As always, we first visited Mike’s favourite D.I.Y. outlet on the industrial estate outside Bergerac. Maggie and I stayed in the car and put the world to rights while Mike drew a padlock for the shop assistant because he didn’t know the word for it. We went on to LeClerc, the amazing French superstore which has just about everything. My friends bought some ground nutmeg whilst I added to my DVD collection. I would have needed half a day to have explored their complete stock.
Over coffee in the vast emporium Mike spoke of a towering pillar of smoke they had seen on their last visit. It was a paint factory being completely destroyed by fire. His instinct had been to get as far away as possible from the explosions and falling ash. I, on the other hand…….. Sometime in the mid-sixties, from Amity Grove in Raynes Park, we had seen something similar. I got in the car and sped towards it. Nearing Colliers Wood, where an earlier paint factory had gone up, traffic came to a complete standstill. Everyone else in South London was smitten with the same curiosity. Tins of paint had cascaded into the surrounding built-up area.
On my return to rue St. Jacques, Saufiene, still with no car, having been driven over on a non-work day by a friend, called in with the paperwork and a date for the detailed measurement of my home improvements.
The rain having cleared up and the clouds begun to disperse, I took a walk. I rounded the murky, swollen, waters of the fishing lake where the terrain was soggy enough to have been at home in England. The surrounding, normally dry, gully had become a torrent. Beyond the lake I followed the chalky stone path up the hill and along the top of the field the donkey shares with his goats. He tracked me as usual and, accompanied by a pack of dogs in the garden of one of the new houses opposite, let out a cacophany of sound. The rock concert planned for the bar tonight would no doubt have been enhanced by it. There were also sheep on this upper level. I was able to separate them from the goats. Reaching the crossroads at the top, I remembered the last time I had climbed up there, with Jackie in 2010, just before I was given a replacement hip. Then, I had been barely able to descend. This time I counted my blessings. I continued along the track, following a sign to Mautain. The downward stretch had become the bed of a clear stream cleaning the white stone. At the quagmire at the bottom my way was barred by an announcement from the town hall. I retraced my steps.
Last night in Le Code Bar I had felt honour bound to consume as much as I could of the food Maggie and Mike had been unable to manage. This was especially so when Frederick brought us an extra portion of duck, and, in response to my friends’ protestations that they could eat no more, patting me on the shoulder, said ‘this boy will help you out, I’m sure’. Consequently I didn’t need a meal today.