We talk to John Dummer author of Serge Bastarde Ate my Baguette – a hilarious tale of John’s life in France as he learns to become a brocanteur with the help of his lovable rogue French friend Serge Bastarde (see Review). He tells Janine Marsh that before he became an author and brocanteur, John worked as a musician, he formed several bands among them the John Dummer Blues Band, Lester Square and the GTs and a duo with wife Helen; he was also the drummer in British Doo-wop band Darts. He has managed bands and worked as a journalist, broadcaster and press officer.
Can you tell us a little about your home in France and what you like most about where you live?
My wife Helen and I live in the middle of the Landes forest not far from the Atlantic coast and on the edge of the Gascogne national park with Buster our Staffordshire Bull Terrier and eight cats. We moved here a few years ago, the story of why we moved is told in the second Serge Bastarde book, “Son of Serge Bastarde”. We moved from the Chalosse which is a farming region and living in a pine forest is completely different. The forest is much wilder and the atmosphere grows on you. We have deer, sangliers (wild boar) hares, pine martens, wildcats and loads of different birds – nightjars which purr exotically on summer evenings and every winter at the end of October flocks of Grues (cranes) arrive to overwinter on the lakes. Their cries as they fly in “V” formations are so romantic and one of my favourite sounds. The only thing we don’t like is the hunting, but we’ve always hated that.
Are you settled for good in France now?
We moved out in the 1980’s when we bought an ancient monastery in the Dordogne. After a bit we got an attack of the wander lust and set of for Portugal where we bought and restored an old windmill in the Alentejo region. But eventually with finances depleted we returned to South West France to register as brocanteurs and work on the markets. We had moments of homesickness when we first left England but we love France, have French and English friends and feel totally at home here now. A country with the motto “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” is all right by me as I believe strongly in these concepts. I can’t see us ever returning to the UK to live but you never know what will happen in the future.
If Serge Bastarde Ate My Baguette was made into a film who would play Serge and who would play you?
A friend once suggested that the actor Alfred Molina would make a good Serge and I agree, he would. I’m not sure who could play me. It’s an odd thing to think about. How about James Buckley who played the young ‘Delboy’ Trotter (British TV series “Fools and Horses”). Helen says he reminded her of me when I was much younger… the actor not the ‘Delboy’ bit I hope.
Are you still friends with Serge!
Yes, Serge and I are still friends although I see him less than I would like now. He tends to disappear and not contact me for quite long periods. [Ed’s note: I tell him my sister fell in love with Serge when she read the book and would love to meet him]. I’ll mention to Serge about your sister next time I see him. But on her own head be it!!
What are you writing currently?
I am working on a third Serge book, (working title “Serge Bastarde Strikes Back”) but at the same time I’m writing about when we lived in the windmill in Portugal. That was a wild time for us, strange things happened and we met some fascinating characters.
If you could have dinner with a French character – real or from a book – living or dead, who would it be and what one question would you ask them?
One of my favourites was always the actor Fernandel. On screen he was so funny but he could play dramatic roles too, filled with pathos. I love his early films but I really like one of his later ones, “Heureaux Qui Comme Ulysse” even though it generally isn’t rated very highly by critics. He plays a farm hand who has been ordered to take his favourite old horse Ulysse to a Corrida down south to be a Piccador horse. The Piccador horses receive the brunt of the bull’s attacks in the ring and they are quickly finished off. In the end he decides to ignore his boss’s orders and takes Ulysse and lets him loose on the Camargue with the wild ponies. It’s such a sad film with a wonderful lift at the end and always makes me sob. But what would I like to ask Fernandel? I’d probably just like to sit there and hang out with him… like a bit of a fan.
Do you still play music? Do you get the opportunity to indulge your musical side at all living in France?
I play drums now and then in Bordeaux, but less music than I used to when I fronted my own group in Biarritz singing and playing blues harp. I miss it sometimes but I’ve got my drum kit set up in a barn and a good thrash about usually makes me feel better. But I tend to concentrate more on writing now.
Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so… what?
No, I like total peace if possible. I have enough trouble concentrating without extra distractions. It’s hard enough to discipline myself to not check out Twitter and Facebook and read the press. I’ve got some new software I’m trying out that can cut off your internet signal for the amount of time you specify so you won’t be tempted to waste time on the net when you should be writing.
Have you made a living from the brocantes?
Yes, in that period we managed to just about survive on the brocante markets. It was better before the financial crisis hit, lots of people have given up, it’s very hard work but fun. I’m semi- retired now and Helen works mostly online just like everybody else we know. The internet is changing everything.
My guiltiest pleasure is…
Chocolate Mousse à la maison. You can always get a fantastically creamy chocolate mousse in any French restaurant. Absolutely delicious but very bad for the cholesterol. But I can’t resist them. Terrible isn’t it?
Red wine or white wine?
I love both, but as I’m an alcoholic sworn off the booze I can’t have either or I’d fall off the wagon. Helen is often surprised that I still know a fair bit about all types of alcoholic drinks and I can remember exactly what they all taste like. So I’ve got the knowledge…but I’m barred. Couldn’t go back to awful hangovers or worse. It’s not an option. Many hard drinking contemporaries of mine have shuffled off this mortal coil from drink-related illnesses. It’s the choice you have to make. But I always crave a glass of the Beaujolais Nouveau when it arrives. Deliciously fruity, but sadly not for me.
Click here to go to our review of Serge Bastarde Ate my Baguette by John Dummer.