Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Place in France, an Indian Summer - Book Review

One of the advantages of having been away on holiday was that I actually got some 'me' time to sit down and enjoy a book (or two).

Of course I just had to find a France-related book, ending up with Nigel Farrell's 'A Place In France - An Indian Summer' which I thoroughly enjoyed.

A few years ago I watched the original Channel 4 series "A Place in the Sun" which follows the up's and down's (and frequently argumentative down's) of Nigel Farrell and Nippi Singh as they try to find and buy a holiday home in France.

The pair eventually settling on a small hamlet in the Ardeche region of Southern France. Nigel and Nippi eventually did find a house they both liked but which required an enormous amount of work to make habitable. The fact that they ever got there in the end was a testament to the builder's determination more than Nigel and Nippi's as they seemed to flap from one set of problems to the next.

By the end of the series though 40-something year old divorcee Nigel had fallen in love with Celine, a young French single parent who worked in the nearby bank, and had decided to try to live full time in France.

And so to the second series from Channel 4 which follows Nigel trying to start his new life in France. And of course if you're going to live somewhere you need an income, so Nigel hits on the usual and different 'big idea' to open and run an Indian Restaurant in the Ardeche region, despite having had no prior experience of working in a restaurant at all !

The book follows extracts from Nigel's diary for a year from having the original restaurant idea through to the winter after the restaurant opened. Having enjoyed watching the TV series I initially thought that the book wouldn't add anything, but having now read it I've been proven wrong as the book gives a far better personal insight into the actual story and shows more of Nigel's own relationship with the lovely Celine. Although the TV series follows the popular 'fly on the wall' documentary format, the way the story's been edited to keep the viewer interested and ensure cliff-hanger endings to each episode does result in Nigel appearing to be a bit of a fool.

Nigel's sunny optimism that the Indian restaurant idea is a sure-fire winner takes a battering when Nippi refuses to invest in the business and so Nigel is forced to find a new business partner, which he eventually does by joining up with the outrageously camp and excitable Reza Mahammad who already runs a successful Indian restaurant in London. Nigel certainly struck gold with Rezza and together the pair battle through trying to find a location for the restaurant, finding an Indian chef, decorating and equipping the restaurant and sorting through the inevitable French red-tape and bureaucracy.

There's a delightful part of the story that recounts how Nigel fails to tackle registering the business with the local Chamber of Commerce - without which he can't trade, pay bills to suppliers or even take card payments from customers. Nigel ignores the task until the very last minute before the restaurant opens and then has to scramble around trying to get copies of his UK birth certificate and UK divorce certificate ... and then is told that they're not acceptable because they need to be translated into French! I'll leave you to read the book to find out how he gets round this particular problem (spoiler is that it's on page 211).

Nigel is particularly outraged (and rightly so) when Nippi waltzes in towards the end and tries to take credit for the restaurant concept, but once the squabble was over Nippi assists the duo with publicity and by brilliantly suggesting getting hold of an Elephant to help promote the restaurant's opening night.

Reza contributes occasionally to the story with his own little diary 'interjections' and it's clear that he thinks Nigel's 'big idea' is as mad as a box of frogs, but he'll go along with the idea "because it's fun, darlings!".

I wouldn't say that this book isn't written as a "roll around on the floor, laughing" story (unlike, say, George East's tales of life in France), but it's well written and easy to read and good holiday reading material.

Only £5.99 (RRP £7.99) from Amazon.

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