A Charente Chateau to visit

Josephine and Tom Malcolm wrote to us:

We are delighted to inform clubs and associations that we are now conducting guided visits in English at the Chateau de la Mercerie.
Response from visitors so far is very enthusiastic about this Chateau which is being rescued by the hard work of the local community and a team of volunteers.

There are two guided visits every Tuesday afternoon from April to October, and larger groups are welcome by arrangement seven days a week all year round.

The Chateau is open every afternoon – except Saturday – from Easter to the end of October 2018.

This Chateau is one of the few attractions in Nouvelle Aquitaine to offer guided visits in English.

Please see the leaflet for more details, and do not hesitate to contact us if you require further information.


Richard O’Neill

Marion writes:
It is with great sadness that we have to announce the recent death of our friend and Branch Treasurer, Richard O’Neill. He would have been seventy-five on the 2nd of October.
A founder member of OUS Southwest France, Richard rarely missed a committee meeting, and was as meticulous in the planning of events as in keeping the Branch accounts. His jocular approach to life, and to his own problems in particular, could not really mask his shrewd intelligence, courage, and concern for others.
After attending Portsmouth Grammar School, Richard went up to Oriel in 1960 where he read Physics. After a short spell as a stockbroker, he joined the family insurance firm. But his real vocation was elsewhere. He joined the 1st Battalion of the Wessex Regiment (Territorial Army) and served as a reserve officer. During a mission in the first Gulf War, an injury left him with a damaged leg which later had to be amputated. He retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
At one of the first events organized by the Branch (a dinner with the Chancellor), Richard met John Allsop (Christ Church 1956) who had recently taken on the work of co-ordinating the activities of the Royal British Legion in southwest France. He was looking for a Treasurer and Richard immediately accepted the job, doing the RBL’s accounts up until a fortnight before his death.
Having been injured himself, he was particularly concerned by the fate of wounded soldiers and their families, and he supported a charity « Help for Heroes » which works to relieve their moral, physical and financial difficulties. His two sons feel  he would have appreciated that any donations made in his memory should go to this charity.
Marion has emailed members on this last subject.
John Baylis, Marion Tempé, John Perry, Pip Kirby

The Bonjour Effect reviewed by Fiona MacKenzie

Our first book review on the site: many thanks to OUS SW France member, Fiona McKenzie. The book was offered to Marion for review by the publishers Duckworth.

Review – The Bonjour Effect

By Julie Barlow & Jean-Benoit Nadeau

Published by Duckworth Overlook, July 2016

The Bonjour Effect by the husband and wife team of Canadian writers, Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow is an intriguing guide to understanding what the French are really saying. It’s written on the premise that even if you think you’re pretty fluent in French, the simple literal translation can leave out many of the cultural and societal nuances that hide behind the words.

Nadeau and Barlow have a good track record in tackling the complexities of France and the French. The authors of Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong and The Story Of French, they’ve lived and travelled extensively in France and French-speaking countries, and for their latest book, they spent a year living in Paris with their two young daughters from 2013 to 2014.

They start with one of the most familiar French words, ‘Bonjour’. Getting this wrong can lead to some very Gallic cold-shoulders. After eleven years living in the South West of France I dare not board a bus, buy an apple, walk into a bar, or sit down in a doctor’s waiting room, without saying Bonjour. Many of my French friends who have small businesses frequently complain about how rude the English tourists are – walking into their shops without even saying ‘bonjour’, rummaging through the racks, and walking out again without saying ‘Merci, au revoir’. For the leaving is as important as the arriving (something which sadly Nadeau/Barlow miss out in their chapter on Bonjour).

This is most definitely not a book to help you improve your French in the sense of a language/grammar guide book, although the authors did originally set out to write a learners’ guide called “How to Speak to the French in Twelve Easy Chapters.” Somewhat disarmingly, they confess that they departed from this structure because they, “met fascinating people, had surprising experiences, and ended up with lots of stories to tell.” And that’s exactly what makes this book a pleasure – the amazing number of anecdotes and observations on current French society from sexual mores to politics to business to education. Nadeau and Barlow then add in a layer of anthropological, linguistic, and historical details that make this book a fascinating exploration of French as spoken by the French.

It’s great to read alongside a fellow Francophile as the temptation to interrupt them in their activities and share nuggets of information is overpowering. As a life-long enthusiast with a view that my cup is always half full, I was puzzled by the French always moaning. But I now know why my French friends thought my enthusiasm was ‘charming but quaint’. In their eyes, ‘being happy seems naïve’. As the authors put it: “Overt pessimism has an elegant anti-establishment quality about it, like wearing all black.”

Concepts like ‘terroir’, the French obsession with food, the importance of philosophy for the French, how they approach education and raise their children, getting to grips with French identity (and the current issues surrounding racism in France) – all find a place in this book.

I wish it had been written before I came to live in France eleven years ago. Some things I’ve learned through trial and error, but some things – despite speaking pretty fluent French – have passed me by, and this book provides a brilliant explanation of aspects of French life and culture that for me, had got ‘lost in translation.’

Fiona McKenzie

August 2016

Meeting OUBC, January 3rd 2016.

Once again, thanks to Jeremy James, thirteen members and partners were able to meet the Boat Race crew during their annual training period at Le Temple-sur-Lot.

This was the third year for this event.   The day went, as always, extremely well.   Jeremy started it because he knew that OUBS trained on the Lot (one of the main rivers of southwestern France) every January and thought that it might be fun for both sides.

OUBC has already said how much the annual event is appreciated and that it looks forward to repeating it in 2017.   It is an unfailingly delightful occasion much enjoyed by both sides, as the photo below testifies (click on it to enlarge)!

OUBC Le Temple 2016
OUBC Le Temple 2016


Our party of wine enthusiasts started the first cold day of the season (14th October) in the noisy sobriety of the barrel-making factory, Tonnellerie Sylvain. It might sound boring, but in fact, for some at least it was the highlight of the day, using mainly manual labour to work centuries-old oak from France’s public forests into some 33,000 barrels a year, 70% for export. Of course, given that all had been arranged by Marion and Pip, we did not lack for an inventive and appetising lunch at Catusseau or miss a well-organised tasting of fine Merlot (plus a little Cab. Sav.) at Château Clinet with its new vats and energetic marketing.









Toulouse Cruise

Nearly forty members and friends took to the locks of Toulouse on board the Occitania. As cruises go, this was not overwhelmingly sybaritic for either scenery (a lot of 60s HLMs/tower blocks, the Police Station and Haute Garonne Conseil Général’s Valhalla) or weather (how could Toulouse only muster 20 degrees on July 30th?).

But, and it’s a big but, we had a jolly good meal (with cruise booze of course) and most of all great company of our own making (typical of OUS SW France as a member noted), spiced up with good humoured local information from Pierre, our Captain for the day.

There were too many factoids for your webmaster to remember, except perhaps the enormous growth of Toulouse over the last ten years and the century plus that passed between the construction of the two canals linking the Atlantic and the Med.

We turned round in the basin where the Midi meets the Canal de Garonne and the Canal de la Brienne, and so our lock count for the day was six. All in fact a great success and our thanks to Pip for all the labours involved in getting it together with a not wholly responsive cruise company – evidently the only one offering serious catering on the whole canal.


Pierre locks on
Pierre locks on
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We are ready, listening 


Around the basin
Around the basin


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The Canal de Garonne begins here

Gersois gems: mosaics and tapestries

On 5th May, a large alumni group visited the substantial Roman villa at Séviac, near Montréal du Gers. After Anthony’s Comfort’s lucid introduction to what is known of the site’s history, the evident luxury of which somewhat belies the supposition that the late Roman era was one of decay, we were able to admire the extensive mosaics, baths and splendid plumbing. Thanks to fine timing by organiser Marion, there was also a gorgeous display of irises.




Iris Time

Lunch in the circular square of the lovely village of Fourcès followed. We were then led to the Château of M and Mme. Alban de Saint-Exupéry, who very kindly showed us round its treasures. Its walls are adorned by Aubusson tapestries, family portraits dating back to the 17th century and a huge original by the school of David, showing Marie-Therèse, the lone surviving daughter of Louis XVI, fleeing into exile. All this was within a classic château layout comparable to that in Henri IV’s Nérac nearby, but extended to avoid the rigours of the gersois winter.

The Chateau

Wine at Lou Gaillot, 17 April 2015

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Wine tasting is a regular category of event for OUS SW France. It provides the opportunity to investigate and indeed savour the wide variety of wines that exist in this, one of the great wine-producing regions of the world.

The concrete VAT

Our visit to Lou Gaillot at Casseneuil (thanks to Jeremy James) enabled us to investigate and enjoy the results of  ‘bio’ practices. This vineyard is outside the main appellations, on flat sandy land and a gentle slope by the Lot. Its owner, Gilles Pons, gave an exceptionally lucid presentation of the production processes and enabled us to understand the specific challenges that the commitment to ‘bio’ involves.  We were intrigued by the post-WW2 concrete vats in the chai (no longer is use).

A convivial degustation and lunch followed and from the writer’s limited sample of members, we were keen buyers of the ‘Reserve’ wine.

Meeting the Boat Race Crew

This year’s Boat Race victory by the Dark Blues was particularly appreciated by those of us who met the crews last January at their training session on the waters of the Lot.

The 2015 edition of this event took place on 4th January. It had the added bonus of actually having more time to talk to crew members and their coaches over a protein-packed lunch, preceded by an apéritif.