It’s been a while. I have missed writing to you. I’ve have been busy firing up Oxford History Tours.
I have now actually published the book. you may have read a lot of it already but here is the ‘proper’ edition, with illustrations, ‘Plates’ and links to catch up with some of my fellow chateaunuts and what they are up to now. I have added an afterword too reflecting on what became of us all on the programme. It’s available in paperback and on Kindle.
If you follow me on this author’s page below, you will get news when I publish other books or run special offers.
Amazon seems to have a teething problem and sometimes shows it as out of stock but it’s not. Give it a try. It’s also on Kindle so that if you are an ‘Unlimited Kindle’ subscriber you can read it for ‘free’. It will also be available in book shops. If you name the bookshop I will try to fix it.
Oxford History Tours is something similar to the tour company back in France, but different. In France the expert guides were drawn to deep rural France by the love of their topic. They were thin on the ground and rare to find. Oxford is seething with writers. One can draw a metaphor between actors cleaning tables in Hollywood and Writers working as guides in Oxford.
If you are near Oxford next Sunday I will be at the Indi book fair. It’s in the rather beautiful TJ Jackson Examination Schools. Fun to peep inside this Art Nouveau extravaganza on Oxford High Street just for it alone.
France is rarely out of my mind.
I thought I would use this opportunity to break a new story. Here is the tale of Steve Mack, whose Dordogne chateau features on the cover of Beyond Paris.
Steve Mack’s Chateau Madame
Stephen’s family’s love affair with France goes back to 1944 when his artist father was part of a top secret deception unit called the Ghost Army. ‘During WW2 my father was in a group of handpicked American soldiers recruited from art schools. By posing as whole allied army units, through radio messages deliberately intercepted, using inflatable tanks and armour, and spilling misleading information in cafes, they fooled the Nazis and, as a result, saved tens of thousands of German and Allied lives’. It was then that Stephen’s father fell in love with the Dordogne and later came back with his wife and bought the Chateau Madame de Miremont.
Stephen inherited the Chateau Madame in 2012. ‘I find this part of the Dordogne fascinating.’. Apart from the richness of prehistoric sites and dwellings, the concentration of castles and beautiful villages, the area is still so rural. ‘When you get off the main road people will wave from farms along the country lanes and there are places along the river to find and have a swim’.
Stephen prefers Medieval and Renaissance castles over the 18th and 19th century wealthy family households, ‘They have been the hub of the community. I love the atmosphere and fingerprint of what has gone before in these ancient buildings. It is an escape from the rush and the era we live in’.
A great lover of historic buildings and a professional in that field, Stephen normally playing the role of architect and designer. At Chateau Madame it is precious to him to have been so involved with the hands-on work. Something he normally has little time for.
‘The work can be frustrating, exhausting, expensive and seemingly endless but when those memories fade, the quality of the work remains. This type of work is an artform and very satisfying when you stand back and see that the new work cannot be differentiated from the original’.
‘The most satisfying jobs can be little things. Covering the 1970’s bright red floor tiles with large limestone pavers as would have been originally used was transformative. Light can be a scarce commodity in a chateau and the reflected rays of sunlight from the limestone floors beautifully illuminates the interior’.
‘People buy chateaux for a variety of reasons. Some to simply live there, or to rent out and hope to cover costs, and others to create a business. While my restoration is intended to satisfy both myself and my guest renters, I have restored Chateau Madame for the experience. You have to do it for the love of it.
‘The works of the renovation, in addition to my wonderful friend Amanda, included an international group of over one hundred volunteers over a four year period, staying in groups of 6 or 7. That also was a fantastic experience. At a point the question to myself was: Is this experience the restoration of Chateau Madame or, is Chateau Madame the conduit for the experience of meeting and working with all these remarkable people’.
Stephen has found locals to be extremely patient with foreigners who do not speak French or who speak it very poorly. ‘It has everything to do with how you treat people. If you are austere or arrogant you are finished, as you should be. Due to my current poor French skills I sketch bits and pieces, windmill my arms around, put English endings on French words, and other things. It’s a bit crazy but somehow it works. Working hard at it makes friends and that’s what it’s all about’.
‘I suppose my favourite pastime is the Vide Greniers. On any given Sunday I am off at the crack of dawn. I love the whole experience; watching the village wake up, being there outside, and looking for treasure!’
“The French can be wonderfully polite and welcoming. With a ‘bonjour’ and a ‘bon apetit’, to those eating, whether they know them or not. Occasional difficulties include getting artisans to commit to work or to be accountable. If the question is
‘Can you fix the roof while I am here this summer?’,
the answer may be
‘Are you very busy?’,
‘Then why can’t you do it?’,
‘Because I am taking the summer off to go fishing.’
While that can be exasperating, I must ask myself, if these people can take the summer off and still feed themselves, then who am I to say they are wrong”.
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