Magazine article The Spectator

Jeremy Clarke in France: A Couple of Formidables, Dinner with Bucketfuls of Rosé, Dancing, Cognac with Sugar Cubes and a Delightful Romance

Magazine article The Spectator

Jeremy Clarke in France: A Couple of Formidables, Dinner with Bucketfuls of Rosé, Dancing, Cognac with Sugar Cubes and a Delightful Romance

Article excerpt

Golly my testicles are shrinking fast. At this rate by Christmas they'll be down to the size of garden peas. And I might have breasts on the way, too, it says on page 92 of the hormone injection contraindications leaflet. Fantastic!

Just what I've always wanted.

After two days at the seaside at St Raphael, me and my incredible shrinking knackers headed inland to a busy, famously pretty little village in the hills. Friends - a sculptor and his wife - put me up in their tall rented house on the plane tree-shaded square for five days. I arrived in the middle of a local's allday birthday party at which the 60-year-old, nut-brown hostess, wearing a tiny white bikini, was dancing on the tables, and my pale sculptor friend, magnificent in a thick Harris tweed kilt and enormous sporran, suffered a touch of sunstroke. This was my introduction to the local rose, the fuller-bodied highly addictive sort, which became a blessed staple.

For four days the itinerary was roughly as follows. In the mornings, I walked in the stony hills, deafened at first by the cacophonous crepitations of the cicadas. But I quickly grew accustomed to the extraordinary noise, after which I was largely unconscious of it.

As I walked, however, this strange, otherworldly sound (something like the crackling of overhead high-voltage electricity) would now and then re-enter my consciousness with dramatically increased intensity, it seemed to me, when an idle thought triggered a heightened emotion. And then it would subside as that emotion subsided. It was as though the small dramas of a consciousness even as unexciting as mine were being carefully monitored and imitated by an audience of hundreds of thousands of sympathetic insects hidden in the trees.

It was the first week of August, and yet I rarely saw another soul. And from the eminences you could see for miles and miles across what looked like forested wilderness with not a road or a habitation or a pylon to spoil the view or to remind you of your place in the 21st century. Surprisingly big country, France.

In the afternoons I sat for my portrait. My sculptor friend also paints. I sat shirtless in a chair beside an open window. He crouched on his collapsible stool at an easel maybe six feet away. His canvas was about 15in. by 10in. and positioned at the same height as my head. He told me to look away and slightly up, and for a focusing point I made use of a painting on the wall of the kind of sun-baked village that one might see in a spaghetti western. …

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