Mid-August arrived at last, delivering the welcome start of our summer holiday. We set out early and excited … remembering passports only as we climbed into a waiting taxi, an anxious moment that heralded a journey fraught with the mishap and extra charges that come hand-in-glove with low-cost airlines.
Thankfully the flight provided enough time and wine to recover and before long we found ourselves in gloriously sunny rural France. Aching to reach our destination, I whisked through customs ahead of BB to find our good friend Mr Host waiting patiently outside Arrivals, my embrace of him so joyful that BB walked straight past. He took us for a pair of re-united lovers.
Not half an hour later, we drew up to The Hosts’ vogueish village townhouse and a glorious Mrs Host – the Raven Haired Marilyn Monroe – ready with olives, cool local vin and a very warm welcome. We had arrived.
My first desire was for fennel tea, a new and delicious habit that prompted Marilyn to exclaim: Giovanna Forte has been taken over by aliens! Bring back the real Giovanna Forte! Fennel tea consumed, shower and change of attire complete, the four of us – five including resident elegant canine M. Clark – gathered on the terrace for Proper Drinks. From here we eyed the pool and lavender-rich garden, our idyllic home for the next ten days. And so, feeling blessed and lucky, the unwinding from hectic urban life began.
The Hosts were enjoying a celebratory summer and our time with them featured a series of dinners organised to high-five twenty years of marriage, and two birthdays, one of which featured an 0. A busy ten days beckoned, four of which were to be spent on our own while Hosts retreated to an arty hideaway further south. The perfect quid-pro-quo; we became canine caretakers, leaving them free to indulge in each other.
The following day involved a trip to the market and lazy coffee, watching the locals negotiate with animated stallholders. There followed preparations for that evening’s dinner, intended to take place au terrace, pool-side. Alas, it was not to be; light rain made an indoor setting compulsory. Bringing outside’s longer tables in, we draped them with white linen and candles and lo! a beautiful setting came to life for no less than ten guests.
A melee of marvelous people arrived on time; the party included local wine makers, a clever composer (with cheekbones to die for), his chic film-producing wife, a jolly summer expat couple we met last year and an artist – all life and souls of any party. This one fizzed until the early hours involving much hilarity, gourmet grub and sumptuous wine from the Hegarty estate.
The following morning was understandably slow; our holiday began in earnest, lazing by the pool, seeking succulent figs picked straight from the tree and inhaling the lush lavender that surrounded us. The days rolled by until Mr and Mrs Host departed for their southern sojourn leaving us to pretend that their dreamy dwell was our very own. BB and I sank into daze of luxury, doing nothing but eat, drink, chat, swim and find each other all over again. Even the garden and household duties we offered in return for our stay were a joy to carry out in this oasis of boutique, ambient calm.
The days passed; Mr and Mrs Host returned rejuvenated by culture and each other and with Hippy Son scooped up from the airport. This former boy whom I had not seen for many years has become a beautiful blue-eye handsome man with an exemplar head of hair, terrific taste in music and an excellent way with cocktails. God bless youth.
Friends of Hippy Son arrived the next day; two more cocktail-and-clearing-up friendly young bucks who catered for us without complaint and delivered excellent conversation to boot. More diverting dinners were enjoyed with equally entertaining guests, daily sun and slow swims, trips to the market … and of course, preparations for the London Crowd, scheduled to arrive a day prior to the Big Birthday Dinner.
Toasting dozily by the pool, I was stirred by the sounds of warm welcomes from within, closely followed by new poolside footsteps. Standing to apologise and confess rather obviously: Hello. Sorry, I’m a bit naked, I need not have worried; the lovely Pablo stood, hand extended in greeting, his partner R close behind. These gloriously urbane boys had come to celebrate their friends’ anniversaries in advance of their own nuptials taking place two weeks hence. Their glamorous presence heralded the later arrival of Glossy Red Setter, a gorgeous and funny only-just-forty-girl-woman with long golden hair. Days of amusing anarchy were well and truly on the cards.
The Hollywoods dived straight in; pool first, sociability and gales of laughter to follow. Dear reader, I cannot do justice here to the hugely entertaining hours and days that followed; suffice to say they were rich with wit, intellect, gambit, pun, farce … and of course, terrible jokes. In short, it were a right old carry on.
Our penultimate eve in France was taken up with The Party … and What A Do it Was. Much pleasure was taken in the preparation; Marilyn demanded that I appear in LBD, pearls and pom-pom Choos, the height of which precluded my involvement in anything other than looking poised and vaguely decorative.
Around me, Mr Host cooked up a feast for eyes and appetite alike; still more fine wine was set out and guests arrived to a glittering candlelit setting, lively, seamless conversation and Boy-Team Cocktails. Music and dancing ensued well into the later-than-early hours and it was here, beneath a galaxy of fairy lights that The Hollywoods and Red Setter truly excelled, grooving to Spanish guitar and disco beats … we all joined in at one time or another but perhaps a veil of discretion should be drawn across this particular vignette of high jinks.
As the the pace slowed, guests peeled away into the night; Boy-Team began to clear, the elders retired to bed assuaged, inebriated and well, frankly rather done-in.
I awoke at 6am hungry; creeping into the kitchen I devoured tasty left-overs, someone’s abandoned brandy and returned to bed to sleep off my residual hangover. BB and I awoke mid-morning to a spotless kitchen, fresh coffee and only slightly muted company of the Hollywood Two, the Glossy Red Setter and one divine Host for Ms Monroe was still upstairs, luxuriating between the sheets. I ascended to her boudoir with coffee for two and climbed in, something reminiscent of boarding school days, hunkered under the duvet to chew the cud with a favourite wise and wonderful woman.
The last day slipped by; BB and I were driven to the airport by one of the Boy-Team and we returned home content, fulfilled and under the circumstances oddly rested.
To the gourmet Mr Host, to the Raven Haired Marilyn Monroe, to the Hollywood Two, the Glossy Red Setter, to the Music, Film and Wine-makers, to the New Friends All: from our nest in Bethnal Green I raise to you a toast:
Thank you for the Bonhomoux.