Belfast Telegraph

Walter Ellis: Au revoir, then, and don’t forget to buy the book

It’s a funny old life I lead. For nine months of the year, I live in New York. The other three months I’m in France. It could be worse. You’d have to say that. But into every pampered life a little rain must fall. This is my last column. New treats await you in the weeks ahead, details of which are even now being worked out in bars in and around Royal Avenue.

As I wipe a tear from my eye, my wife and I are planning a day trip to Rennes, and possibly Vitré, on Brittany’s eastern edge, which is where we might move in the next year or two, all being well. The idea would be to keep on the Brooklyn apartment, next to the Promenade, with its views across the East River to Manhattan, but to spend maybe eight months of the year in France.

It may never happen. We might just carry on as we are. But then, nothing, except death, is certain, and it’s worry that keeps us on our toes — until, that is, we turn them up.

Speaking of the Grim Reaper, you will be wanting to know how my thumb is doing. Back in June, I nearly cut it off with the blade of a scythe, leant to me by my friend Kevin, who urged me to be careful sharpening it, not realising that I should never be placed in charge of anything sharper than a butter knife.

Well, the good news is that Doctor Tison’s stitching did the trick. There is still a lack of sensation round the scar. When I touch it with my index finger, it’s like I’m touching someone else. But, hey, it could have been lying on the front lawn, waiting to be snapped up by a passing crow.

More generally, I am pleased to report that my neighbour, Jean-Francois, has bought the lean-to that was home for more than 30 years to my old friend, Alexis, who died of a heart attack at the end of April.

Over the last week, there has been a certain amount of skirmishing between Jean-Francois and Alexis’s sister, Marie, over the fate of two cords of wood that may or may not have disappeared over the summer. Marie called in the Gendarmes to investigate the alleged theft, but then rang yesterday to announce that she was sending a van to pick up the wood in advance of completion. What it all means, I can only guess. Round here, Manon des Sources isn’t a famous French movie, it’s a working script for an everyday story of country folk.

You will be pleased to note that Les Fous, the bar run by our friends Trisha and Don, is thriving, complete with its peculiar group of regulars. These are: Keith, the retired Welsh engineer, whose nightly assaults on the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ only endears him to the objects of his wrath; Simon, the ex-rocker business studies lecturer, to whose magnificent home we are off to lunch this week; Alan, a south London boy who moved to Cornwall, then found it was insufficiently rural; Dédé, recently retired as a milk inspector, now engaged on a permanent tour of central Brittany; Didier, who spent 30 years as a waiter in Montmarte, returning specially to run me off the road (“Priorité a droite, Walter”); and Pierre, from Forges-les-Bains, who has promised to make me a new front gate, complete with shamrock, if only he can agree a work-share deal with Jean-Francois.

Farewell to them all, I hear you say. And rest in peace, Alexis.

Before heading back to New York, I have to take the ferry to Rosslare and drive up to Belfast to spend a few days with my sister, Elaine.

My brother-in-law, Bryan, doesn’t know it yet, but his job is to give me advice on what to do about my miserable pension. I am about to hit 60 and have decided it’s time to cash in.

The wild card is my novel, The Sleeper, which is about to go out to publishers and will be touted around the upcoming Frankfurt Book Fair. It’s about how the world is saved from disaster by the first ever Irish-born Father General of the Jesuits. What would my mother say? Wish me luck — and buy it when it comes out!

As for America, well, we’ve got an election coming up that will give voters the chance to elect a president who is a citizen of the world, not just of the United States. I like America. It’s full of interesting and entertaining things. But in recent years it’s been something of a global liability — not just in geopolitical terms, but economically as well. Barack Obama could be the man we have all been waiting for.

If he turns out to be a fraud, then I, for one, will be voting with my feet. I’m told you can get a nice home in Vitré, next to the castle and the city walls, for a mere £240,000. In the meantime, so long and au revoir.

Belfast Telegraph


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