Millions of internet fans will doubtless have been scratching their heads over the untypical silence emanating from deepest Tarn over the last few weeks. A bout of dysphonia? A fit of the sulks? The delivery of the latest series of ‘Game of Thrones’ by an Amazonian drone?
I can now reassure them. The Maître de Maison and I have been on holiday.
The trip, however, did not start well.
First stop, Blagnac, the airport of Toulouse, la ville rose, capital of Occitania. This ever-expanding gigantic aeronautical hub (9 million passengers in 2017) has changed since I first saw it, but I’m still pretty familiar with the place. Its control tower holds no secrets: have I not, over the years, taught generations of its controllers and technicians to say ‘Roger Over and Out’ in an impeccable Yorkshire accent? Have I not driven back and forth 923 times, ferrying aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbours, and other visiting dignitaries? Have I not flown in and out of it myself at least 482 of those 923 times, on one momentous occasion seated next to an ex-member of Wham? (Wake me up before you go-go. I have the T-shirt).
In theory, I should be able to do the journey with eyes closed and, as they say locally, ze finger in ze nose. This is unnecessary, however, because the Maître de Maison has a top-notch hyper-smart GPS system in the car which, its finger in its nose, tells it exactly where to go. There’s just one problem: the seven dwarfs of Blagnac keep nipping out at night and moving parts of the infrastructure around without ringing the satellite and telling it. Old familiar bits get blocked off by giant pieces of LEGO; new, confusing bits get added on. And so it was that on a sunny April morning, the MDM and I, having waved goodbye to the farmhouse in the Tarn, swung on to yet another of the 372 roundabouts on the airport approach, preparatory to swinging off into one of the 101 car parks in plenty of time to park up, trudge 5 kilometres to the terminal, and catch our flight to the UK, destination Edinburgh.
Seconds later, guided by the trusty GPS, we found ourselves heading back to the Tarn, sucked into a mighty ocean of cars on the Toulouse Ring Road from Hell. Being one of the famous ‘Transport Strike’ days in my adoptive country, it all looked like the opening scene in ‘La La Land’. The only difference was nobody was dancing from bonnet to bonnet. As we were forced to crawl inch by inch back whence we had come, we contemplated with horror, across the solid concrete central reservation, the jam of hooting cars all trying to go the other way–that way being, of course, the one we had just left and needed to get back to in order to catch our plane. It was at this point that I started screaming hysterically that I would never get to Scotland to see the latest Great Nephew, born in January, never mind the Monet haystacks and the Reverend R. Walker in the Scottish National Gallery. (When we arrived, the Monets were on loan. Probably in France. )
The Gare Matabiau, railway station of la ville rose, was just hoving into sight when the MDM, who had been dreaming of haggis and single malts for weeks, wrenched the steering wheel violently to the left and in a daring Formula 1 manoeuvre (which I missed, having shut my eyes and stopped breathing) we veered across the Canal du Midi and several lanes of stalled lorries to find ourselves miraculously, if not moving, at least facing the right way.
Oh happy day. Two hours later we boarded our Flybe flight and let somebody else do the driving.
Edinburgh. We had been there briefly, on flying visits. This time we had the leisure to get to know the place. First stop, Sainsbury’s, for a packet of chocolate digestives. We joined the checkout queue. No-one, alas, was wearing a kilt. But they were all wearing big smiles.
Checkout clerk: Good afternoon to you. Are you enjoying yourselves today?
Me: Good afternoon. Yes, thank you. We’ve just arrived.
Clerk: Where are you from?
Clerk: Really? I love France. Do you have any special plans for your visit?
Me: We’re going to visit Holyrood House.
Clerk: That’s a grand place. You’ll enjoy it. Wish I was going with you.
Me: Ha ha. What time do you finish tonight?
By the time I’d paid for my packet of biscuits I’d learned the young man was a student at ‘Uni’, his exams were coming up, he was juggling bouts of revision with supermarket shifts, his girl-friend was called Mia, all his family had red hair, and life was grand and Edinburgh a fine place to live.
The queue of customers waiting behind wished us well as we departed.
A similar scenario was repeated later at John Lewis where I was buying a pair of reading specs. This time it involved three assistants, one of whom gave the glasses a 15-minute polish while we exchanged life-histories and travel plans, then two others who scoured the place looking for different styles of glasses cases, whose relative merits were discussed for half an hour until we all reached a verdict on the red one and agreed how wonderful life was.
The next day the elderly gentleman queuing behind me for the toilets at The Royal Botanic Gardens informed me he was a regular visitor and wasn’t he lucky to live near such a marvel? Over the flushing of the loos we agreed the weather was perfect, not too cold, not too hot, just right, and the blossom trees were a wonder to behold, had I see the Japanese cherry by any chance?
By now I had concluded that Edinburgh was the Mindfulness Capital of the world. Even the motorists just sigh and shake their heads gently when someone bumbles into their lane, doubtless distracted by the romantic skyline and the statue of Sir Walter Scott.
There was just one rub: we had been looking forward to making people mad with jealousy by posting on social media the 300 photos taken on the MDM’s brand-new, top-notch hyper-smart smart phone, bought specially to take superb photos liable to make people jealous. But the phone wouldn’t let us. Something about the ‘wrong codes’. The ‘right codes’, obviously, were back in the Tarn, on a post-it.
Still, at least the thing didn’t explode in mid-air on the flight back, so I can now share some of them on this blog.
Have a lovely day, wherever you may be, and don’t forget to take the time to look at the cherry trees.
PS The newest great nephew was adorable, just like his big three-year-old brother. Aw.