(Nicked from old blog - Aug. '05)
The golden sunsets are slowly moving back down the valley.
The warm evening breezes are blowing cooler.
The days are getting shorter.
Summer's almost over.
Soon the swallows will cease their singing as they swoop for insects in the setting sun. And the telegraph wires, where they line up like musical notes, chirping and chattering, will be bare. The hamlet's dusty streets will no longer echo with the laughter and screams of a dozen or more crazy kids, aged from four to fourteen, summer holidaying in rural bliss.
When 'les enfants terribles' first arrived, way back in mid-July, I remember resenting their noisy intrusion to the peace and quiet of our sleepy hillside hideaway. But, as summer wore on, I gradually warmed to their merry little ways and they've now become the life and soul of the village. Sadly, I know I'll miss 'em when they're gone.
I'll miss the young 'uns little bicycles and grazed knees. Their mischievous posting of pegs and pebbles in our postbox. Their cheery waves and shouts as you leave on a shopping trip. And the same on your return. The daring raids of Alain's vegetable patch by speccy four-year-old Christophe and his partners in crime, Fabio and Thierry, all from the backstreets of Paris, to plunder almost ripe tomatoes and onions, not for themselves but to throw into the pen of Alain's very surprised hunting dogs... until Colette, Alain's wife, caught them.
But, above all, I'll miss their frequent visits to our open house; their shy requests for water, their joy at being given cola, sirop or jus d'orange instead, their incessant burbling, their readiness to cuddle a very confused Jock or Sprocket despite warning growls and bared fangs, their constant seeking of one's undivided attention and their wonderfully natural curiosity which inevitably leads to an uninvited exploration of our whole house where they excitedly rummage from room to room, constantly squealing and remarking about its old age, dilapidated state, abundance of dusty spiders' webs and peeling plaster. Damned cheek.
I'll miss too the older kids' brave attempts at speaking English, their requests for info about British swear words and slang for wobbly female chests plus other sexual terminology, their easy understanding of my awful French, their quiet anticipation of being invited to sip from my evening gin and tonic or scotch and dry and, perhaps most impressive of all, their ability to disappear just before they begin to outstay their welcome.
In contrast to their British counterparts, our 'enfants terribles' are refreshingly polite and respectful, and they're naturally gifted with social skills from saying "hello" upwards.
At first, we used to be greeted with a distant, but cheery, "bonjour". Now, the lads shake our hands and the lassies insist on reciprocal kissing of both cheeks. It's the French way. Back in England, Georgie and I'd be arrested for such outlandish snogging behaviour, or, at the very least, branded as as child molesters by overly-protective parents or minders. And the kids would be warned not to visit us again. Ever. But out here, it's so much more relaxed.
For example, only the other day, wee speccy Christophe followed me up the high lane on a morning dogwalk, scything down imaginary musketeers with his stick. At the gateway to Christian's top field, I turned around and gave him a look that said "that's far enough, sunshine". A hundred yards further on, he was still following in my footsteps, his stick now a shotgun. And when we reached Didier's maize field by the old stone cross, well out of sight of the distant village, he was right by my side, muttering away as he conducted the French National Orchestra.
"Bloody hell Speccy, I'm well bleedin' lumbered now, ain't I?" I asked of my four-eyed dogwalking chum. "Pardon?" he asked innocently, not having a clue what I was on about. I rephrased my question. "Le ciel est tres bleu et la soleil est tres chaud, n'est ce pas?" "Oui," he responded while attempting to swipe Jock's arse with his confounded stick.
Then we reached the end of the lane where I usually turn left into the pine forest. I saw him look back, suddenly aware that he was well out of bounds. "Allez!" I encouraged, neither wishing us to turn back so soon, nor wanting him to wander back on his own. "Suivez-moi."
As we sauntered down the forest track, enjoying the cool pine air, I pointed out the angled shafts of sunlight stabbing through the trees, with bugs dancing in the air like twinkling stars. "Voyez la soleil," I said, exploring the depths of my French vocabulary in order to make conversation about the wonders of nature. Then I noticed he'd stopped to pick up a fir cone, like it was the first one he'd seen. And I suddenly remembered that I was with a four-year-old kid, who lives in a seventh-floor flat, in a scruffy Paris suburb, whose mother works nights as a nurse and whose father grafts all-hours as a building site stonemason, who was seeing out the summer with his sister at their grandparents' in order to give mum and dad a well-deserved break before being re-united in mid-August. Of course he'd never seen a fir cone before! Probably never been in a forest before. All this nature stuff was new to him.
So, on our way back, I pointed to some blackberries that were just ripening and picked a big juicy one. I offered it to the city urchin. He seemed a little wary. So I ate it. Then he reached out to pick one for himself. "Non," I said as he grasped a red one. "Les grands noirs seulement," I advised. Thus a young back-street Parisienne was introduced to the joys of blackberrying. Sadly though, too late for the raspberry and wild-strawberry season. Maybe next year, Speccy.
We then ambled back down the dusty track to our sleepy village where my speccy little chum disappeared off for lunch on his squeaky little bike with a gap-toothed grin and a quick wave of a purple hand. And I don't think his grandparents, Alain and Colette, were unduly alarmed by his absence. There weren't any police awaiting our return either, even though I'm sure someone in the village would have seen wee Christophe walking off into the distance with a man. Nothing to worry about there. He's with l'ecossais. The one that stops Christian fighting when he's had a few. He's okay. He's one of us.
Aye, the hamlet will certainly be a much quieter place without the kids and swallows. And we'll soon be back to normal with young Hadrien being the only bairn in the village. It's a frightening thought.
Ah well, au revoir Speccy and all your noisy mates. Maybe see ya next summer.
Think of me when you're picking those berries.
A Winters's Harvest
1 week ago