Laurie, my father-in-law, died just a week ago. He was a close friend before he became my father-in-law as we were in neighbouring offices in the Belliard building in the European Parliament when I first arrived there in 1982. He befriended me straight away, showed me around and patiently answered all my stupid questions. After a due period he introduced me to his daughter, confiding in me that he didn’t think much of her boyfriends, and although my future wife didn’t think much of me the first time, I was invited again later, and the rest, more or less, became history. With film-star looks (there was a passing resemblance to Antony Perkins), he was a social magnet and was wonderful company: erudite, curious, kind, and funny, with a unique sense of humour that veered from slapstick to subtle, and from multi-lingual literary to Anglo-Saxon lavatorial. His generosity to friends, family, and others was legendary. He was also an inspiration to many around him, with his eclectic range of interests, which included languages (he spoke several) and literature, as well as gardening, golf and home improvements. We shared a love of words and often had long and exclusive conversations about word derivations. Above all, he was devoted to his wife (of over 60 years) Kay and their family. He was never happier than when heading the family table and encouraging wide-ranging and stimulating conversations during family occasions, of which there were many. He was loved by his eight grand-children. I shall always remember him with much respect and devotion. His funeral takes place in mid-August.
In some measure, as if to balance the overall family books, we were previously in London for the christening in the Temple Church of the latest of Clive and Julia’s grandchildren, Raphael Alber, second child of Isabella and Igal. It was great to see the other side of the family, all looking well and happy, with an overall age balance shifting once again towards youth. The tree of life is in a robust phase of renewal with new branches but it is determinedly eternal. The Temple is a very inspiring location, the place where my brother Clive and my father Ivor started their legal careers, as well as the Knights Templar nearly 1000 years ago. It is where many of the Stanbrooks’ christenings, deaths, commemorations, and marriages have been celebrated (hatching, matching and despatching). More prosaically, we also had the unique benefit of free parking just opposite the Temple in the empty and guarded car park of the palatial Royal Courts building in Fleet Street, thanks to Jessie’s government staff pass. Londoners will know what an amazing bonus that was on a hot and crowded summer Sunday.
I drove to France after the christening and left behind a weeded vegetable garden on the brink of producing lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes, orange peppers, red chili peppers, broccoli, onions, rutabaga (swede), and rocket. In addition, the marigolds have been needlessly showing off, and a solo spray of champion cornflower fought its way through the weeds, exulting and immaculate in its crystal-blue-sky colour. In fact, Jessie and Jurrat came to visit for the day on 8th July, exactly one year from from their wedding in the garden of Broad Oaks. The day tempted fate by promising them hot sun with whispering trees, dappled shade, a clear blue sky, a light breeze and colourful wild flowers aplenty. I could even hear a collective murmur of approval from an imaginary crowd. Can it all be reproduced a year hence?
I took a different way down to the magical south west of France, driving on the motorway from Dieppe to Rouen, then national routes to Le Mans and Tours, Poitiers, then south to Angouleme, where I stayed the night and had an extraordinary Asian buffet dinner in a glinting new palace of a restaurant with all conceivable types of Asian food set out on gleaming trays as far as the I could see. In the morning I drove further south-west to the edge of Bordeaux, then took a rather tiresome and badly-planned drive through a long line of ugly commercial districts and strangely uninspiring monocultural vineyards towards Agen and finally to Mansonville.
La Hune was welcoming, friendly, and positive, as it has been since the years of chagrin when it nearly fell out of our hands into those of a professional confidence trickster and criminal. My tasks during this much longer visit were to continue to improve the look and feel of the house and the garden, gain more practical knowledge in electricity, plumbing, gardening, home economics, and pool maintenance. The pool has been reborn thanks to the amazing efforts and applied skills of my fantastic neighbours the well-named René and Marlene over the past few weeks. I shall also be applying for a French long-term visa or carte de sejour as my O-level ability in maths is not up to the task of computing the preposterous time restrictions that Brexit, by destroying people’s freedom of movement around Europe, has imposed on British adults and their personal travel choices. Maybe the French economic and political situation is similar, as so many of my French friends tell me, but I don’t feel I have to worry so much about that, as the French have art, style, intellect, France, tapenade, and the weather. Certainly food, drink, petrol, electricity, accommodation, gas and diesel are all far cheaper than in the UK.
I had visitors: Lionel, who rented the house eight years ago, and his partner Rebecca, came for a few days laden with wine from Blaye. Frank, a Toulousain, arrived with his wife and daughter for a couple of nights and inspected the house for its susceptibility to house-wide internet coverage. Gwen arrived with some of her friends near the end of the month and we all went around together visiting local places of interest including Auvillar, the markets at Valence and Lectoure, the church at Lachapelle, a restaurant at Saint-Clar, Gramont and its Musee de Miel. My cousins Richard and Madeleine came for a few days accompanied by garden implements of the mechanical kind. They worked very hard, diligently, and effectively in the garden (in their words, ‘pottering around’) so that what they had done with the boundary hedge in a few days has far surpassed what it took local professional help to do in twelve months. We also did some local sight-seeing. The extreme weather took its toll with several days of temperature on or around 40c but the swimming pool stood up to the occasion and provided cool respite whenever it was needed. It also proved the extraordinary ability of the house to seem glacially air-conditioned whenever one went inside from outside, even when the doors were open. By the end of the month I was happy with the progress: there were two working fridges and a high-quality dish-washer, all working well in the kitchen, a repaired oven and vacuum cleaner, new cutlery bought for a song in a brocante in Agen, plenty of new or clean linen for three double rooms with double beds and six single beds in a dormitory upstairs. There is a ‘nickel’ swimming pool and the garden is on the way back to looking its best. However, I still await an electrician like everyone else in France.
Yours in yore