Where is Jolibois? I can’t find it on the map.
Jolibois, my pseudonym for the nearest town to La Folie, is a small town in Haute-Vienne, one of the three départements that make up the rural region known as the Limousin, slap-bang in the middle of France. Once most famous for its beef cattle, the Limousin is currently better-known for the herds of les Rosbifs who have bought second-homes there. The old leather handbag industry which once sustained the region is all but dead. Mind you, judging from the state of some of the sun-worshippers boarding the Ryanair flight back to Stansted, it may be ripe for a revival.
Why did you move to France?
I’m darned if I can remember. I know I wanted an adventure, and that my life in East Dulwich had become uncomfortably comfortable. The years were starting to tick by very quickly. I felt like I was chalking-up second-hand experiences and absorbing the whole buzzing cacophony of city life without ever really learning about anything that matters. I saw in rural France the possibility of inhabiting a rich soil, where I would have to work hard to make friends, and where – by setting myself the challenge of living alone, in the middle of nowhere – I might even learn to be brave. There has to be some reason why I sat through French A-level, all those years ago.
Is French bureaucracy as bad as it sounds?
French bureaucracy is a thing of beauty, because it means that one sees the cheery postman every day, and always has a ready supply of scrap paper for clearing up chicken-poo. Every day brings another missive in triplicate from EDF or GDF or the CIA (La Coopérative d’Insémination Animale, just like it stands for in the USA). Committees are important, too, because their interminable meetings ensure that things are done on time. Without committees, there is a danger that things might be done too quickly, and that would interfere with lunch.
Have you successfully integrated with the French, or have you decided to just become one of the mass of “hideous” Brits?
I have been doing my best to integrate with the French, with occasional success. London winning the 2012 Olympics over Paris was a bit of a set-back, and first Bradley Wiggins and now Chris Froome haven’t helped. But I do feel myself making steady progress. I invite the locals up to La Folie to sample my cooking, and they invite me into their houses just as soon as they are feeling better. Like most Brits out here, I naturally decry the presence of my fellow countrymen, descending in ever-increasing waves, and destroying the “real” France. But I know I’m just as bad as the rest of them – possibly even worse, if my writing about Limousin life encourages yet more to make a similar move.
Why do you dye your hair? It’s quite obvious that you’re never going to see 60 again.
I do not dye my hair, nor am I in my 60s. I just look unusually mature in the mugshot that the Daily Telegraph used above my column. I blame the photographer who came to La Folie to take my picture, and forced me to stay up very late drinking Armagnac with him the night before.
Do you take paying guests?
No, although visitors who have spent most of their time at La Folie building fences and weeding the potager might disagree. I am also considering running occasional writing workshops at La Folie, which will naturally afford the chance to visit the place, and to run the gauntlet of our savage Jagd terrier, Pike.
Would you recommend the Limousin as a place to live?
Yes, absolutely, if you are willing to make an effort with the lingo. No, absolutely not, if you are planning to come and shout in the supermarket about how everything is written in bleedin’ French, and why doesn’t anyone around here speak proper English? For you, I would recommend Albania.
Don’t you get lonely?