Today being Mordred day, that is, when my crossword appears in The Independent; and that newspaper being unavailable in Sigoules, Jackie has undertaken to buy one for me. You may wonder why I would want to buy a puzzle I had set myself. Well, it makes me feel proud to see it in print, and it’s quite impressive to be able to complete it in three minutes on the tube.
Before I got up I finished ‘Whose Body?’ by Dorothy L. Sayers. She brings a most literary element to her detective stories. Quite apart from their being excellent examples of the genre she develops her characters with insight and humour. Indeed, there is a touch of P.G.Wodehouse about her narrative and, in the book, she makes occasional reference to Holmes and Watson. Lord Peter Wimsey has his equivalents of both Jeeves and Doctor Watson.
As I left the house for my daily perambulation an elderly woman with a shopping bag was leaning with one hand against the wall, panting for breath. Had I come down the steps which lead onto the pavement I would have blocked her path. I therefore remained on the top step in order to keep her way clear and to pause in case my help would be required. She smiled and told me to come down. I stood grinning like an Englishman who hadn’t grasped what she’d said, which, of course, I hadn’t. She laughed and said she granted me permission to descend. That time I got it, and my grin developed into an equal expression of amusement.
A warm and sunny day with plenty of cloud, cooled by the occasional smattering of large raindrops, greeted my departure. En route to Monbos, some two miles out of Sigoules, maize was sprouting and barley flourishing. The vineyards around Monbos were in good shape. The ditches and chalky banks on the roadside were decked with clusters of poppies, sweet peas, bramble blossom, and a profusion of other wild flowers. The first time I went this way was with Elizabeth. She suffered badly with sunstroke, and it was only afterwards we learned that the temperature had been 40 degrees.
I passed a field in which a string of horses came galloping down the hillside to investigate my presence, just as the donkey had done the day before. About halfway you come to Sigoules Heights. This is intended to be a vast housing development. Three years ago a system of roads, impressive street furniture, and parking areas, was laid out. It seems you buy a plot and have your own house built. To date there are only three houses in situ. Perhaps another casualty of the worldwide recession.
My goal today was to visit the 11th./12th. century simple stone-built church with a barrel roof. This humble house of God is decorated with stylised mediaeval carvings representing various examples of animal life. Standing out amongst these are naked men without fig-leaves, and two couples hugely, graphically, copulating. Not even in the missionary position. The phalluses have at some time clearly been replaced. Perhaps denizens of a more recent age found them offensive; perhaps someone stricken with penis envy simply nicked them. Either way it is wonderful that these works of naive art have survived 1,000 years of continuous worship.
Set in the back wall is a peculiar square window containing a kind of porthole. We believe that was for the relevant hermit to observe the Mass rather than the carvings.
Having watched a film last night based upon one John Le Carre novel, it was fitting that I should begin to read ‘The Honourable Schoolboy’ today.
This evening’s fare at Le Code Bar was Salade Nicoise encircled by shrimps, followed by gammon steaks, ratatouille, and kus kus. After sending me a huge platter of the main course Frederick, the chef, told me to ask for more if it wasn’t enough. Not enough! I have no idea what the sweet would have been because I had no room for it. My choice of wine was rose. The wine comes from Les Caves de Sigoules, the manager of which once introduced himself to Michael as my personal wine supplier. This was at one of the Friday evening festive meals which take place in the village square throughout July and August.
Later, I watched ‘La Dame Aux Camelias’, starring Greta Scacchi, Colin Firth, and Ben Kingsley. This was beautifully filmed and pleasant enough but, perhaps inevitably, lacked the complexity of Dumas fils’ original novel. Having watched Colin Firth as a middle-aged man the night before it was fascinating to see him perform as a very young man. His serious, somewhat shy, expressions and winning smile haven’t changed. Greta Scacchi was as decorative as ever; and Ben Kingsley full of charisma.