Saturday, 7 June 2008

France: La Retour

We made it back to Mum and Jean's place near Montcuq just in time for aperos and to hear the news that Mum had that very day been given an unexpected job as the main English teacher in the local secondary school and was due to start the following morning. We were also greeted by their new dog, an exuberant young Breton spaniel called Cocky, whose enthusiasm at our arrival meant we were both quickly covered in muddy paw-prints, thanks also to the recent rain.

In fact, the weather was all too reminiscent of an average week in early June in the UK, ie cloudy, grey and threatening rain. We had one decent day of sunshine while we were at Mum's, made more exciting by a swarm of bees homing in on one of the trees by their house during the afternoon. Jean, already a keen beekeeper, had the swarm settled into one of his hives by the following evening.

Other than that, the three full days we spent at Mum's were mainly punctuated by eating, playing games of Belote and occasional excursions into Montcuq or Cahors (including a typically fruitless expedition to get Theo some footwear to replace his crumbling boots, but pleasingly we did find a cobbler, who mended his ailing sandals). We also got to hear many tales about inattentive and undisciplined French teenagers and their reluctance to learn and unlock the wonders of the English language. I'm sure the class I was in at fourteen wasn't that badly behaved for Miss Nettle. Thanks to her, most of us got decent exam results and picked up the ability to parle Francais with a Cornish accent.

On Friday we set off on a picturesque journey to the Languedoc-Roussilion area, where we were due to meet up with Joe and S, who were spending a few days there with friends. On the way we picked up a charming hitchhiker, a district nurse who was hoping to get to Montpellier for her weekend off. She had spent a year in London as an au pair and consequently had pretty decent English and with our passable French, between us we definitely bucked up the entente cordiale during the journey. She didn't mention whether my spoken French had a Cornish accent or not.

We had arranged to meet Joe and S at a village called Octon on the shores of Lac Saligou - Joe had said they were going to a fete there because S's sister-in-law's father (yes, a bit convoluted, I know) was supplying the beer. We arrived expecting to find the typical French three-course meal on long tables accompanied by a bit of accordion music and found instead something approaching a hippy-style knees-up, complete with a campsite full of converted trucks, barking dogs, campfires, techno and sawdust toilets. I hastily changed out of my summer dress and into jeans and sequins. Theo persuaded me not to wear my hat.

It was wonderful to catch up with Joe and S, to see her brother, Mark and sister-in-law, Jessica again (we'd met them at Joe and S's wedding last year) and to get acquainted with Jessica's dad, Eric and her grandmother, Carol. Eric had lived in France for many years and was currently setting up a brewery in Marseillan. Carol had been coming to France for four months of the year for well over a decade as she gradually did up the house she owns in Roujan. Jess and Mark, like S, are San Fransiscans.

The day after the festival we met Joe, S, Mark and Jessica at a big flea market in Marsaillan-Plage then, after a happy hour browsing the stalls (where we bought some second hand car speakers to replace the one we blew by being over-generous with the volume one day at Patty's Paradise), ate a slap up lunch at one of the town's many seafood restaurants. Luckily, they also did goat's cheese and mozarella salads, so Theo and I weren't left totally bereft by the menu.

S and Jessica were keen to do more brocante-scouring in Pezenas, so we bundled Joe and Mark in our van and took them back to Roujan. Carol let us use the shower in her house, which is absolutely beautiful, full of faux stone, trompe-loeil, genteely distressed paint finishes and tasteful furnishings.

S cooked and we were invited to stay for dinner, which was a big treat as S really knows her way round a kitchen, even when it doesn't belong to her. Theo acted as one of her sous-chefs, while Joe, Mark and I went on a mission to find some wild thyme for S's omelette recipe. It was a close-run thing, but after some false alarms involving fennel and wild-growing mint, Mark, the human thyme-hound found a goodly clump and we were able to return to the house with our foraging dignity intact.

The meal was by candlelight, owing to the power shorting out earlier in the day and nobody being able to persuade the fusebox in the next door house to untrip. It was all wonderfully atmospheric though and we even had music, thanks to S's battery-powered i-pod speaker set up. It was almost a disappointment when Carol suddenly remembered the fusebox was actually under her own stairs and one flick of the switch there had the lights all back on again.

We left close on midnight and decided not to take up an earlier invitation from some random Roujan jeunes to go to a free party 5km away, but instead park-up in a tennis club carpark in nearby Caux and get some kip. That we did more-or-less, despite some 0330 visitations from some unknown cars and an 0830 wake-up call from a family using the neighbouring playpark for some early Sunday frolics. We decided to check into an official site tonight, where you don't have to worry about random nocturnal visitations. And it is rather pleasant to have decent loos and washing facilities.

Tomorrow, we're off to Cannes. Nothing to do with the movies, it's where the epic saga of our smashed rear windscreen may finally reach a conclusion. Here's hoping.

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