I have discovered the joys of vacuum storage bags. Both down in the gite and here I have struggled with stuffing spare bedding into boxes and heaving them up on top of cupboards. Down in the gite there is the added struggle against mice and spiders.
I have discovered that vacuum storage bags (thank you John Lewis) reduce dramatically taken up by quilts and pillows. I started with Sara and now, with the aid of Peter, we took down all storage boxes and I vacuumed the air out of the quilts. The resultant shrivelled parcels are small and light enough even for me to shove them above cupboards, knowing they will emerge clean for the next visit.
Four quilts and cot bedding
At last - I can see inside freezer
Storage boxes sorted and restacked
In fact Peter spent a lot of his fortnight up a ladder; when he was not passing down boxes of bedding, he was heaving great boxes off and then – sorted – back onto the top shelves of the ‘garage’ (the strange name for the utility/boiler/storage room at the back of the house, dating from its name on planning applications).
That was not all, as I found bits of the kitchen had been greatly improved and tidied. For of course, after the first meal I gave him, Peter quietly took over the cooking. My freezer is now splendidly full of tubs of curry and soup. Initially my excuse was that I was not well, but it has to be admitted that by week two I was capable of taking my share. But too late – by then I had got the taste for letting someone else cater.
Of course my wine store catalogue has also been brought up to date – to allow for my wine buying splurge last week. So we did at least manage one wine tasting and buying tour and three restaurant meals. And Peter fitted in a couple of what he – but not I – regarded as just modest toddles.
Dan would have been 68 today. There is something rather distressing about seeing the odd message on Facebook from friends who have not realised that he died ten days ago.
I have been looking through our family albums for photos of Dan. But it is not like today: there is not a careful, even excessive recording of every stage of childhood and thereafter. of big events like graduations and birthdays. Instead a sparse, chaotic collection of dog-eared, mostly monochrome photos, which tail off almost completely when Dan left home.
Nevertheless I have tried to assemble a collection of photos here. I find it sad that there is virtually no photographic record – unless Deb finds photos in his papers – of Dan’s life after university until he became Mayor of Hammersmith.
The photos I have downloaded from Dan’s Facebook page, however, show a more heartening picture of the last few years of his life. He was so obviously enjoying himself, surrounded by friends and sharing causes, campaigns and love of cricket and rugby. Above all he was happy in his second family, the Labour Party, and made happy by their appreciation of his intelligence, commitment and humour.
For his first family, for his two sisters, the abiding memory is a small boy with his beloved bear, Rupert.
It seems hard and unreal to be carrying on with life while my sister, Deb, has to cope with everything following Dan’s death. But my brother in law, Peter, is here for two weeks, has as usual done a huge amount of cooking and fixing things for me, and it was time to devote a day to visiting some of his favourite (and mine!) vineyards.
First off was Mas Gourdou. Chris and Peter have been visiting for years. I have been several times and share their love for this excellent Pic St Loup vineyard. In the old days we used to be met by the dad, a few years older than us, but today it was the son. His family been here since the French Revolution and the past four generations reflect the history of winemaking here and its passage from producers of vin de pays to a high quality appellation.
In the old days the wine was made at the domaine. Later the grapes were sold to wine merchants or makers. In the sixties his grandparents passed winemaking to the cave coopérative, the cooperative of local vignerons like them. Then when his parents took over in 2001, they reintroduced making the wine themselves, involving a huge investment in machinery and barrels. This is the period when Chris and Peter got to know this domaine. Now the son is further refining the production in the newly built magnificent cave with vast underground spaces for the barrels and storage containers.
The son is passionate about his role in preserving this vital element in the French patrimoine and hopes his son will continue after him. He was lucky, he reflected to us, that though an agriculturalist, he grew grapes rather than something mundane like brussel sprouts. Somehow producing wine was different, a bit like some form of….. “art, culture?” I suggested. Yes!
Having spent more than I meant here and at the nearby Domaine de Villeneuve – visited in torrential rain – we pressed on to our second destination: Villa Dondona, in the hamlet of le Barry just outside Montpeyroux. Peter and I discovered this domaine for the first time in the spring and my stock of their delicious whites has gone. The wife, Jo Lynch, was away, but the absolutely charming husband, André Suquet, greeted us like old honoured customers and friends. We sat at his dining table tasting three superb wines and at the same time talking about our travels. André spent much of his life as a doctor working for NGOs in Africa, mainly Chad. So we exchanged stories of life in Africa and travel elsewhere.
André took us on a tour of his vineyards, driving his Range Rover fearlessly up precarious steep muddy tracks. When they bought the hillside above le Barry about three decades ago it had reverted to wilderness. They have carved out vineyards and vistas and have plans for yet more. This is a wild, semi-tamed landscape made vivid with the autumnal colours of the vines. And above us towered the ruins of le Castellas, the medieval castle dating from the days when Montpeyroux was a key route between the north and south of France. I felt very privileged to have been shown all this and to get to know André better. Of course we then went back and bought some of his superb wines. As well as restocking Esperel, the white, I bought a superb redvCuvée Dondona.
Le Barry, seen from Montpeyroux. Castellas ruins top right.
L'Hôpital du Barry, medieval hostelry and home of André Suquet and Jo Lynch.
View of Castellas across their vineyards
Le Castellas, le Berry
On to Trois Terres, in Octon, beside the Lac Salagou, to Alice and Graeme Angus. I really like having made such very good friends with people virtually the same age as my daughters. Both very special people. And guess what, while Alice and I chatted upstairs, Graeme and Peter had a good old natter over the barrels of wine in what is becoming a seriously good domaine. And more bottles were bought…
View from Graeme and Alice's sitting room
Dead red squirrel just before being buried
And then home – stopping on the way for our end of trip ritual, a meal at La Gare aux Anes, stuck up in the middle of the Causse du Larzac. Not quite as good as usual, especially as they had a most odd waiter who was strange and abrupt on the verge of rude.
I’m truly humbled by the tributes that still keep coming in. It is notable that many of the authors are really quite young, but they seem genuinely to have loved to engage with Dan, disregarding or laughing with affection at his idiosyncracies such as the tendency to arrive with a furled umbrella regardless of the weather – and his ability to hold forth at length on his current passion. Instead they saw a man of intelligence, humour, principles and integrity.
Simply irreplaceable. I particularly liked this blog by Michael Pavey, Deputy Leader of Brent Council.
Pity the photos reproduced on Facebook are so awful, though Dan once commented that he screwed up his face deliberately to hide his blind left eye (result of a detached retina). However, I quite like this one:
The next couple of weeks are going to be tough for my sister, Deb, and I do feel bad that I’m not there to help her. Organising the funeral is a big challenge, but I rather hope that the Brent councillors will share much of the burden.