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It seemed such a good idea at the time. Hey, I said, let’s not go to a pub for lunch to mark the end of our exercise class for the summer. I’ve got a better idea: come to my place.

Now that would have been OK if I had been addressing, say, a couple of friends. But no, I was rashly issuing this invitation to my entire class. That’s all my exercise mat-mates and our Great Leader. Oh yes please, they all said, with an equally rash enthusiasm.

No relaxing lunch in a pub garden, no kitchen staff taking responsibility for feeding 15 of us and clearing up afterwards. Everything is down to me, the daft one who’d opened her mouth and let something oddballish tumble out.

In fact I don’t regret offering to host the lunch. It’s going to be a pleasure to have everyone here as they are all such dear and good friends.

Typically of me, I am going into this great event – and, as I write, it is less than 24 hours until lift-off – with an absolute mountain of tasks to be completed. I know this because I have made lists, dozens of them, which flutter like over-sized confetti out of pockets and bags, off worktops and tables, whenever I move. They instruct me to do such things as ‘Get spare plates from cellar’ and ‘Dust top of grandfather clock’ (some of my friends are tall).

However, totally against the odds, and in a wholly uncharacteristic way, I’ve cleaned the house and done the shopping. My reward should be a long lie-down, for at least six months, but there are lists to be checked, tasks to be ticked off and added to, and panic stations to be manned.

I’ve changed my mind 28 times on what we’re going to eat. Summery stuff, obviously, so no nice comforting (and straightforward) vat of something stewy that would just need a bit of bread for mopping.

Summery food tends to be a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Mine is to be a multiple choice menu – or at least that’s how it appears in my head. Time will tell.

First off the production line was a delicious salad dressing. Get the basics out of the way, I told myself, as I stowed it in the fridge. Unfortunately, within an hour Geoff and I had consumed half of it without thinking when we had salad for lunch.

Already in the fridge were about a dozen avocado pears, irresistibly reduced in price because they were verging on the squidgy side of ripe. It seemed such a good idea to get loads of them,  but now I can’t think of a good reason for having done so. The same with a small van-load of cherry tomatoes, which will almost certainly be mush by morning. They looked so full of promise when I impulsively decided to give them a home.

I’ve made caponata, all dense and delicious, the product of only about six hours’ chopping and stirring, flavouring and praying over. The big question is, will I remember I’ve got it? Will it remain in the fridge, buried under a mountain of avocados and mushy tomatoes, or will I be alert enough to check one of my lists and bring it out for its hour of glory?

Since it’s the only thing on the menu so far that’s ready, there is every chance I will remember it and it will be the star of the show. The only, lonely, star, but a star all of my own making.

What a remarkable thing serendipity is: a chance encounter, a crossing of Fate’s alignments, that puts a zing into life.

Geoff and I were heading home earlier this week from our lovely holiday in southern Brittany. We were feeling deeply imbued with Frenchness after being entrenched as natives for the duration of our stay.

We cranked up our language skills as the days went by so that we were able to have conversations with Monsieur, our landlord, and only lapse into Italian at every third word, as opposed to every second word, as it had been at the start.

The sound of our hands slapping our foreheads in frustration as the horrible realisation dawned of yet another faux pas became all-too familiar.

But we managed, and we made ourselves understood wherever we went – even to the French couple who stopped us on our first evening to ask where they could park their camper van. We gave them a Gallic shrug, a few variations on the useful word “Bouff”, and they soon got the message.

We also conducted exchanges with stall holders in the most fantastic food market, so big and so colourful that I’d like to have just stood and stared for hours. Instead, there were choices to be made and provisions to be bought before the best stalls sold out.

Later, I tortured the most heavenly ingredients into a meal in the one pan on the one hot plate in our kitchen. Haute cuisine it was not.

We felt, on the whole, that we had become as French as we could get without actually wearing a beret and a striped top. It was far too hot for dressing up.

Driving ferry-wards through northern France, we stopped for lunch in a small town we’d identified earlier on the map as being a must-see. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a mustn’t-eat, as one restaurant was full, another closed for the day and a third had gone out of business very recently.

We walked around and a local woman gave us a recommendation, naming a place up a hill in the next village. By the time we got back into the car we had, of course, forgotten her directions, so we just pootled along, not encountering a hill, until we came to a hamlet and saw a small hotel with people sitting outside under shade eating lunch.

This’ll do, we decided, even if it isn’t the one we were recommended. We enjoyed a tasty plât du jour, followed by coffee, at which point we fell into conversation with an English man at the next table. His inquiry if we were Brits did rather break our spell of being convincing natives, albeit natives with Italian accents.

Geoff and I were amazed to discover that this chap, resident in Normandy for the past 16 years (”and I still don’t speak a word of French” – shame on him) was the retired licensee of a pub that we knew well.

We knew many people in common, among them his former partner, and we learnt that he dreams of returning to live on the Jurassic coast.

Financial constraints are unlikely to allow this to happen, meaning he will probably see out his days in Normandy.

He didn’t seem too upset by this prospect, even if, by his own admission, he rarely has a clue of anything going on around him.

Whether or not that’s a good thing, I don’t know, but now I’m back home and the usual depressing news is coming from all angles, I can see it has its attractions.

These words are being written in the sunny garden of an annexe to a large house in France where Geoff and I are staying for a week. Our quarters, and our area of garden, are private and perfect and our kind host has even given us permission to raid his vegetable garden and picture-book apple tree.

How are we getting on with our attempts to fit in and speak the language? In two words, pathetically badly. We gape like goldfish as we struggle for the right words to come out, but we are getting by with a confusing mix of of franglais spoken with Italian pronunciation. It’s certainly novel, and totally baffling for all, particularly us.

From my observations I note that to sound like one of the locals here in southern Brittany it would help if I spoke through a half-closed mouth. Mumbling is good. Looking like a dumbstruck goldfish is not. Also, I must learn to say ’Oui’ as though I’ve been punched in the stomach, so the word ends with a little expulsion of air. I like that so much I’ve been practising it.

On the subject of stomachs, mine has misbehaved abominably since the night before we were due to set off on hols, causing me hours of torment and lost sleep while I was violently sick. (Is there any other way to be sick, I wonder?)

Treat it mean, I decided, so 48 hours later I am still on nil by mouth and hoping that when tomorrow dawns it will find me eager for a restorative diet of good local food.

I do a terrific line in martyrdom, having been brought up not to make a fuss – even when, as a child, my horribly swollen tonsils just about blocked my throat and asphyxiated me, and I fell off horses so often that I was almost permanently nursing something wonky, bruised or broken, but definitely not feeling sorry for myself.

I have allowed a modicum of self-pity to surface when watching Geoff eat his lovely meals while I nurse a glass of water and a sad expression. I’ll get over this. I’ve decided on a galette for my first proper meal back in the world of normal. It’s a sort of buckwheat pancake and I think it will do me very nicely.

Even a bite of one now would be welcome, but I must wait. It doesn’t do to rush these things, and anyway, from other observations of the populace hereabouts, I note that, in spite of all the wonderful local produce available, eating probably doesn’t feature very high on the daily agenda. Everyone is so trim. So French. So stylish.

They are also, mercifully, not given to walking along with mobile phones welded to their hands. They look ahead, they talk with friends, they have expressions on their faces. This is all in total contrast with Italy and the Italians, for whom the mobile phone was invented.

There, you get barged off the pavement by phone-users, so you have to be constantly alert for what’s heading your way. Here, there is no such danger. The only pavement perils we’ve encountered are the countless mounds of dog poo.

So it’s heads up in Italy, heads down in Brittany. Otherwise, and the tummy gripes apart, of course, everything is just wonderful and nous sommes having un fab vacance in the soleil.

Having got such a good handle on the lingo, all we need now is the ability to speak it and not look like total fish out of water.

 

 

 

 

Now that the temperature dial has reset itself to normal I am heading off to an altogether different climate.

At least I hope it will be different. Geoff assures me southern Brittany will be warm, quite possibly hot, so we’ll need to pack accordingly.

Never mind the packing: that’s always a last minute, panicky business. It’s being in France that’s obsessing me.

The pair of us have been on elastic between here and Italy for as long as I can remember. It fits us and we fit Italy. We’ve been to almost every region of the country, we speak the language, we love the food, we understand the way things work (or, too often, don’t work) and we love everything about being immersed in its infectiously lovable madness.

Now it’s time to break the habit. Geoff and I are digging deep into our memories to get the vestiges of our once passably good knowledge of the French language to bob up to the forefront of the heap in our brains marked ‘speaking foreign’ –  and we are going to bury our prejudices about French food.

The prejudices are based on a few unfortunate experiences when passing through France en route (just practising my French) to Italy. They’ve been hard to shake off, but we are ready and willing to give the food a jolly good chance to disprove our misgivings. Rich and creamy, drowned in sauces, loads of meat – all of that is anathema to Geoff and me, so we’ll be looking out for French food lite and I’m sure we’ll enjoy it.

Perhaps our main concern as we try and imagine ourselves in France is that, because it isn’t Italy, it’s out of our comfort zone. It’s different, it’s a challenge for us. It is therefore good for us. A sort of holiday with inbuilt effort.

We will be tested from the very start, as we’ll be staying in the annexe of a house whose owner warns us, in French, that his English is very poor.

I suspect that our conversation will initially be based around discussions about the pen of my aunt before we move seamlessly on to a brief discourse on the state of the Pont d’Avignon.

I might venture to impress him with my rendition of Frère Jacques and Geoff could break into Chansons d’Amour. I think Monsieur will be delighted by the entertainment.

If he even breathes the word Brexit I will fall into a dramatic faint. I cannot imagine the gloom that a discussion on that topic could cast over a holiday, so it won’t be tolerated. I must check before we get there how to say in French, “If you mention Brexit I’ll pass out. So don’t even think about it.”

I am also preparing a few choice words in my best franglais along the lines of “Je suis sorry but je have left mon beach body at home. In fact, je have jamais had one, being un petit peu sur le short side, but nous pouvons gloss over that.”

And then there’s the very important “Je suis hungry but if it’s tout de même with you I’ll pass on le horse meat and stick with une baguette, un kilo de fromage, et un unfeasible amount de vin.

“By the way, while je suis sur le sujet de food, je wouldn’t half mind un de votre best tartes au citron – et un grand one pour Monsieur Geoff. Merci beaucoup.”

I think we should get by with that. I’ll let you know how it goes.

A friend sent a plaintive message to me on Monday. “It’s too hot to eat, drink, sleep, or even think, and going outside is a thing of the past.”

Fancy that, in this country, in June, when so often the only flaming thing about the month is the flaming rain.

I should know. I once chose mid-June for a long-distance walk, only to suffer the wettest week that part of the country had known for a century, and some of the wildest winds ever recorded to drive the rain into my face.

Yet here we are, or here we were when I wrote this, gently melting into helplessness as the sun beats down mercilessly from a sky that looks as though a child has painted it with the only bright blue in its paintbox. Not a cloud in sight, scarcely a breath of wind, even the birdsong seems slightly dulled by the heat haze.

Doing anything more than the absolute minimum, actually even moving the odd limb, has to be planned and thought about so that energy can be conserved. Living in heat such as this is the very stuff of holidays, when merely watching the ice melt in drinks amounts to exercise.

But here, now, we must go about our daily lives. This means dressing accordingly, digging into the back of the wardrobe to give items of clothing their five-yearly airing, and exposing areas of body that don’t usually get out much.

Cars with cauldron-like interiors shock us until the aircon kicks in, only for us to be shocked again when we get out of that delightful cocoon into the stifling hot world.

It’s the reverse experience with buildings that have air-conditioning. The chill is sometimes so fierce and so penetrating that it’s almost a relief to escape for the few seconds it takes before the heat clamps down again.

Anywhere indoors has its own micro-climate of discomfort, if not airless then invariably noisy with the sound of whirring fans or aircon systems. Open windows let in occasional dozy insects but little air that can freshen or cool.

It isn’t surprising we find it difficult to cope with extremes of heat, or extremes of any kind of weather. We enjoy a temperate climate. We have weather in moderation, we have seasons, a bit of this, followed by a bit of that, sometimes a bit mad and mixed up, but usually clearly defined.

If anything extreme is inflicted upon us we flail about helplessly. In extreme cold the country is paralysed by icy roads and we shiver into a kind of paralysis. In extreme heat, the roads melt and so do we.

You don’t have to look far to see how others cope where we fail.

Up the road you have the Scandinavians who merely shrug on another patterned jumper in bad weather and go to one of their sunny islands in good weather.

Down the road, in the Mediterranean countries, they have perfected the art of taking it easy during the heat of summer, which is why we like to go there for our holidays so we can live like they do, turn native in fact.

In winter, when their ‘cold’ tends to equate to what we think of as ‘warm’ over here, they tie on a scarf and warm up their soups.

We might learn a lot from both the hot and the cold brigades, but is it worth it? We’ll be back to temperate normality faster than you can say “So that was our summer, I suppose.”

I realised we’d reached peak politics at Hill Towers when Geoff and I sat down for supper and I looked across the table expecting to see Laura Kuenssberg.

I need to get a life, I thought. I must turn my back on the 24/7 drip-drip newsfeed.

It’s not hard to understand how the BBC’s political editor has become so much a part of our daily lives: after all, she and her politically inclined colleagues on TV – and on radio – are as familiar to us nowadays as our own relatives. Just like family, I’d say, were it not for the fact that I can turn them off.

Meanwhile, their insistent presence means I have little chance to fantasise about how it must feel when the media world isn’t going demented and foaming at the mouth with newsflashes and convoluted statistics.

The post-election mayhem (forgive the unavoidable pun) caused us all to become political pundits as we unravelled the knotted threads on the cat’s cradle of governance. The words ‘Oh, but surely not . . .’ froze on our lips as one unbelievable denouement followed another, occasionally even overlapping to create the new phenomenon of The Great British Double Denouement.

It will pass, Geoff said sagely when I expressed alarm. He’s right, and it will, but there’ll be bumping and boring along the way. Especially the boring.

Some of the bumps come sugar-coated with a little hilarity, the reward for staying engaged with the unfolding events: Theresa May, for example, apparently admitting that she had resented and disliked having to repeat the phrase “strong and stable government” ad nauseam whenever she gave a pre-election speech or answered an interviewer. (Memo to self when I am in a similar position, for that day will surely come: do not slavishly follow the edicts of ‘advisers’. The world doesn’t end if there is a little drift off-message from time to time. Be brave! Be bold! Break free from the shackles of dull old convention!)

Not quite as hilarious but still a little troubling, was a shot of Boris Johnson wearing a fleece (as you do, in June) in fetching shades of lipstick pink and lavender. Trust Boris to provoke another of those ‘Oh. but surely not . . .’ moments.

Trust Diane Abbott to give us one, too, when she suffered what was presumed to be a tactical illness for the purposes of damage limitation to the Labour cause.

In truth, Diane Abbott, she of the mis-speaking and the unreliable memory, inadvertently leavened the whole election campaign, helping to make many of us feel that politicians really can be more human than the robotic autocue-readers we’ve been used to. (Memo to self when I am in a similar position, for that day will surely come: do not allow myself to be set up by bullying interviewers and remember that a smile, a shrug and a swift “I can’t remember but I’ll let you know later” would cut it with most viewers and listeners, especially if followed by “Hey, look at you, reading your questions from a crib sheet!”)

I suppose we might have known that when hustings include such candidates as Mr Fishfinger and the intergalactic space lord, Lord Buckethead, the outcome would be unorthodox. But this unorthodox? Trust Britain to go completely over the top. Now we just have to sit tight and hope we can cope with life on a new battlefield.

Everyone has a hobby, whether it’s running up mountains or watching reality shows on the telly. Somewhere in between those two extremes lie the sort of pastimes that normal mortals can get passionate about, such as jogging and swimming, for the active, or crosswords and Sudoku, for the more sedentary.

Generously placing Geoff in the category of normal mortal, I have to admit it is no great surprise that a lifelong interest in things that go vroom-vroom means his hobby is cars. In particular, classic cars. Not the gleaming, superbly restored glamour vehicles of ye olden dayes, with leather-strapped bonnets and a pedigree to make grown men faint, but something a bit more vroom-vroomish and nippy yet with enough age about it to qualify for the definition of classic.

The interest, or should I say the passion, developed into a longing, and the longing turned into an urgent need the second Geoff spotted a For Sale advert for the car of his more realistic (by which I mean affordable) dreams.

The need was duly met, and he became the owner of a modest, feisty, occasionally moody drain on his finances that causes him both anguish and joy. That sounds like me, for the description certainly fits, although I’m afraid the four-wheeled object of Geoff’s affections is also racy and beautiful. But, get this, she’s inclined to be unreliable.

The vision of Basil Fawlty taking a branch to thrash the hell out of his broken-down car comes to mind every time Geoff tells me of the latest cough-and-splutter debacle that Carlotta has indulged in or the latest requirement for a this or a that to ensure she remains roadworthy.

Once, memorably, the branch-thrashing vision happened 30 miles from home. We were out together for what had started as a beautiful drive but which turned into a silent, tense hour of breath-holding as Geoff nursed Carlotta home at snail’s pace while she hiccupped and disgraced herself and I sank into the passenger footwell, willing the tarmac to open up and swallow me.

In due course, Carlotta was sent to the breakers, no, no, sorry, I mean the hospital for clapped-out classics, where something horrifyingly expensive was done to her and she returned home all smugly and going like a dream again.

Geoff still can’t talk about that day, and we certainly don’t mention the cost of the miracle, but I understand that such incidents are not uncommon in the world in which we now find ourselves.

I remain braced for more, but in the meantime I really enjoy sharing Geoff’s hobby. We tootle happily all over the place, appreciating life in the slow lane and acknowledging the waves of fellow enthusiasts.

On Sunday there were plenty of waves from onlookers, too, when we completed the Hardy Country Classic Tour, which took in 75 miles of glorious countryside. It was the greatest treat to be supporting charity while also revelling in the delight of Dorset in bloom.

Over every hill and through every gateway nature’s many shades of green provided a background for a heady palette of early summer colours.

It was a good day on all levels – even the picnic I’d made for our lunch-stop got a thumbs-up from Geoff – and Carlotta made it there and back without so much as a splutter.

As Geoff frequently reminds me, classic-car owning is a hobby with built-in excitement and surprise. There’s no saying if the car will break down, throw a fit, go like a dream – or even start. You don’t get that sort of thrill with crosswords.