Were I writing a book, the following blurb would appear on the back cover.
« Strangers In A Strange Land. 25 Years In “La Belle France”, Some Of Us Never Came Here For A Lifestyle Change, We Live Here Because We Don’t Live Somewhere Else. Welcome To A Few Thoughts On Life In Bourges – The “Real” Smalltown France. The Same Hassle As Life Anywhere Else With Different-Shaped Bread. Deepest France, For Ex-Pats, Angry Parents, Bed And Breakfast Bankrupts Or Saturday Night Rockers. Sometimes Contreversial, Sometimes Funny, Often Informative, But Never Boring. Life In France As It Really Is. »
I’ve been writing about France for the past ten years, mostly articles fo the English language ex-pat press. I wrote five years for the now defunct “French News” In 2008 I moved to their rival paper “The Connexion” Other articles have also appeared in “France Magazine” – Archant’s glossy lifestyle magazine about just how wonderful it is to live in la Belle France.
Why start writing about France?
It was back in the “noughties” – Brits seemed to be awash with extra income, and they were buying up vast tracts of France. The British invasion was also helped by the likes of Ryan Air – offering cheap flights to provincial French destinations. It suddenly became possible for Brits to jet down to their French country residence for the weekend. The media soon cottoned on to the trend. The BBC, ITV and Channel Four ran regular programmes about Brits settling in France. It was always the same formula. Burned out bankers or tired traders jacking it all in to come live in France. The first step was to buy a tumble down farm house and restore it. Step two was to set up a Bed and Breakfast business. Step three – find a concept for your B&B, such as painting, pottery or cookery courses.
Brits coming to live here imagined that they would find some rural idyll redolent of living in the British countryside in the mid-fifties – The Darling Buds of May meets The Archers – the simple life with cheap French wine. In some areas like the Dordogne, the Brits almost bought up entire villages, they turned cafés into pubs or tea rooms, they started cricket teams and even ran for office on the local council. I used to call it “building Jerusalem in France” – taking the best of England’s green and pleasant land and transposing it into contemporary rural France. The Brits did a lot of good, in some cases saving and revitalizing semi abandonned French villages. Brits also did quite a lot of harm by pricing locals out of the housing market. The Brits who arrived in France were far richer than the French locals, they could pay extortionate amounts for houses. In consequence many locals couldn’t afford to live where they had done so for generations.
As a long term ex-pat, I had nothing against all these Brits moving in, what made me sick was all the gushing over how lovely it is to live in France. In 2005, I started my first “real France blog” – Berry Deep France. Life in France as it really is, seen from the point of a view of a Brit who lives and works here on the same terms as the French – as opposed to a recently arrived ex-pat who has taken out a second mortgage on his south east London semi to make his French dreams come true. It was about this point the Stephen Clarke came along with his “Merde” books. The first book in the saga was like a breathe of fresh air – someone had dared to say what I had been writing on my blog – “living in France is not actually as good as you may think it is.” Living in France will not make you healthier, richer, sexier, fitter or more popular”.
In the summer of 2008 the world suddenly learned the word “sub primes” and the chill winds if recession blew across the Atlantic. This was the time that the “French dream” came to an end for many “lifestyle changers” – the B&B ex-pats. For years, such ex-pats had been funding their French dream with second mortgages on UK homes or equity release schemes. Their whole life in France had been based on and financed by the notion that UK property prices would just carry on rising – but they fell, as too did French property prices. Many ex-pats found themselves with two mortgages to finance or they ended up in negative equity, with their French house now worth far less than they had paid for it. Quite a few ex-pats sold up at a loss and headed back across he Channel. I am still here though, as I have been for the last twenty three years. Carving out an existence in my small provincial town.
So a few words about John King – 47 year old ex-pat living and working in Bourges. English teacher by profession, Mr King works for French state education, meaning that he is a civil servant working for lousy French civil service wages. In his spare time, John writes for English language newspapers and is a singer in a reasonably successful amateur rock band playing on the local pub circuit.
I started this blog to bring together and “organise” over ten year’s worth of writing on France. Apart from blog posts, you will find other writings grouped in themes. Click around, have a read, and above all, enjoy.