Picture me, if you will, freshly showered and moisturised, Wearing my super comfortable Calvin Klein loungers, ready and eager to delve into a literary stockpile which has, quite frankly taken weeks of hoarding, stashing and planning – Doomsday prepper style. I have rounded up all of the books next on our reading list for the summer ahead ; I have spent the past two print edition months gathering some of my favourite magazines, having made the all-important, pre-holiday pact with my myself not to even flick though a single one of them. No peeking, not even at the contents page or a measly glance over the editor’s note. ‘I must wait’ I tell myself. I get great joy in pre-holiday reading material planning.
It is 9pm and the holiday house that we are staying in rural France has retired for the day; the garden cleared of toys, bikes, and all signs of long lazy lunching (which always merges in to dinnering) has been washed-up and put away, until the next day. The dog is asleep in his bed – our working cocker Ben has conked-out in his favourite spot – next to the dining table, naturally (just in case a single crumb of old baguette might chance upon dropping from above during the night) and all that can be heard from upstairs (actually, it’s pretty hard not to hear) are the 4 sun-kissed children, snoring their way through their much needed patisserie coma after an epic hike across the Champagne regions finest countryside, much tree climbing, falling from walls; Walking in cow-pat, being grazed by bicycles and each other; Their legs a patchwork of bruises, cuts and insect bites – All signs of a successful day of adventure in the company of Mother Nature. (I secretly like it when their legs look like that – I feel they are having a proper childhood when their limbs look a little worse for wear.)
‘It’s time’ I whisper to my husband. And he knows it too, for it’s time to indulge in one of our favourite pastimes whilst here. ‘It’s reading time baby!’ I say excitedly, barely able to contain myself at the prospect of this simple but dreamy prospect. It’s time to immerse in a swim in lake us. Just us. The feeling of ‘the kids are content so we’re content’, No interruptions. No iPhone to check (because we purposefully switched our roaming off) and no clock watching to worry about.
You see, whilst here, apart from some obligatory annual house maintenance which comes with being the main custodians of my husband’s French Grand-parents 300 year-old house (which, for some reason feels both an absolute privilege and an honour, and way more fun as its on foreign soil) we have absolutely no responsibilities to worry about at all. And there is just something about that freedom that makes this place truly relaxing. Something about that perfect mix of familiarity yet difference from the norm; a home away from home. It is a powerfully magical retreat, and therefore – possibly our favourite place in the whole wide world to come and spend holidays. My husband has been coming here since he was 4 and has a deep connection to the place, and I have been coming for the past 10 years. We got engaged here and have spent many a fabulous time with family and friends … Once (and only once I hasten to add!) we came just the two of us, sans children … let’s just say there was much messing about in corn fields and a very large drop-off to make at the bottle bank before we left on that occasion!
Typically, because we are just so rock-and-roll these days, each evening, once the said perfect ‘sleeping house’ scenario presents itself, we grab a bottle of Bordeaux from the cellar, maybe some left-over tart-au-fraise from the fridge and a couple of forks … and perhaps, maybe even some chocolate too (for good measure – you know, for ‘later’!) and then proceed to delve into that pile of books. Happily reading long into the night. Knowing that the children will lie-in well passed the church bells in the morning, which chime just across the road at 7am every morning (to wake the farming community I believe) No-one here minds the bells, Least of all us, for it serves as a gentle reminder that we don’t have to get up yet!
My two main chosen books for the week are: The Olive Farm – A memoir of buying a rundown old Olive farm in in the South of France. Written by the actress Carol Drinkwater (the lady who starred in All Creatures Great and Small) back in the fabulous and seemingly much simpler 80’s. I love reading this book – Firstly, I love anything to do with tales of French restoration mishaps, and secondly, I adore the fact that it’s set in 80’s- Think Howards Way Fashion, The feeling of achievement after major sunburn, and paying for things in Francs. It’s awesome and nostalgic and heart-warming. Plus, she is a truly beautiful writer – capturing perfectly the sheer heat and vibes of summertime’s spent in the France. The good new is that is part one of a trilogy. Fabulous! I also read Playing Big by Tara Morh. Another new favourite.
So Mr F pours the wine, and I select my first magazine to delve into (magazines being my starter. A bit of self-help for mains, then tales of France for pudding!) I raise my glass to my favourite book club partner and say ‘Right, im going in!”