A snake called Oliver Cromwell
Instead of going back to the city where I grew up, I go to Touris. My folks bought the place about 15 years ago. Back then, it was just a ramshackle barn set in a field half up the Midi-Pyrenean Causses, just outside a little town called St Antonin de Noble Val, overlooked only by a pair of buzzards and encircled by the white cliffs of the Aveyron gorge. By 2005 there was finally enough roof and solid floor to stay on, and Mum and Dad set me to work on flat pack and wall painting. Seeing what they had done with the place, I just about forgave them for selling the ancestral home in Bath. Billy and I have been to Touris every summer since then, with an assorted cast of friends, family and children. I had my 30th birthday there – heady, childless days of canoeing and Rosé by the pool. Mum celebrated her 60th sitting under the plum tree, and this year the folks rang in their 40th wedding anniversary there. Isaac took his first steps under the shade of the vines my Dad planted, and both boys discovered the delights of cold swimming pools on to hot, hot days. It is a house of forever memories for us. I didn’t think I would make it there this summer. I had written it August off as a chemo wasteland, my plans for a grand tour of Europe before the boys started school stymied by my platelets (who knew a platelet could stymie anything?)
But somehow we managed to escape the land of the ill and rescue summer for two whole weeks. I surrendered to the powers of my little white cells (like a maverick Hercule Poirot). They ruled, not me, but instead of sinking deeper into misery when they kept failing me and putting chemo back and back, we sped off on our Ryanair chariot to France. And so we had a late summer glut of long, hot, glorious days in the only place where the Nuisance doesn’t exist. We made dens and dams. We ate cheese and ice cream every day (I couldn’t look look less like a frail cancer patient if I tried. Quite, ahem, robust in my bathers). I swam for the first time in nearly a year and luxuriated in the sensation of cold water over my head and my limbs moving as a wanted them to. My strong legs took me to walk in high places and I saw more VIEW than I have for months (sorry Cambridgeshire, but your landscape just stultifies). Billy and I spent a night in an old hunting lodge with an enormous bed and white linen sheets. We climbed castle walls and repelled intruders. We even had a friendly house snake, whom Oscar named Oliver Cromwell (what a good Irish boy). I wasn’t someone with cancer. I was someone on holiday, getting a tan, rocking a coral pedicure. And it felt great.