Country Living

Stanley Kubrick’s beautifully filmed 1975 rendering of Thackeray’s novel ‘Barry Lyndon’ was last night’s viewing.  The rise and fall of the eponymous gentleman was set in the reign of George III.  Never having read the book, I am not sure whether the satire was the author’s or the director’s.

Road to Monbos 1.13This morning, while cocks were still crowing, I walked up to Monbos, rounded its 12th Century church, and turned left towards Ste. Innocence via Le Bretonnay.  From Ste. Innocence I returned to Sigoules.  Once you have left Sigoules the roads are reasonably well tarmacked, but without clear edges and often with a steep camber.  There are, of course no pavements in the countryside.  Footpaths in rue St. Jacques itself are of stone.  The street has an incredibly deep cleft, just past the church, that really is difficult to climb.  No. 6, fortunately, lies near the top.  A gentle rise takes you past the market square and straight on across the roundabout, levelling out by the football club.  The further you get beyond this point, the more modern are the houses which peter out at Sigoules Heights.  Another ascent and a left turn take you to Monbos, where I took another left for Ste. Innocence.

Fields throughout the walk were either prepared ready for maize or sunflowers, or contained vines wherever they could be placed.  The exception is the downward stretch from Ste Innocence where a forested area is proclaimed a private hunting ground.

It is exhilarating looking down from the high points into the valleys below; rather daunting watching the way ahead snaking up into the horizon.  Always twisting and turning, the road from Monbos to Ste Innocence is more serpentine and undulating than the others.  I was quite relieved to see the Dutchman’s house marking my turning point in the distance.

Just as it had during my very few car rides as a child, when we had no motorways and used winding country lanes for days out, the sun kept switching from one side of the road to the other.  This time I knew why.

As I approched the ancient-looking hamlet of Le Bretonnay a yellow post-office van passed me, made a delivery to La Maison Neuve, turned round, and came back.  The postal service in the New Forest is similar, except that the small vans are red.Logs, Le Bretonnay 1.13 Yard, Le Bretonnay 1.13Red jumper, Le Bretonnay 1.13

Le Bretonnay displays signs of current life in a bygone setting.

On the penultimate leg of my return to Sigoules, an Alsatian, normally demented at my passing by, offered a few barks for appearance sake, then wandered into his porch, sat down, and watched me continue on my way.  He must be getting used to me.

Looking down the road from No. 6 you first see the heads of anyone coming up the hill.  Gradually their bodies emerge.  Today, as I arrived home, a cheerful one-legged man on crutches appeared in just this manner.  As we exchanged greetings I once more counted my blessings.

Max’s menu today comprised superb onion soup; perfect pizza; massive succulent steak and chips with mustard mayonnaise; and cracking creme brulee.  David topped up my small carafe of red wine with some left in another customer’s container.  I had woken in the night to the realisation that I hadn’t paid for yesterday’s meal.  My friends were unperturbed.  They knew I would cough up.  David’s little joke was that they had thought of calling the police but decided against it.

This afternoon the morning’s cawing of rooks and chattering of magpies were, on home ground, supplanted by the chirruping of small birds and wood-pigeon’s plaintive mating calls.  I even got into the garden and began the task of clearing the winter’s debris.  Last summer’s compost tomatoes were now a bit over-ripe.

Keeping up with Judith

On Saturday my pool of Friends to Bank on (25th. July), as I knew it would, increased by two.  Maggie offered to cash me a cheque, and Sandrine insisted I pay for all trips with one at the end of my stay.

Yesterday morning I finished the delightful ‘Wodehouse at the Wicket’, edited by Murray Hedgcock.  This consists of a brief biography of P.G.Wodehouse the cricketer, and a collection of his writings on the subject.  Whilst I found the poetry rather weak, I enjoyed the great humorist’s prose, which also managed to make tales of our national game exciting.  The book was one of two given to me by Steve at my 70th. birthday party (see 1st. July).  In the evening I began the other, ‘The Best Views from the Boundary’, compiled by Peter Baxter.  My friend had chosen considerately and well.

Backlit thistles 7.12

This was the long awaited day of the walk with Judith.  Roger dropped her off at No. 6 on the dot of 10 a.m.  She arrived in suitable walking gear carrying a backpack.  As we set off past Le Code Bar and up the Eymet road, aiming for the Munns’ home in Razac d’Eymet, Judith asked me if I liked to walk at a brisk pace.  Playing the arrogant male ex-marathon runner, conveniently forgetting my age and comparatively new left hip, ‘Yes, I do’, I rashly replied. ‘But I’m happy to walk at whatever pace you do’.  Judith quietly stepped it out up the slope past the retirement homes, and I knew I’d got a job on.  Up and down the hills at a steady scary stride she led me across the D933, or was it 993?, through St. Julien, pointing out the home of Mary and Robin who would be joining us for lunch.

There is a truism in distance running that states: ‘If you can’t talk, you are going too fast’.  Well, I managed to converse.  Just.  Actually we chatted throughout the journey,  only pausing to take sips of water on the move.  One discussion we had concerned the potential menace of loose dogs for walkers and runners alike.  Judith had received a considerable fright a couple of days ago when she had been surrounded by snarling, menacing canines whose owner, ignoring my friend’s plight, was calmly chatting to someone getting into a car.  Quite unconcerned, he eventually called them off.  Years ago, whilst running, I had had a similar experience with two Rhodesian ridgebacks.  Their owner was nowhere to be seen.  For me, there had been nothing for it but to knock on the door of the house from which they had escaped.  I hoped they wouldn’t savage me for invading their territory.  ‘They shouldn’t be out’, said the woman who answered the door.  ‘Too right’, said I.

Returning to the present, ‘I might stop to take occasional photographs’, I said.  ‘That’s fine’, my companion replied.  Even that respite was denied me.  I had forgotten my camera.  My bag contained nothing but water, wine, and a book I was returning to Keith.  Gutted.  This was a very pleasant morning with some beautiful scenes in view.  Not that I had much chance to look around me, as I concentrated on keeping abreast of Judith, and ensuring I was not reduced to watching her heels.  As we approached St. Julien, Judith pointed out the incongruity of the church tower, recently painted an excessively bright burnt sienna.  Perhaps it will weather in.

When we arrived at Razac, and Judith pointed out her home, still in the distance, I knew the end was in sight.  On entering, I sat down pretty sharpish.  In the characterful home she and Roger are building to her design, we were to be joined for lunch by the couple mentioned earlier, and other friends, Andie and Keith.  Andie had made an excellent Rita in the MADS production of ‘Educating Rita’ at Issegeac last year.  Roger’s mother is now in residence.  She looked fresh, in a pretty dress with an attractive coiffure created by a domiciliary hairdresser.

Not only had Judith set off early for the walk, she had prepared an excellent tradional roast lamb Sunday lunch, which she completed as soon as she got back, taking time out to wash and change into an attractive long dress.  I, on the other hand, not having brought a change of clothes, dried out in the sunshine.  My claim that Judith had ‘knackered me’ caused some amusement.  The alfresco meal was convivial fun, and we all tried our skill with Roger’s catapult.  Late in the afternoon, as the party disbanded, Robin and Mary drove me home.

Before going to bed I watched Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Full Metal Jacket’, an unrelentingly harrowing portrayal of military training and the exercise of the purpose for which it is intended.  Brilliant, if you can sit through it.