I had made a list of topics I wanted to include in this entry. They broadly fell into three categories: Downsizing, Josephine’s surreptitious agenda and guests. But as a result of unforeseen circumstances, my initial plan changed somewhat. Before I elaborate any further I must, for the sake of completeness, first deal with the three original topics. I will be brief.
First and foremost I wanted to sing the praises of downsizing. I’m afraid I’ve become like all recent converts: a tad over zealous. Having shed two thirds of our possessions I am liberated by my lightness of being and my passion for having less has reached fanatical proportions.
Admittedly S saved a lot of the books from my severe culling and they are now here in Provence, to be enjoyed by Josephine’s paying guests, (I’ll come to that in a minute), provided they understand English. But the rest of the London ‘stuff’ has been sold or recycled. I know exactly what we have and I know where it is. I have one cupboard for my clothes. Space is at an all time premium and that means I can only keep what I need. I have no room for what ifs.
Despite my initial reservations the move into our ‘cosy’ shoebox has opened my eyes to all sorts of possibilities. For instance as a result of my slightly over enthusiastic commitment to the principle of downsizing I have stopped cooking altogether. The weekly shop is now a distant memory, a nostalgic episode in my life before I was liberated.
The kitchen cupboards are empty. The marble tops are spotless. There isn’t a single piece of equipment to disturb the mind. I am proud to announce the kitchen is a clutter free zone. No chopping board, no knives, no casseroles, no bowls, no sieves or colanders, no blender. Simply nothing. Only the kettle survived. But only just. S rescued it from the bin. We’ve agreed he can keep it provided he stores it in his cupboard. I’m not sure how long I can maintain this way of life but for now it is proving to be most agreeable.
Moving on to Josephine and her agenda. I have a niggling suspicion she might have started a bed & breakfast business in our absence. I have no concrete evidence, just a hunch. What other explanation can there be for her recent behaviour?
A few weeks ago Dave and Gordon delivered the last consignment from our London home. Once we put the furniture in situ we found that what looked good in London did not necessarily work in France. The light in Provence altered the colour of the wood and the once lovely oak sideboard suddenly appeared very orange.
Taking matters in her own hands, Josephine carried it to the cellar, stripped the varnish and applied a wash to bring it in line with the subtle palette of the house (her words not mine). ‘Voila!’ she said after placing it in the hallway and admiring her handiwork. ‘Maintenant il est mieux pour les invités…’ she muttered to herself.
She then proposed to hang our large gilt mirror to give the entrance the feeling of light and space. ‘Les invités peuvent…’ she started saying but checked herself when I raised an eyebrow.
She was a little miffed when we, by which I mean the registered owners of the house, decided against hanging the mirror altogether because it looked too gaudy. ‘Bloddy ‘ell’ is what she said.
There is a part of me that thinks perhaps this arrangement is for the good. If Josephine is taking bookings and letting out the house at least she is invested in looking after the property. I recognise there is a small ethical problem, but it is only a problem if you make it one. Who is to say that we are not benefitting from this arrangement? That is what I say to myself as I toss and turn in the early hours. The house is loved and cared for in our absence and anyway what can I do about it? I have no doubt in my mind that if we were to go all anglo-saxon and regularize our relationship we would suffer horribly. I try to imagine life without Josephine, suppose we fired her, imagine if we did that…no I’d rather not because the consequences would be dire.
In Provence, I resolved, we ought to live by the Provençal equation: share the fruits of your hard work with the locals or you will not enjoy a single day without broken windows, poisoned wells and rat infestations.
Finally I wanted to take the opportunity to touch on the subject of having guests. This summer I had invited friends to stay and I was curious to see if indeed guests are like fish. But that will have to wait for another time.
Unfortunately, as I have already mentioned, due to unforeseen circumstances, I must now share with you my interaction with the French health system. I ought to explain that I am typing with the middle finger of my left hand, so you will appreciate that the act of typing, once an easy task, has turned into a bit of an ordeal. My right arm is in a plaster cast and is lying idly next to the keyboard. I will need days to complete this entry, as I have to factor in many rest breaks to avoid over stressing my finger. In the meantime I am concerned that some thoughts might peter out and simply vanish into the ether as they wait their turn to be fleshed out into words. So please forgive any gaps in the telling and let me press on, albeit at a snail’s pace.
There is one bit of invaluable advice you ought to commit to memory.
If you are going to fall off your bicycle then for goodness sake do so in the environs of Avignon.
Do not let the ambulance men whisk you off to Arles. That is a no-no, especially if you need the skills of a plastic surgeon to fix your injuries.
You must insist on Avignon. The ambulance men will say it is out of their hands, they take their orders from central command in Marseille, they have to follow the proper procedure and so on and so forth but never mind any of that. Beg them, pull your working arm from its socket, roll off the stretcher and crawl if necessary, do anything to stop them from taking you to the hospital in Arles.
That was the advice of the Parisian doctor who came to the rescue after she saw me flying over the handlebars and landing flat on my face. It was the first day of her holiday and she happened to be driving along the same country lane. She helped me to the side of the road and made me lie still while she called the emergency services.
Soon the quiet country lane developed a traffic jam. Caravans, cars, motorcycles and vans stopped to have a look. I waved to them oblivious of my appearance.
Some covered their open mouths, some muttered ‘mon dieux!’ others assumed I had been hit by a car and asked me if I had seen its registration number. One woman held my hand and stroked my forehead as if I should be dying.
I was talking ten to a dozen and tried to get up to show the onlookers how I fell off my bicycle but the doctor pushed me back and asked me to shut up. The police came, the firemen turned up, I invited everybody round for a paella lunch. I told them all I needed was a glass (or two) of chilled rosé and a plate of paella and all would be well.
Amongst the chaos I suddenly heard Hervé's voice. He was reassuring the public that my behaviour was not a result of concussion or shock. ‘Cest normal, n'inquiétez pas.’
Hervé had been on a viewing with a prospective purchaser at a nearby house and seeing the commotion he too was drawn by curiosity.
He crouched down and whistled lightly. ‘Abi,’ he said, ‘your face it is all mushed up. I have spoken to the doctor, you will be alright. The chirurgien in Avignon is very good, he will make the repair. And they are also saying your arm might be broken.’
‘I suppose I won’t be going home for lunch then…Hervé could you do me a big favour?’
‘Bien sûr, I will try.’
‘I bought some paella from the market today…’
‘Ah! from Rositta? You know she makes the best paella.’
‘Yes, but please could you go to the house and tell my son what has happened and also could you take the paella with you. It’s in the basket…over there.’ I pointed towards my upturned bicycle.
‘Ne bougez pas!’ shouted the doctor. She was directing the ambulance men towards me.
‘Abi you must not move, the doctor is very insisting you stay still.’
En route to the hospital I could not stop talking to the rosy-cheeked medic sitting next to me. I lay on a stretcher, the siren going at full blast and I barely drew breath.
I was euphoric, god only knows why but I felt like the triumphant Caesar, only more so. I felt adored. Perhaps this is not a normal reaction but I can only tell you how I felt and I was high, so very high on love. I have never experienced anything like it before.
At one point I pretended I had suffered amnesia. I didn’t let on until I noticed the blood drain from the young medic’s face. I apologised and tried to give him a hug but he held me back and promised I hadn't upset him.
I rang S who was in New York to reassure him I was absolutely ‘bloody marvellous’.
I sang the refrain from the nursery rhyme ‘Sur le Pont d’Avignon’ many times until the ambulance drew up to the hospital.
The medics couldn’t wait to hand me over to the A &E unit and within minutes I was seen by a nurse.
She sashayed across the room chewing a substantial piece of gum, inspected me then sashayed towards a trolley on the other side of the room, picked up a wad of cotton and then sashayed all the way back again. She started to wipe the dried blood from my chin, chewed some more, blew a bubble and then, perhaps realising it would take a degree of effort to complete the task, she sashayed out of the room.
Things began to happen once the duty doctor came on to the scene. He arranged the x-rays, cleaned me up properly, applied the plaster cast and helped the plastic surgeon with the stitches. They knew each other so they chatted during the procedure. I asked the surgeon, who by the way is a doppelganger for George Clooney, if he could give me a nip and tuck while he was at it. He agreed and suggested a quick go at my bulbous nose. Normally I would have taken offence at such a remark instead I chuckled heartily.
By the end of the twenty-first stitch we were cracking jokes like old friends. Both doctors wanted me to spend the night at the hospital for observation. They explained that I ran a serious risk by going home but they relented after I told them if it was my kismet to die in Provence then I would want to do so amongst the hills of the Alpilles with a belly full of paella.
Two hours later I was back at the house sitting on the terrace, my right arm propped up on a cushion, my left hand holding a very cold glass of rosé. Hervé came to visit and we dined on Rositta’s fare to the decrescendo of the cicadas as the sun slowly disappeared behind my beloved hills.