We took this new interest to France with us. Have we mentioned that we love France? Some years ago we nearly hit two courting butterflies as we careered along a French motorway. They were carried up and over the car by the draught and I saw them briefly in the mirror as they continued their dance together wondering, no doubt, what had happened to their world. This year we travelled down the west of France on one of our trips and on the way saw butterflies in Brittany, and waterfowl in a wetland reserve. We visited a friend in Saint Nazaire which seemed to me a little like Bournemouth in the drizzle, except that the centre of the town was dominated by a concrete monstrosity that had been a German submarine base. Only now, seventy years after the end of World War ll, is St Nazaire setting about turning it into a set of gardens. There are ambitious plans for three separate garden areas, but so far all that there is to be seen is a small forest of poplar trees planted in hessian bags of earth deep inside the concrete corridors.
The trees are pushing their heads out into the daylight but for now it looks pretty well like a mass of grey concrete.

Earlier in the year we had paid another visit to Valchevrière, a village set in the mountain forests of the Vercors and which was completely destroyed as a reprisal near the end of the war. If ever a reminder were needed of how important it is to maintain good relations and good communications with your neighbours it is here. After Saint Nazaire we headed to friends in France’s rural hinterland, staying first in an 18th century country house in Limousin then in a 19th century one a little further south. Everyone had butterflies and birds.

It will not surprise you to hear that we have noted with varying degrees of regret and sadness the toll taken by the passage of another year on the health of our friends. Though I at any rate have noticed some effects of the ravages of time on myself, I have to say that on the whole we have much for which we can be thankful. We still managed a little skiing and at least two of our walks extended to over five hours. You’ll notice what I did there: by describing the length of a walk in time not distance I have future-proofed future claims of fitness. The children, of course, can tell you how many steps and kilometres they have totalled in the day.


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