Biarritz

Setting off with their buckets and spades, French families talk about going to ‘la mer’, the Mediterranean Sea, or ‘l océan’, the Atlantic. Two utterly spectacular and utterly different coasts. The wine-dark waters of the Med look eastward, towards the old world, olive trees and palms. To the south, an older world, camels, lions and elephants.

‘L’océan’ looks west. It rolls out towards the New World, immense and ever-changing. Here sky and water join in a spellbinding duet, offering up the entire palette of colours, dense and translucent, brilliant and dark. In the space of a heartbeat the colours fade, shadows fall from the sky, the wind freshens and stormy greys and greens whip in from the horizon like furies.

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Can you remember the first book that really captured your imagination as a child?

For me it was a story about a man called Mr Flop who was a flower collector. Mr Flop gathered up faded and dying flowers and whisked them off on a flying apple-tree branch (sort of prototype of Harry Potter’s Nimbus 2000) to the Kingdom of Flowers where they ‘regained their lost beauty and perfume and became more beautiful than ever’.

I loved the idea, but even more appealing was that Mr Flop whisked off the young heroine for a magical visit to the Kingdom on his flying branch. And what was the young heroine’s name? Alice? Dorothy? Wendy? No, they’d already had their fun. It was Laurette.

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