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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.
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’!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
I’m back, I’m back! Well, actually I’ve been back since last Wednesday…but it’s been full on. We hit the ground running. So much has happened, with so much to tell that I’ve been stalling in the starting; consequently everything has backed-up into enormous unwieldy stacks. (I have a great analogy, but do forgive its bucolic nature. Sometimes when a freshly calved cow first comes into milk her udder becomes severely engorged. The pressure is so great it prevents the milk from flowing through the teat freely; the newborn calf finds it difficult to get milk out so stops sucking, exacerbating the problem. One needs to completely strip the affected quarters out, release the pressure, relax the valves and start again…so, that’s where I am – just about to begin the stripping out and trying to establish a smooth seamless written flow!)
Leaving the farm at any time of year is difficult, but during the second half of June it’s particularly so as I’m generally gearing up for haylage and hay making. Following the last two diabolical wet weather years I’m even more jittery than usual. Ideally I need to make enough good quality first-cut haylage before the end of June to allow sufficient growth for a second cut at the end of August. So before we left I’d had long searching talks with my contractors, and it was decided that they would go ahead with haylaging if the weather set fair.
We left chaotically early in the morning. Matt and Clare, our friends, had kindly moved in to look after the farmhouse, dogs and stock.
The journey to France was as uneventful as any journey could be herding a large gaggle of adults and children. Arrived at Avignon, we successfully sorted out hire cars and proceeded to our B & B (a large beautifully dishevelled bastide) with the aid of God (our purposely acquired satnav). It was stunningly hot, 36C or so the car said, and humid…new babies, new mums and super-hyped three year olds were feeling the strain.
The Madam de la domaine could speak not a stitch of English but ‘understood’ my expressive gesticulating and stuttering franglaise. This prompted her to talk to me fast and in great depth about all things. I gathered we were short of a room…but she could possibly help out, otherwise we were going to have to double-up in the apartment. Swift instructions were given as to where the supermarche was, the boulangerie, the butcher, the gasoline, the candlestick maker; everything in fact we could wish for.
I returned to the family who were exploring our apartment. From the shady gravelled courtyard a pair of imposing french doors led into a large spacious living area where an enormous covered pool table acted as a multi-use surface for everything from cooking, eating, sorting, storing to baby changing…leading off this were the bedrooms, architecturally intriguing but unfortunately for us Anglo-Saxons completely dark and windowless! We came to the conclusion that this whole area under the main bastide must have once served as a store or kitchens. From the courtyard we looked down over lawns to an impressive soft-yellow sandstone surround swimming pool. The gardens were bordered by ripe barely fields bleached to wheaten paleness, with a small wooded hill beyond. To the left we had the most stunning views of St Victoire, Cezanne’s mountain, ever-changing from the softest dove grey through washed-out blues into rose quartz pink, magenta and deep palettes of purple.
Robert, Olly and I made our way to the shops indicated by Madame to find food for supper and stock up on basics. Still hot even though it was early evening, roads and buildings shimmered, the sound of cicadas swelled as we passed roadside trees and bushes, the smell of sun-baked earth and astringent herbs filled our nostrils. It was so different, so very different from the damp, tangled greenness of Locks Park.
…I’m going to be leaving you on cliff-hangers quite a lot in the next couple of weeks as the house fills prior to Ben and Berengere’s wedding in mid June and when we, lock stock and barrel, decamp to Marseille for their nuptials and a week of celebrations. Arrangements for leaving the farm, contingency plans in case of emergencies, feeding and managing a family of between nine and thirteen and the general hurly-burly of farm and household are swallowing-up most of my time and energy.
I just wanted to thank all you loyal followers and supporters who read my posts regularly and ask for your understanding if I’m unable to visit and comment on your blogs during the next few weeks. As soon as my life returns to normal so will my routine.
Every Easter Sunday we hold an egg competition. Will is master egghead who devises new ingenious eggcentric challenges.
Over the years we’ve had ‘How to Get an Egg Across a Lake ( using air power)’, ‘Keeping an Egg in the Air the longest’, ‘How Far can you Splatter an Egg’…how to cook an egg, how to dissemble an egg, egg creations, egg songs, egg poetry, egg music. Around fifteen to sixteen years of eggsperiences.
This year the challenge was ‘The Most Remarkable Thing You Can Do with an Egg’. Entries were slow starting but by Saturday they were pouring in from across the world.
Judging was hard. Bribes of unmentionable proportions were bandied across continents. In the end the judge decided to categorise the entrants (those bribes worked) and was happy to award a first prize to all competitors!
There are too many to upload. A big thank you to all participants, judges and competition inventors!
Mary asked how I now managed to tweet. After all, she commented, you’re running a farm, a business, and holding a blog together. This week, Mary, believe me, it’s been challenging!
I returned from Marseille with a French cold – very different, my body maintained, from an English one – more refined, targeted, kind of specific.
And as I arrived home on Monday evening one of the cows, Wildcat, began to calve. It was a straight forward calving, with no problems, but it meant we didn’t get to bed until well after midnight.
I’ve also had a hot line to New Zealand. Joe, my son, and his partner Jess were waiting for their baby to be born – she was two weeks late. Jess, as you can imagine, was almost at her wits end. Every minute over one’s due date seems an eternity, so two weeks must seem interminable.
A small problem had arisen with Jemima’s calf (born whilst I was away) who developed an infected navel and needed daily treatment with antibiotics.
My last parcel of fat lambs had been procured by an organic co-operative and were due to go on either Tuesday or Wednesday. At present there’s a shortage of organic lamb, and prices are excellent, but selling this way when it is not my norm involves a fair amount of organisation – entailing paperwork, transport arrangements and bellying-out. This last involves shearing the tummy and crutch area – a doddle for an experienced shearer but a little more testing for a novice like me.
A group of friends – the erstwhile ‘Pie-nighters’ were convening here for a meal on Wednesday evening. It also happened to be the evening Jess at long last went into labour. Between absorbing and challenging debate and calls to the other side of the world I eventually got to bed in the small hours with the wonderful news that Jess had produced a beautiful baby girl !
The next day I had to be away early to complete the last legal rigmarole on my mother’s estate so probate could be granted.
This brought us to Friday and a household full of family for the Easter weekend. Our new puppy was due to arrive on Monday – but amid cries of ‘Oh, no. We won’t have time to get to know her. We’ve got to go back on Monday!’ I arranged to pick her up on Friday afternoon…little did I know that in true bank holiday style our kitchen tap would decide to give up the ghost and regurgitate a fountain of hot water and my trusted washing machine gasped its last breath…so Mary, you hit the nail on the head, this week’s been a bit of a struggle!
Puppy post tomorrow!
On Wednesday we went to a funeral far away in Carmarthenshire. It was the funeral of a friend of my mother’s, a very good friend; she died last Thursday from complications following a fall on Boxing Day.
Morna, my mum, and Marjory always joked that they had some kind of telepathic communication. If one phoned the other always swore that she had her hand on the phone ready to dial the other’s number. Dates for visits or jaunts pencilled in diaries were often similarly mirrored. Far too many incidences to just be coincidences, I remember them saying!
Our families met and became firm friends when we all lived in Singapore. We children, their four sons and I, shared summer and Christmas holiday together. During those years we had enormous fun, and, as we teetered on the brink of childhood and adolescence, the spark of an innocent romance blossomed between me and one of the boys, an experience both sweetly delicious and excruciatingly embarrassing. Eventually we all left Singapore, grew up and drifted apart, our lives taking different direction. But we still kept up with occasional news of each other through our mothers, whose friendship and contact continued.
I shouldn’t, therefore, have been too surprised when I received a call from David, one of Marjory’s sons, last Friday. Shattered, he told me of Marjory’s fall and subsequent death. The timing and similarity to my mother’s was hard to miss – just another of those coincidences.
Morna isn’t doing well at the moment. She’s all but given up eating, disappearing into her own vivid memory world. It seems our interruptions, when trying to persuade her to eat or drink, to change her and to move her or to encourage her to walk, painfully shock her into an unwelcome waking nightmare, bringing her face to face with her distorted, wrecked body. When she escapes she is – I think, I believe – once again happy, active and healthy, she can’t see what all the fuss is about. And I am in both her worlds – she knows me, her eyes seek mine, she talks to me and of me. But she’s diminishing in front of my eyes. This is so hard…
And so we went to the funeral to celebrate the long friendship of these two women, one still teetering on the brink of life, to share joint memories and to renew old friendships. Out of our combined bewilderment and heartache we reunited and found the warmth and fun we shared as children, almost forty years on.