I can announce that I have crossed two major items off my imaginary personal bucket list. I heard Eileen Rose and the Holy Wreck play “Jolene” against the mountains above Sion and I led the communal singing in a French country bar karaoke session to Plastic Bertrand’s classic “Ca plane pour moi”. But before all that, I have been industrious. Feeling like a proper smallholder/handyman I re-sized the chicken run and used the spare partitions from it to fence off the chicken yard and protect the vegetable plot. However, the chickens continue to fly over the coop gate and peck away at my carefully planted lettuces, prompting in me thoughts ranging from wing-clipping to Jalfrezi. There are some summer successes: the production by Alli of several bottles of delicious elderflower cordiale from the same tree that she accused me of killing two years ago. This year our house is again being sat by Frans and Tinneke while we are away on holiday in La Hune in South West France, from where your correspondent is comfortably settled.
Jessie won a scholarship from Sussex University for her MA course next year. This was quite an achievement – icing on the cake of her 2.1 degree. The citation read that it “will be awarded to the students who possess the highest academic ability and potential”.
Alli went to Luxembourg for a few days to celebrate the graduation from school of our nephew Oliver and I went to a barbecue at the Jarvises of Hegenheim. We had a delicious meal in their garden complete with high society (the Barnes of Biel-Benken), low talk, pool lounging, bright sun, that unforgettable Wimbledon final. When Ali came back to Basel we went to a barbecue given by Paul and Nicole, our neighbours while we lived in Oberwil. Our friend Annet, also an ex-neighbour, was there to complete the reunion. We also went to Paul Laycock’s 60th birthday party in the Weiherschloss at Bottmingen, a fairy-tale castle surrounded by a moat, bathed in evening sunlight.
We also drove down to Sion in the Valais to see Eileen Rose, the Legendary Rich Gilbert and the Holy Wreck. She was playing in a large bar (the Relais des Mayens de Sion) known locally as the “Honkytonk in the sky”, with a terrace and a tented area on the mountainside overlooking Sion. I was rewarded with the camp-followers’ ultimate honour of being called out on stage to translate her announcements to the crowd into French. Later I went around the tables selling their CDs, raising a few hundred euros to help with the rest of her tour into Italy.
As usual I had a great deal to finish up before our annual holiday visit to our house in the Tarn et Garonne and probably more than when I had a full time job. I drove down over two days in the company of Gwen, her friend Megan, and Bonnie the dog, staying overnight in a Vichy hotel due to a magnificent thunderstorm that turned the sky upside down and brutally stopped us from camping as the other, much more exciting, option. We stayed in a hotel overlooking the Vichy racecourse. I walked Bonnie in the early morning mist with riders exercising their runners around the huge course.
The Jarvises and the Barnes were our guests at La Hune, where the passage of time slowed significantly (although somehow it still rushed by). With our friends we ate and drank liberally, visited the local markets and enjoyed the pool and the house to the full. One night in the village I was persuaded to do a karaoke version of Plastic Bertrand’s “Ca plane pour moi” Another night, while I slept the slumber of the innocent on a sun lounger, my merry and hard-hearted guests decorated my exposed tummy button with whipped cream and a strawberry. Pictures were taken. On most nights we ate like gladiators and slept like teenagers.
One morning, early in the holiday, Jessie suddenly appeared in front of me as I ruminated at the village cafe. It took me some moments to realise that she had taken a flight from Bangladesh to come and see us for her short vacation from her job. Her visit had been abetted by the Barnes, who had helped to facilitate her arrival in France. In the heat of the moment I asked, “How did you get here?” and, less notably, “who paid for your ticket?” Upon seeing her a few minutes later, Alli burst into tears. Jessie spent several days with us and her friends Owen and Bailey, who is an old La Hune hand, spending her third visit here.
L to R: Bailey Barnes, Dawn Jarvis, Gwen Stanbrook, Megan Wright, Andy Jarvis, LeAnn Barnes, Jasper Barnes, Lionel Stanbrook, Jessie Stanbrook, Owen Melling (with Bonnie), Mansonville, July 2013
Ella has not been able to get away on holiday yet but she has been staying in our new flat in Brighton with Sam, working locally to earn money at a golf club in Ditchling and a café in Lewis. Alli, now almost internet-literate, has been corresponding with her every morning by text from the village café. My project to get La Hune into the digital age with wi-fi has foundered with the unhelpful behaviour of France Telecom who agreed to come and fix it up but failed to turn up at the appointed time, then blamed me for this.
The Jarvises and the Barnes left after a week of serious wining and dining. All went quiet. Even the house itself seemed to miss them when they were gone. But we recently welcomed Sophie, our friend from Belgium, who will be joined by others next week. Ca plane pour nous…
Verily, I am the king of the divan,