“Variety is the Spice of Life” – so they say, and in my case it certainly would appear to be true!
The summer holidays are here, the children have finished school and with the long hot sunny days the grass has turned brown from the lack of rain. The kitchen floor tiles are permanently marked with wet foot-prints as children wander in and out from the pool. Wherever I go I seem to stop to pick up a bikini-bottom, a swimming-towel, or a pair of goggles – all dropped here or left there; but I don’t mind too much, these are the signs of summer and the children are winding down from early starts in the cold wet rain of winter and spring. People drop in for supper, always casual at this time of year, with plenty of fresh produce from the garden, and either friends of the children are always here or our children are away at other people’s houses. There are tents on the lawn, and screams from the pool; it’s all part and parcel of having five children and I love it!
Early morning is the peaceful time; the soft golden hour between 7.00 and 8.00am is a favourite time of the day to wander down the garden to watch the ducks lumbering across the lawn as they wake up, wings flapping as they learn to fly. It’s akin to watching giant amphibious aircraft struggling to leave the ground. Much noise, much effort, and little to show for it still. The cluck of contented chickens foraging in the flower beds for breakfast competes with Fritz as he improves his teenage morning crow; being a small bantam rooster, it’s a quiet crow, almost tuneful but not too overpowering. Our potager is now hugely productive thanks to our well and the ancient, but incredibly effective pump, without which I would feel supremely guilty about endlessly watering, a necessity considering we have had no rain for weeks. When we first arrived here I looked at the huge old tank, the rusty pipes and archaic system with doubt and dread, now in the height of summer I have come to love the old pump, it groans into life with the press of a switch and I have learnt what an incredibly valuable commodity it is.
The aubergines are growing fast, their vibrant deep purple fruits fattening each day and the watermelons are now the size of small footballs. Admittedly, some of the garden is now somewhat overgrown, but it’s a dense sea of green with beautiful colours – a strong piece of kitchen garden with an organic life of its own. One or two of the lettuces have taken to adulthood (there are only so many you can eat) – Roddy has suggested one variety should be called ‘New York Skyscraper’, so vertiginous are its heights. Each morning I expect to find it toppled, a small tiny axe lying beside it. Potatoes lie in wait under a dark brown loam, and some of the larger courgettes have turned into marrows, lying hidden like anacondas under the jungle of leaves and flowers. Everything, of course, tastes just tinglingly delicious.
We are feasting daily on tomatoes still warm from the sun, peppers, lettuce, cucumber, those courgettes, those freshly dug new potatoes and sweet carrots; all accompanied by our terrace-beds of herbs and the freshest of eggs from the chickens; it seems like such a pure simple life which in turn fills us with energy. Until around midnight, at which point someone turns off the energy and I wilt into bed, satisfied but worn out.
Bentley loves the French summer sun – he spends most of his day lying in the warmth on the doormat! The kittens are now 10 months old and although they hunt together at night, during the day they are completely independent. Rory loves nothing better than to curl up somewhere in the house, usually in one of the childrens’ bedrooms, where he buries himself deep on a chair under cushions or surrounds himself with a duvet so he can hardly be seen; there he sleeps, content and undisturbed for most of the day.
Clara, by contrast, likes to follow me around, and whenever I go near the vegetable garden at the very far end of our garden she magically appears at my feet from the bushes and her lizard-hunting. Rubbing around my legs, she purrs continuously as I stop to pick tomatoes or a cucumber. She often stops and lies at my feet when I pause for thought – I think I have never known a cat like her.
The calm of this semi self-sufficient summer lifestyle is in complete contrast to the vibrant life of the coast a mere fifteen minutes away where the summer season has started in earnest. Already the roads have double the amount of cars and our village is buzzing with life and traffic; holiday-homes have opened their shutters and our little bakery is no longer a 30 second wait for one’s baguette; sometimes you have to wait a scandalous minute or more to be served! The beaches are busy and the hotels are filling up, and the camper-van season has started on the country lanes. All of this is good though, as the financial life-blood of provincial France sorely needs this artery-opening season – without a good, successful summer, households go cold and hungry in winter. Roddy and I suspect this is why the local attitude to the tourist and visitor here is respectful and courteous – it is a refreshing attitude compared to those places which have a 12-month tourist season. From what we have seen, the local population do really seem to happily put up with any inconvenience that might occur, content in the knowledge that by being busy now, they can enjoy the rest of the year sleeping on their wads of Euros, tucked away under hard mattresses.
Earlier in the week friends took us to the Luna Park at La Palmyre. As it’s name suggests, this park is only open at night, from 8pm until 2.30am. There’s little point in getting there until it is dark as that’s half the fun; the neon lights and electric atmosphere pulsate against the night sky, and considering sunset is not until around 10pm at this time of year, it means a late night! We arrived somewhere around 10.30pm and left in the early hours, several dozen Euros lighter but laden with soft cuddly toys and other winnings from various stalls! It was all a complete opposite to our life in the village, with its quiet country lanes and fields of yellow sunflowers. In the dark of the night as children weaved and bobbed amongst the throbbing lights and excited rides, I had a glimpse of a totally different way of life, where one can imagine shady deals taking place behind the bumper-cars and illicit kisses being stolen behind the cardboard cut-outs, where danger may lurk in the shadows; a delicious blend of excitement and surprise. Of course, nothing happened, and the children had a great time; and so did Izzi and I, as we chaperoned the small people from one stomach-wrenching ride to another, and from coconut shy to the splash of the duck-catching stall.
As we drove home, small people asleep within minutes in the back of the car under a great sprawl of stars above a sleeping landscape, it was astounding to think that the pulsations of the fun fair are a mere fifteen minutes away, this is the home of ClubMed here, a zoo, hotels, waterparks and campsites. It’s not somewhere I would want to go every night, or even every week, but very occasionally it is the greatest of fun! As we hurried home our headlights picked out the nightlife in the marsh, where eyes glowed behind rushes and where dark forms scurried from shadows across the road – I knew in the morning I would be back at work with the hoe and the pitchfork – a complete Freudian contrast to the evening.