The summer season is fully upon us; the children are all on holiday and the roads are suddenly busy with lots of cars with foreign number plates; this summer the Dutch seem to be the most prolific. As a result, suddenly everything takes twice as long to do. There are lines of cars at lights, the beaches are bursting with bronzing bodies, the amusement-parks are full, and the restaurants over-flowing. But after a fairly dismal and wet May, the locals are finally breathing a sigh of relief as the weather is incredible with one long hot sunny day rolling into another – this is the season when the Charente Maritime earns its yearly tourist bonanza and the visitors are here, cash registers clinking away in a thousand seaside shops. The best part after all the hype of the coast and the buzz of cities we drive a mere fifteen minutes to our tranquil little haven!
In lieu of going away on holiday we have decided to take lots of day-trips this summer, to explore our area and perhaps a little more of France in general. It’s a plan that seems to be working rather well; while we have the comfort of having our own things around us, we have so much to explore, so much to do and so many places we have never been; then when we are at home the pool is in constant use, the kids leaping in and out with the refreshing sound of splashing water. Last night the number of children in the house swelled to 8 as friends came for sleepovers. As I am sitting at the kitchen table tapping away on my laptop writing this, there are children wandering up the garden accompanied by chickens and ducks hopeful of some morning scraps. Rory has found a sleeping-bag and as is his wont has quietly curled up in it, semi-hidden, for a day of snoozing. Clara has found a quiet chair in the garden and curled up on someone’s pool-towel, and Bentley is keeping an attentive vigil under the kitchen table; with so many extra mouths then surely there are a few more crumbs on the floor for him! Gigi has retrieved the butterfly net, a notepad and a pen, and is happily writing down all the creatures she catches and then releases; she wants to see how many different species we have in our garden over the summer. The most recent entrant in her tally is a common swallowtail, a white and black beauty studded with blue highlights and a pair of rubies. This is one of those rare moments when one can sigh contentedly and think, yes we are doing the right thing, this is surely what we want for our children growing up – the sort of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ lifestyle so many of us dream of.
Of course it’s 2015 and so our children have their fair share of electronics and computers just like everyone else, but when we have those moments with no electronics in sight and everyone taking pleasure from simple things, I could almost cry with happiness. In much the same way I get a warm happy fuzzy feeling when, trug in hand, the children help me pick tomatoes, cucumbers and plums for lunch, and aubergines and courgettes for supper on the bbq; all highlighted when the 8 years of wisdom that is Gigi looks at me and says “I love living in France, I love eating our own food, nothing could ever be better than this !”. It’s one of those moments when I allow myself to think that we’re doing an OK job of raising our children!
Last week we took to the water 20 minutes inland and rented a wonderful electric boat for an hour’s foray on the mighty Charente. Reclined under a canvas bimini-top, we went peacefully upstream in the glorious sunshine with the children waiting until we were out of sight of the dock so that they could then drive. Roddy and I relaxed as our midget crew took us up and down the river, with swans, cattle, and herons watching us pass by. The odd angler sat contentedly in the shade under the willows, nodding hello at us as we burbled past on silent battery-power. We saw one blue flash from a kingfisher and a small boat zipped by towing a diminutive water-skier who waved at us as she passed, her pigtail flying in the breeze. It was an emerald idyll, disturbed occasionally by squeals caused by minor navigational errors, and we were amazed at how little traffic there was. Roddy remarked that a longer trip could feasibly include a large wicker hamper, a cooler full of ice, and a feast of some sort. I had to agree. I need to find a bottle of Pimms, I think.
This was followed a couple of days later by a trip to the races for an afternoon of trotting. OK, so admitedly half the thrill was betting on which horse would win, but with just 2 euros on a horse, there was nothing serious here and admittedly this was somewhat of a lesson more about betting than it might have been about the passion of the crowd; perhaps not quite the perfect wholesome natural lifestyle I described earlier, but still one of life’s important lessons. “Betting is a mugs’ game” I told the children – and although Jack said, “Mama you could make a lot of money doing this!”, I had to reply, “Yes, you could, but you could also, like the vast majority of people, lose a great deal of money!”, and we proceeded to prove it as we emptied our pockets of coins and the odd 5 Euro note with no reward to show for it – the closest we got was a second place which proved useless as Roddy had put all the bets on ‘to win’. We watched from the stands where the thrill and noise of the crowd as the horses passed the finishing line is almost quite overwhelming and then we watched the last two races from the rails where you can literally hear the thud of hooves and feel the vibration of the ground as they thundered past within a few feet from us. The children’s eyes glowed with excitement, and they squeaked with delight as each trotter flew past feet away.
Today is going to be a simple beach day, however, as the children have had so many very late nights that they need to recharge their batteries somewhat. For us adults that means the beach, but the children are not of an age to sit and sunbathe, so for them the beach means boogy-boards, skim-boards, swimming, and lots and lots of other activities. Lungs will be filled with healthy salt air, Roddy will do his donkey impression as he goes down to the sand, heavily laden with beachware, toys and coolers, and all this will be followed by an early night. It’s a recipe that seems to work well. I am off to make lavender shortbread to take with us for the all important 4pm gôuter, along with some fresh picked plums from the garden. I love cooking with fresh lavender flowers when they are in season, it gives such a gentle flavor and is a little bit out of the ordinary which always works for me! Plus the kitchen and all of downstairs takes on a real Provençal smell which lingers for hours. It’s a real reminder of this wonderful time of year.