At the weekend we were invited by a friend to a local event. It wasn’t clear exactly what the purpose of the event was, but it had a distinctly Napoleonic flavour. The venue was a country house with an attached riding school, where small children in large helmets clutched at the saddles of short fat ponies.
When we arrived there was an evil icy wind blowing and I envied the soldiers their warm uniforms. Then came a shower of exceedingly cold rain, but luckily it was ousted fairly quickly by warm sunshine. It really was a delightful low-key event, old-fashioned and uncommercial, tucked away in a tiny hamlet that you wouldn’t find if you hadn’t expressly been looking for it. There was, naturally, a small tent dispensing red wine in plastic glasses, and some ladies selling biscuits made to an 18th century recipe, while two whole pigs with silver foil folded over their ears were turning on spits over open fires for a feast later in the evening.
There was much marching and drum beating, and a demonstration of decapitation by sabre. The ‘heads’ were plastic bags stuffed with straw, mounted on wooden posts, and the sabres were wielded by galloping horsemen. They were accompanied by a young lad on a pony, and although he had neither a uniform nor a sabre, he proudly galloped around the field to great applause and with a huge smile on his face.
I didn’t see one person with a mobile phone; neither were there any cans of fizzy drinks, and no disco, raffle tickets or fast food. What a pleasant, dreamy afternoon watching families and friends strolling around laughing and chatting. It felt very much like being back in the 1950s.
The miserable little homunculus at the garage in Argeles sur Mer sneered when Terry said he was going to tow the caravan and drive the car home without an alternator.
“It’s not possible,” he said. “It cannot be done.”
Well, you nasty, pathetic little pipsqueak, it can, and it was.
And that was due to numerous people who offered help and support in one way or another, proving that decent, caring people heavily outnumber horrible little t-d-cs. (For the benefit of those who don’t speak French, t-d-c stands for trou du cul, which translates literally as ‘hole of the bottom,’ or as we usually say, arsehole.)
Yesterday I broke down and cried. Not because I was worried, or my feet were still too swollen to get into my shoes, and not because of all the horrendous expense this has cost us, but because of the overwhelming kindness of so many people. There were offers to take Terry to their home for a meal and somewhere to sleep. Offers to lend him another car. Offers to drive down to try to help fix the alternator. An offer, from people we have never met, to buy the alternator for us, and we could pay them back as and when. All day long people were phoning and sending messages asking how they could help and offering moral support. That really choked me up.
One of those friends undertook a 100 mile round trip to swap batteries, so that Terry could get the car and caravan home late last night.
When you have a disaster like this you are blessed, because you learn how many good friends you have, and how far they will go for you.
We have a bunch of friends coming for dinner tonight. I usually like to have a whole clear day to prepare for events as my cooking can be a bit hit and miss, and if I start in good time and everything goes wrong, there’s time to rectify it. Yesterday, my diary was clear for today.
Then late yesterday afternoon we had a phone call, the outcome of which was spending the entire morning today doing something unavoidable, and by the time we had finished doing it most of the shops were closed. I managed to get all the ingredients, nevertheless, except for the parsley. Back home it was almost 2.00 pm before we had unpacked the shopping, and while I made a start TOH was despatched to find the parsley, which involved a round trip of nearly 20 miles.
Just as he returned triumphant, and I could really get going, unexpected visitors turned up, French friends we have not seen for over a year.
Now five hours behind myself, my instant reaction to this surprise was extreme exasperation. Then they told us that they were very distressed and depressed, because their dog, around whom their life has absolutely revolved for the last 14 years, is dying of cancer. For months they haven’t been out or wanted to see anybody, but this afternoon they had decided, on the spur of the moment, to visit us.
Suddenly, I felt very humbled, and privileged.