The lost Anglais’ and a hamlet unfazed by time
THE nice part of being lost is asking the way. Sometimes it results in fun you d be sorry to have missed. That was exactly the recent case for us. An hour into distant, unknown high country the only (and worrying) positive I had was that the sun ought to
THE nice part of being lost is asking the way. Sometimes it results in fun you'd be sorry to have missed.
That was exactly the recent case for us.
An hour into distant, unknown high country the only (and worrying) positive I had was that the sun ought to be in a different place for us to be going the right way.
We'd gone to new ground looking for early spring flowers and been rewarded by a riot of colour blanketing otherwise bare slopes.
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It was still decidedly chilly up there, and I fretted to get back in the motor as Madam dallied searching for a few stalk-damaged blooms she might take without feeling guilty picking them.
We filmed the masses of their fellows and set off, mission accomplished.
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But before long the very minor road dismayed us by persisting west-by-northwest rather than our required north.
Frontier worries mounted on encountering a red and white striped sentry box.
No sentry, however, and the absence of fag ends suggested it was long redundant.
"We'll go back to that last hamlet and ask. It's only five minutes," I said.
A dubious Madam thought it looked derelict passing through.
The little huddle of one-storey, one room houses was indeed distinctly shabby.
Nor was there the customary caf� for the men folk to congregate outside.
We found a half-dozen of them perched on rocks in front of what proved to be the one shop.
Nobody got up, but the welcome was hearty when they heard we were lost Anglais.
Manchester, Liverpool, Chelsea, they smiled, laughing when Madam implored: "Don't start him off on that", catching her import if not understanding the words.
They fell to arguing, as ever will country folk, over which was our best way.
When agreement was finally reached, the shopkeeper found some paper, copied the lines, and gave it to me.
He'd put a big X on it and, pointing, said: "Ecole, OK?" then sign-languaged to take second right there, after which it was a direct 25km.
That settled, we all relaxed and grouped for Madam to video me displaying the map.
Next moment, around the corner came an old lady leading a handsome cow.
Seeing the gathering, she handed Madam the animal's halter and vanished into an adjacent house.
She was soon back, decked out in all her finery and reclaimed the cow to stand posing with it for Madam's camera.
Around my age she had an amazingly smooth face and must have once been a real beauty.
Our day was made by her patent delight when Madam ran the film through twice so she could see herself and her amiable cow.
The beast was left grazing, while she led us around the back of her house to a brood of very new chicks and several frisky lambs.
The chicks ran freely in and out of her house, but inside was clean and tidy, with a splendid tabby asleep on a beautifully embroidered cushion.
Coffee in tiny cups and home baked biscuits appeared in no time.
Tabby was soon on Madam's lap, purring furiously.
Thank heaven for the little shop next door and that its modest wares included a big bar of chocolate, which the old lady accepted with gracious smiling protests.
When we left, she kissed us on both cheeks and hugged Madam, then stood in the door waving, tabs in her arms. I swear Madam's eyes were moist.
The men, who stayed sitting outside, were clearly pleased at how much we'd enjoyed ourselves.
They explained the old lady was granny to one of them, and he it was who handed Madam a bunch of the wild flowers she'd earlier been so circumspect not to pick.
He had apparently rushed off up the hillside to gather them while we were in his gran's.
On the drive home Madam adjured: "You will keep their map for a souvenir?"
She also said, perceptively: "They are happy living the life they have, aren't they, those people?"
When she asked what their little community was called, I volunteered "Brigadoon?"
Not entirely in jest, either.
If I know Madam, we'll be going back sooner or later - and personally I won't be too surprised if, like Brigadoon, it has vanished!