Friday, 11 April 2014

End of an Era

John Blatchford, the Head Gardener, died on 13 March 2014.

John and Annabel, his daughter, bought the house in Villeneuve de Duras some 25 years ago.  At that time, there were few foreigners in the village.  John vowed to try to integrate - he learned French, he spoke to people.   He was often to be seen sitting outside his house, reading a book and having his morning coffee.  An excellent time to see and be seen, as folk went to the boulangerie for their morning baguette.

John always said that I  was welcome in Villeneuve any time and for as long as I wanted to stay.  However, there was a condition - only one - that I did the cooking.

Our wives, separately and together, asked us what we talked about and what we did.

What did we talk about?    

Sometimes something and lots of times nothing at all.  I have always thought that being truly comfortable in someone's company requires no conversation, no inanities to fill the silence.  John and I could do silence - we could also do inanities.

What did we do?

Life had a routine.  Up early, coffee and cigarettes.    Apero after 6pm - never before - with only one exception.  In between.......there was no routine.

John acquired a garden from Mamie.  She and her husband fed their family from the garden.   I don't know her real name.  She was always Mamie, or more formally La Mamie, to everyone.  She played petanque - god, she played petanque!  It is one of my proudest moments - to beat an 80 year old granny at petanque.

John and Mamie in the garden.....

So, what did we do?  We did a lot of this......

and lots of this....

in order to turn this.....

into this..........

We also did a bit of this......

and some of this.....

The entire week was not without structure.

Mondays and Saturdays were market days - Monday Duras, Saturday Ste Foy La Grande.  We rarely bought anything.  We did buy vegetable plants at Ste Foy, oh and some chickens.   We would wander round, then go for a beer and watch the world go by.  Regine's in Duras was our favoured haunt.  If we went anywhere near Duras, we went to Regine's.  A bit like Where's Wally - spot John.

Apparently, legend has it, it used to be a brothel.  Lovely circular staircase (he says waving his finger in a circular motion, as if circular staircases could otherwise be described) and good pression.  We knew we'd arrived, or were going too often, when Regine started giving us kisses.

Villeneuve de Duras will be the poorer without John.  I'll miss him too.

Où sont les neiges d'antan?  (Francois Villon)

Photographs courtesy of Graham B Edwards and/or Marcel Du Marché to whom the copyright belongs.