After that difficult week feeling unwell, suddenly I found myself cosseted and spoilt by my house guest – rather than the other way round.
Sally arrived on Monday, when I was halfway through preparing dinner. The deal had been that my English neighbours, Janet and Neville, who were arriving on the same plane, would drive Sally up here, and that I would lay on dinner for all. Instead I had spent the morning first struggling over the problem of my disappearing/reappearing carte vitale and then queuing for a long time to see a doctor. Then I discovered I had left the trout (bought the previous day) out of the fridge-so back again up the hill to the trout farm to buy four more.
By then I was seriously behind schedule and running out of steam. Sally took over in the kitchen, the sun came out – chasing away the morning’s thunderstorm – and we all sat outside for our aperitifs, enjoying the wonderful post-storm evening light. The menu was warm pélardons (local goat’s cheeses) and salad, then the trout and potatoes, followed by strawberries and cream (the only thing I had managed to complete). Sally somehow managed to get all this ready while at the same time being outside with us. But she is someone who has cooked and entertained with extreme competence and flair all her life. Things did not stop there; during the week, she filled my freezer with mountains of soup and chicken dishes. Wonderful. I sat back and concentrated on getting my energy back after the bad week.
And we talked. And talked. I would argue that Sally can talk more than me; some would suggest the reverse… Sally and Christine (whom I had seen ten days ago when in London) are my oldest friends. It is 67 years since Sally’s and my parents became friends and she, her sister Jane and I became friends too – though more slowly. We all went on to grammar school together, and Jane and I went to Oxford the same time. I may only see Sally once or twice a year, but the friendship is a continuum.
The weather was supposed to be dreadful all week, but the rain held off until Sally left and we packed quite a lot of wandering around into the three full days she was here. The highlight was a beautiful day driving up onto the Causse, the limestone plateau to the south of le Vigan, a leisurely lunch at one of my favourite restaurants at Blandas, then meandering down into the spectacular Cirque de Navacelles – and then winding up the other side, through the dramatic barren landscape, softened by the asphodèles which were in flower, and again crossing the spectacular river Vis at Madières.
Even the car drama at Navacelles did not damage this lovely day. We were walking back to the car when we saw a large Audi doing a slow, incompetent three-point turn – in too little space between my Smart and the cars parked on the other side of the road. Then, in slow motion, we watched, disbelieving, as the car moved on forwards, into mine. The driver turned out to be a man of about 60 – with only one hand! His right arm ended in a stump, with which he had been manipulating the forward-backward controls. He indicated his arm, but we made it clear this was no excuse. The damage is not dramatic, but will have to be fixed. The man, M. Borroso, suggested he could get it fixed in le Vigan, as he was in the trade, but I refused, and said it must be repaired by the Smart agents, my garage in Montpellier. We exchanged names and telephone numbers and we took photos of his car and we all went on our way. (I was to learn later that, this being France, there is paperwork we should have completed and signed jointly before leaving.)
All too soon it was Friday, and I drove Sally back to the airport. I am hoping this will be an annual (and longer) fixture.