Cambusbarron / Stirling
‘Entente Cordiale’ (iii)
Domaine de Bertaud, St. Tropez
France - July / August – 1953
We arrived at Domaine de Bertaud about sunset. Fields of fruit seemed to stretch for acres and acres all round the large farmhouse, adjacent sheds and workers’ cottages.
Many of the labourers were gathered in the lea of the farmhouse balcony, drinking red wine, talking animatedly, and playing ‘boules’ in the dusty forecourt. It was enchanting and that is certainly the word that very adequately describes most of the other interesting experiences I had thereabouts over the next three weeks …. except for two …. but firstly … the peaches … which we ate fresh from the trees, boiled, stewed, fried … you name it … we had it … until I vowed that I never wanted to eat another peach for the rest of my life … and I haven’t!
It was an idyllic life, as daily, normally after a late rise each morning, we either wandered around the Domaine, or explored the quaint unspoiled streets and harbour of St Tropez Village, swam just before lunch with the workers in the filthy brown opaque water of the huge circular water reservoir that served to irrigate the cultivated areas, took an ‘enforced’ siesta, went to the beach in late afternoon, dined about seven, and thereafter played ‘boules’ till bedtime.
All good things come to an end and the arrival of Mario and another cousin from the north in a big Renault Van containing a huge empty ‘double’ wine-barrel brought the suggestion that Yves and I should accompany them on the return journey with the next winter’s supply of ‘vin-rouge’ for ‘Leyre’. Mario had hoped to have a few days break there in Provence, but it wasn’t to be. Our return was accelerated by a sad development.
A day after Mario’s arrival, our household was awakened at sunrise by the wailing of an infant who was uttering words that I shall never forget.
“Papa suspendue, Papa suspendue”!
Even my rudimentary knowledge of French gave me strong hints of tragedy, and this was confirmed later with our being told that one of the labourers had committed suicide during the night by hanging himself from a beam in one of the wine-sheds.
To keep us well clear of the subsequent inquiries and mourning, Maman quickly decided that the three teenagers and Mario must return north to ‘Leyre’ immediately. The fresh barrel was loaded at once, and, also placed in the rear beside it was our travelling gear, well insulated (!), and a basket chair with cushion as a fourth seat. So within a few hours we were off …. another adventure ….. at least for me.
Mario insisted that he would do all the driving – approximately 540 miles! After about 11 or 12 hours for the first 300 miles we would try to find bed and breakfast in the late evening around Lyon. Another 9 or 10 hours in the morning would with luck take us the remaining 240 miles to Chateauneuf.
We left about 10 a.m., but, restricted by our heavy load, we struggled to get close to averaging 30 mph. By the time we had gone the 125 miles to Avignon, the novelty of the journey had well and truly worn off. We took hour-about suffering the jolting, ‘bottom-tendering’ ride in the basket chair. Additional problems for all four of us were coping with temperatures in the 80s and the nauseating aroma coming from a slight leak around the bung of the wine-barrel. The adventure rapidly became a testing battle of survival. But, amazingly, the thought of the comfort of a front seat spot for two hours out of three kept one’s morale up and the realisation that there was no point in moaning provoked a deal of bravado too.
It was between 10 and 11pm, and after about three or four short ‘pit-stops’, that we started looking for B and B. This proved fruitless and demoralising, but latterly hilarious, when an establishment that Mario tried was most welcoming until the ‘Madame’ of the ‘house’ discovered that I was far too young for the services on offer! Sensibly, Mario, still giggling uncontrollably off and on, turned the van into a service area close to Moulin, and we stopped there for about 3 hours sleep, or at least a rest from movement.
The experience of travelling by road, rail, or sea as darkness shades into pale light, and then to the glory of sunrise, has since that particular morning always been special to me. I felt so refreshed and exhilarated. The others must have felt the same way for our singing and conversations restarted after many hours of silence the previous evening. Bumps and smells of the day before were ignored as if our aching bones, joints and nostrils had been anaesthetised. We were soon on the last leg from Nevers in the Loire valley to Chateauneuf and in no time at all, or so it seemed, we had reached ‘Leyre’, received Maria’s joyous welcome …. and breakfast …. then, by around 11 a.m. had collapsed into our respective beds.
The epilogue is that a few days later Yves returned with me to Scotland. We both enjoyed the flight and the comforts of British Railways, before thereafter, he put up heroically with staid Stirling and the cold weather, heartily embraced golf at the King’s Park, (if not endearing himself to ‘real’ golfers who had to teach him the necessity of waiting until the coast was clear before playing a shot and even then shouting ‘fore’), threatened to get very fat, very quickly, from my mum’s cooking, as well as doing full justice to Grandma Telfer’s baking over in Wolfe Road, Falkirk.
Yves, John, Grandma, Mum, Elizabeth, Uncle John, Dad