I’ve been growing things. Huge triffids of things are trailing out across the garden. Only yesterday I had to untangle my husband from a tendril or ten,his bicycle bent out of shape, a leaf casting a vast prickling shadow over his frightened Welsh face. Only some of his clothing was saved.
I’ve tried growing things before and I appear to have green fingers when it comes to squash and courgette family type vegetables. There is nothing creamier and more delicious than your own freshly snipped courgette. Do stop sniggering at the back. I love the vast yellow flowers and the umbrella leaves. There is also a magical quality to the speed with which these plants grow. Each morning I emerge into the garden and find that another forest of pumpkin type leaves has sprung up overnight. They sprawl, they cascade.
And I am reminded of a holiday in France where we stayed at a small cottage next door to the owner’s house. Every morning they greeted us with a fresh crop of courgettes and at that point in time I was the only family member who enjoyed eating them. The doorbell would ring and the paternal Roger the Breton would be outside with a broad Gallic smile and some more courgettes.
I fried them. I baked them. I chopped. Sliced. Slivered. Each morning’s delivery also required me to step out in the garden for a few moments with Roger the Breton to discuss the progress of his potatoes and the beauty of his hydrangeas in my Francais Pigeon. He tested me, Roger the Breton, enjoying my linguistic struggles but also being patient and helpful ‘You should hear me speak Breton.’ he quipped with a wry smile.
The couple, his wife Loulou, regarded us with a kindly affection, the young (it was a while ago!) family who had come to nestle for a time beneath their wings. My children loved their poodley french dog Sisou and we were introduced to their grandson. During one conversation my husband informed them that he was a twelve year old submariner and complemented them on the glass of Jus de pomme de terre we had been offered. They exchanged a look and I said in French of course, ‘He’s Welsh’ which was marginally less confusing than being an underage naval officer. If anything they were slightly too attentive. It was often trying after a tiring day of looking around abandoned cod trawlers in the docks at Lorient, to return and have to conduct a stilted and inaccurate conversation between Roger the Breton and Stephen the Galle. Oh, and of course there were more courgettes.
There were tears when we left, probably of mirth at my archaic French farewell but Loulou wrote to us later to let us know how they were getting on and to tell me of Roger the Breton’s recent operation for piles, a word I had to look up in my huge French dictionary.
We had other holidays in France with our kids, including one that involved Puy du Fou, the French equivalent of…well I don’t know. It is, as Moulin Rouge might have it, Spectacular Spectacular a theme park with an historical bent including a colosseum and fighting gladiators and the raising of a Viking ship from a lake. This year they are celebrating their 40th anniversary. Did I mention the eagles? The musketeers? The medieval village? I don’t do it justice here, just google it and go there. Allons-y!
The French are, of course, different from us in mood. If we think they can be a bit arsey I am quite sure we can be too stuffy and stuck up. They have a better outlook on food and leisure and life in general. I marvelled at Roger the Breton’s beautiful garden because it was a mess, nothing sculpted or arranged, it was a wild farm of potatoes and pumpkins with some massive blowsy Hortensia looming at the edges like lace on a tablecloth. The French it seems to me, take time about small things, the details are important.
Thinking about those holidays has made me nostalgic, for the times when our kids were smaller and could be piled into the car for any amount of adventure. They could be dragged up Snowdon or offered the chance to jump in a lake.
More than that, it makes me very uncertain about the future and our impending Brexit. I don’t understand it, I can’t pretend that I do.
I just think about Roger the Breton emerging from his workshop beneath the trailing passionflower, his smiley sun weathered face, his black beret and his overalls, the same softened blue coverups that were worn at all times by my own grandfather in his workshop in Little Hulton , alright, I grant you not as sunkissed but, nevertheless, complete with black felt beret.
Vive. There is no difference.