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One of my young (sixteen month old) heifers had developed warts.

This in itself is not a particular problem. Warts are a fairly common occurrence in cattle, particularly in stock under two years old, and are caused by the skin’s reaction to an infection with papova virus (six different papova viruses have been identified, though the majority of cases are caused by one of two types). These warts can crop up anywhere on the animal’s body though most frequently around the head and neck area; less common but more worrying sites are the teats, scrotum and penis. Warts can grow fast and vary greatly in shape and size from almost flat pea-sized lumps to large orange-sized balls on stalks.

bovine warts around the head of an animal - google images

bovine warts around the head of an animal - google images

My heifer had a few small areas of infection around her muzzle though the worst was a cluster of large nebular sessile (squat) warts on the inside of her hind leg and, horror of horror, a huge, repulsive pedunculate (stalked) brain-like growth hanging off the side of one of her teats. It was the size of a nectarine (but not as juicy!).  Not only was it getting knocked and damaged when she walked, becoming a fly magnet, its sheer size and weight was elongating and deforming her teat.

warts on the udder of a cow - google images

warts on the udder of a cow - google images

Generally warts disappear within six months but in this case something had to be done to the one on her teat so she didn’t suffer permanent damage.

We discussed the options. Cutting it off? Not the best of times to do this; possible excessive bleeding, fly strike and difficult to treat post-operatively in the field. Restricting blood-flow with a ligature? Not ideal, again the problem of fly-strike, but probably the best alternative in the circumstances.

So having decided on the ligature we began to gather up equipment and manpower.

The young stock spend their summer at some rented land a few miles away and though we have a corral where we can gather and load them we don’t have a proper crush. We decided we’d rig up a gate crush and with strong rope, brave men and a little bit of luck we would be able to pin her behind the gate and hopefully immobilise her sufficiently to be able to tie the ligature on.

Robert, Joe, Olly, me and, of course, my right-hand man Theo all piled into the truck, complete with elastrator (castrating tool, just in case I was able to fit a castrating ring over the growth), suitable strong, non-slip string to form the ligature, iodine, salt solution, Spot On (fly deterrent), rope, baler cord and, most important, a bucket of nuts as an incentive and reward.

In no time an admirable gate crush had been constructed. We managed to lure the cattle into the corral in record time with the promise of nuts. Once the cattle were contained it wasn’t too much bother to isolate and crush the heifer concerned behind the gate. So far so good, now the difficult bit. The elastrator was unfortunately far too small. We would only get one attempt with the string ligature…she would kick, she would start forward and she would make it impossible for a second attempt. Robert decided I would become permanently damaged and broken so he would endeavour to tie the ligature. All was ready…Olly on the ropes, me with the nuts and Robert at the business end. In the flash of a moment the heifer lunged upwards and forward in an attempt to escape, landing on top of the gate – but in her violent forward movement against Robert’s pull on the ligature the string had severed the whole gruesome growth! Yes, it was bleeding but not too severely. Settling the heifer down behind the gate, I dressed the wound with iodine and cobwebs (cobwebs are an old remedy used to hasten blood coagulation), fed her a good measure of nuts, treated her with fly deterrent and sent her off into the field.

Then we searched around for the wart, and found it.  What a trophy!  I showed it to all our friends, many of them aren’t speaking to us now. First I kept it in the fridge for easy access until the family rebelled.  Now it’s in the freezer.  I just hope that in a year or two someone doesn’t open the bag, think that looks tasty, and have a good fry up!

roe deer by Courbet

hunting roe deer by Courbet

I draped and fixed a blanket over the foot-well providing the deer with a dark confined space – this I hoped would keep him calm and quiet for the duration of the journey, which was about nine miles.

So I set off, leaving the men of the household looking to the heavens, shaking their heads and tutting. “Ah well, if that’s what she wants. Mad if you ask me.” muttered Olly.

Three miles down the road and the blanket erupted in an explosion with the deer jettisoning himself with force at the windscreen, the window, the whatever. With one arm trying desperately to restrain and calm him whilst the other attempted to bring the truck to a halt I was hugely relieved there wasn’t another vehicle in sight.  Once stopped I thought I might just as well turn back as it was far too dangerous to carry on. However I had to continue up into the village before I could turn. Soothing and calming the deer I settled him on the passenger seat and placed my hand on his head between his ears and emerging antlers and blow-me-down if he didn’t take a deep breath, relax entirely and fall asleep. Tentatively I pulled out on to the road expecting him to explode at any second, but he didn’t…so I took the decision to carry on to the vets.

They must have been looking out for me as no sooner had I turned into the vets than Sally and a couple of nurses piled out to greet the truck. Inching the door open I explained he remained calm only as long as my hand was on his head. Sally gave him the once over “I don’t know Paula. I really don’t. Let me go and get someone else for a second opinion.” She returned with Rupert and his son. They hummed and hahed. He could be treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, no problem, but it was the crepitus and his breathing that was causing concern. We decided to give him a chance and called Debbie at the local wildlife sanctuary whose main expertise was looking after owls and small mammals, not deer.

Debbie arrived with her partner and the exchange was made. Sally turned to me “In all honesty, Paula, I don’t think he’ll make the night. What with the shock, the injuries, the travelling…” she tailed off.

“I know” I replied “but at least we’ve given it our best shot.”

“But given all that, it’s been just amazing to work on a live roe deer. He’s so beautiful. His muzzle, extraordinary, fine and very black! Really striking. Thanks for bringing him.”

“My pleasure!” I said somewhat ironically “We’ll keep in touch. Exchange news. And thanks Sally.” I drove off home.

He did survive the night and the following day he began eating! None was more surprised than Sally. For ten days he lived in a dark horse box, recovering from his wounds and regaining his strength. Debbie was careful not to disturb or visit him too often so he wouldn’t become familiarised with humans. After ten days we thought the time had come to release him. Unfortunately the day of his release coincided with the bringing in of our haylage bales so all was not quiet and peaceful on the farm.  I’d chosen Flower Field for his release – small, well bounded by thick hedges – inbetween the copse and the route he was using when attacked. I waited with camera for the moment the door of the horse box was opened…but it was all rather anti-climatic. He had to be lifted out and with that he scuttled into the brambled hedge bank and as far as I could see hunkered down deep in the undergrowth. No leaps to freedom there! I expected he would stay the day there possibly moving away to his territory at nightfall – or maybe he just wouldn’t survive.

Later that afternoon Jess and Theo were taking their last goodbye walk around the farm. They were leaving the following morning. Whilst walking in Dillings the heavens opened and they ran across to Ravens Copse for shelter. Unable to find a way in they walked a little way down the headland looking for a less brambly entrance when Jess saw two ears twitching in the long grass.  “I grasped Theo’s hand” she said “and put my fingers to his lips…very slowly we walked a little closer. He was facing away from us, but yes, it was the deer, resting up in the grass. We gave him a wide berth; we didn’t want to disturb him. But he knew we were there, his ears were semaphoring.”

So he had already made the half mile trek back to the edge of Ravens Copse, the place he was making for on the day of his accident. I’ve searched, of course, the hedges and banks around the copse and the copse itself for signs of his demise, but have found nothing…so perhaps he’s once again running wild and free.

the roe deer buck in the foot-well of the truck

injured roe deer buck in the foot-well of the truck - you can see a few of the puncture wounds on his neck

“It’s a wee deer” I said “a roe deer. It’s hurt. A bit. Quite a bit.” Theo continued to stare nonplussed. “We need to get Olly to bring the truck down, I think” the deer kicked violently and let out another of its horrendous screeches; I tottered, slipped-slithered and splashed in the muddy water maintaining an iron-like grip on the deer…calmly. Soaking wet, covered head-to-toe in mud and blood, I tried smiling serenely, reassuringly, at Theo who asked thoughtfully “Do you have a farm, nanu?”

“Yes, yes I do. Shall we call Olly together?” No sooner had the words left my mouth when there was an explosion through the bushes and Olly appeared “What the hell do you think you’re doing down there! I thought something awful had happened to you. Look! I’ve run down the lane and over the field in my flipflops.”

“Um, well. LOOK, a roe deer! It’s been injured by the dogs. I need the truck. Will you bring it down? Oh and I can’t get out. Can you help me? Please?”

“Christ sake mum, let it go.” He expostulated.

“ Can’t. It’s neck’s injured. It’s got no balance.  I think there could be damage to its windpipe. I need to check it over. Look could you somehow get me out of here?”

“Is nanu playing. Is she naughty?” asked Theo…Olly takes no notice, he’s furious “What are you going to do? Have a pet deer, play wildlife games? God! Just let it go, will you. It’ll either live or die. You’re just stressing it more, and you’ll definitely kill it!”

“No” I said firmly “I need to check it out, treat its wounds. Phone the RSPCA, vets…I don’t know. I need to get out. Please. Can you help me?” He relented and somehow we managed, me holding onto the deer with grim death, Olly anchoring himself on a tree and gripping me with grim death.  Pulling, heaving and slipping he managed to lever me with the deer in my arms up the steep tangled, muddy bank. Olly marched off to get the truck, muttering to himself, not a happy chap.

I sat on a tree stump clasping the deer – he was calmer now, with only occasional kicks and struggles. I could begin to assess the damage better. Theo, standing back, was observing everything with solemn seriousness.

“Wig-worm, do you want to look at him. He’s so pretty. Look at his nose. Look at his eyes. You can touch him if you want.”

He inched closer “You have a farm, nanu, and a truck?” he asked.

“Yeh, and now a deer.”

“A deer? What’s a deer?”

“Different from a cow. Different from a sheep. A bit more like a goat, but it’s wild.” I explained. Theo inched forward to touch it “Very slowly, very, very slowly and gently” I soothed “Not his face. Come slowly from behind. Yes, yes, that’s it.”

Theo put out a fat hand and tentatively touched the deer’s haunch “That blood, nanu?” he whispered.

“Yes, he’s been hurt. But we’ll make him better. Would you like to help?” In the background I heard Olly furiously revving up the truck. “We’ll take him up to the farm and then maybe to the doctor?”

“Nanu?”

“Yes?”

“I’m concentrating. Be quiet.” He whispered, gently stroking the deer.

And so Joes found us. “Oh man! Look at that!” he exclaimed “Hey Squiggs, you okay? Man! I wish I had a camera!” he said taking us in; dishevelled muddied-bloodied mother holding petrified deer which his son was tentatively touching “What happened?”

I began the explanation as Olly roared into the field with the truck. “Squiggs, you coming back with me?” asked Joes

“No! I’m going with nanu.”

“It’s okay, It’s fine. He’ll be fine.” I said over my shoulder to Joe as I carried the deer towards the truck “Hey Squiggs, come with me. Come on. Look, you sit here.” I said indicating the dickie-seat behind the passenger’s.

“That’ll be good, nanu. That’ll be ‘portant. I’m helping you.” He replied as he scrambled on board.

With Olly’s irritable help I managed to ease myself into the passenger seat whilst still maintaining my original grasp on the deer.

“You’re mad, mum.” Olly threw at me as he closed the door and we started off across the field back to the farmhouse “You’re crazy.”

Arriving back at the farm I was able to extricate myself from the deer and settle him on a towel in the foot-well. He was young, last year’s kid, most probably he’d just been seen off by his mother to make room for this year’s offspring which would account for the dogs’ success in hunting him. Apart from the deep puncture wounds and a gash, which I cleaned, he was okay, albeit in shock.  No broken bones, healthy before this encounter, carrying enough weight.  But his breathing worried me, and he had air bubbles under the skin (subcutaneous emphysema or crepitus) which could mean his thorax had been punctured. Would he survive? I wasn’t sure, shock alone can kill. But I wanted to give him a chance.  I phoned my vets.

Sally said to bring him over. There wasn’t a RSPCA centre but there was a Wildlife Sanctuary which had started up locally. “Anyhow” said Sally “I’ve never had the chance to handle and study a live roe deer. Will you manage?”

“I think so.”…..

calmer, though in shock and ready to drive to the vets

calmer, though in shock and ready to drive to the vets

And when we landed back at the farm? We collapsed, gasping deep breaths of apparent tranquil Englishness greenness; an illusion nevertheless! In fact the countryside thrummed with industry as every farm for miles around unwaveringly and single-mindedly mowed, turned, raked and baled their forage fields in a race to make silage, haylage or hay. Unsurprisingly this year everybody was determined to beat the weather!

I was overcome. My neighbours and contractors had done me proud. Knowing my anxiety at being away they’d come in over the weekend and despite being under huge pressure themselves had worked unrelentingly to finish my harvest!  I couldn’t find the words to thank them enough. What wonderful neighbours. This was just the perfect homecoming; hundreds of bales of quality June haylage for the stock this winter and the opportunity to take a second-cut of ‘rocket-fuel’ as we’ve nicknamed it (the second-cut in organic systems is bursting with clovers, proteins and sugars; soft and palatable it’s perfect for weaning calves and freshly calved cows).

I was ecstatic! All that was left to do was to carry in the bales. This was something that could happily wait a few days.

The next day I was off to admire the fields and bales with Theo, who was ever so serious and involved in all this real ‘portant farming stuff, when there was a kafuffle in the hedge alongside the lane “Oh! What’s that Nanu?” asked Theo

“I expect it’s just the dogs after rabbits…or” as there was a sudden increase in the excitement “…it could just be a fox.”

“A fox, Nanu? A fox? In there?” Asked Squiggs aka Theo.

“Umm yes. Ness and Skye are pretty chasey after foxes. It’s because they are sheepdogs, you see.”

“Oh” said Squiggs thoughtfully “Nanu, are you sure?”

“Not sure, sure. But…” I trailed off – the dogs had started up an excited hunting yelp along the side of Rushy field. Followed by one of the most chilling screams I’d ever heard.

“Run Wiggle, run, run, run with me” I got hold of his hand and ran as fast as his legs would carry him along the lane. We reached Rushy Field gate. The screaming and yelping had reached a crescendo.

“Listen Wiggs – this is very very ‘portant. I have to run as fast as I can over there and I need you to follow me, really follow me. You mustn’t go away. Please. You must follow.” I bent down to him and put my hands on his shoulders “You’ll do that won’t you. Cos you’re my best boy?”

He looked a bit askance. I could see him sizing up the alternatives. The noise was frightening. But it could be exciting. He could go on up the lane to the bales. But maybe there was something in following Nanu. Looking at me solemnly, he nodded.

“Good boy! I’m off now.” And with that I pelted across the field whistling and calling to the dogs having no idea what I would find. Breathless I reached the other side and thank god saw Theo following. Ness suddenly erupted out of the hedge, her mouth wide and frothing, tongue lolling, wet, muddy and panting as if her heart would pop. She flung herself at my feet. Skye, just as run-out emerged higher up the field. I was about to turn and call out to Theo that all was well when I heard a loud splashing in the stream.

“Oh no” I thought and fought my way through a tangle of bramble, thorny blackthorn and low slung willow branches “Oh no” I muttered as I pushed through to the edge of the steep stream bank. A bloodcurdling scream filled my ears and there was a young roe deer buck, desperately scrabbling to get out of a deep pool of muddy water. His eyes enormous with fear, his nostrils dilated, breath jerked out of him in jagged rasping wheezes. He caught a glimpse of me uttered a spine-chilling screech, floundered and sunk under the muddy, blood-stained water.

I jumped in, scrambled to get hold of him, stop him from going under. Terrified and gasping for breath he screamed and kicked at me frantically with fear-strengthened legs and hooves as somehow I managed to put my arms around him. Then I saw. His neck, lolling helplessly to one side, puncture wounds stippling its circumference trickling trails of watery blood. An open gash along one shoulder. He screamed again and quietened momentarily in my arms.

“Nanu, nanu? What you doing?” I looked up and there was a grimy, scratched Theo looking down on us and not at all sure if this was frighteningly serious or a kind of weird Nanu game. “Nanu what is you?” he asked puzzled.

Simultaneously I heard Olly calling “MUM, MUM? What’s happened? Where are you? I’m coming!” and in the background Joe shouting “Theo, Theo! Mum is Theo with you. Mum! Theo! Will you answer? Answer me!”….

wedding day

wedding day

Camille woke at the crack of dawn. “Mamie, Mamie?” she called over the side of her travel cot “Mamie? Daddy?”

“Shush, little one” croaked Pip (Benjamin) groggy with sleep “It’s early. Go to sleep.” Benjamin and Camille had been staying chambre nous for the night

“Mamie? Mamie?” she persisted.

“It’s okay Pip. I’m awake. She can come in with us” I whispered “You see if you can get some more sleep.”

I lifted her warm sleepy-damp, mouse-scented body out of the cot and into our bed.

“You’ll be kicked out now!” muttered Pip

“S’okay” I mumbled from under the giggling bunny jumping bundle.

But he was right, not a wink more sleep was to be had. So dawned the Wedding Day. Bright, breezy and much fresher.

The church service wasn’t till 5pm in afternoon which seemed a lifetime away at 5am that morning. Though time is deceptive, as we all know…

Now we had expanded into the main house there was the option of breakfast. I declined; I would take Camille down to the apartment. And after the wee set-to of the previous evening my feathers were still somewhat ruffled. However Robert, all shiny English brightness, walked into the salle a manger with a smiling Bonjour only to be met with glacial stares from three formidable middle-aged French spinsters and a grimace from a sour looking couple with a young child and baby. So! Monsieur had been between a rock and a hard place when his temper got the better of him the night before, had he? Not excuse enough! Madam, however, did appear quite desolait when she understood the extent of Monsieur’s unreasonable behaviour. We put it down to lack of communication.

The morning was taken up with entertaining/containing over-excited children, last minute arrangements and the arrival of more guests; also the cleaning and decorating of cars with ribbons and the perfecting of our wedding clothes. The bride, who was not allowed to meet with her groom or daughter, popped in before her hair do and later on to collect her dress which I had hidden in our room…unbeknown to the bridegroom. After a hasty lunch a tired, nervous groom and whizzing daughter retired to our room for a siesta.

2.45pm and Robert was stressing. “We have to leave at four. How long will it take you to shower and change?” pacing the courtyard “It’s no good, you’ll have to wake them. Are they using our room to get ready? Who’s dressing Camille? You or Ben? Didn’t Ben say he had to wash her hair too?”

“It’s alright, s’alright” I soothed. “All the showering and washing was done before they went to sleep. It’ll be fine, I’m sure I’ll be ready in time.” With that Ben appeared. I turned to him “Oh hi! Did you manage to sleep a bit?” I asked.

“Strangely I did. And Camille still is. Do you think you could steam my shirt?”

“Sure. I’ll come up now, steam all our clothes and get ready myself once you’re all done.” I turned to Robert “Coming up? Or waiting?”

“I’ll wait till Ben’s finished.” He was still visibly tense.

“Okay.”

the church of Saint-Pons Puyloubier

the church of Saint-Pons Puyloubier

4pm – time to drive to the church of Saint-Pons in Puyloubier, a pretty hill village at the foot of St Victoire. We, in our little hired Citroen, were the designated wedding-mobile for Ben and Camille, and as parking was known to be difficult it was imperative we gave ourselves enough time – after all it’s the bride’s prerogative to be late, not the groom’s party with the feeble excuse of ‘Oh, we couldn’t find a parking space’!

Benjamin and me outside the church - Joe to the left and Will behind him

Benjamin and me outside the church - Joe to the left and Will behind him

All was well.  As we walked towards the small treed square in front of the church we could see people already beginning to gather. Having no idea about the etiquette involved in French church weddings I was eager to see inside the church and meet the priest.

The crowd outside the church swelled. Friends and relatives, French and English. They all clamoured and swirled around us in a multi-shifting kaleidoscope of confused colour, movement and noise. Pip and I escaped into the cool white interior of the church where an unusually beautiful young man came forward to greet us.

“Ah bonjour Benjamin, bonjour. Ce va?” he said warmly clasping Pip’s hand and looking at me questioningly.

“Ma mere, Pere” and turning to me “Mum, this is Father Brice.”

“Oh. Hi. I mean…bonjour, bonjour.” I said, trying not to stare too hard at the not-what-I-expected priest “Bonjour” I beamed, completely tongue-tied in any other French “Enchante…um, enchante..to meet you!”

We were then given a little rehearsal about the coming in, the whys and wherefores, the dos and don’ts. It transpired that after the congregation were seated, first to enter the church arm-in-arm were Benjamin and me, then the four bestmen and four bridesmaids and finally the bride and her father. I also learnt mine was the first reading almost kicking off the service! Nerves were beginning to jangle; I hadn’t expected high profile…luckily the charming priest promised to prompt when necessary.

With astonishing rapidity it was time, we were on!  Down the aisle we walked; what memories, what feelings, more nervous than at my own wedding. The congregation were clapping, calling out, craning their necks while a bank of flashes whizzed and popped around us like exploding fireworks. Having left Pip at the alter I blindly walked to our pew and felt Robert’s reassuring hand “You look beautiful, so beautiful” he murmured. I sunk into him.

walking down the aisle

walking down the aisle

The music changed and there, glowing in a sheath of soft white wild silk, was Berengere and her father Roland.

The rest of the service passed in a dream of readings, responses, music; Theo, Camille and her adorable cousins playing up and down the aisle, amongst the congregation and around the bridal couple; an unforgettable moment when Theo, the ring bearer, turned to the congregation and with both rings pushed loosely onto his fingers said solemnly “Look! Very ‘portant work. I’m very, very ‘portant.’  And sharply exited right! So it’s only now as I come to write this that I have read and taken in the order of service!

Berengere, Camille and Benjamin outside the church

Berengere, Camille and Benjamin outside the church

Suddenly it was all over. There we were outside the church throwing lavender (from Provence) and rose petals (from Locks Park) over the happy couple. Photos, chatter, excitement and bon viveur and we were on our way, with an excited, but fairly tired Camille, to the Bastide De Puget for the reception.

life in Provence!

life in Provence!

A pause in ‘a week in Provence’ instalments for me to remember my mum. Today is her birthday.

Morna - twinkling on her 86th birthday last year

Morna - twinkling on her 86th birthday last year

Just after she died I was full of good intentions. I thought I would pop down to her home every now and then. Keep in contact with all the lovely staff and residents I’d become close to over the last couple of years. In fact when I was clearing out her room the week after her funeral I’d promised Alice, a sweet soul who’d arrived the same week as my mother and with whom I sheared a special bond, that I would see her on her 92nd   birthday in a month’s time.

But I didn’t. I haven’t made a phone call. Haven’t even driven the road.

Once the adrenalin-numbness of those early days after her death and funeral had worn off, a small but persistent compartment in my mind has continued to run snap-shot vignettes of her life at Springhouse. Very ordinary. Very mundane. Nothing spectacular or sentimental. But every time I went to make that call or plan a visit something would stop me. I wasn’t yet able to fully accept her death.

Until today. For the first time since she died I feel tears pricking the lids of my eyes when I think of her. Actually I believe it began during Benjamin and Berengere’s wedding service. Out of the blue I heard the priest mention ‘Morna Thomson’. Through my haze of wedding nerves, emotions and spoken French I realised he was asking the congregation to remember those who had recently died and could not be there. Unexpectedly tears welled.

This morning I made that phone call to Springhouse. I spoke to Carol who was with me when Morna died. Perhaps I’ll manage to get in the car and drive there for tea this afternoon. And, with the staff and residents, remember her last year’s happy birthday.

Weddings, marriages, nuptials. Celebrations, festivities, partying. Three days of connubial revelry!

In France you’re required to be officially married in the Mairie (town hall) before the church ceremony. Benjamin and Berengere’s civil wedding was to take place in the Marseille Mairie at 2pm.  “Marseille” murmured Robert “Marseille!” he exclaimed. I could see him thinking…‘A convoy. Of cars. Of us. And young children. On an hour’s drive. Through Marseille! Oh god…’

Friday was hot. Very hot and humid. Even Madam de la bastide was ooh-la-la-ing and flicking her wrist at the heavy wilting heat of the morning. To add to the discomfort our apartment had become overrun by a million unwanted visitors. Flies. Circling, bizzing, fizzing, bumping, crawling and invading absolutely everything; eyes, ears, mouths, skin, all morsel of organic matter no matter how minute, any drink and every surface. Thwacking and flapping  ineffectually,  someone was eventually sent off to find citronella candles and fly traps as the rest set about trying to feed, dress and calm children, babies, fraught men and women (‘where’s my tie/cufflinks/pants/socks?’ ‘do these shorts pass for smart-casual?’ ‘oh no! my dress’s covered in fly crap!’ ‘it’s too damn hot for a jacket. what am I going to wear now?’ ‘I just want to wear flipflops. my feet won’t do shoes.’ ‘my make-up, my make-up…it’s all melted!’) all exhausted and sweaty (sorry, glowing), ready for the off.

That same evening we had arranged an impromptu get together for all visiting family, best men and close friends. The number was growing alarmingly. Coming up trumps, Janet and Chris, very good friends not attending the civil marriage, happily volunteered to collect and prepare provisions to feed the swelling hoards, so leaving us free to enjoy the hospitality of Martine and Roland, Berengere’s parents, after the ceremony.

1.30pm and we were miraculously ready! Will was the chosen one; he would head the convoy due to his intimate association with God (satnav). We thanked heaven, too, for car aircon. As the journey progress the cool calm of our insular interiors soothed and de-stressed us. We managed the alarmingly individual driving of Marseille with surprising aplomb, remarkably found enough parking spaces within 400metres of the Mairie, only receiving a jittery “Are you here yet?” call from the anxious bridegroom as we were decanting ourselves onto the pavement.

Ben, Beren and Camille during their Civil wedding

Ben, Beren and Camille during their Civil wedding

The two families gathered on the steps of the Mairie, which is set in serene green grounds of trees, shrubs and water, before being shown into a large airy room with french doors overlooking the gardens and lake. The ceremony was simple and informal; small children playing hide n’ seek amongst the guests or staring intrigued by the ritual questions and answers. It was soon over and we decamped into the grounds for photos before returning to the Ize family home where we’d been invited for champagne, tea, swimming and, of course, fiercely competitive matches of petanque (boules) between French and British.

On our return journey we negotiated the suburbs of Marseille without a hitch returning to Valbrillant by early evening. Benjamin was to follow with Camille a little later.

Janet and Chris had excelled themselves – the central pool table groaned with plates of food topped with makeshift paper hats against the unrelenting flies; cold rosti chicken and guinea fowl, bowls of mixed leaves, tomato, bean and carrot salads, new potatoes, pizzas, bruschettas and brochettes, cheeses, olives and bread. Folk soon started arriving.

Madam hurried towards me looking anxious and harried. Le monsieur de la bastide, she informed me, had decided to close the security gates. These did not work like clockwork. After the code had been punched in a little series of stops and starts were required before the gates would open fully. Proceeding too quickly would jam the mechanism….This is what I now understand…at the time I only got the gist of her explanations. She also asked if we could keep the noise down as the other guests were slightly ‘formidable’. I assured her I would do my best, we were after all quite a ‘grown-up’ gathering.

At 10.30pm all the lights went out. Will and I mistakenly thought there had been a power cut as thunderstorms had been rumbling about the area. We went to investigate and found the door to the main house locked and barred. Fiddling around with keys and chains we found a switch which turned the lighting on. As we returned the lights went off…we tried again with the same result. The message was clear and loud ‘end of party’.

Guests forced to leave, battled with the gates. It was not an easy departure and monsieur was not amused. As I made my way down from showing Benjamin and Camille the bedroom they was sharing with us in the main house I was met with the frightening spectre of a furious and threatening monsieur; half naked and towering above me he fumed, swore and gesticulated with throat cutting gestures at the inappropriateness of celebrating forthcoming marriages in his domaine, an unflattering caricature of Yul Brynner in the King and I and Telly Savalas from Kojak…shocked I apologised profusely to no avail.

Le monsieur’s aggressive attitude left me a bit shaken, nevertheless we eventually all settled down for the night and the big day tomorrow…

Until tomorrow!

Until tomorrow!

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

Find our more about CPRE and our views on food and farming at our website, www.cpre.org.uk