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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!

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 front of the bastide where we were staying...our apartment was down on the left

the front of the bastide where we were staying...our apartment was down on the left

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.

our apartment at the domain de vallbrillant

our apartment at the domain de vallbrillant

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.

St Victoire - the intense brightness has unfortuneately killed the photo somewhat

St Victoire - the intense brightness has unfortuneately killed the photo somewhat

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.

just coming into flower the rare lesser butterfly orchid hannaborough moor.

just coming into flower the rare lesser butterfly orchid hannaborough moor.

Gwen with her new calf observing Ginny's behaviour. It's such a commical photo!

Gwen with her new calf observing Ginny's behaviour. It's such a commical photo!

As my son’s family turned up, jet-lagged and travel-worn from New Zealand with brand new baby Isla and electric three year old Theo, so did the broken-washing-machine-fix-it-man and, on cue, my last very expectant calving cow started bawling in the field. Though desperately wanting to drink in and savour every minute of their arrival the intensity of the moment was shoved to one side as we manhandled broken washing machine into the van (it wasn’t an easy mend) followed by a hasty kiss and hug and a sprint down the lane to bawling cow.

Bawling cow, Ginny, assured us she’d had her calf and it was now lost.

“That cow hasn’t calved” I said

“LOST,” she bellowed “lost.”

It’s in the brambles, over there! NO, no, no, in the ditch, drowning in the DITCH. GET IT OUT NOW! Silly, silly, it ‘s stuck in that rush clump. No not there, it had squiggled through the fencing and was bouncing about two fields away. GET MY CALF.

We searched, we waded, we crawled, we prodded, we poked. Just in case…

“That cow hasn’t calved” I said

“Yes I jolly well have” she shouted “AND I’ve lost it”

We eventually left her. We dashed back up the lane to fling arms around the travellers and to settle them into home. We answered a million and one questions about tractors, bobcats, diggers and chainsaws (Theo), welcomed gorgeous tiny baby Isla into the world and shared a garbled eighteen months of news and scandal with Joe and Jess. The cow continued irrepressibly in the background.

“I’ll go check on her quickly.” And off I trotted down the lane. She hadn’t progressed much and a small piece of deflated membrain hung limply from her vulva. I couldn’t feel what was going on so decided to move her up to the cow palace. Moving a cow out of a field and up a lane away from her group and her ‘new-born-calf’ (she was convinced) is not easy. But patience and coercion works in the end, if very slowly…

Little by little I cajoled her out of the field and up the lane to the shed where Robert helped me get her into a pen.

Now I had her in a small enough space to do an internal examination. I was expecting a malpresentation, a dead calf or something that was grossly deformed. Holding my breath I found a fore leg…and then another, groped around and felt the nose and mouth – all fine and dandy. It must be dead…I pinched the pastern…it moved!

I looked up at Robert “It’s alive!” I beamed “It’s alive, though quite a size.” Fiddling about inside I said “I’m going to put the ropes on. She’s not pushing very vigorously either. Let’s go for it. Get it out. It’s getting late too.”

I didn’t have too much trouble attaching the ropes as she wasn’t bearing down hard…and then we began pulling.

The stimulation started much better contraction too. She lay down and with every contraction we eased the calf forward. Luckily she’s an older cow with a roomy pelvic opening, this was one big fellow. We eased the head out and then with a final tremendous heave from Ginny the shoulders and body followed.

He was fine lad. Ginormous and perfect. I cleaned the mucus away from his airways and after a couple of laboured gulps he began a steady rhythmic breathing. Ginny was up within a couple of seconds licking him enthusiastically and lowing softly. After an hour or so I went to help him onto the teat so I would know he’d had a good belly full of colostrum before I went to bed.

Tomorrow I hoped for an uneventful, enjoyable, long awaited catch up day with my family. But….

..and Willow! Watching from a safe distance.

..and Willow! Watching from a safe distance.

Hong Kong junks

Hong Kong junks

I stood by a table covered in name tags, hundreds of them. People were being greeted, ticked off the list and handed a tag. My eyes flicked from face to name and back to face. Did I know them? Was this beautiful well-groomed woman the little girl I played with on the climbing frame, all grazed knees and scraped elbows? And could that possibly be the frustratingly cocky boy I desperately wanted to beat in the under fives swimming heats and never could; now overweight,  purple faced and sweating?

I felt surreal. A cine film of my early childhood was flickering disjointedly through my head. I jumped as someone screeched and threw their arms around me.
“Oh, it’s you! How fabulous. Look at you, just look at you. Would I recognise you? Hell…would I recognise you? How could I not! You haven’t changed”

I stood back and stared at this stranger, smiling inanely, frantically trying to fast forward the cine film in my head to give me a clue as to who she was. I was just on the verge of responding with some absurd remark, when she dropped her arms looked at my face quizzically, squinted at the PAULA THOMSON tag pinned to my chest and said “Actually, I don’t think I do know you, do I? You weren’t at the Island School were you?”

“Sorry, no I wasn’t. It must have been a different me. But maybe…” I trailed off, her attention was already elsewhere “DAHling…dahling…” she shrieked as she bore down on another unsuspecting body.

The throng grew and throbbed. I went back to looking at the arrivals and turned to one of the organisers.
“You don’t know if Amanda’s arrived do you? That’s Amanda Rice that was.”

One of the few positive things about a parent dying is renewed contacts. Having lived and worked abroad my parents and I had large and varied group of friends and acquaintances and some of these old connections were revived when my mother died.

So that’s how I came to be at a Hong Kong kids’ reunion in the Royal China Restaurant, Queensway, London. Amanda (my best friend in Hong Kong from the age of four to eight) had been in contact when she heard about my mum’s death. Unable to get to the funeral because of the snow, she suggested I come to the reunion.

Not one for reunions I nevertheless decided to go. The circumstances made me nostalgic I guess, and I wanted to see Amanda again. Our mothers  had been close friends for many, many years and I had heard snippets of Amanda’s life through their friendship.  I hadn’t seen Amanda since I was eight.

It was bizarre. Ghost names and echoes of familiar features jostled around me. Of course it was their parents in them I was recognising. It was as if one generation had jumped to the next in an instant. Brain bending, reality contorting. You find yourself double-taking, back-tracking and fast forwarding all at the same time.

Back at the welcome table I found myself focusing on a small attractive fair-haired woman with a smile and eyes that certainly looked familiar…
“Amanda? Amanda!” I called and waved. She looked up “Paula!”

How peculiar. We had the majority of our lives to catch up on. Where do you  begin? We began where we last left off…

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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