What a long strange trip…

…it’s been.

After being over here in France for 8 months, and with an initial completion date of 31st August, we’ve finally signed and the house at St Erblon is all ours – lock, stock and fucking barrel.

I wouldn’t say it’s been an easy process, although, from our side of things as cash purchasers with no chain, it should have been. One – if not both – of the vendors has quite frankly been a cunt, but as the story is a long one and I’m a tad pissed, the full account is something I’ll have to save for another day…

…but it will be told,

It’s been – as they say – a fucking emotional rollercoaster…

We signed with the notaire at about 4pm today, went over to the house and changed the locks and then sorted out changing the billing for electricity and water with the help of our estate agent.

We then came home and sank a bottle of Veuve Clicquot with our French neighbours.

Now we’re in for the night after pizza and a bottle of cheap Sauvignon Blanc feeling that we’ve finally reached the start of what we really came over here for.

Various tradesmen are booked for the next couple of weeks as we get estimates for work to get the house at St Erblon the way we want it.

The real French experience starts here…

Let’s go on a bender!

I don’t often get technical here when I’m talking guitars, so apologies if this article causes a little bit of head-scratching. However, I will try and explain some of the simple musical terms I use and there are some good sites on the net that you can consult if you want more comprehensive information.

As a young kid I was interested in the guitar quite early on and when the Shadows came on the scene I wouldn’t say that I immediately wanted a guitar, but it certainly started me becoming more curious about actually playing one.

I eventually got a guitar when I was about 10 which was frankly a guitar-shaped piece of crap, along with Bert Weedon’s ‘Play in a Day’ (a bold and frankly ludicrous title!), and I didn’t progress at all – it was all Greek to me.

However, I got a better guitar – a reasonable classical guitar – when I was 13 and got properly started on playing by a friend who showed me the basics.

One day, I asked him what the strange noise was that I’d heard on a Rolling Stones record (‘It’s All Over Now’, if I recall correctly) and he told me it was produced by bending a guitar string.

This was quite simply my guitar epiphany.

Once he showed me how to do it – not easy on a nylon-strung classical guitar – I was up and running and bending strings like a string-bending motherfucker.

Bending strings is one of the main techniques in blues, and hence rock (birthed as it is in the blues), guitar.

Generally speaking, like playing barre chords, it’s one of those major hurdles in learning to play that you think you’re never going to get over. As always, perseverance is the real key and so you just have to keep on plugging at it.

String bending is usually, but not always, used on the unwound strings because it’s easier and also being higher in pitch the notes tend to stand out more when bent. The most elementary way of bending a string is by gripping the neck  much as you would a baseball bat and then simultaneously pushing down through the fretboard and across the fretboard (usually upwards) with a finger. I find myself using the third finger most often and backed up with the first two fingers to make it easier. When you’ve developed fretting hand strength then bending becomes easier and you should be able to bend with different fingers in various different ways, depending on what you’re actually playing.

The lighter (smaller diameter) the string, the easier it is to bend and the less tense the string, the easier it is, too. Some guitarists detune a semi-tone or a tone which helps facilitate bending and most players who string bend and want wide bends will also favour a lighter string. The trade off is in tone when, in my experience, lighter and slacker strings give you a less full-bodied sound, although it really is horses for courses here. There are no rules!

I use D’Addario 10 gauge strings in standard tuning and with a pretty high action set up on the guitar (usually my US Tele) which some people find makes bending difficult, but really isn’t at all extreme. This combination, however, suits me just fine as it gives me easy bends with maximum tone for my style of playing. 

Where bending first came from no-one really knows, but it’s been suggested that the sound emulates slide guitar which is one of the blues guitar styles first documented.  WC Handy writes that he saw a guy using a bone as a guitar slide sometime around 1910 or so.

In blues there are a couple of really common bends that give the music much of its unique ‘flavour’.

The first is a bend raising the 4th note in the scale a semitone above to the flattened fifth. This note can be heard in context with the root note by singing the first three notes of ‘Mars’ from Holst’s ‘Planets Suite’. The first note is the root, the second the fifth and the third the flattened fifth. The flattened fifth isn’t a note you want to hang on to for too long as it actually clashes with other notes you might use in a blues, but if you move to it and away from it during the course of a blues melody or solo then it gives you a ‘bluesy’ sound.

The second note often bent is the minor third to the major third and also, interestingly, microtonal notes between the two. This only works in a major key blues and sounds wrong in a minor key blues. The ambivalence of this third note – the one that determines whether you’re in a major or a minor key – also gives you that ‘bluesy’ vibe.

Almost every blues (or rock) guitarist you can name bends notes. Some bend more than others, but very few don’t bend at all. There are many ways of bending notes and not just the two notes I’ve described above.

There are unison bends, double and triple bends and even pre-bends where you bend a string up to a desired pitch before plucking and then pluck release the bend.

As for how far you can bend a string, the only limitations are those set by the actual physical conditions – set up, string gauge, fretting hand strength, etc. It’s perfectly possible to bend an unwound third string up a fourth on a standard tuned guitar if you play in the middle of the string length where it’s at its slackest. 

I said above that guitarists usually bend notes up towards them and this is generally true as the unwound strings – especially the first and second – are close to the edge of the fretboard and you can push the strings off the neck. However, this isn’t a rule and you can push down – especially easy with an unwound third string – if you want and it may be necessary for certain licks. This downwards bending gives a slightly different sound – remarkably hard to define and best appreciated by listening to a player who habitually bends downwards – and it’s also a bit easier to bend the string – meaning that you can bend it to a higher pitch.

One of the best-known players to bend downwards and achieve these very wide bends was the late Albert King who played this way because he used a standard right handed guitar but played left handed. This meant that everything was ‘upside down’ and the more commonly-bent strings were nearest him. To bend a string he would push down and achieve his distinctive licks with overbends on such tracks as ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’ and ‘Oh Pretty Woman’.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about his unusual method of playing:

King was a left-handed "upside-down/backwards" guitarist. He was left-handed, but usually played right-handed guitars flipped over upside-down so the low E string was on the bottom. In later years he played a custom-made guitar that was basically left-handed, but had the strings reversed (as he was used to playing). He also used very unorthodox tunings (i.e., tuning as low as C to allow him to make sweeping string bends). Some believe that he was using open E minor tuning (C-B-E-G-B-E) or open F tuning (C-F-C-F-A-D). A "less is more" type blues player, he was known for his expressive "bending" of notes, a technique characteristic of blues guitarists.

All of this stuff about bending and upside down guitars leads me to conclude this article with a recommendation of a musician some people might not have heard of, but of whom I’m starting to get very fond indeed.

Like Albert King, Doyle Bramhall II plays guitar ‘upside down’. However, although his music is blues-based, Doyle’s original compositions operate within a much wider format. It’s bluesy, yes, but there’s also soul, rock and acoustic melodicism in there that produces a really fine brew. There aren’t very many wailing guitar histrionics and fast work outs at all, but there are plenty of intense and thoughtful songs, punctuated by some of the most original and soulful blues-based guitar stylings I’ve heard in quite a few years.

220px-DoyleBramhallIICrossroads2007

Although he’s probably been seen by more people as a sidesman (to Eric Clapton, no less, to name the most famous he’s played with) he grew up in Texas and played around the region, eventually achieving a degree of fame with the Arc Angels – recently reformed – and a reputation as a killer player. However, it’s his solo releases that have me really excited, with 1999’s ‘Jellycream’ getting most play lately. What I particularly love are the intricate yet direct songs the guy writes and it’s a real treat to hear some original chord progressions for a change. His guitar playing is best described as ‘sinuous’ – muscular yet supple with enough twists and turns to hold the interest and also avoid the usual ‘I come from Texas and I play a Strat’ cliches. This guy is certainly no SRV clone!

Without wishing to blow my own trumpet (!) I think I have a pretty good ear and can usually pick up what I hear quite easily and emulate it on guitar. Doyle’s playing doesn’t seem to give up its secrets at all easily and I really like that in a player’s style and technique. If I hear a piece of guitar playing I really, really like then I usually get a guitar out and try and play it. In a strange way this often strips away some of the mystique the music may have had, but I then end up appreciating it on a different, more technical level. So far, Doyle’s preserved his mystique and I reckon his playing is going to intrigue me for the foreseeable future. Simply put, it’s unique.

So, please check Doyle out, but make sure you don’t confuse him with his father – Doyle Bramhall (no II!). The elder Bramhall is a fine drummer who’s released some good blues-based albums of his own, but they’re far more mainstream than his son’s releases.

Remember, you need the Doyle Bramhall with the ‘II’.

And happy bending!

The French paper chase

Fuck, fuck and…er…fuck again…

French bureaucracy has just bitten me in the arse.

I’m trying to re-register my car so I can get the ‘carte grise’ and have French plates – no road tax then! – which is a legal requirement eventually if I’m staying here.

I’ve done everything right so far, and at no small expense:

  • Headlights changed for driving on the wrong side of the road – 414 Euros
  • Controle Technique (French MOT valid for 2 years) – 62 Euros
  • Certificate of Conformity from Ford – £82.25

So, off I go to the Hotel des Impots (local tax office) at Chateau Gontier to get the last piece of paperwork – a declaration that my car isn’t new and that I don’t owe any money on it – before taking the whole wodge of documents to Laval to get re-registered, only to find that they need proof of my address.

This will have to be done through my local mayor here, who should be able to provide me with an attestation of my address.

The fact that I have French car insurance, French top-up health insurance, a French social security number and a French bank account – all of which are dependent on me having provided a valid and verifiable French address on four separate occasions already – didn’t seem to cut any ice with the lady at the tax office, even when I showed her the documents.

So, I’m back home after a 70km round trip that achieved rather less than fuck all.

Still, few things have annoyed me about living in France so far so I’m just going to go with the flow, roll with the punches, suck it up, blah, blah, blah…

All the same…fuckity fuck, fuck, fuck…

Catching up

Well, here we are – back in La Belle France and very glad to be so.

It was lovely catching up with friends and family but the comparative hustle and bustle of the UK – even in Milton Keynes and relatively quiet areas such as the Forest of Dean and the Gloucester countryside – was a real culture shock. So many people and cars and all seemingly in a tear-arse hurry to get somewhere.

Mrs Shark commented on how little I swore in France after hearing me let rip at a driver who cut me up on a roundabout in MK but even she used some colourful language at the utter cunt who overtook a coach just east of Chipping Norton and almost rammed us head on.

Admittedly, there’s more room in France – it’s a bloody big place – but even so, people seem just that bit less hurried and this all seems to contribute towards a more relaxed demeanour, generally speaking.

It’s cherry season here and we’ve come back to a bumper crop. The tree in the garden is laden with ripe red cherries and after bottling some with cognac yesterday, there’s now jam to be made. This means that Mrs Shark has been busy buying jars, thermometers and a great big sterilising machine for said jars.

It seems to be sales time here and we’ve bought some garden furniture and a couple of small barbecues so that we can reciprocate the many invitations we’ve had to go to eat charcoal-blackened meat…

The trip back to the UK also meant that Waterstones and other bookshops got a right rifling and we’ve returned with many, many books, having just about exhausted our supply of new books we brought with us last March.

I can’t recommend anything we’ve just bought (not finished anything yet!) but here are a few titles from the last batch that I can heartily recommend.

Dennis Lehane – The Given Day: the latest novel by one of my favourite authors. It’s a bit of a departure for Lehane as it’s an historical novel. It tells the intertwining stories of a young Irish-American policeman and a black fugitive set in early 20th century Boston. It had me gripped from start to finish and the superb characterisations made me really care about what happened to the two main protagonists.

Anthony Bourdain – Kitchen Confidential: inspirational stuff describing the true life story of a punk chef. It’s like Led Zeppelin hedonism meeting gastronomic armageddon with a seasoning of smack, sex and knives. Genius stuff with Bourdain pulling no punches whatsoever.

William Sansom – Darkfire: The fourth book I’ve read featuring Shardlake – a sort of Tudor sleuth. Again, great characterisation makes you care about the hero and a wry humour and sharp attention to period detail make this a delight to read along with the three others so far published. Sansom captures the atmosphere of Tudor religious/political paranoia very well indeed.

After a week of beautiful weather back in the UK, we’ve come back to even better weather here with heat but not as much humidity as back in the UK. It’s currently about 38 degrees celsius outside our back door and it’s quite bearable. However, it’s starting to cloud up a little and I have a feeling that later today we might well have some spectacular thunderstorms.

(3 hours later)

In typical Mayenne fashion, the clouds just went away after an hour or so of warm breeze and it’s now yet another balmy evening. Barmy too, with 5lbs of cherries stoned and a huge vat of jam bubbling away under the watchful eye of Mrs Shark. 

We’ve just had chicken in satay sauce with noodles. Here’s my own recipe for the dish with a cheat satay sauce:

Mix together 2 tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter with a dessertspoon of dark soy sauce. Add 200ml of boiling water to which you’ve added about half a block of creamed coconut and then mixed to a paste. Blend this into the peanut/soy mix and add half a teaspoon of minced red chilli – more if you want it hotter. Stir into sauteed sliced chicken breast, red peppers and mange-tout peas. Serve with thin egg noodles.

‘33’ beer is currently 6 euros and 5 cents for a pack of 30 25cl bottles at the Super U this week. Goes very well, chilled to buggery, with the above dish.

Picked up some chicken rillettes on offer – let’s hope they’re as good as the pork ones.

After last week, during our sojourn in the UK we had three barbecues. Once we got back we bought all the kit and have had a couple here – one with sausages and pork chops and one with brochettes made of cubed beef, mushroom and red pepper. It seems that BBQs are the most popular way of entertaining during the summer months, so we’re having one with guests the weekend after next.

Mrs Shark claims to have seen a hoopoe whilst we were out driving to Pouance this morning. That evens out the Golden Oriole I saw the week before last. Last night we went out looking for glow worms and found several. There also seems to be a pair of kestrels that have taken up residence near here. They were both out hunting yesterday, so perhaps they’re working on a second brood.

I’ve made contact with a British guy living nearby who sings and plays guitar. We’re meeting on Saturday. If we think we can play together then gigs are – apparently – waiting. Be nice to play again. I have to admit that I’ve hardly picked up a guitar in the time I’ve been here so it’ll be good to have an excuse to play, being as I’m such a lazy sod!

The cats are pitiful in the heat – they just sack out under the hedge for hours and then emerge when it’s cooler. It’s too hot for even Django’s bloodlust – the local wildlife is safe during the day, although I should imagine that the nocturnal variety still gets an ass-whupping. The two cats are pathetically grateful to be home and although we can heartily recommend Les Creature Comforts at St Aubin Fosse Louvain for your cat or dog’s vacation, run by the lovely Stephanie Lack, there ain’t no place like home. For us and the ginger bastards!

Random wafflings

Back to the UK tomorrow to see family and friends for a week or so and also stock up on various things.

We’re feeling a bit ambivalent about the trip.

We’ve really taken to France and whilst I’m absolutely not in the business of running down the country of my birth, I’ve found life here to be far more relaxed and there’s a certain ‘respect’ that everyone seems to have for each other – not to mention a lack of chavs, soapdodgers and pikeys. That’s not to say that France doesn’t have its share of these, but there don’t seem to be any remotely near where we go.

There have been hassles over the last few months, but I think I’ve found the answer when it comes to the dreaded French bureaucracy.

You simply do what you can to sort things out your end and then you just wait. Everything eventually gets sorted out and kicking up a stink about delays will probably get your paperwork sent to the bottom of the pile. So, you just wait.

Of course, being retired helps, but my work never gave me any stress anyway, so I don’t think my relaxed attitude to virtually everything is all down to that.

The cats are going to be lodged in a cattery which I have no misgivings with, but it will be the longest they’ve ever been away from us (8 days)and we’ll miss them. I never thought I’d say it, but leaving them will be a real wrench because they’re more than pets. They’ve become really good companions and having brought them along on this late ‘life adventure’ they seem to have adapted really well.

So, although we’re desperate to see our children, our grandson and other family and also our friends, I reckon we’ll be gagging to come back to France in a week’s time.

It feels like home here now.

I’ve been wondering what to do about this blog. I’m starting to think about having another blog that will deal with matters French and keeping this blog for non-French specific subjects.

At present it’s frustrating enough with a 35 Euros for 12 hours 3G stick being the almost the sole means of internet access (free wi-fi fucking rocks!) and this won’t be remedied until we make a permanent move to the new house later this year. This will remain my only blog and no decision made until I get broadband access.

Certainly I have nothing but praise for Microsoft’s Live Writer in Windows 7. It enables me to write blog posts offline and with many of the facilities that the WordPress admin panel gives me.

Come to think of it, the whole Windows 7 experience has been excellent on this new laptop, although I hate having to rely on a pre-loaded OS. I’ll probably buy a Windows 7 disc when I’m over in the UK next week, Another advantage is that it’ll purge all the Samsung crap from this machine.

Blogging may be erratic for the next week, although my iPhone will come in handy for blogging via email, not to mention tweeting, which I really miss.

One thing I’m going to have to be careful with is making sure I drive on the left back in the UK. I’ve got to the stage where I see a TV program set in the UK and think it looks odd when I see people driving on the left…It also occurs to me that I’m going to have to get some headlight adapters because we’ve had our lights changed for driving here as part of the re-registration process.

Packing the car – a Ford Fiesta – is going to be interesting. We’ll be leaving tomorrow with two cat cages full of cat, many, many bottles of wine, gifts and our luggage…

Then we’ll be back with books, more books, Cheddar, washing tablets, Pimms (not easy to get here), curry paste, cat treats and Twinings Everyday teabags – plus the cats…

The vibrato still sings

My recent 100 favourite albums posts inevitably allowed many of my favourite musicians and bands to slip through the cracks. In order to pay them the respect they deserve, and also to perhaps introduce readers of this blog to some new listening experiences, from time to time I’ll be featuring one of them.

I feel very lucky to have my formative musical years quite firmly placed in the mid to late 1960s. In a nutshell, pop and rock music was then very much steeped in the blues. I suppose it all really kicked off for me with the Rolling Stones. I was starting to play guitar when I first heard them, and having heard a strange sound on one of their records, which a guitar playing friend informed me was a ‘bent’ note, I was up and running; listening to records with the guitar handy and working out pentatonic scales and licks for myself.

Chief amongst my listening around that time was John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers. If anyone deserves the title of Godfather of British Blues it’s Mayall. Sure, Alexis Korner was a very influential player and bandleader but when you think who passed through John’s bands and what they went on to do, he has to be the Daddy of ‘em all!

Naturally, as an aspiring guitarist, it was Mayall’s axemen who caught my attention. Starting with Eric Clapton and the seminal ‘Beano’ album he attracted some fabulous players. After Clapton came Peter Green, who went on to form Fleetwood Mac before succumbing to drugs and mental illness. Then after Greeny came Mick Taylor and he’s the subject of this piece.

Mick Taylor MICKTaylor Mick with a fan

Having sat in for Clapton at one gig the very young Mick Taylor (15 at the time, I believe) missed out to Green as Slowhand’s successor but got the job after Green left to form Fleetwood Mac.

Blessed with a beautiful wide but controlled vibrato and a creative way of putting licks together, Mick fitted into the Mayall band seamlessly and responded very well to the increasingly rock-based direction that Mayall was taking. With less and less reliance on 12 bar blues the band began playing some adventurous material and John seemed quite happy to let Mick stretch out and take extended solos. Not much of this work exists to hear today, but the two albums that Mayall recorded (rather poorly it has to be said) at live gigs are still available.

‘Diary of a Band Volumes 1 & 2’ have some fantastic playing from Taylor on them. In particular, ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ has some soaring slow blues guitar from him which still raises the hairs on my neck when I hear it and the instrumental medley of ‘Anzio Annie/Snowy Wood/The Lesson’ has less structured playing with lots of feedback and space and Mick showing you how sometimes not playing is the best thing to do for the music.

Above all, Taylor has always had tone – a sound combined with a feel that makes every note count.

The studio albums with Mayall – ‘Crusade’, ‘Bare Wires’ and ‘Blues From Laurel Canyon’ all have plenty of superb examples of Mick’s very precise but exciting playing.

Of course, a call from the Stones to come and join them caused Taylor to leave Mayall and embark on a stint with the band that produced, in my view at least, their finest hour both live and in the studio. With Keef chording and riffing away behind him, Mick’s fluid guitar worked really well and the classic albums ‘Sticky Fingers’ and ‘Exile’ have many great examples of the interplay between the two.

Unfortunately the best example of the Stones live from this era is unreleased, although the recording is top quality. The benefit gig at Brussels for the Nicaraguan earthquake victims (organized by Jagger’s wife Bianca) was recorded, broadcast and subsequently bootlegged.

It’s an amazing recording of the Stones at their peak and is a ‘must hear’ for anyone with the slightest interest in rock music. Fortunately it’s readily available on the internet. Usually called ‘A Brussels Affair’ it can be found on all manner of torrent sites and music blogs.

Get it!

Now!

Although the truth has never really been revealed, Mick seems to have had the shit end of the stick as far as songwriting credits are concerned. Only receiving one co-credit with Mick ‘n’ Keef – ‘Ventilator Blues’ on ‘Exile’ – although claiming far more, Taylor left the Stones in 1973 with a smack habit (since kicked) and from that time to this – although playing in Bob Dylan’s band, with Jack Bruce, Mike Oldfield and many, many more luminaries, releasing several solo albums and gigging all over the globe – he’s languished in increasing obscurity.

I can’t for the life of me understand why.

When you consider his peers today, Taylor still offers originality and a freshness to his playing that they mostly lack…

Clapton – pumping out the same old same old with all the passion of a dead slug…

Green – really not the full shilling and incapable of playing with the sensitivity he once had…

Page – Led Zeppelin then nothing until…er…Led Zeppelin and currently inactive as far as I can see…

In fact, it’s only Jeff Beck from that era who still seems to be prepared to take chances and try new things.

Apart from Taylor, that is.

I have many (about 150) bootlegs of solo Taylor live – from the mid 1980s to the present day. He’s evolved into a quite stunning player. Throwing in licks that someone like Clapton couldn’t manage to even think of whilst stuck inside his pentatonic prison and combining standard fingering and slide often in the same line, Taylor is today a quality player who still has a great deal to offer anyone who loves rock and blues guitar.

It’s only speculation, but my best guess on why Mick Taylor isn’t a bigger name today is that his experience with the Stones soured him, and problems with various substances didn’t help this. Apparently, he’s writing his autobiography and it’s rumoured that he’ll ‘tell all’ as far as the Stones are concerned, so perhaps we’ll find out then what lies behind his relative obscurity.

Meanwhile, as ever, the music can do the talking. Get the Mayall and Stones albums with Taylor and also any live solo stuff you can. Bootlegs are freely available via certain torrent sites and I’ve even seen live boots on Usenet.

As someone once said of Taylor, ‘the vibrato still sings’ and it really does too.

To sum up, a fabulous player and one well worthy of any music fan or guitarist’s attention.

Last night I saw an elephant…

If you’re a Groucho Marx fan – I am! – you’ll probably finish this sentence off with something like ‘…in my pyjamas – why he was wearing my pyjamas I’ll never know…’

However, after last night I think I’ll go with ‘Last night I saw an Elephant Hawk Moth.’

I was out closing the shutters when I became aware of a large moth. Mindful of the fabulous Emperor Moth that Oscar caught a few weeks ago, I rushed inside, grabbed a torch and saw this fantastic creature:

P1010153a

Although they’re quite common, I’ve never seen an Elephant Hawk Moth before and with its pink colouring it blew me away. Pink’s not a colour you see very often on a land animal!

They’re attracted by honeysuckle and, sure enough, there’s a huge honeysuckle bush by the window it was fluttering at. A couple of days ago there were Hummingbird Moths around the bush, so that’s definitely one plant we’ll have in the garden of the house we’re buying.

Speaking of which, we’re off out in a few minutes to meet the notaire (solicitor) who’s handling the house purchase which is very good as it ties everything up before we visit the UK next week.

It seems a strange prospect to be a visitor to the country of your birth. We’ve been out here nearly 4 months and I really can’t imagine living anywhere else but it’ll be great to see the family and catch up – not to mention stock up on new books, t-shirts and Cheddar!

UPDATE:

We’ve just got back from meeting Maître Jamois, our notaire and a very nice chap, and having parted with a 10% deposit everything’s in place. From now on it’s down to him and the vagaries of the French legal/conveyancing process.

Property is not theft…

…although it can sometimes be a bit of a steal.

After several weeks looking at houses in various states of repair – from partially roofless to immaculately renovated – we’ve finally settled on a house not too far from here in a tiny hamlet.

We first viewed it about a week after we came over here at the beginning of March, fell in love with it but reluctantly rejected it because the cost would have left us without enough money to renovate it properly.

After a few more weeks looking at more houses (about 20 in all) we began to understand the local property market a bit better.

We realised that there was in fact no cohesive pattern to the market and that the concept of an ‘average price’ was of little meaning to the vendors here and subsequently safely ignored by the buyer.

To give an example, one of the houses we looked at is two houses away from the house we’re renting at the moment. – in the same hamlet. It was a bit small but would have made a nice 2 bedroom house with about half an acre of garden.

It was 68 000 Euros – all costs included. After a series of offers we ended up making a final offer of 48 000 which was accepted before we pulled out having had an offer accepted for the house we’re now hoping to buy. 

Since then the estate agent has phoned us and an all-in price of 45 000 Euros proposed. Now, whilst any buyer with an ounce of sense will never offer the asking price and negotiation will almost always bring about a lower figure, we’re talking a reduction of around a third, which is a hell of a lot.

With much of this in mind, we put in a stupidly low offer for the house we’re eventually buying and got it for just over a third of its original asking price after a very slight (2 500 Euros) adjustment to our offer.

Here it is:

P1010036

 P1010048

Yes, it needs a lot of work but it’s all within our budget and we’ll end up with a three bedroom house with two bathrooms, two very large reception rooms, a huge kitchen/diner and a utility room and all standing in an acre of land with orchards, wells, two ponds and a small barn. Furthermore it should be saleable and make a profit should we have to sell – assuming property prices don’t go totally down the crapper.

What I’m basically saying is that if you’re thinking of buying in France – particularly older properties in need of renovation – then don’t be afraid to go in really low with your offer.

If you’re not embarrassed by offering such a low figure then you’re offering too much.

This is further borne out by a friend who’s just bought a house much further south and who’s just snagged a real bargain too.

In late breaking news, we’ve just signed the sale agreement – the compromis – and barring the sellers pulling out we should have the keys to the new house by 31st August and, hopefully, sooner if the bureaucratic fairies are on our side.

There will now be a short intermission…

…whilst we complete the move to France.

The boxes are all packed and now the house resembles a maze whilst Mrs Shark and I scurry about like two demented rats.

The removal firm rang today and they will be here at 8am this coming Friday and Mrs Shark and myself will be away to Portsmouth to catch the ferry two hours later, leaving my brother and sister-in-law and son to keep the removal men topped up with tea and biccies and then tidy up  before our buyers move in. The cats will be picked up by the lovely Melanie tomorrow evening and brought to us on Saturday and our worldly goods will follow a week on Friday.

As soon as I get a French 3G dongle for the new laptop I’ll be back blogging and the top 20 of my favourite albums will be revealed.

And so, dear reader, a bientot!

My favourite albums – 21–30

As I have gained a day at home this weekend, here’s the next unlikely bunch of 10 personal favourites.

#30 Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends: This came along at the same time I was heavily into Hendrix, the Who, Cream and newly-electrified Dylan. The album gets heavy coverage on my blog here, with a full critique. ‘Save the Life of my Child’ still strikes me as a fantastic creation over 40 years on and pretty much typifies why I love this album so much. Everything’s bang on the money – performance, production and composition. The whole album is testament to the old adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and although it has its weak moments, these seem less important as time goes by.

#29 Groundhogs – Split. I came to this album quite late – about 5 years ago – but it’s now a firm favourite. Tony McPhee created a strange blend of proto-Stoner rock with a touch of 1960s British blues band, lots of great guitar and some distinctly psychedelic touches. Remarkably, this mix doesn’t sound dated and the band deliver it with such aplomb that you’d never guess that Split itself – parts 1 to 5 and half the album – was about McPhee’s nervous breakdown after the band’s earlier successes. It’s ugly stuff…but somehow beautiful at the same time. If you’re into Stoner rock bands like SUNN 0))) then you’ll know what I mean.

#28 Greatdayforup – God Loves a Sinner: Not proto Stoner rock, but the real thing this time. I love this genre – lots of guitars, often a bit psychedelic and – above all – heavy and rocking. It’s what attracted me to rock in the first place. But back to this album…Sometimes I think that the opening track ‘Golden Arms’ is perhaps the only track I’ll ever need. Spacey vocals, guitars that induce migraine and a relentlessness that is hypnotic. Think Sabbath crossed with Nirvana or the Foos and you’ll almost be there – but not quite…

#27 Was Not Was – Born to Laugh at Tornadoes: Normally studio guys’ albums are a pile of shite, but Don and Dave Was assembled some great albums and this is perhaps their most eccentric and least soul based. Guests include Ozzy, Mel Torme, Marshall Crenshaw, Wayne Kramer and Mitch Ryder and the material is as varied as the guest list indicates. You’ve got soul, techno, rock and roll and ballads all with bizarre lyrics. Rolling Stone magazine made it their album of the year in 1983 – the year ‘Thriller’ came out. Forget that album, the Wases created something far better!

#26 Joe Jackson – Big World: Recorded live – but in front of an audience instructed to not applaud after each song and make no other noise at all – I’m including this because it’s all original material and wasn’t meant to be a live album per se. With a nicely stripped-down band – Joe on keys with guitar, bass and drums – it’s a far cry from his first two small combo albums. Vinnie Zumo on guitar is a real asset with beautiful chordal fills which make the sound really big. Honestly not a duff track on the album – in spite of none of the songs really considered to be amongst his ‘classics’. Current favourite track – Home Town. All about Portsmouth, but affectionately so.

#25 Rage Against the Machine – Rage against the Machine: I hated this when I first heard it, but after being asked to teach someone all the bass parts on it I grew to love it. Tom Morello rewrites guitar playing after the excesses of shred and the rhythm section kicks bottom. Again, a large part of the attraction of this album to me is that it reminds me just why I love rock music so much. It’s loud, exciting and obnoxious with plenty of guitar and most of the time that’s all I need to keep my ears happy. No favourite tracks – they’re all good.

#24 Ian Dury and the Blockheads – New Boots and Panties: I miss Ian greatly – his humour, his enthusiasm and his geezer persona. Great lyrics where aggression meets sentiment and fantastic music – courtesy of Steve Nugent and Chas Jankel. And what a band…the Blockheads were just perfect with Ian in every way – from rock and roll, through funk to vaudeville. Only one duff track lets the album down – ‘Blackmail Man’. The rest is sheer perfection.

#23 Family – Music in a Doll’s House: Classic British psychedelia from a band who soon dropped the genre in favour of a strange blend of the pastoral, out and out rock swagger and jazz fusion. This was one of the defining albums of psychedelia for me with backwards violins, strange stereo panning and trippy lyrics. It isn’t classic Family as most people remember the band, but it is a fine offering all the same. My favourite tracks are ‘The Chase’ – with the late Tubby Hayes on sax I believe – and ‘See Through Windows’ which is just downright bizarre. Roger Chapman brays as usual, but a little less so on this album.

#22 David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: Bowie’s first album with his own band and what a cracker. Mick Ronson – a personal hero of mine and more than a mere guitarist – impresses throughout with his guitar, piano and string arrangements and Bowie really immerses himself in the parallel universe he creates. ‘Moonage Daydream’ is amazing with superb guitar and nasty lyrics and the twin attack of ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and ‘Suffragette City’ is one of rock’s greatest triumphs. I almost chose ‘Aladin Sane’ but it’s not as cohesive as ‘Ziggy’. A 5 star album.

#21 Masters of Reality – Masters of Reality: More Stoner rock and occasionally played 5 or 6 times on the trot given the time and right occasion. Chris Goss is the kingpin here and this really is his album. Highlights? Well,  ‘John Brown’ is a sort of acoustic nursery rhyme with some great slide guitar and ‘Kill the King’ has what could possibly be the best guitar riff of all time. Reference points probably include Cream, Led Zep and the blues, although the mix is so spiked with Goss’ stoned slant on things that the influences aren’t always so obvious. Hard to find – I know because I eventually ended up buying a secondhand CD from Canada – but worth it.