The One With The Broken Sink: A Fawlty Towers Holiday

The One With The Broken Sink: A Fawlty Towers Holiday

I holiday in Pembrokeshire about three times a year. I stay in my parents’ holiday home, a large Georgian terrace that’s been in the family for a hundred years and regularly have My Long Suffering Friend with me, as her daughter has grown up with my sons and they get on well. Usually these weekly breaks are predictable: beach walks, mooching around the charity shops for books, visiting the deli for sweets, Scrabble, lots of card games, welcome conversation and alcohol.

As we’ve been friends for so long we’re comfortable in one another’s company and look forward to our holidays together; but this week our friendship was tested to the limit.

After the long, long drive down, I began unpacking my suitcase and as I got to the bottom I realised my underwear was missing. “What! That can’t be right,” I thought, checking the other bags. No pants and bras to be seen, only a pile of brightly-coloured socks.

I collapsed into giggles and went to find My Long Suffering Friend to tell her the news.

“What’s up with you? You’ve turned into a total airhead recently!” she exclaimed.

“I blame it on the hormones,” I said ruefully. (Perimenopause has started with a vengeance). “Tesco will have some. I’ll go down in the morning and have a look.”

The following day, I hopped in the car and purchased some underwear along with the toilet rolls, bread and other groceries we needed. Disaster averted, it was now time to relax and enjoy myself. How was I to know it was a bad omen?

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Tesco’s best knickers!

Sunday, Monday and Tuesday passed peacefully enough. We were blessed with glorious sunshine and so packed up the car with beach towels, swimwear, bats and balls, the camping stove and food to cook on it and made a day of it, returning tired and sandy but happy in the evenings.

On Monday I met up with an old school friend at West Angle Bay who I hadn’t seen for 16 years. Thanks to Facebook, we found out we were holidaying around the corner from one another and arranged to meet. Over the afternoon we caught up on one another’s lives;  with 6 kids and several careers between us there was a lot to talk about!

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D and I went swimming!

 

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My dog loves chasing a ball.

***

I’ve been wanting to replace the beds in the house for years; they are as old as me and after a week of sleeping on them you need several visits to the chiropractor just to be able to walk upright again. My Long Suffering Friend had deliberately chosen one of the single beds because it wasn’t quite as dilapidated as all the others but she still had backache after a couple of nights. Enough is enough I thought, I’ll go to the furniture warehouse at the bottom of the road and see what they have.

Half an hour and several hundred pounds later, I’d chosen two new single beds and a one double bed for the attic bedrooms and arranged to have them delivered on Thursday. The frames would need assembling but I wasn’t worried; usually they aren’t hard to put together.

“Where did you go?” My Long Suffering Friend asked when I returned.

“I went to look at beds,” I said, “I can’t stand them any longer.” I told her what I’d ordered and when they were arriving.

I also informed her that unfortunately we’d have to take the old beds to the tip ourselves, as the furniture place charged exorbitant removal fees, which meant wrestling them down three flights of stairs.

We had a coffee and then went up to the attic to have a look at what we had to do. Luckily for us they were all divan beds, so very easy to take apart. The mattresses went down easily and by the time we got to the last flight we simply threw them down into the hall but the bases were more difficult, having to be angled round 90-degree bends and we gained lots of bruised shins and arms in the process. More worryingly as we were putting one of the bases into the car My Long Suffering Friend twisted her knee, yelping with pain. And then she bashed the same knee the next day putting a mattress into the boot. She should have got in the car and driven home then, for there was worse to come…

***

Wednesday dawned bright and sunny and the beach beckoned. In my head I was planning what food we could cook after Tuesday’s triumph of teriyaki beef drew envious glances from other holidaymakers but no, Wednesday was to be The Day The Kitchen Sink Broke.

After I’d washed the breakfast dishes, I emptied the water into the sink but it didn’t go down the plughole. Instead it sat there uninvitingly, speckled with bread crumbs and coffee grinds. Cursing I went in search of the plunger only to find the rubber had perished and it was useless; I flung it into the bin crossly.

“OK, I’ll unscrew the u-bend and clear the blockage that way,” I said. The joint refused to budge. My Long Suffering Friend had a go too. No luck.

I went in search of Dad’s tool box and found several mole grips and an large adjustable spanner. They were all useless; that joint wasn’t moving for anybody.

“Perhaps the next-door neighbour can help,” I said and went round and knocked on the door. No-one was home.

“What shall we do now?” asked My Long Suffering Friend.

“Let’s see who else is in and can help before I call out a plumber,” I said, thinking of the £80 call-out charge.

The neighbour a few doors up, Dave, who knows my dad very well, was home. “I’ll come and take a look,” he said cheerfully.

He couldn’t move the joint either, so decided to undo the assembly from the other end. Soon he was passing me gunked up bits of pipe work to clean out and I dutifully took them up to the bathroom to clean in the shower. Eventually he’d taken everything off and cleaned it but then we realised we had a major problem on our hands: the attachment which fixes the overflow to the back of the sink was so old it had disintegrated, so now we had no way of reattaching all the pipes and making it watertight. We had to admit defeat and find a plumber.

I grabbed my phone and headed up to the attic for some signal. I found a few numbers but either they didn’t work or no-one was home. Now what? The first of the summer visitors was arriving in three days and there was no working sink. I felt like bashing it with a wrench like Basil Fawlty’s poor car!

Suddenly, I  remembered that on one of our many visits to the tip I’d noticed a plumbing supply centre.

“I’ll go down there,”  I said to My Long Suffering Friend. “They’ll have a plumber.”

I went in and explained my dilemma: “I think you’ll have to come and take a look” I said, “the sink is so old I don’t know if you’ll find anything to fit.” The guy behind the counter, who’d been ever-so patient, as I struggled to find the correct words to explain the problem, plumbing being an alien world to me, looked sceptical.

“You wait until you see the kitchen, then you’ll understand,” I said.

“I’ll come when I’ve finished my last job,” he promised. I thanked him profusely and left.

My Long Suffering Friend took the kids to Pembroke to buy sweets from their favourite shop, while I stayed behind to await the plumber.

Around 4 pm, there was a knock on the door. I showed Dan, the plumber, into the kitchen to assess the problem. He took one look at the pipework and said: “that’s the wrong kind of u-bend that’s been put on; that’s for a hand washbasin or a urinal. It’s no wonder it got so blocked. And I think the joint has been glued up which is why you couldn’t move it.”

I stared at him and then realised who had done the bodge job. It came as no surprise. Those of you who know me well will work out the answer too. Why pay money to fix something properly when you can do it yourself has always been the motto!

“I’m afraid I can’t come until Saturday morning,” Dan said but decided to only charge me £40 to make up for the lack of washing-up facilities for the next three days. I relaxed a bit; at least the problem was going to be fixed and we could wash-up in the bath in the meantime.

***

The following day, Thursday, was the day of the furniture delivery, so we had to be in after 3 pm to take charge of the beds. As it had been warm but cloudy that morning, I suggested we take a picnic lunch to the beach so that we could all spend more time there. My Long Suffering Friend agreed, so we quickly packed up a picnic and bundled the kids into the car.

But as we set off it started drizzling. “A bit of drizzle will be OK,” I thought. After all we’re usually here over October half-term when the weather is often dire.

As we reached Pembroke, we ran into a major traffic jam and it took us 20 minutes to crawl through the town centre and out the other side. All the time the weather was getting worse but we decided to risk it, thinking it wouldn’t last long.

We finally arrived at the nearest beach. My Long Suffering Friend discovered she’d forgotten her coat and her daughter didn’t have one either. They wrapped towels around themselves and I pulled on a thin fleece with no hood and we set off, determined to give my dogs a walk if nothing else. Big mistake! We’d been on the sand 5 minutes when the sky went pitch black and we were deluged with heavy rain blowing sideways in our faces. We glanced at one another and headed back to the car; in only 10 minutes we were wet through to our underwear.

Not long after we’d finished lunch, when the sun was again cracking the flags, the furniture van arrived and I sent the men up three flights of stairs with the boxes, glad that we didn’t have to carry them up there. There was one slight hitch: the double bed frame wasn’t in stock, so I asked them to bring back a divan base instead.

As we unpacked the single bed frames, I realised there were no pre-drilled holes for the slats; thank goodness I’d had the forethought to borrow my neighbour’s very smart cordless drill in readiness for the job!

The first frame took us a long time to put together, as we wrestled to get the bolts to line up with those fiddly nuts that sit in the holes, so beloved of flat-pack furniture makers these days. Finally we finished it. All we had to do was fix the slats on.

“I’ve never used a drill before,” My Long Suffering Friend said.

“That’s OK, I’ll do it,” I said, feeling more confident than I felt.

After a couple of tries, I settled on the smaller drill bit and we quickly got in to the swing of it, My Long Suffering Friend even taking turns using the drill, after I’d given her a couple of tips.

One bed down, two to go.

The next frame went up in 10 minutes as we’d got the knack of lining everything up much more quickly. Just as we were congratulating ourselves, I realised that in our haste to get the job done, we’d made a mistake; the side rails were upside-down, which meant we couldn’t fix on the slats.

Queue peals of laughter and me asking My Long Suffering Friend did she mind if I sat and worked in my bra as it was stifling underneath the eaves even though the windows were open? She told me to go ahead, for she is also The Friend Who Isn’t Fazed By Anything!

Still shaking our heads we re-assembled the frame in record time and fixed on the slats.

Two beds done, one left.

The double bed was easy to put together and soon My Long Suffering Friend was testing out the mattress.

“Oh wow, this is so comfortable!” she exclaimed, “I might go and buy a double sheet and sleep up here for the rest of the holiday.”

“Why not?” I replied. Perhaps it might start to make up for the endless trips to the tip, the afternoon spent assembling beds, the twisted knee and the broken sink.

She soon returned with a turquoise sheet and some well-earned wine.

***

After an uneventful Friday, Dan, the plumber arrived promptly at 9 am on Saturday, the day we were due to leave.

“I have a problem,” he said. “We don’t have an overflow the right shape, I’m hoping this round one will cover the hole.

We went through to the kitchen and once Dan had put the part against the hole he looked doubtful he could fit it over what was left of the rusting part on the front.

“I’d rather you took the old part off,” I said. “It looks awful.”

He got his Stanley knife and removed it and to our dismay, we found that underneath it was a longer, rectangular slot than either of us had realised.

“Oh. Well the part I’ve got won’t do at all now,” Dan said.

Looking on his phone, he found the only place that supplied one the right shape was the B&Q in Carmarthen, a 60-mile round trip. But of course. Where else would supply it but the shop that closed down here two years ago?

“I haven’t got time to go all the way out there,” he said, “I have four other jobs today.”

“I’m not expecting you to,” I replied. “See what you can find locally. I need to get out of here and drive home.”

He went away and returned with a bigger rounder fitting that covered most of the hole and he filled up the little gaps with waterproof sealant. It looks much better than what was there before and the pipes work properly: job done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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B is for Brač

Croatia and Wales 109

Village harbour and church

 

The Croatian coastline is speckled with over a thousand islands; little green, wooded jewels in the bright blue sea, some inhabited, some not. In summer, brilliant white yachts tack between them; day trippers trailing their feet languidly into the sea, basking in the sunshine.

On our first visit to Croatia, four years ago, we explored these enchanting islands from our base on the mainland and discovered a relaxed, unhurried pace of life. The wooded landscapes dotted with ancient towns and the clear blue water utterly seduced us and we decided to stay on one of them next time we came.

Two years later, I found a little cottage to rent in a fishing village on Brač, an island near Split. It looked idyllic but was it going to live up to expectation?

Driving off the ferry, we followed the signs uphill out of the port and drove west through a landscape of olive groves and farms. Fruit trees grew in abundance and a purple rash of bougainvillea spread along many walls. Surprisingly, there were piles of white stones poking out of the ground everywhere.

Brač is famous for its limestone and there is still a working quarry on the island. The Diocletian’s Palace in Split is built out of it and Croatians claim it was used to construct the White House.

We turned off the main road into our village and drove down to the harbour. Looking at the narrow lane winding its way perilously close to the sea and crowded with shops and restaurants, John asked, quite reasonably, “Are you sure we can drive along here?”

I looked at my detailed printed instructions, “Yes. Just go slowly. We’ll be fine.”

He made his way hesitantly past the harbour, fishing boats rocking gently, some small shops, a tall church spire and a restaurant with tables and chairs set out by the sea. Inches to our right, was the Adriatic, where children were playing and men fishing.

Then, a beach and a small bar with a spacious balcony perched over the sea: our local for the next fortnight.

“Turn left, our cottage is up here,” I instructed.

John turned up a narrow lane and there was our cottage, an old fisherman’s place with white walls and green shutters, its little garden holding a magnificent fig tree.

Flagging in the sweltering heat, we dragged our suitcases out of the car.

“Who’s coming for a swim?” I asked.

The boys perked up and flung everything on the floor in their rush to find their trunks. We walked back down the lane and dived into the sea.

Floating on my back in the warm water I smiled. In front of me the sea stretched all the way to Split, just visible below the mountains, behind me the village clung to the hillside, colours vibrant in the hot sun.  In the distance, the little coast road disappeared over the horizon, meandering past tiny coves and pine forest, enticing me ever onwards …

 

Croatia and Wales 101

Biastrica beach at the end of the lane

St. Sauveur-en-Diois: a rural French idyll

 Our holiday house is directly in front of the church.

Most families back in the 70s would go camping in the summer or maybe take a package holiday to Spain but not us. Back in 1973, or thereabouts, my parents bought a derelict farmhouse in the south of France and spent every summer for the next twenty years renovating it.

Once Mum had finished teaching for the year, Dad would book a ferry and start loading up their VW camper van with everything they wanted to take out. This would include furniture for the house, white goods, pots and pans and of course boxes of tools, as well as the trusty red suitcase for our clothes. To get everything in, Dad would take out all the seats in the back and then fit everything in like a jigsaw. Once he was done, he would lay a mattress over the top for my sister and I to lie down on for the 800 mile journey.

We would get the evening ferry from Dover and once in Calais, Dad would drive for as long as possible in the direction of Reims, then when he got too tired he would pull off the road and sleep in the back with the rest of us. Once morning came, we would find a cafe for breakfast and stock up on food for a picnic lunch: then would begin the long hot, drive south.

Our fully loaded van would only do 55 miles an hour up hills and there are plenty of long ones in that part of France between Reims and Lyon! My sister and I would amuse ourselves as best we could by reading and playing cards but the journey was long, hot and tedious.

We would picnic for lunch at one of the many roadside stops, brave the stinky, hole-in-the-ground loos and get back on the road. Once we got towards Lyon, the landscape became more interesting with mountains and sunflower fields and we knew that we were on the last stretch. At Valence we would finally turn off the motorway and head south east into the mountains towards the tiny village where the house is.

The further east you drive, the prettier the landscape becomes. Thickly wooded mountains on either side of the valley, fields of sunflowers and vineyards everywhere, the odd herd of goats and tiny villages perched on hilltops. Winding its way through it all is the river Drome running down from the mountains, wide and lazy in parts and tumbling rapids in others. The houses are different to northern France too, now they are stone ones with shallow tiled roofs and shutters of battleship grey. Needing food before we arrived, we would pull in at one of the many roadside stalls. Aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes, beans, melon and peaches would all find their way into our basket and often a hard saucisson and olives too.

The final landmark on the journey to our house is the towering donjon at Crest, a massive keep which is perched on a mountain above the local town, lit up at night. Once we arrived here, we would drive over the river and take the tiny road that winds its way along the valley, past sunflower fields and little villages until we reached the turning to our village.

Leaving the valley, you make a 120 degree turn to the right (very tricky with a loaded van  – don’t stall it Dad!) and head steeply uphill on a very narrow road (not a chance for another car to pass). Around a couple of bends you are suddenly greeted by the most amazing vista; nestling on a hill in front of you the village, surrounded by vineyards, with the Trois Becs mountains, covered in thick forest, rise steeply in the background. 

It is an ancient place; just a few houses gathered around a church, with a tiny square in the middle that has a traditional “basin” – a communal washing area. When we were small, chickens ran freely around the village and every morning we would hear the tinkle of bells, as two herds of goats were taken out to pasture. There was still a pig kept in one of the sties too. Arable farming was more mixed then also, with other crops like lucerne and fields of lavender, as well as the vineyards. Nowadays, all the fields are full of vines, cultivated for the local co-operative. As small children we would watch two old weather beaten brothers, dressed in blue smocks with caps on their heads, ploughing their fields with oxen down by the river, the last to use such a traditional method in the area.

By the time we had reached the last road along the river on our epic journey from England, we would all be extremely hot and tired and if the sun was still up we would have an impromptu swim. We know all the swimming spots along the river, so we would pick one that didn’t look too busy, grab our swimming gear and jump in to the inviting waters. Feeling refreshed and suddenly very hungry, we would then make our way up to the house all wanting to eat.

Like most houses in the village, ours is a traditional farmhouse, with living quarters for the animals on the ground floor, (chickens, goats and pigs) and rooms for people above. As it is joined on to the church, it’s one of the oldest. One of the cellars is vaulted and we learnt recently that the building was a monastery many centuries ago. Now a large and rambling house, it used to be 3 or even 4 houses that have been knocked into one over the years.

You approach it through a pair of wooden gates that open onto a tunnel. This leads to a small courtyard, on one side of which, behind the Virginia Creeper, is our house. If you climb up the stairs you’ll reach the heavy wooden door into our kitchen; a cool, dark room with a red tiled floor, white walls and a traditional bread oven. The rest of the house leads off this kitchen, up and down steps and through thick wooden doors. All of the walls are incredibly thick stone (maybe as much as a foot) which keeps the house nice and cool in summer but much too cold in winter. The windows are all shuttered to keep out the summer heat and the wind, rain and snow in winter and some of the rooms have fireplaces as well.

When the house was bought, the living rooms were all on the first floor, with little lofts to store crops but my parents have added a proper second floor in order to make bedrooms. We don’t have a garden but the house came with a field instead which we have never made much use of as it’s steep and very overgrown. The house is simply furnished with white washed walls, tiled or wooden floors (laid over the original stone) and traditional wooden French furniture, bought cheaply from brocantes at a time when they couldn’t give the stuff away. My parents have restored it sympathetically, keeping all the interesting nooks and crannies and so it retains its character.

When I say derelict, I really mean it, although sadly there aren’t any photos to show what it was like. Imagine a house that hadn’t been lived in for 40 years, with no electricity, a roof that leaked and was knee deep in leaves and soot and you get some idea of the challenge my parents took on.

They haven’t done it all on their own though; there has been a lot of help from friends and family along the way. We were never on our own in the house, there was always at least one other family staying with us during the long six week holiday and often a succession of visitors.

Friends would be enticed to come out by the wonderful scenery, the swimming in the river and the chance for a cheap holiday. The deal would be that they worked on the house alongside Mum and Dad and shared the costs of the food etc. Some families only came out once but many have been several times, seduced by the charms of the area and so the house has been renovated.

Apart from the roof, work has progressed a room at a time, starting with the kitchen and the bathroom. My parents have turned their hand to everything: Wiring, plumbing, plastering, stripping wood, tiling, reupholstering chairs, digging out septic tanks and making banisters. The list is endless. They even put in the extra roof beams themselves. I vividly remember the local farmer bringing an enormous log on his tractor from the forest above the house and my parents and friends cementing it into the holes they had made in the walls.

Dad is a fluent French speaker and well liked in the local community, so he soon found out where to buy everything he needed for the house and made deals with people, like the man who brought the beam on his tractor. In the early days, shopping trips didn’t just mean food; there was always a trip to the builder’s yard as well to pick up supplies, brought back in the trusty VW van!

Work would start in the morning, with a break for lunch and continue until around two or three o’clock, when hot and dusty, the adults decided that was enough for the day and it was time for a swim in the river. Us kids would stop playing and gratefully go and find our swimming gear, desperate for a swim as a respite from the August heat.

Once down the hill, Dad would park the van on the side of the road and we would make our way to our favourite swimming spot, walking along the side of a field and through some trees to reach the river. The river is shallow for the most part and not very wide; you can easily ford from one side to the other. The riverbed and the banks are pebbly and wearing jelly shoes is absolutely essential. In places there are deep pools, where the water is undercutting the rock and this is where we swam.

One of the first things that Dad and his friends did every year would be to dam up the river (with a small gap for the canoeists) in order to make the water deeper. It also slowed down the current a bit, so you could swim more easily. The water is clear and cold, full of fish and wonderfully refreshing. Also, when you’re swimming in the river, you get the most amazing view of the mountains behind you and often birds of prey wheeling overhead in the blue sky. On the far side of the bank were a series of rocks, ideal for jumping off and learning to dive on. Every afternoon was spent here, swimming, diving, floating down the river on tractor inner tubes, skimming stones, sunbathing, reading and generally messing around. It was the highlight of the holiday and now the next generation enjoy it as much as we did. They have learnt to swim in the river, as did we.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The river with the Trois Becs in the background.

Looking back, I can see that we had a great deal more freedom to roam than the current generation. Whilst Mum and Dad and the other adults were working, we would take ourselves off to play, only coming back when we were hungry. As the road through the village is a dead end (ending further up the mountain in a farm), hardly any traffic came through, so there was little danger from cars. We would play in the square and go further afield too, taking walks and bike rides around the village, through the fields and the vineyards.

As we became older, we were allowed to go down to the river on our own, being too impatient to wait for the adults, who would come along later. There was a collection of rackety old bikes in the pig sty and we would take one of these and freewheel down the hill, hearts in our mouths, hoping we weren’t going to fall off onto the unforgiving tarmac. The only downside was that we then had to push the bikes all the way back up the hill, as it’s much too steep to ride back up on an ancient three-gear bike!

One really vivid memory of my holidays there are the spectacular thunderstorms that broke out when the heat had reached intolerable levels. You knew we were in for a storm when it was 30 degrees and humid by midday and the thermometer was still climbing. Sure enough come evening the clouds would pile up over the mountains and the sky would darken. Spectacular thunder and lightning would ricochet round the valley, accompanied by torrential rain.

We would stand by the window in the top bedroom watching in awe and jumping whenever a particularly loud clap broke overhead. In the early days, when the mains connection to the village was dodgy, we would always have a power cut. Very used to this, Mum and Dad always had a stock of candles in the kitchen cupboard. The other problem was the roof, it always leaked somewhere but never in the same place every year. We would be sent off to check on the strategically placed buckets and told to report any new leaks. The other downside was that we couldn’t go swimming for a couple of days, as the river would be freezing cold and muddy.

The daily routine of working and swimming would be broken up by regular trips to the market and the occasional day off when we would take a trip further afield, to visit a pretty town or maybe a cave. Most of our food shopping was done at the weekly markets, my parents not being a lover of supermarkets. We would pile into the van, with our collection of shopping baskets and drive to one of the local towns, depending on which day it was and therefore which market was on.

We would park up on the outskirts of town, easier than negotiating the tiny narrow streets of the old quarter and wander over to the market. Once here, we would make our rounds of the stalls; fruit, vegetables, cheese, olives, bread and sometimes sausages were all bought. As Dad knew most of the stall holders, progress was slow, as he had to have long conversations with all of them! Sometimes we would be treated to a delicious ice cream or we would stop at a cafe for the adults to have a pre-lunch beer and the kids an Orangina. As the bells of 12 o’clock tolled, the market would empty as the locals made their way home for lunch and a siesta. 

Mealtimes were quite an event on holiday, with as many as 13 people sleeping in the house! The kitchen has a long trestle table flanked by two church pews, which Dad bought back in England and then persuaded the shop owner to bring out on the roof of his Volvo as they wouldn’t fit in the VW. We would all cram into the pews and sometimes we had to have a chair on each end too.

The washing up would take twice as long as preparing the meal, as facilities were limited, the only hot water available being from the kettle. Tomato salad, saucisson, olives and bread and cheese were the staples of our diet, followed by delicious peaches or melons, stored in the cellar to keep cool. Occasionally we would barbeque the local speciality sausage, Merguez; very spicy, North African style ones and absolutely delicious. Of course there was also plenty of cheap beer and red wine for the adults; necessary in the evening after a long day of hard labour and energetic swimming.

Socializing with local families during the holiday also brought variety to the daily round. The village is tiny and when I was a child only the old people were left, the young all having moved away in search of jobs other than farming. Therefore we quickly got to know all the local families and the people who lived out on the farms, as well as the stall holders in the market.

We would be invited round for drinks, sirop de menthe for us and home-made vin de noix (walnut wine) for the adults, usually in the early evening. More fun would be going to someone’s house for dinner. My favourite place to go was the farm high on the mountains, run by a French/Polish couple. We loved walking up the mountain beyond the village to their house. Once the road ran out, you had to take a track through the woods which came out at the back of the farm. We would sit outside on their verandah for an aperitif and then have dinner in their cosy kitchen once the sun had gone down. They were a friendly, talkative couple and we missed them when they moved away.

We also went canoeing down the river when we fancied a bit of fun. I’ve never forgotten the first time that I went and the lesson we had about getting out of the canoe if you capsized; the trick is to remove both legs at once so you don’t get stuck. After minimal instruction we donned our life jackets and set off. I guess I was about 11.

The river winds its way down the valley towards the much bigger Rhone river, past farmers’ fields and vineyards and through little towns and villages. It tumbles over the rocks in places making exciting rapids, in others it is very shallow and slow moving. I think we all probably capsized at least once on that first trip but that was all part of the fun. We would rescue one another and make sure none of the oars got lost. When we got hot, we would pull the boats up on to the bank and have a refreshing swim. By the time we got to the end point several miles downstream, where we had to pull the boats up for them to be loaded back on to the van, we were starving and really thirsty and went racing across the bridge to the shop at the campsite to see what we could find.

Going to a local fete was also a high point of the summer. Every village and town has one and the whole community turns out to celebrate. The one in the nearest town was best as they had a fun fair and a firework display down by the river. Trestle tables would be laid out in the square and there would be some serious eating and drinking and then dancing.

I have been to a few weddings in our village too. Most of them have been of descendants of the main village family. Although hardly any of them live in the village anymore, they still own a lot of the houses which they holiday in during the summer. A catholic ceremony in the tiny church was followed by a party in the square lasting into the small hours. As a small girl I can remember being thrilled to receive a paper cone of sugared almonds at one wedding.

So how come my parents came to choose this unknown part of France and how have they integrated so well into the local community? In fact my family’s association with the Drome goes back some 60 years to when Dad was a boy. My grandparents were both Francophiles and sent their children to the French Lycee, close to where the family lived in London, so they grew up learning lessons in French from the age of three.

Tired of wet, cold holidays camping in Brittany, they decided to look for somewhere else. According to my grandmother, a map of southern France was laid on the table, she was blindfolded and told to stick a pin into it. Underneath the pin was a little town called Saillans. There was no such thing as a local tourist board in this very rural part of France, in the 1950s, so she contacted the town hall and asked them if there was anywhere to camp in the area. The reply came back that they were welcome to stay on land belonging to some local landowners, who had a big house not far from the river; we are still friends with them today.

My grandparents holidayed in the area every year after that. As summer holidays could be three months long in those days, Dad would be sent out on his own on the train, staying with a local family for weeks at a time, so he was already known in the area by the time my parents decided to buy a house out there.

What of the village now? It is still a backwater and has a gentler pace of life that I love but it has come to life again over the last decade with more families choosing to live there, including my sister. Now children can be heard playing all year round in the square not just in the summer.

But I have visited only intermittently as an adult. Twenty years of holidaying in the same place and doing the same things, left me with a yearning to see other places and try new things. However, for me, it is still one of the most beautiful places in the world and one that I have real affection for. When I die, I want my ashes to be scattered on the little hill directly above the village, where the three crosses are, with its lovely view over the whole valley.