Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Saturday, 8 February 2014
Winters to come
It must be almost 20 years ago since me, H.I. and H.I.'s daughter drove down to the West of France in one of my many Volvo estates, because Daughter was pregnant with Green-Eyes when that painting was done.
She is standing in a lake reservoir so large that, at first sight, you mistake the fresh water for the sea. The area is simply perfect for taking small children, as the fine white-sand beach is fringed with large, sheltering conifers which whisper when the breeze blows up, and the crystal clear water stays safe and shallow for hundreds of yards out.
It was here that the boy said his first full sentence, and I was the one who had the privilege of being on the receiving end of it.
I was sitting in the sun at the edge of the lake, with the boy playing just behind me. "Get into the water," I suggested to him.
"No. You get into the water," he replied, pushing my back with all his force. We both laughed at the novelty of his advanced use of the English language.
Sanguinet is very close to the biggest sand-dune in Europe, called 'La Pyla', which - I suppose - means 'the pile'. We visited it one day, and marvelled at how much sand could accumulate in one place at what appeared to be a secluded bit of West European coastline, and the paintings that H.I. later made of it were usually mistaken for some of the more remote parts of the Kalahari desert.
If I didn't cook, each evening was spent in a small restaurant in Arcachon, where we were borrowing a small flat from a French friend in Bath. After Cap Ferret oysters, pasta, meat dishes and fish dishes, we had to visit the little carousel parked near the seafront, so that the boy could stare at all the brightly-lit, golden horses going round. We may have spent one evening in the massive, white-fronted casino there were it not for him, but I don't think we would have been let in wearing the clothes that we had brought with us. I did not bring my dinner-jacket.
Every morning I would visit the little hole-in-the-wall patisserie to buy fresh croissant, and every morning the hostile old woman refused to take the money directly out of my hand, but tapped on the little wooden counter-tray with her finger, indicating that she had no intention of running the risk of actually touching me during the transaction. Just before we left, she mellowed a little and I even got a thin, watery smile out of her when she saw me with the boy.
During the journey down from the North, we encountered one - and one only - Volvo estate, going in the opposite direction to us. Volvos were extremely rare in France at that time, and the driver flashed his lights in cheery recognition. Seeing that the car was registered in Britain, I refused to return the salute, miserable bastard that I am.
When I was chastised for this, I asked them what they thought it would be like to flash at every Volvo we saw on the roads of Blighty, but they still called me a miserable bastard.
Driving a right-hand vehicle on right-hand roads is an extremely stressful experience if you have H.I. as a co-driver. We would be going down a straight, fast, poplar-lined road, stuck behind a large and slow lorry, and I would ask H.I. to take a peek up ahead as I pulled out a little so she could look for me. I would ask her if it was clear to overtake, and this is how she usually responded:
"Yes... I think so... no, wait a minute... oh, go on, it should be ok so long as you go right now..."
Trying to explain to her that I only wanted a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer and that I would not respond to anything else, would put an extra hour on a six hour journey, because I really didn't want to ruin our holiday by killing us all in a head-on collision. Luckily, I didn't.
During this long, wet and drawn-out Winter which we are not even half-way through yet, I look back on this little trip with such warm memories. I have had a little plan for us all - including the now-born Green-Eyes - to go on a group holiday again, to share another house and more memories in Winters to come, but the logistics of getting everyone to agree a place and date for it is - as they say - like herding cats.