While the girls have enjoyed some time in England we have all spent much of the month in La Hune, our house in South West France. Both house and location have been as alluring and enjoyable as ever. Sixteen different people have stayed with us over the past three weeks and we have spent most of the time sitting around the pool and dozing, reading, playing garden games, drinking, eating, drawing or sunbathing. The pool temperature came to just about 30 degrees during the first two weeks. Alli has been in the sun a great deal, achieving at last the well earned rest to which she was hugely entitled. Both she and Gwen now have very dark tans. There have been Japanese drawing classes, unending board games, table tennis competitions and various cultural excursions. Jessie and Ella each had friends to stay for a few days and the house was full with our friends, relations and assorted hangers-on. But all is not perfect in paradise. The roof leaks very badly. This was the case even before the legendary golf ball hailstorm of last year when severe damage was done to the tiles and roof covering. We had three big thunderstorms while we there and on each occasion the roof leaked freely and alarmingly in several different places. I have now committed myself and my financial credibility, already strained, to repairing the roof completely by this time next year (prospective tenants please note).
Ella turned thirteen on 20 July while we were on holiday and she is obviously relieved to be a real teenager at last, having been practising to be one for some time already. She decided that she would like us all to have dinner with her at a creperie in Valence d’Agen after going go-cart racing in the afternoon, a pastime available at Caudecoste, a nearby village. After dinner the girls, including their friends and cousins, then stayed up to play Risk all through the night with Uncle Anthony.
Well after midnight one night while all were all in bed I heard a commotion outside with gears shifting, men talking and dogs barking. Someone was walking around the garden and from the bedroom window I could see a dark shadow moving in front of the bushes. The figure suddenly slipped into the swimming pool and murmured in French that the water was indeed warm. Thinking it to be a drunkard who had staggered out of the village bar and wandered off in the wrong direction, I opened the shutters and shouted from the window: “C’est qui?” A voice came back: “C’est Alexis!” It took a few seconds to work out that this was Alli’s Belgian friend who with his wife Sophie and friends Bernard and Anne had come to visit us. They had arrived imprevus in a huge old motor home and an even older Renault van – a Goellette – from the 1950s. We spent the next day together at a nearby lake where they brought out the wind surf and a couple of boats that had been loaded on top of the van. Jessie tried the wind surf and was very good, learning the rudiments of windsurfing within minutes. The Belgians stayed with us for a few days, their perfectly-tuned Renault Goellette attracting admiring comments from all those villagers even older than it, and we also enjoyed together the eight-course open air mechoui dinner that took place in the village following a regional petanque contest a couple of days later. That night turned out to be the only totally clear night for star-gazing and I hope I saw sufficient shooting stars to qualify for much good luck for several months to come. But my new toy, a telescope, has not been used to best advantage just yet.
I have been wearing a grey and white striped seersucker suit for the first time since I bought it last year, following the return of the trousers from my quarrelsome tailor in France. Alli does not like the suit but I do and it provides a welcome relief in the stifling heat. At work it attracts comments of course, none completely dismissive and some admiring (of suit, I suspect, not body). I don’t think I look very good in it but it is more comfortable than any others that I have had. It reinforces an unfortunate and counter-intuitive tendency of mine to look like a stroppy middle-aged night-club bouncer with a paunch and an attitude. Oh well, life is so unfair sometimes.