

It is now three years since 42rvh opened for business and, inevitably, the suites are showing the signs of a bit of wear and tear - water splashes on the walls in the kitchens and bathrooms, chipped paintwork on skirtings and walls from suitcases etc. Time for a refresh. So January's priority is to repaint both suites whilst the sofas get new covers and the windows get new curtains and the rooms get new bits of furniture and the whole place gets a bit of a new look - followed by new photos and a new look to the website - lots to do but all happily progressing and under control.

We have many new plans too for our clients for this year which will find their way onto a new look website just as soon as we can get around to getting that all done.

All change.

And the final change is that this blog, the title of this blog, the original raison d'être for this blog, no longer exists. I no longer split my time between London and the Languedoc. I am now a full-on full time expat who spends all his year in France, only returning to the UK for fleeting visits to see family and friends and buy paint and power tools at half the price. (yes, even allowing for the tolls and petrol cost of driving there and back)

What is wonderful is that Debrah is also here full time too (apart from occasional visits to milk some income from the UK design and marketing industry) and we haven't been happier in years than we are now. I know, very soppy, but true.

So this blog is coming to a close. It has served it's purpose. It was originally written to record my early experiences of living in France on my own, as an observation of life in a different country, as a daily letter to my wife and then as a way of keeping Debrah involved with the renovation of 42rvh and finally a reminder of the highs and lows of opening and running a business abroad.

I say abroad but I no longer think of this as abroad. Don't get me wrong - I still don't understand France or the French or the language for the most part - but I do consider this to be 'home'. This is where I live and this is where I work. I no longer live in London and the Languedoc - I live in the Languedoc, in Carcassonne.

So this will be the final post to this blog page and a new, more relevant, exciting, interesting (hopefully) blog will be appearing soon that will highlight the special relationship we have here with the food and the wine and the markets and the producers and the winemakers and this amazing, still relatively undiscovered region of France.

Adieu et bientôt

Monday, 1 November 2010

Last few clients for 2010

So that's that, pretty much, for another year. We hosted our last client dinner on Sunday evening and I hosted our last market tour and cooking day for four clients on Saturday. Well, they were the last ones that we have booked until just before New Year so it feels very much like the end of the season. We have a couple of more bookings to come but they are self-catering so there is very little to do for them.

It sort of feels not before time too. As Debrah so beautifully summed it up "When are the people going to stop coming"? I know exactly what she means and I feel ready for a rest from the seven days a week schedule. We will have a bit of time to ourselves, a bit of lazy time and a trip to England to see family and friends.

It's been another good year at 42rvh with pretty solid bookings from May until now and very few free nights in either suite during that whole period. On top of that we started outside catering for other holiday rentals which was interesting. We will take stock of what worked well and what didn't and which areas of the business we need to change and which areas we want to develop. We coped with the volcanic ash cloud, the double dip recession, the falling euro and the strikes - or rather our guests did - so thank you all for persevering.

After three years the suites are beginning to show a bit of wear and tear so there will be some maintenance needed during January and February - a bit of paint here and there, a few repairs and a few furniture changes - I think it's known as a refresh.

It's also five years since our own apartment was first decorated by us so we are going to make some changes to the kitchen, to accommodate the cooking days more easily, and some changes to our own bedroom where we need more storage space for Debrah's clothes and shoes! We certainly won't be sitting down for the winter.

And it does feel like winter is nearly upon us - the clocks have gone back, the gel fires have been lit, the winter duvets are back on the beds and we had our first power cut during the week.

Debrah has enjoyed her first Summer here - let's see if I can get her through the winter months without too much melancholy!

Friday, 24 September 2010

Happy ever after

Last week was all about cooking, cooking and cooking - four dinners in five nights, two in-house at 42rvh and two outside at Chateau Aragon. They were coupled with clients who needed breakfast and who were very keen to be up and out at a decent hour - so it was late nights and early mornings and running on adrenalin for a few days.

Since then it's been a bit quieter - breakfasts all week but only the early mornings and no late nights - a chance to catch-up with chores and a bit of sleep.

On Monday I slept for two hours in the afternoon which is unheard of - I rarely sleep during the day - but I felt so much better for it. No going out, a good cycle ride midweek and lots of thinking about future plans. There isn't really any relaxing because there are always maintenance jobs to be planned and always the 'next big thing' to sort out.

I wouldn't have it any other way though. If I think we can just stand still doing what we do here at 42rvh then we won't stand still at all - we will go backwards. So we have to keep looking for new opportunities to expand and develop what we do, which is why we are cooking for clients at outside holiday rentals and why we are always on the lookout for ways to expand the 42rvh offer.

The outside clients were from the USA and were celebrating a 50th birthday. We cooked three dinners for them over the course of the week, a simple supper on the day they arrived, a four course Summer dinner and a four course Languedoc regional dinner which naturally featured quite a lot of duck. It all went well.

They very kindly gave us a bottle of Syrah that they had dragged all the way from just outside Seattle. I looked it up and it's a good bottle of wine from one of the most respected winemakers in Washington state. What can you say to something like that? - its as if they knew before they arrived that it would be the perfect tip. It is now safely tucked away in the basement cellar waiting the day - whenever that may be.

The in-house guests were equally appreciative. We always have a very soft spot for a young in-love couple of newlyweds like the ones who arrived last Sunday - nearly welled up just looking at them and very much hope that in 20 years time they are still as happy and enthusiastic as they were when I first met them. Bless.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010


You decide that you are going to sell something, let's say a property for instance - so you obviously think I need to get this looking in the best possible condition and take some really good photographs that show it off to it's best and get all the details and information to hand ready to give to any interested potential buyer and employ a pro-active estate agent to act on my behalf who will insist on all the aforementioned things being done.

I can't remember how many properties I have looked at over the past four years but I do know that not one of the owners or agents involved had done any of the above but they had all consistently overpriced the property by at least 40%.

So it was that Debrah and I went to view an interesting property in Carcassonne this week. Ideas and plans and thoughts about how to do things differently and better are always part of our business thinking and it doesn't hurt to go and check some things out from time to time.

It has potential ... but it would have so much more potential if the price was lower and there was a scaled floor plan available and if the whole building wasn't so full of old stuff that you could actually see the fabric of the place, get a feel for the space and not have to climb over things to get from one room to the next. Just pay someone €500 to get all the shit cleared out, repair the roof tiles that have caused the water leak, get the rotten beam fixed cos you know you will have to drop the price for it anyway, take some measurements and make a floor plan. What's wrong with people - it's not that difficult.

We will see - it may be right, it may not, it may have the potential or it may not - it's far too early to say and there are still far too many unknowns. It may well go the way of all the others we have looked at - interesting but not practical or feasible. It may be the start of something new.

The weather finally turned this week and with the kids back to school (rentree) and the start of the harvest (vendange) and a drop in temperature comes a feeling of the end of Summer and the start of Autumn.

Yesterday was grey and dull and drizzly in all senses but today dawned with the bluest of blue skies with the whitest of white clouds scudding across it on a fresh breeze relentlessly pushing on towards the Mediterranean. It was a fabulous Autumn day and hopefully the first of many to come over the next two months. Not cold at all but without the searing 35 degree heat of Summer. The light was clear, not hazy and the air was fresh not sultry. I personally think Autumn is the best time of year to be in the Languedoc - we are not there yet but it is definitely coming.

Having been confined indoors all day yesterday under the grey skies, we decided we should take advantage of a free afternoon and get out of the place - we hadn't been out for a roof down pootle through the Languedoc countryside for ages and the new Audi hadn't been there at all - it was time.

Always inspiring, always breathtaking, always beautiful and always isolated, after just 10 minutes drive out of Carcassonne. The colours are still green but the dark bottle green of late Summer, the vignerons are starting to harvest the white grapes - the red will come in later this month, the roads are empty, the roof is down and the scenery and wildlife is spectacular - it is a wonderful way to escape.

Todays memorable sightings included ponies and horses standing stoically against the irritation of flies and the wind, a feisty mare not wanting to go into a horse box, a magnificent majestic eagle soaring not that far above us as we crested the top of a pass - what a wingspan? - a small group of deer rushing for cover from an open field into the gladed shade of a river, an eccentric black goat, a huge handsome bull in a field of cows and some very large (and some very tiny) fish in the River Lauquet, where we stopped for a walk along the banks in the sunshine.

And yes, it was all very romantic and very beautiful. Life is good.

Monday, 6 September 2010


The last few days were mostly about networking.

I used to really hate networking in my old life - talking to dull corporate people, who really did give a damn, about the latest accounting standard on acceptable depreciation practices, about the effect of the budget on corporate tax planning, about rights ownership of a squiggle somebody did somewhere, sometime that looks like one somebody else did somewhere at some other time ... Don't get me wrong, I was quite good at it in my own way - but really really interested? - well obviously I became less interested which is why I am now running a stylish and fabulous holiday escape destination in the South of France.

I constantly have to remind Debrah that when I am drinking wine, eating and generally having a lot of fun, that I am in fact networking. It is wholly, exclusively and necessarily for the benefit of my business and as such should be tax deductible.

So it was that last Thursday, International Cabernet Day, I was invited to O'Vineyards, based in Villemousstassou, to sample some local cabernet based wines including their own cabernet franc version. It was a chance to meet some local residents, growers and merchants, to taste some wines, to visit the cellars, to explain what an Englishman is doing in Carcassonne and to hand out a few cards.

Ryan O'Connell of O'Vineyards does a fantastic job of promoting Languedoc wines through his video blog, facebook and twitter and is a huge example to all vignerons (and everyone) of the power of promotion through social media. He and his parents also make some fabulous wines which are getting better with each year - the 09 cabernet tasted direct from the tank has masses of potential and could be their best yet. To see what Ryan gets up to go to

Ryan was recording events and tweeting during the evening, which is when my car had it's five minutes of fame. I recently bought a new (15 year old) Audi cabriolet to replace my very tired, but faithful, old (18 year old) Audi. (Don't get me started on that - I know it's just a car but we have been through a lot together and I still feel bad about it.) The letters on the still British registration plate of the new car are CAB. I had obviously thought about it as representing cabriolet but it didn't occur to me until Ryan pointed it out that CAB meant CABernet on this day of all days - photo was taken, posting and tweeting ensued and my car became a star for a fleeting moment.

On Saturday we had a visit to 42rvh from Juliet and Sarah of Mr & Mrs Smith - we were added to the collection at the beginning of the year. They were in France for a couple of days looking at potential new listings and had wanted to stay but their enquiry came too late during this busy time of the season - happily we were able to offer them some supper, a chance for Sarah to see the apartments and for Debrah to meet them having missed out on Juliet's initial visit back in February.

Without going into the detail, they were not very enamoured with their overnight accommodation - and we were very happy to offer them a relaxed Sunday morning breakfast at 42rvh followed by a wander around the brocante at La Trivalle - one of the best brocantes of the year here in Carcassonne, always held on the first Sunday of September.

As always, we came away with a little something that we will put down somewhere until we know what we are going to do with it! Debrah picked up some pre-war copies of L'Illustration, a plate dating from the 50's, some big industrial type aluminium light fittings for a future project and Juliet carried off a yellow enamel coffee pot which needed to be stashed in her hand luggage before finding a home on a window sill in North London. I carried and Sarah paid and a good time was had by all. Please come back soon because you know you are always welcome.

Sunday felt like the last fling of high Summer before the slightly more relaxed heat of Autumn. There was a cloudless sky, no air movement and a baking sun. It was no hotter than many other days here this past month but the sun had an intensity that seemed to be saying 'goodbye to 35 degrees' (there were a couple of late afternoon ambulance calls to sufferers of heat exhaustion just to prove the point).

Today was cooler and cloudy and this evening full of rumbling and growling, flashing lightening and stormy rain - this is the Languedoc - dramatic and intense - not a dreary, limp-handshake, warm champagne, credit insurance moment to be had - thank God.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Back to the Future

I was just stood at the window overlooking the courtyard watching a little pipistrelle bat flying round and round. The sun had disappeared after another gloriously warm cloud free Languedoc day but it wasn't yet dark enough to see the stars - it was twilight - and on two or three occasions I thought the little bat was going to fly straight into the bedroom despite my presence at the window watching it - it must have flown within a metre of me.

Debrah has gone to London for a couple of days and being on my own here, after a satisfying supper of echine de porc and saute potatoes and with glass of red wine in hand, I was in a contemplative mood and suddenly remembered my blog.

What blog is that?, I hear you all say. When is a blog not a blog? - when you don't post anything - and I haven't been here since May apparently. Frankly, that's a damn poor effort and one that I mean to put right from now on.

So where to begin? It would be impossible to recount all that has happened this year although much of it would have made very good reading I am sure - the winter 'where are we going to live?' angst, the bizarre tarot card experience, the on off property sale in London, the move, the snow, the expansion into outside catering for other holiday rental properties, the joy and the happiness of living together under one roof after pretty much four years of commuting back and forth to London spending too much time in different countries.

Perhaps that sums up my blog absence more than anything - being happily together here in France.

Well the Summer of fun is drawing to a close and with the rentree upon us it is time to refocus energies towards next year's plans for the business. So it was timely that we had a photographer, on behalf of The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, here today - the third photographer we have had here this year. This one was shooting for an article that will probably come out in the Spring edition - an article focussing on the food and wine element of our offer here at 42rvh - which is all very timely because that's the area that we would like to expand. There is nothing to say yet of course - it's all being bounced about in our heads.

For now, I am just happy that I have managed to return to this page.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Law and Order

Last week I had my first encounter with the forces of law and order here in Carcassonne.

After a dash to the Apple Store in Montpellier on the Saturday before last, we left our UK car in the open air parking by the Boulevard Varsovie - it is free on Saturday afternoon and on Sunday and I knew that I would need it early on Monday morning before I had to pay for parking.

Our Renault Laguna has only just arrived back in it's spiritual French homeland after looking after us for 7 years in London. It had made the trip down here many times and was in fact our means of transport when we first came to tour this region and when we first looked at 42rvh, but I only have one parking space here so the Renault was sitting in the public car park until I could find it a permanent home.

Alas, when I went to get it on Monday morning it wasn't where I left it - it was nowhere to be seen.

I trudged down to the Gendarmerie to report a stolen car but was told that it was 'pas vole, mais enlevee' (accents missing I know) - not stolen but towed. It appears there was a 'brocante' on the Sunday morning and there were signs inconveniently placed so that you couldn't actually see them telling you that parking was prohibited for that day - somehow we failed to see the inconveniently placed signs - car was towed.

There were 5 gendarmes lurking around the reception desk of the police station. The one with the biggest moustache and the thickest incomprehensible accent did all the talking, another wrote out the fine and gave me the form I needed to get the car back from the 'fourriere' (car pound) and the rest said nothing but tried their best to look cool and intimidating, which worked very well.

Despite my best efforts I left none the wiser as to where my car was and what to do next to get it back.

At the Mairie they told me I had to go to the Gendarmerie - thanks. At least the "Police Municipale' told me where the car pound was - well sort of - opposite the Decathlon store, tucked down a little side road. We drove up and down the road for half an hour before we spotted the place, which was of course locked up - but at least we could see the Renault and knew where it was.

We were trying to decide what to do next when an Audi Avant pulled up driven by a swarthy (and handsome, apparently) Mediterranean bloke who demanded what we wanted, disappeared and returned with a key, extracted €96 from me and gave us back the car. He was in fact very charming about the whole thing and told me I needed to visit the police station to pay the fine before he gave my wife a cheery wave as he left!!

I went to the police station again the following day and was greeted by a completely different group of gendarmes who couldn't have been more helpful. 'Yes, you can pay the fine here' and 'Yes, the signs could have been more clearly displayed' and 'Yes, this is the same desk that issued you the ticket'. It would seem that the great Socialist French state is still working to keep as many people in employment as it possibly can - obviously the policeman who issued me the ticket was not authorised to receive payment for said ticket or he would have undoubtedly told me so at the time - wouldn't he?

The towage and the fine cost me €130 in total so a permanent solution to the Renault parking was needed. A friend had told me that the underground parking in town was no more expensive long term than renting a private garage, so that seemed to be the best option.

So it was that I took the car to the Place Gambetta and spoke to the man in the office on the lower ground floor.
"I'd like to buy an annual parking ticket please"
"No, not possible", was the reply
"A quarter?"
"A month?"

I could buy a seven day pass that would (nearly) take me to the end of the month. Then, I hope, I can buy a monthly ticket that will take me to the end of June and then I can buy, I think, a half yearly ticket to the end of the year and then, finally, I will be able to buy an annual ticket - but if I don't turn up on the last day of the month or the first day of the following month I will have missed my chance! Bonkers.

Bonkers indeed but part of the charm nonetheless - there are things about France that are very different but unless you go with the flow you will just find it all too stressful. So I can't buy an annual season ticket from 20th May to 20th May next year - I have to go back at the end of the week and start the haggling once again.

Just remember, it's all part of the charm