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Smallville: The Star Wars Effect

Writing with his usual zest and good humour Peter B Farrell continues his account of holiday adventures in France. And if this column doesn't make you pack your bags and head for those inviting French towns and byways, nothing will.

“How do I get to the Bathroom?” I woke in the early hours with a start to find Margaret - my wife - standing over me in the gloom. The house was in the process of being rewired. Meanwhile a temporary arrangement had been made consisting of a long extension lead and a fluorescent tube from the kitchen/lounge.

We were spending a short time in the village of Gignac, at the home our nephew James - a ski instructor in the winter - who is currently reconstructing the house during the summer months.

I cautiously sought out the connection, pushed the two elements together and pointed the now glowing tube – Star Wars fashion - in the direction of the stairs then led the way down them. The bathroom light was permanently on as a safety measure.

Later we returned, led by the neon tube, finding our bedroom after negotiating round Kev and Diana who were asleep in a space that would eventually be the second bedroom. I tried to avoid any contact with electrical switches during the holiday.

Eager to practise and perfect my language skills I volunteered to go out early each morning to the village bakery.

My well-rehearsed and statuary “Quatre croissants et deux baguettes, l’ancien s’il vous plé;” proved successful and we were able to have our usual breakfast outside on the terrace. Somehow the French bread and croissants had a different appeal to the equivalent bread and jam back home.

While my brother Kev pored over maps and I studied the phrase book, Diana and Margaret visited the local market, returning with a variety of fresh foods for the day as well as baskets and a jug to match the bowl bought two days ago in Loches.

“Couldn’t resist it – a matching jug – and the basket will be ideal for carrying it home.” My wife’s logic brooked no argument.

James had organised a pleasant day visiting the ancient town of Nimes and it’s spectacular bullring built in Roman times. Clambering to the very top tier of the bullring we looked down on preparations for a forthcoming rock concert by the veteran Joe Cocker. The next bullfight would not be for another month. I had to look away as younger tourists ran around the edge seemingly oblivious of the sheer drop.

We lunched outside in the warm sunshine entertained by the music from passing a gypsy trio, which added to the general ambience and a change from the usual man selling the Big Issue back home.

After taking in the sights we headed out of town at speed for the Herault Gorges - a popular attraction - and came across a wizened old farmer selling his own brand of vin rouge from a small white van. We were encouraged to sample a couple of glasses.

“I needed that;” and Kev concurred. The experience of driving in traffic with James at the wheel had unnerved us. His undoubted skill and split second timing - honed on the ski slopes - had left other drivers standing at the starting gate or traffic lights.

“We’ll take six bottles.“ Kev negotiated l’addition with the farmer.
“Encore to that.” I murmured thinking of the drive back through Montpelier in the rush hour.

“Better wind the window up;“ I advised later. A pursuing BMW was overtaking us approaching traffic lights and the driver would be handily placed if he parked up alongside to exchange pleasantries with Kev.

I need not have worried; James slalomed through the traffic, Diana and Margaret admired the architecture, Kev studied the speedometer, I opened my eyes and glanced back at the BMW driver gesticulating in the distance.
“I think he gave us a wave.” James shouted as we headed for the centre of Montpelier.

After parking the car we toured the centre of the city. The famous Roman aqueduct was remarkably preserved, like many of other sites we had already seen on our travels. I was reminded that France spends 1% of its Budget on culture but obviously not on sites like the Millennium Dome in London.

Later that evening we joined in a birthday party being held for a family friend.

“Joyeaux anniversaire.”

“A votre santé.”

The more the wine flowed the more we thought of moving to this part of France and grandiose schemes were discussed. Perhaps Beziers or Nimes; think of the Rugby and the occasional Tour de France. I had already started collecting brochures from estate agents and made a mental note to enrol for French language classes as soon as we got home.

It was well after midnight when we retired and despite the effects of the local Minervois I found the connections; the neon flickered, and I led the way with the Star Wars wand.

“Je, n’ai regret...“ I hummed the old Edith Piaf hit of the 1950s.

How would I cope driving on the wrong side of the road?

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