Don’t Mention the War

It’s been an interesting week during which the idea of buying a house in France took centre stage once more. This is an old idea that pushes itself to the forefront every now and then especially when it’s the end of May, 9 degrees outside, blowing a hoolie with the occasional hail storm thrown in. Call me a big softie if you please – je m’en fiche. It’s nearly the longest day and where was spring? Where is summer – South-west France I reckon.

I’ve always been a bit of a Francophile ever since my first trip there when the St Tropez police force turned a jail cell into a hotel room for a tired, bewildered 16 year old, abandoned at Nice airport by the family she was supposed to be staying with. I had omitted to carry their address with me such is the confidence of youth in plans laid and made; I spent all my holiday money on a taxi from Nice to St Trop (because I knew the family lived somewhere around St T) and eventually the taxi driver threw me out at the police station. The sargeant and his men made me welcome, introduced me to smelly cheese and made up a bed in a cell whilst they pursued their enquiries. In a last moment of defiance before sleep I remember slathering on some self-tanning cream and muttering about not going home without a St Tropez tan. In fact the result was more St Tropez tangerine.

Then with Ex No.1, we spent three weeks most years bombing around France in a little white MG Midget with all our camping gear stowed behind the front seats. Even back then, property-buying lured us and we got as far as viewing a few cottages. Wrecks one and all and not even habitable wrecks at that. Very serious, very British in our ankle socks and sandals we solemnly inspected roofs, floors, walls and poo-filled french drains. On one occasion Ex No.1 jumped up and down on a bedroom floor to demonstrate the depredations of beetle and bug. The vendor and his neighbour, two veritable ancient wrecks themselves, gawped at Ex and then at each other. The vendor whispered:

“Mais, il est fou, n’est-ce-pas?” and twizzled his finger around the side of his head in the international sign for madness.
His neighbour, more sanguine, chewed the cud a while and then gave a gorgeous Gallic shrug.
“C’est la guerre” he pronounced by way of explanation and then, diving behind a great oak beam that was holding the ceiling up, he aimed an imaginary machine gun at us.
“Ack, ack-ack, ack-ack-ack”
The spittle sprayed us even if the bullets didn’t. Then he came out from his placement, walked carefully around us before saluting smartly and stomping off, presumably back to HQ.

I have no idea to which war he was referring – unless he was prescient of course and foresaw the war that was to end our marriage.

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