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Wednesday, 23 August 2017


I have been in customer service roles for more years than I care to remember and I think I know a thing or two about customer service. As a retail manager and as a customer, I have seen service from excellent to absolutely awful. Excellent service is very rare, average service is the norm and there is too much awful service around.

This year my wife and I stayed at La Maison Forte, Montaut and I can say without any doubt that we experienced the best holiday hospitality ever in all our years travelling.

The link above will tell you all about it.

The house is owned and run by Paul and Reinoud, two wonderful hosts, warm and welcoming from the outset and nothing was too much trouble during our stay. Our room was beautifully furnished and maintained to a very high standard. Outside on the communal terrace, we had breakfast every morning and what a wonderful buffet of food - delicious breads, fruit,, cereal, ham, salami, cheese and wonderful coffee. The terrace was also a place to chill out after day trips and the views down the valley were stunning.

On our first night, along with all the other guests (approximately 20 of us), we opted to have dinner at La Maison and the tables were prepared on the terrace. Reinoud was the 'head chef' and he prepared a magnificent buffet for us all. Paul, described himself as the sous-chef and washer of dishes. We suspected he was a lot more than that. They both did a great job preparing, serving, chatting and looking after us extremely well. And here they are, with some of the delicious buffet, Reinoud left, Paul right........

On another evening, we were served a starter of lamb's lettuce, thinly sliced courgette and a brilliant dressing, following by the most beautiful dinner of sliced duck breast, garlic potatoes, apple and a sauce, escargot we were told but I'm not sure if we were being kidded. A lovely dessert and cheese rounded things off. Oh, and a bottle of rose was in their as well. It was a friendly and relaxed evening. 

A most extraordinary gesture from our two hosts was this. We were going to a wedding about 15 minutes away from our location. Paul helped us to research taxis to and from the wedding venue. He said the best he could find was €60 one way. But he more or less said that we were not to pay that much. Instead, he said he or Reinoud would drive us to the wedding and then collect us later in the night, which is what Reinoud did! Extraordinary generosity. Unforgettable. Amazing. Nice, nice, genuine people.

The third member of La Maison Forte's team was this fella. (I can't remember if he called Maub or Maup.) I'm not a dog lover but he was as good as gold and very friendly. The photo gives you an idea of the terrace.

La Maison Forte is a wonderful base to enjoy the Bergerac area and we plan to return at some point in the future. 

Thank you Paul and Reinoud, amazing people and an amazing location.

p.s. Reinoud said I reminded him of Inspector Morse. This is me first thing in a morning. What do you think? Nah!


This post is more a record of our holiday in and around Bergerac for myself but others might be interested in reading it.

The next post will be about the place where we stayed and our charming hosts - quite possibly the best holiday hospitality I can remember, and not a bad location!

Wednesday 26 July

Birmingham Airport.

We stayed overnight at the nearby Novotel, a decent hotel. Before dinner we crossed the road and had a wander through the airport. It felt a bit tired to us but it's an airport, so what were we expecting? It was busy enough but not overly so. We toyed with the idea of having dinner there but decided against it. The same old fast food menus at very high prices for what was on offer. Captive audiences are easy to fleece. So, back to the hotel for drinks and dinner. They weren't cheap either but at least the surroundings were more pleasant and more comfortable.

Thursday 27 July 2017

Flying out on a Flybe flight on time and no problems. Stretched to a £2.50 cup of tea each. For once, when the Captain addressed us on the tannoy, it was loud and clear and not the fuzzy garble we usually hear. Towards the end of the flight, a cabin crew member reeled off some message or other at breakneck speed, crashing the words into a load of old unintelligible nonsense. We arrived at Bergerac Airport and zigzagged our way to passport control and onward to baggage reclaim. Avis car rental was fine, although in this age of technology and pre-booking online, there is still a bit of a paperwork palaver involved.

Soon on the road, about half an hour to our accommodation, La Maison Forte, Montaut, but more of that in the next blog post. We checked in and followed the advice of one of our hosts and headed for nearby Issigeach for lunch at a bistro, La P'tite Treille - bier blanche, ham and cheese galette (moi) and Perrier, quiche and quiche (ma femme).

My wife prefers to drive, so that's good for me in the drinks department but not so good for her. She is not a great passenger. But it all works out in the end. After lunch, it's on to Monbazillac to see the chateau and what a wonderful location it is. The sunny weather helped, of course. The chateau is big enough to walk around but not so big as to be exhausting. It dates back to the Middle Ages. It is currently owned and managed by the wine cooperative of Monbazillac and at the end of the tour there is a gift shop mainly devoted to its famous sweet white wine - too sweet for my taste but a good number of people were buying it. A memorable trip nonetheless.

Back at La Maison Forte - remember more about that in the next blog post - for a magnificent buffet prepared and served by our amazing hosts. I think everyone staying that night had booked dinner, so we were able to mingle and converse a little on the beautiful terrace. First day, a huge success.

Friday 28 July 2017

Off we drove to the town of Bergerac, or more properly the commune, by the Dordogne river. It's a busy tourist town with museums, including one devoted to tobacco. The Notre Dame church is a major feature (in fact just about every city or town or commune we visited, there was an impressive church).

There are two statues of Cyrano de Bergerac, writer and more, although there is no evidence that he ever lived in Bergerac.

Lunch was Bier, carbonara (moi) and Perrier, omelette and frites (ma femme). In the evening we dined in Issigeach at Chez Alain, a decent restaurant with a limited menu. We both had the lamb followed by chocolate fondue. A great day again, blessed by dry weather and much history and scenery to absorb.

Saturday 29 July 2017

We visited the charming medieval village of Beaumont in the morning for this day was the main reason we came to France in the first place - a wedding. Beaumont was a delight for wandering around narrow streets and admiring its gothic church. Coffee was good and all around us a relaxed atmosphere as locals and tourists took it easy either shopping or just enjoying the sights.

The main focus of the holiday was the wedding of Paul and Emilia. Paul is the son of my wife's longstanding friend Cathy. It was a spectacular wedding on a private estate on a blistering hot day and a good time was had by all. We met Ian and Victoria Hislop, guests of the bride's mother, and what splendid, entertaining company they were.


We stayed until 3 August but rather than drone on about the holiday (anyway, I haven't much time to describe it all), here are some photographs of some of the places visited. A lot of wonderful olde worlde towns, many a chateau, castle and church, great food and wine, with the odd glass of chilled beer.

Au revoir et merci!

Tuesday, 22 August 2017


Honor Blackman, who is 92 today (22 August), responded to a research letter of mine when I was in the very early stages of gathering information on Stephen Boyd. They appeared in the 1968 western Shalako together, along with Sean Connery and Brigitte Bardot, and Eric Sykes!

I wrote to Miss Blackman in 1982. She was appearing in The Sound of Music at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in London. This is what she wrote:

“Oh, to put pen to paper on such a subject!  Stephen was easy to get on with – was going through a phase, which may have lasted, which involved a greeting of “Peace” as opposed to “Good morning” or “Hi”.  I think it was a manifestation of his non-acceptance of the violent state of the world and his intention to try in a minute personal way to change it by allowing no tension or hassle around him.  One had the impression that he had not found anyone worth caring deeply about, or perhaps had, and had lost the person.  We did not get to know each other off the set really.” 

An interesting memory.

Thursday, 17 August 2017


Belfast Telegraph.

Mainly for my records but have a read about my education - St Teresa's Primary School, St Mary's Christian Brothers Grammar School, the Open University and, er, the Code of the West.

Thank you Belfast Telegraph and Editor Gail Walker.


Is Anything Happening?
My Life As A Newsman
by Robin Lustig
Biteback Publishing 2017

There was a time when I devoured news on the radio, on television and in print. I was born in the 1950s and there was a tradition in many households to stop whatever activities were going on to listen to or watch the news. It was deemed to be almost mandatory. News, weather, then tea, or, later, bed. As a commuter in the 1970s and 1980s, reading a newspaper on the train every morning and evening was the done thing. Until quite recently, I used to buy five newspapers on a Saturday and five on a Sunday. I loved reading the reports, the analysis and the columns. I couldn’t get enough of it. Then came the internet and 24/7 rolling bulletins and after a while, I simply got fed up with the news, or rather news presentation. I remember on more than one occasion newsreaders calling the programme a show. Ugh.

I had the good fortune to grow up in an era of proper news people who read the news without ego or histrionics. Okay, some of the television presenters were actors and not really journalists at all but the news was the star, not the face reading the autocue. I have fond memories of Alistair Burnet, Reginald Bosanquet, Andrew Gardner and many more. I was in awe of reporters like Sandy Gall, Peter Sissons, Kate Adie, Martin Bell and others risking their lives in war zones. Now, I can’t bear to watch the news on TV. It’s become showbiz, with occasional exceptions whenever big stories break. But even then, repetition and endless opinionated blether often kill interest in the stories. There are still courageous journalists out in the field, still to be admired and applauded but the desk-jockeys, for me anyway, often dilute reports with inane or superfluous questions and comments. Newspapers too have dropped down my agenda. I buy them now once in a while mainly for favoured columnists.

But, there has always been radio and especially BBC Radio 4. BBC Five Live is far too jokey and chummy for its own good much of the time but Radio 4 stands tall in terms of gravitas, trustworthiness and integrity. Over the years I have enjoyed the brilliant work of John Timpson, Brian Redhead, Robert Robinson, Sue McGregor, William Hardcastle, Gordon Clough, Peter Hobday and so many more (yes, I am aware of the gender imbalance thing!) and to that illustrious list, I add Robin Lustig, an exemplary journalist and broadcaster by any measure, and a voice that graced Radio 4’s The World Tonight and programmes on the BBC World Service with those three things I mentioned earlier – gravitas, trustworthiness, integrity, to which I would add another, humanity. In a calming voice, he delivered the news with authority but also with an understanding of the listeners, especially those of us who tired of the bish-bash-bosh school of journalistic broadcasting and interviewing. (They know who they are!) 

And now, Robin Lustig has written a splendid autobiography – Is Anything Happening? My Life As A Newsman – to remind us of the way it used to be. He has been a foreign correspondent with wide experience of some of the world’s worst locations and quite a few of the biggest stories in the modern era – the end of the Berlin Wall, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the horrible bloodshed in Bosnia and Kosovo, the genocide in Rwanda, the return of Hong Kong to China, the death of Princess Diana, the attacks on New York’s twin towers and on and on. From his apprenticeship as a print journalist prior to broadcasting to his 23 years with the BBC, Robin Lustig has been a consummate communicator, a template for modern broadcasters to follow.

The book is a joy to read. It flows beautifully. The narrative is deadly serious when it needs to be but humour is never far away as he recalls the ups and downs, triumphs and disasters, as well as some of the characters in his chosen profession.

There are terrific detailed chapters on the Middle East, The Observer and the BBC. 

As I mentioned earlier, in my own classification methodology, I like proper news people. Robin Lustig is a proper newsman of the highest order. I miss him on the radio but I have this treasure of a book that I enjoyed thoroughly and that I will recommend to anyone with an inkling to write or broadcast about current affairs for a living.

‘Throughout my career, I have suspected that someone, somewhere had made a terrible mistake, and that it was not really me who was meant to be having so much fun. So far, no one has owned up to having made that mistake, even though they know perfectly well who they are. I hope that even if they read this book, they will still have the decency to keep quiet.'

Robin Lustig’s CV is evidence of no mistake and as for keeping quiet about his long and distinguished career, no chance!

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