The funeral of my father-in-law Laurie Miles took place at the Wood Vale cemetery in Brighton. I flew back from France to the UK to attend it, staying for a few days afterwards with the rest of the family. Most of Laurie and Kay’s relations and several close friends attended a celebration that was positive, optimistic, and life-affirming. People drew attention to Laurie’s strong senses of humour, sympathy, and loyalty. His sons gave brilliant eulogies, each using many stories that illustrated his virtues and gave due voice to his many qualities. Jessie and Ella added to these in heartfelt and emotional speeches on behalf of his eight grandchildren at the reception afterwards at the Mid-Sussex Golf Club.
I travelled to the UK from Bergerac in the Dordogne, flying uncertainly into Stansted on a day of transport chaos in the UK caused by torrential rain and flooding. My return was on a rail-strike day with all trains to Stansted cancelled. I got back mostly thanks to the spontaneous generosity of my good friend Jan, who put me up the night before in London, cooked dinner, and drove me to Stansted in the morning, re-arranging her already busy day just to do so.
Much more progress was made this month in turning La Hune into a viable residential house and garden for rental from next year. An electrician arrived just before I left and did some invaluable work immediately. He also rewired much of the ground floor, reversing some bad work previously done, and allowing me finally to understand how re-wiring can be done without breaking walls and ceilings. A fibre-optic cable network was also installed; vastly improved internet coverage (despite the metre-thick stone walls) will follow. I found someone to clean the house and do the washing when guests arrive and leave. I also made an agreement locally for the house, garden, and pool to be managed and monitored when I am not there. I organised for tons of soil to be moved so that the area around the pool is no longer on a slope. The earth is overdue a solid addition of topsoil. The large pile of hedge cuttings from the prolonged labours of my cousins Richard and Madeleine a few weeks ago was all removed to the green dechetterie efficiently but only after I had loaded it all into the truck with a pitchfork looking for a cause. The 20-year-old triple oak tree near the pool will be reduced before it does any more damage to the 300-year-old wall around the property. The pelter-scramble of clinging ivy and brambles that had developed along the full length of the wall over the past five years has also been completely removed. I have elsewhere recounted the surreal bat-visitation story here; it explains why I no longer open wide the upper floor windows while the light is off before dawn.
My neighbours have continued to be helpful beyond expectations, offering to look after the pool when I was away in the UK, and to close it down for the winter and watch over the house after my departure at the end of the month. I have never before felt so well supported by the local village. There are similar stories of helpfulness and friendship all over rural France with copious evidence on Facebook and other platforms of hapless Brits being helped by friendly and knowledgeable neighbours. I just hope that French expatriates in England have had the same experiences of their rural hosts. One evening, Marlène and René invited me to join them and other friends from the village in a soiree on the banks of the Garonne by the port of Auvillar, where several marchands offered street food as the day ended in garish music, dad-dancing and fireworks; and the weather gave a final encore by opening up a sudden and thundercrack-sharp fifteen-minute fusillade of downpouring rain, the first in over two months.
Jessie visited for the second time this year at the end of August (Jurrat is still grounded by the slow-motion processing of his visa). She gave valuable advice on the letting possibilities, took dozens of pictures of the rooms and garden, sorted through the bed linen, moved some furniture into more appropriate places and rooms, and carefully repaired many of the board and card games. She also made some delicious lunches and dinners with local produce, especially tomatoes, peaches, shallots, plums, and melons. We went out to St. Antoine for a slow lunch; to a wine tasting with the deux soeurs d’Orliac in the Chateau de Labastide d’Orliac; to the Valence market; to dinners in Bardigues and St Sixte; and an evening in Cornillas, where our old friend Jacques and his partner Chantal treated us to an ‘aperitif dinatre’ – in other words, a ‘dinnerish cocktail party’, including the elusive, umami-laden ‘pissaladiere’, expertly cooked by Jacques. Although I missed the village fete, by the end of the longest stay I have ever had in Mansonville, I had made or confirmed many more friends in the village, all the while being gainfully employed during the mornings as a freelance editor of academic and technical documents. I was invited to lunch by new residents Alain and Marie, and met other new residents George and Gay. Jessie left at the end of the month, and I spent a forlorn day after driving her to Toulouse airport for her plane, packing up and making arrangements for six months of Brexile.
My way back was a fairly typical journey for me, avoiding motorways but making good time for much of the journey then losing concentration in random efforts to see particular places off the beaten track. I stopped to look around a small town in Normandy, Auffay, which I had visited with my mother when I was five years’ old. I will never know the reason for the mysterious visit. I can only recall that there were bedbugs in the hotel, and that we didn’t stay long. But I came, drawn by the magnet of memory and driven by a dizzying sense of a disappearing past, looking for insights on the Place General de Gaulle, an old bar du chemin de fer with an old barman and old customers, and the railway hotel with the bedbugs, but could find no clues in 2022 for that strange visit d’enfance in 1962. Nevertheless, I remain yours,
parting the mists of time,