Finally, the school holidays have begun for ALL the children. Until this week, poor Gigi had been trundling off to school each morning, trotting down dusty streets whilst her siblings all snored in bed. Mid-afternoon she would return in the heat of the day, the sun pounding on her back as she trod homewards, her footsteps echoing on the centuries-old pavements that many have trod before her. Sweating, her backpack heavy with books and her thoughts on the pool and not at all on homework, she’d remarked more than once how UNFAIR it all was.
But at last we now have two months of summer fun, a yearly treat that stretches out in the sunlight like a long footprint-free beach. I remember what this time of year was like when I was a child like it was yesterday; it never seemed to rain, skies were always clear, and there were endless hours of swimming, ponies, friends and laughter, a harmony of memories under a cerulean blue sky. There were dusty hot days on the farm, and of course my father worked long hours, especially during the harvest – every time I see a combine at work the memories come flooding back; farming is in my blood, it’s a part of who I am, it’s a strand of DNA as interwoven into my soul as a golden ear of corn on a nodding stalk.
But back to summer.
I lay awake a few nights ago wondering how I was going to fit it all in; the five children wanting and deserving my attention, so many activities in the planning, and so much to do. I still have to find time to work, the house still needs to be run, the garden needs to be watered and tended; the list goes on and on. But I am determined to enjoy my summer too and so I decided that the key to all of this is organisation. For a start the TV can happily be ignored all summer long (apart from Wimbledon, of course) for there are plenty of dark evenings in the winter when one can catch up with whatever one may have missed. Summer evenings should be for dining al fresco, a time for friends and family, and a part of the day reserved for coolness and complete relaxation. We don’t have formal rules; the girls can eat in bikinis, they can leap in the pool whilst adults eat cheese and sip wine (which the younger ones always complain we take far too long over!) and they can then re-appear for dessert, bien sûr. But then that’s the whole point of summer, no one really cares.
But back to the organisation, I have a game-plan!
- I might lack a little sleep this summer for I am going to rise early and get some work done whilst the children still snooze. That will tick a few things off my list each day. I can then allow myself time to take the children to the beach, it’s just twenty minutes to our favourite haunt and there I can enjoy a power nap under the shade of the umbrella, I can actually read some magazines and relax.
- I am going to ask for a little help from all the children! If everyone does a little around the house – just half an hour each – then that will save me two and a half hours of work. I don’t think I need to be a rocket scientist to work this out! It should be simple to organise and that amount of time should keep the house relatively clean and the laundry somewhat sorted.
- Millie has learnt to mow, another two hour job saved each week and it’s something she loves doing. We’ve gone beyond the stage where the flowers run away screaming in fear and if Roddy strims first then it’s a doddle.
- I’m going to teach one or two other people to water the potager in the evening, and while that is happening I can prune and deadhead as the smell of supper drifts down the garden from the open-air cooking…..the overflowing vegetable garden means Roddy has a wealth of goodies to conjure up something delicious with. The level in the well is high, so we’re good for garden water until the next rains come – by a miracle we’ve escaped a hosepipe-ban by the skin of our teeth. Our grass may be looking a bit sorry for wear, but we have colour everywhere and the hibiscus has finally burst into bloom in a major way.
Summer is a real treat anywhere in the world, but after several seasons here, I feel more confident than ever that we will make the best of it this year, notwithstanding the lines of traffic onto the islands each morning and the sudden increase in shoppers in places that have been ghostly empty all winter. Many of our summer residents are from Paris, holidaymakers who have been coming here for years and many of whom own homes or apartments in the region, and the locals welcome their annual guests with relish each year as the season provides so much income for so many people – it’s a harmonious relationship that started in the mid 19th century and has not been much disturbed by an influx of foreigners.
With a season of additional tennis tournaments looming for Gigi, Hetty has decided to get organised too. She sat down this week in secret and after an hour triumphantly appeared in the kitchen with a huge list she had made of all the things she wanted to do during the holidays – an adventure for each day. She’s been steadily working her way through them for a week, and yesterday’s effort was a treat for all the family – baked flipflops, a demonstration of imagination and culinary genius that strode triumphantly across a beach made of crumbled biscuit crumbs and onto our plates at a goûter-time she proudly laid out at the front door, and which thoughtfully included an arrangement of fruit that looked as though it had arrived in a fancy cardboard box from one of Royan’s more upmarket seaside eateries. She even made pink lemonade!
The dogs were quite content for something to make a fatal mistake….. as always
I love summer too for the light it brings to the region, and the colours that shimmer in the soft coastal air, a slightly salty medium that has echoes of the Atlantic each time the wind blows in from the sea. As I go deeper on my own journey into photography I’ve discovered an appreciation of light that has taken me quite by surprise, and I find I’ve developed a taste for details that once passed me by in my rush to be somewhere else. Summer is definitely a time to linger whenever you can, to see little scenes in places where the winter’s wind never blows.
Whether it’s the region’s vast carpets of sunflowers, nodding deliriously happy in warmth,
or someone else’s gardening efforts spilling over walls for the enjoyment of everyone,
summer is a time of plenty.
Above all though, it is definitely a season for the beach, too laze indolently under umbrellas while children squeal with delight,
and it’s an opportunity to make the most of artisanal creations in cones. I know the rhythm of the coastal traffic now, and manage to mostly escape the lines of hot cars with Parisien numberplates, and sometimes it’s along those back-street journeys that one discovers the hidden treats.
And if one’s delight in a day at the seaside has been in any way tampered by misfortune or a stray wasp, or perhaps a half hour of cloud, then it’s always possible to stop for ten minutes on the way home, in a little road I know, where two old ladies lay out tables of brocante in the evening sunshine for the lost tourists that stumble by on their way back from the beach. The girls love this too, it’s how searching for treasures in France always used to be. These are little things of little value, whose prices are as they should be – but above all they’re items of summer treasure that will punctuate the memories for years to come.