The trouble with my Wise Friend is that she has a tendency to encourage me in the pursuit of my whims. If I hadn’t sat across the table from her at work for three and a half years, I might never have ended up living with llamas in the middle of a French nowhere. I have noticed however that she rarely pursues whims of her own. I suspect this is because she is indeed wise.
She, and a reduced cohort of her family, constituted the second instalment of the 2011 series of The Blanchetière Summer Visitors. They travelled here (as they always seem to) on the busiest day of the year on the French road network. My Wise Friend has her off days.
Despite the inauspicious choice of travelling dates, they arrived here only an hour after her text announcing that they would be arriving in twenty minutes. I began to wonder if there was an invisible force field surrounding us that was keeping people away (like the one that so often fills the space between the goal posts of Arsenal’s opponents). More likely, it was another piece of satnav trickery combined with the fact that every weed-riddled lane hereabouts looks exactly like every other weed-riddled lane hereabouts – especially at night.
My Wise Friend and her family have visited us here every summer for the last three years. They know what to expect. And somewhat surprisingly it still hasn’t put them off. Luckily for us, they seem very much to enjoy doing Nothing Much At All.
Mike likes to get hot, running circuits around the weed-riddled lanes, and occasionally engaging in manly projects that involve gaining control over some wild and wayward aspect of nature. But most of the time he seems happy to spend his precious holiday time playing computer games, guitars and devil’s advocate, and waxing lyrical on the many benefits of being a pessimist.
Ella likes to doss around in pyjamas and flip-flops, drinking chocolate milk, feeding llamas and seeking the hard-won love of cats, harvesting vegetables and drinking chocolate milk, doing impressive suppling exercises in the midday sun (she is an excellent gymnast, but a poor judge of timing), drinking chocolate milk and avoiding the Seeing of Other People whenever possible. Oh, and did I mention that she likes drinking chocolate milk?
My Wise Friend, being wise an’all like she is, likes Doing Nothing. Sometimes she Does Nothing in the hot and sunny sunshine. Sometimes she Does Nothing in the blissful cool of the shade. Sometimes she pretends to read whilst actually Doing Nothing. Sometimes she Does Nothing whilst walking round the land with me when I feed the llamas or play with the dogs. She is so impressively accomplished in the holiday art of Doing Nothing, that she doesn’t even interrupt her Doing of Nothing with stupidly unhelpful activities like Thinking About Stuff. Sometimes her Nothing-Doing is accompanied by talking, but on reflection I think she mostly listens, and when she talks she says what I am thinking (or what I ought to be thinking). Which is probably why she is My Wise Friend.
We did take one trip out during their stay, to visit the market at Souvigny (where we recently bought two new additions to our dwindling chicken flock). This time we didn’t buy any animals, despite the exhortations of Ella (who wanted to save every chicken/duck/rabbit/guinea-pig from its tiny cage/horrible life/evil owner), and of My Wise Friend, whose encouragement of my whim to take home one particularly endearing big, brown rabbit (“He could live in the little chicken house, in the chicken pen! He could eat up your mountain of courgettes. Go on…you know you want to”) I managed, on this rare occasion, to resist.
What we did buy was a dozen little lettuce plants (to replace the lettuce seedlings I planted a few weeks ago, which – despite my daily loving care and attention – have inexplicably transmuted into weeds) and four dozen young leeks (destined to become heart-warming soup during the long winter months ahead). Oh, and a ziplock plastic bag of dried tarragon, that kept pretending to be a big stash of cannabis every time someone noticed it lying innocently on the table, and which made the kitchen smell weirdly of mince pies.
And of course, at the end of the morning, we sat outside a café drinking big coffees and small beers, like holiday people do. And of course it rained, and we watched the rain splash down the gap between the awnings onto other holiday-makers, and we watched the market-stall owners dismantling their stalls and battling to fold large sheets of flapping wet canvas with little coordination and lots of good humour. And of course we gave up waiting in the queue for the one little toilet at the back of the café, because we weren’t that desperate, and we could probably find somewhere else to go on the drive back.
And of course that was a Big Mistake, because actually we were that desperate, and there weren’t any toilets anywhere else in the world. And I knew for certain-sure that there wasn’t one at our usual supermarket where we planned to shop on the way home, even though Simon thought there was, so we would have to keep looking until we found something before we stopped to shop. And when we found a squatty street toilet with no lights and a door that wouldn’t lock, My Wise Friend and I managed to relieve our burstingness without slipping our discs or getting our feet wet. And eventually even Princess Ella gave in to the Call of The Bladder, and managed to suppress her gag-reflex long enough to successfully participate (for her Very First Time) in this quaint French tradition.
And of course, when we reached the supermarket, it turned out there was a proper toilet there, with paper and everything, and I couldn’t believe I’d never noticed it before. Luckily, Simon stayed in the car and napped, missing the opportunity for a good gloat, while the rest of us shopped (oh-so-v-e-r-y-s-l-o-w-l-y) for a few essentials, and some gifts for friends that would melt on the way home, and for lashings of chocolate milk.
We never did go swimming in a pretty lake or a refreshing river, or go walking in the Deep Dark Forest. We never did eat out at a charming village restaurant. We never did visit any of the Allier’s one-hundred-and-one beautiful châteaux. We never did, and we probably never will. Because, when it comes down to it, following a trail of ants down the lane, watching the butterflies on the lemon balm, cooling down in the spray from the hose-pipe, and eating endless quantities of home-grown potato salad are every bit as much fun, and can all be done without even changing out of your pyjamas.
And just because I’d hate her to feel left out, here is a picture of My Wise Friend’s oldest daughter, taken on their first visit to us in 2009. Amy is All Grown Up now, with a job-n-boyfriend-n-everythin’. She stayed home so she could look after the house and pets, and send worrying texts to her mother about accidents-at-work and sick guinea-pigs.