Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pause for thought....

Have just finished a book called "Last light" by Alex Scarrow. It wasn't particularly well written but it did get me thinking and certain passages really struck a chord.

In essence it's about how fragile our society is and how dependant we are upon oil. The author seems to have taken the sentiments from this website and turned them into a novel. The website was compiled by a US lawyer and - whilst predicting the end of civilisation as we know it - is well written with instant links to all of his source material.

The bit that made it plausible was my recent memory of the banking crisis when, for a few days after Lehmann Brothers went bust, hysteria seemed to break out and most people were petrified that Barclays, Lloyds etc were going to go bust with their savings lost forever.

I'm not buying in "survivor packs" just yet but it will certainly give me added energy when digging my "potager" this autumn and I may well add some extra candles to my shopping list when I'm next in E Le Clerc!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Don't tell the Mayor

I live in a village called St Meme les Carrieres - the latter part of the name refers to the old stone quarries that dominate the village.

They are worked out now but in days gone by provided the stone for churches, houses and monuments throughout France.

Indeed, according to the Mayors office our village provided the stone plinth for one of the most famous monuments in the world.....the statue of liberty in New York.

Now, when I heard this I thought it was an urban myth and I showed an element of doubt.... which soon subsided when I realised that I was insulting not just the mayor but the whole village (it's not the best idea to fall out with someone who wields such power) .

Anyway, I emailed the historians of the statue who told me that the stone came from the USA. We guess that our local stone was actually used for the scale model that was made as a practice run and sent to Paris in 1884.

Of course, this would be devastating news and must remain as our little secret. Whatever happens don't tell the mayor.

A guide to the famous cognac houses

We're spoilt for choice here when it comes to visiting the great cognac houses.

Hennessy, Martell, Courvoisier they all offer something different on their tours so here's a quick guide as to our personal favourites.

Let's start with Remy Martin as it's the first tour we did. They are based just outside cognac town centre and the highlight is a "little train" tour around the manicured grounds and through the cellars. Of course it finishes with a tasting (accompanied by some tasty little cakes) and the chance to splash out €1500 on a bottle of Louis XIII....which is the cognac that Bryan Brown & Tom Cruise immortalised in the film called Cocktail.

If you want to stay in cognac town centre try Hennessy who sell more than 40% of the worlds cognac. You can find them on the quayside and this means that during the tour you get a chance to go on their private launch and cross the river to view the cellars. They have just released a special edition of VS cognac to commemorate the inauguration of Barack Obama with a black label, gold lettering and "In honour of the 44th president" written on it.

Staying in the heart of the town centre you can visit the Otard chateau. Less well known than the others it has the prettiest setting and the family origins date back to 849. The chateau was built between the 13th and 16th centuries and was the birthplace of Fraancois 1er.

Finally how about visiting the stunning Courvoisier HQ set on the banks of the river charente in Jarnac (about 10 mins from Cognac). They use the familiar outline of Napoleon Bonaparte for their marketing claiming that it was his favourite drink (and who am I to argue). It's a truly beautiful setting for a cognac tour and Jarnac has plenty of other attractions to offer on a day out.

There are plenty of other big brand names to try out but these are the ones we like best. Try them all on a rainy day but just make sure that someone else is driving!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

French property - the role of the notaire

Was asked the other day what the notaire does to earn his money.

This short article helps explain (courtesy of French Property News).

I have an excellent, bi-lingual, notaire that I always suggest to clients. He handles property purchases but can also advise on taxation, wills etc. His name is Maitre Fabrice Geoffroy and you can email him at

It's important that you receive the best possible, impartial, advice when buying a property in France and a little bit of prior research could save you a lot of heart-ache.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cognac Blues Passions - 2009

Opening night tonight in Jarnac on the Ile Madame....I was there this time last year to see The Commitments open the festival and it has to be the most magical concert venue in France.

In the middle of the charente, overlooking the lock and the Courvoisier chateau it's like a private concert with a capacity of just 1,300 people.

Tonight it's the turn of James Hunter to open the festival. Sadly we're not going but it's forecast to be a beautiful evening and I'm looking forward to the five days of the festival immensely.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ticketless in Bordeaux

Huge disappointment in Bordeaux yesterday.

We went with friends for a day out. To shop, eat, sip café and (most importantly) to buy season tickets for myself, Holly & Katie to watch the Girondins try and retain the championship.

It's an amazing deal. Only €130 to watch every match from behind the goal and just... (wait for it).... €13 a year for each of the girls as they are under 10.

We strolled up to the kiosk with cheque book and piggy bank savings in hand only to be met with "it's not possible". When I asked why not I was told "it is too dangerous for children behind the goal as the ultras stand and let off flares".

Naturally a huge discussion then took place about how I have been going for six seasons and it's actually about as dangerous as a day trip to the Blue Peter studios.
I've never seen a hint of aggression or trouble and at least 20% of the occupants are teenage girls.
Similarly when I said that it was in writing on a sign above his head that under 10's could get in for €13 pa he just shrugged.

I could go in with the children elsewhere but not with the Ultramarines in the "Virage Sud" where there are flares, banners and singing.....which is exactly why they want to go there.

So there we go....all those years of avoiding trouble during the hooligan ridden 70's & 80's and finally I'm laid low by an over zealous teenager in the Bordeaux ticket office.

To cap it all I had to spend the next four hours traipsing round shoe shops.

Quelle horreur.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Open Championship - 2009

Possibly my biggest pet hate is when golfers or commentators talk about The British Open.

It's "The Open".

Always has been, always will be.

Sometimes it's the little things in life that are important. That's why I'm writing to the R&A today insisting that anyone who adds the prefix British be fined £1,000, given a 4 shot penalty and forced to play left handed (unless it's Phil Mickelson).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

The real "Tour de France"

I'm a pretty lucky guy to have some close and long-standing friends.

In particular, four of us were at school together and meet up every year for what ostensibly is a golfing holiday but in reality is an opportunity to swap old stories, see new places and relive our youth.

I've just received this email from Chris:

Why don’t we celebrate Graham’s 50th birthday (and ours) with a charity cycle ride from White Hart Lane to Bordeaux. It’s only 600 miles-ish and feels pretty flat. We could do it in about a week. I reckon we could get loads of publicity, raise loads of money and have a real blast doing it. Timing would be great as it would be the start of the season and the weather would be lovely. We could take in Spurs first home game and then get down to Bordeaux for their next home match.

Now I genuinely think that it's a cracking idea and will do my utmost to convince the other two that we should do it. The fact that they're both far slimmer & fitter than Chris and I should (in theory) work in our favour.

Watch this space.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Finding your way to cognac...

Just had a long chat with a potential client about the importance of "location" in a property purchase and sent him this link.

It's a guide to travelling to Poitou Charente from the UK with airport, rail and road information.

It takes me back to something that I was told by one of the partners in Savills when I was just an oik in my first year there:

"Young man - you can do absolutely anything you want to a house except pick it up and move it".

It's as true today as it was in 1983.

If you're thinking of a move to France then do your research and be prepared to compromise on everything except the location.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Under €100,000....the gems still abound in charente

How's this for a view?

I've just finished a search for some clients from Sweden. They estimated that it costs them €1700 every viewing trip and they instructed me after their last visit didn't uncover the house of their dreams.

It was possibly my most fulfilling search of the year with an ultra tight budget and a pretty specific brief.

Anyway, I managed to find a dozen or so absolute top notch properties for around the €100,000 mark.

We managed to negotiate an excellent price on their favourite and the papers are with the notaire now.

Good condition, three bedrooms, 800m2 of gardens and close to a pretty village complete with bar/restaurant.....oh, and a view from the hamlet that is simply out of this world.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Immobiliers - time to change your DNA

Thanks to Jim Muttram for pointing me in the direction of this article in business week.

The bit I really like is this:

The old rules taught you to ask, "What is my product or service, and how can I sell it to you?" With that question, adversarialism was baked into the DNA of the buyer-seller transaction.

The new rules ask, "Who are you? What do you need? How can I help?" This creates a dynamic of advocacy and mutual accountability. The more trust you build, the more value you release, and the more wealth you create.

This is exactly how I feel about my business. Traditional estate agents say & think "I have these houses on my books, which one would you like to buy".

My business model is all about communication. Finding out what my clients dreams are and helping turn them into reality. Interpreting the brief, doing the legwork and working together to find the ideal property for them.

It sounds grand for a small business finding property in the charente but it's true and the fact that many of my clients have also turned into friends seems to bear testimony to it!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A positive mental 10 years old!

Just back from the hospital where I had taken my eldest for a check up on her knee.

Reading the paperwork I noticed it was already six weeks since she fell at school and there's another month or more of physio to go.

Chatting this through with her we noted the things she has missed out on. From her annual gym competion to the twice weekly swimming lessons at school (and with constant sunshine for the last month or so it must have been torture sitting by the outdoor pool in Jarnac). She and her sister have also been attending dance class this year and been practicing their special Jason Mraz number for the big gala last week-end....she had to sit and watch all her mates take the applause and come back for an encore.

They break up on Thursday so we've been booking their Summer activities. No water skiing or horse riding this year I'm afraid.

Yet, coming back in the car she said that it had been fine and that she was still having fun with her friends and that taking archery lessons this Summer would be just as good. Besides it's not much longer she said.

I love the fact that she doesn't whinge and has such a cheerful and positive outlook on life. I know that I'm incredibly biased but she and her sister do bring sunshine wherever they go.