139

Neighbours wage war: windows are smeared with excrement; a letter box is wrestled into a tangled wreck of metal. The portly, unshaven bric-a-brac man leaves piles of junk in the street: “This neighbourhood will be better when all the old people die”, he tells me.

138

I constantly marvel that in the south of France in 2013 I can be listening to a documentary about Caribbean culture in 1960s London whilst one son watches the latest episode of a primetime American sitcom and the other simultaneously researches a question of Latin grammar and downloads tunes: Rock on, dot com.

137

France boasts surfing beaches and a beautiful Mediterranean coastline, mountain lakes, broad rivers, ski resorts and a rich cultural heritage, haute cuisine, fine wine, free healthcare and education and some great social welfare programmes. Why, then, are the French are the most prolific consumers of anti-depressants in Europe?

136

A group of protesters have been on hunger strike for a month now and 100s oppose the barrage, amongst them lawyers, teachers, librarians but the press represents them as hippy activists. I’d call myself a bit of a hot-shower 5* hotel girl at heart but easier, I suppose, for the press to see simple stereotypes.

135

The old fella died, alone, schizophrenic, a child, in the psychiatric hospital that had been his home for decades.  His previous home a ground floor tenement gutted by fire when the drunk white Russian who’d married him fell asleep, lit fag in mouth.  Happiest memories Mother’s weekly visits bearing ciggies.

134

I wasn’t expecting, when the phone made that jingly “New Text!” alert, a message from the school asking why my son isn’t in class. He left the house at 7.45 but yet again didn’t turn up for Latin…

133

This morning I feel the need to quote Browning: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

132

The tea seller tells the Mairie he doesn’t like their plans to take certain market traders off the main square and place them in a tiny side street frequented by neither sun nor passers-by. In swift reprisal they place a merry-go-round where for years his tea stall stood.

131

Thought I ought to record dialogue, but listening to what goes on here am mortified to hear an inordinate amount of swearing. There’s an almost constant string of F words and the tiniest thing can evoke a rapidly delivered “shift***damn”. An awful lot of those.  Coming from me.  Major Oh dear.

130

In the UK, professional authors’ annual income fell to £11,000, down from £12,230 in 2005…  in 79% of accidents involving bicycles the cyclist is hit by a vehicle turning left …. pubs are closing at the rate of 31 a week… Who sits there gathering these statistics & for whom??

129

Oldest child assumes responsibility when tragedy hits family, tries always to please.  Adolescent rebellion happens eventually, she falls ill, miracles happen… she’s Born Again! Her mission? To convert the lost, lonely, those who’ve turned their backs on Christ.  Melodrama proves financially rewarding, emails fly out, cheques fly in, Hallelujah!

128

I opened a cereal packet and, for the first time in years, a cellophane-wrapped toy fell out. My younger son ignored it and instead started telling me about mind-boggling advances in smart phone technology. How times change.

127

That wasn’t the shortest Indian Summer ever

126

‘Gorge’ is French for “throat”. A bra is a ‘soutiens gorge’. I’ve never worked that one out.

125

An Italian with the greatest smile and tattoo I’ve ever seen played double bass and jived as he sang Elvis songs in the street next to me at my last market. It was a magical day: the music made everyone happy, sunshine and cakes appeared out of nowhere, people stopped to chat – and card sales reached a record high.

124

I continue to make mistakes in basic, every day French: in English, tyres worn dangerously thin are “bald” and in French they’re “used”, despite which I’ve just told someone my tyres are “naked”…

123

A rash of cheaply built ugly concrete boxes is springing up all around our lovely ancient town because, an estate agent tells me, the French love to say they’ve built their own house. Single-storey concrete units, with bars at the mean little pvc windows, they squat where once were vineyards, orchards and open fields.

122

I’ve spent a bit of time in various waiting rooms recently. It’s apparently impossible to pick up a magazine without seeing photos of Johnny Hallyday and Carla Bruno. Can anyone explain the fascination?

121

I suddenly became aware, as I walked up the hill into the woods for the first time since spring, of a carpet of fresh green acorns underfoot. Acorns. In early September. I stood a long while gazing down over the valley, a bright lime-coloured acorn nestling in the palm of my hand. There’s something magical, moving about acorns.

120

The countryside hereroundabouts is so heart-stoppingly beautiful, I’m constantly surprised there aren’t artists and easels strewn along the way. Patchwork fields of sunflowers and vines were basking in late afternoon sun shortly before storms put an early end to a glorious Indian summer. Swallows took flight weeks ago: apparently a sign we’re in for a brutal winter…