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Recounting Blessings

Chapter 29


1950 – 1957

Cambusbarron / Stirling

 

‘Entente Cordiale’ (ii)

St. Raphael – St. Maxime

France - July / August – 1953

 

Mon Ami Francais – Yves Le Maitre

 

 

One evening in mid-July at ‘Leyre’, with my not being too aware of the details of what was about to happen, Monsieur Claude Le Maitre’s ministerial Citroen was loaded up with our holiday cases and a picnic hamper. Later on, in failing light, with Papa driving, Maman alongside, and Yves and myself in the luxurious depths behind, we set off northwards. At that point I was glad to be told, though a bit surprised at the intended mode of transport, that we were heading to the Gare de Lyon in Paris to catch the overnight ‘Mistral’ sleeper to Marseilles and St Raphael in Provence. However, having known earlier that day that we had some travelling coming up soon, I had had the presence of mind, whilst shopping in Chateauneuf, to re-stock my illicit supply of cigarettes. Thus, prepared, I realised, as we sped along, that at least I had a packet of ‘Gaulloise Bleu’ to mellow whatever discomfort or boredom a long night in a train might bring.

 

 

An efficient porter whisked away our baggage, whilst the conductor shepherded his important clients to the sleeping carriages at the front of the train. But not Yves and me! We were left, without even a word of ‘au revoir’ from our elders, to fend for ourselves and find the compartment and seats to match the economy tickets thrust into our hands by another, but less attentive station employee. No couchette or whatever for us. No picnic basket. No hold-all. Nothing except what we might have in our pockets.

 

To put it mildly, I was a bit non-plussed, and even less enamoured by the subsequent situation when finding that we were to be housed in a ‘five-across each side’ compartment with firmly upholstered, straight backed, benches. As if by magic, Yves produced a litre bottle of water and a bar of chocolate for each of us and explained, as well as he could in ‘his’ English, that his father believed that we should learn to be independent whenever opportunities like this arose.

 

But then the conditions to which I had quickly resigned myself got worse as our compartment filled up to capacity. In addition, it was non-smoking, so the corridor was going to beckon us at intervals to satisfy both of our adolescent cravings for tobacco. As on the ship to and from Holland the previous summer, I took comfort in the knowledge that such promenading would help break the monotony, but, I must say in all honesty that I was very pleased to see the eventual sunrise, and even happier when the time came to de-train at St Raphael into the warmth of a beautiful Mediterranean morning.

 

Looking as fresh as paint, and obviously well breakfasted, Papa and Maman joined us on the platform with a courteous porter in tow, and together we sought out the relatives who were due to meet us. The re-unions were effusive with these folks, whom I later learned were Yves’ uncle, aunt and cousin Joel, before we were whisked off through a lovely seaside town to a mansion someway uphill and high enough up to have uninterrupted views of a blue sea, the startling azure of which I had never in my life imagined as reality.  Pardon the pun, but I was ‘shell-shocked’!

 

 

We boys were more than ready for breakfast, and never have croissants and coffee tasted so delicious. Duly revived we joined a whole bunch of cousins in the house, who, by their dress, were ready for tennis …. on the handily placed private court within the extensive rear gardens. Despite my kit being still up north, I enjoyed the company and the ‘ping-pong’ tennis played up to lunch time. Having other play-mates, boys and girls of our own age, was a nice change, and, after siesta, the time flew as we further got to know each other. No swimming though. This puzzled me. Blasé perhaps? But later in the evening I found out the kind of swimming ‘les garcons’ intended to introduce to their Scottish ‘ami’ during what, as I learned from our departing after a couple of days, was to be a mere week-end stay.

 

We never really saw much of the adults during the day, and none seemed to show the slightest concern when we boys, swimming trunks on under our shorts, set off down to the front after dark. There the restaurants and cafes were noisily busy with conversation and music. I was amazed at how warm it was for eleven in the evening, and even more amazed at the water temperature when we duly stripped off and frolicked in the sea for over an hour. ‘Tomorrow, announced Joel, we will go out to dive from these rocks that you can just see out there in the moonlight’. ‘Looks about half-a-mile away, I thought to myself, but I’ll manage.’

 

In the event, I needn’t have worried about swimming such a distance because we hired ‘pedaloes’, messed about in the shallows for a while to get our rhythm right, then headed for the distant outcrops. The rocks towered above us and clearly some high-diving was on the cards. Joel knew where it was safe to plunge down from and we had a great time …. until  …. the curse of that sort of location in the Med. …. a sea urchin claimed a Scottish victim. The spike that penetrated the sole of my left foot brought only temporary pain and I was most surprised at how quickly the others decided that fun-time was over for the day and got me back to the house ‘tres vite’! By the time we got home I was beginning to realise why. The pain in my foot was becoming more than annoying to say the least. Suffice to say the local housemaids knew how to deal with my misfortune and their treatment that evening had worked wonders by the morning. But I certainly did not sleep well.

 

So I was fit to face up to wherever we might be heading that day. The ‘chauffeur’ and ‘chauffeuse’, for Joel, Yves and myself, turned out to be Yves’ brother Pierre and his wife. And great fun they were as we bounced along in yet another tiny Renault. Our first lengthy stop was at a vantage point to watch and cheer the Tour de France ‘peloton’ as it passed by.

 

 

Then it was on to St. Maxime, and, despite the slight inconvenience of my injured foot, a superb swim was taken in its lovely sheltered bay. Pierre, aware by then that I hadn’t a clue as to where we were going next, kindly pointed out St Tropez across the water and told me that our holiday home for the next few weeks would be the family peach and grape farm behind the village. ‘Maman will be there to look after you all the time, and so will we for about a week or so, but Papa may not be able to stay too long.’


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