i had a lovely visit from my sister, Deborah, who came despite my protestations that she did not need to. I’m glad she ignored me. She spent much of Friday on the train from London (changing just oncc at Lille);, and now she is back on the seven hour trip home. It’s still nicer than the plane; she just reads or talks to fellow passengers – yes, this is a family trait.
On Saturday we just pootled around, shopping for some necessities for me, and then strolling round the old city, enjoying the beauty of the old city, enhanced by the bright sunshine. There were some essential stops at cafes, of course, to give my shoulder a rest (it is only now that I appreciate that even the shoulder moves when you walk). At one cafe we met Chloe, the daughter of a friend from my choir days. Le monde est petit en effet. Lunch – again sitting outside -was at Alain Villard’s restaurant. Alain spent about six months in my Brighton flat. He also stayed a weekend at Deb’s and was pleased to see her.
On Saturday we taxied out to Palavas, a popular seaside resort just outside Montpellier. We were supposed to have a rendezvous with my old friends Charles and Pierre. Inevitably we managed to miss them and they had both left their phones behind… … Half an hour later we decided to choose a restaurant before all the tables went – and there by chance they were.
The meal that followed was coloured by classic Charles and Pierre theatre. They too have stayed at Deborah’s and laughed when they heard that the lavatory light still does not work -seven years later. Conversation was as lively and opiniated as ever. We passed through the painful Brexit themes of course (they were approving of my decision to seek French nationality) and moved on to the forthcoming French presidential elections. All agreed that Le Pen would probably, hopefully, not win, but that Fillon was also bad news.
Things got more heated when I told them that almost every one I talked to in the clinic produced variants of “I’m not racist but …… the Arabs are taking over”. As I expected Charles launched into his passionate ‘we must protect our wonderful French culture. It must not be diluted’. And Pierre followed with his ‘we must respect that we are a laïque state’ ( somehow seems clearer in French than the English ‘secular’). You have to ,know Charles and Pierre to imagine how physically animated such conversations can be – much declaiming and much waving around of hands. Difficult for us to get a word in edgeways, pleading for tolerance of differences in culture, but Deborah (whose French is amazing since it dates mainly from our schooldays) definitely scored a point by chipping in with a reference to Voltaire. By this time, nearly three hours after our arrival, we were ready to go and Pierre had become friends with the waiters.
We walked back along the harbour front. In the morning Deborah and I had already done this walk, playing my usual game of deciding which boat I would like to own. The game had started when I was eight and fired with a passion for boats by Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. Sadly these days I go for more realistic motor launches rather than sailing boats. But they don’t have the same aesthetic appeal.
we drove back to Montpellier in Charles’ beloved Alfa Romeo. Another classic C & P performance. I don’t think Deborah had ever been driven by Charles so this was a new, unnerving experience. Much switching lanes at the last moment, sudden accelerations, verbal impatience with all other drivers, a quick pull in beside a busy road so that both men could find (with difficulty) a bush to pee behind , a lengthy detour so we could see the flamingoes, and a final dramatic parking in the IKEA underground car park. I had said could he let me out before going into a tight space. He remembered when half in – so reversed, only just missing the car behind him, whose driver, along with the four drivers behind were honking horns. (I don’t think Charles likes the rear mirror.) While they and the driver engaged in an animated exchange, Deborah helped me out of the car.
After many sffectionate farewells (I am fond of this couple, who have been good friends over the years), we left them to face IKEA – on the Sunday afternoon before Christmas!- and took the nearby tram back to Deborah’s hotel (between the station and Place de la Comédie -a good discovery).
i was a bit apologetic that so much of the day had been shared by Charles and Pierre’s visit. But Deb too had found the whole day entertaining.
Good to have seen Deb, the sun, the sea, and Charles and Pierre. But now back in the clinic and its daily routines.