Magazine article The Spectator

Hard Day's Work

Magazine article The Spectator

Hard Day's Work

Article excerpt

We wandered around the impressively ancient and well-preserved town of Bergerac, looking for somewhere to post a banal postcard. Pink Floyd's 'Wish You Were Here' issued from loudspeakers fixed to the eaves of the lopsided mediaeval buildings. It was so hot that sweat was coming out of my forearms.

We failed to find either a postbox or a post office, so we looked for someone local to ask for directions. This was not as easy as it sounds because 90 per cent of the people we passed in the streets were retired English people. You could tell that by looking at them. It was the clothes that gave them away. They were dressed with courage and enterprise but no style. Bush hats, fisherman's hats, creased, drab, ill-fitting T-shirts, voluminous shorts, passé trainers, socks. If it wasn't the clothes that gave them away, it was the shocking whiteness of their legs. Stupefied by sun, wine and cholesterol, and hanging on to one other, they were wandering uncomprehendingly and inoffensively through the steep and narrow little streets. In one of the pretty squares I tried asking a youth sitting astride a bicycle on the steps of the Protestant Temple if he knew where the post office was. But I got my French verbs mixed up and asked him to meet me there instead. He looked uncomfortable and pedalled off.

One steep and narrow street was all but blocked by a red paramedics' van. The back doors were flung open and the extending aluminium ramp was resting on the cobbles. We squeezed along the side of the van, and as we passed the door of the shop - a camera shop - we gawped shamelessly at the elderly holidaymaker stretched out on the floor. The paramedics were kneeling over her trying to restart her heart. The well-spaced regularity of the beeps coming from a portable heart monitor and the stillness of the patient suggested that they weren't having much luck. We were a little stunned by what we saw at first. But then the all-pervasive street music changed to the cheerfully up-tempo 'Bad Moon Rising' by Creedence Clearwater Revival and I couldn't help but sing along. And then we saw a café we liked the look of and we flopped down at one of the tables outside under the trees.

At the next table, a rare French family were having oysters for lunch. Madame leant across and tipped an oyster from the shell into a small child's mouth. …

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