IT IS rare for me to be on the streets before noon. A combination of sloth, an unwillingness to dress and the lure of the internet means hours pass along with the morning. But twice recently I have had to take Cesar to his temporary groomer almost 50km away in a little town previously only known to me as somewhere to pass through.
With afternoon temperatures hitting as much as 39C, neither beast nor groomer is comfortable in such conditions. So he goes for a 9.30am appointment and somehow we both rise in time to hit the road.
It is the only time of day that life is visible in Lavit. Normally when I appear on the streets, all it would need is the tumbleweed to blow through and the far away echo of a swinging door to be heard to complete the picture of desolation.
In all my time here I have never seen one person enter the town hall; never had to brush past a group of idlers; never had to drive around and around for a parking space.
The patina of time and history hangs heavy over the town and only the cooing of the collared doves breathes life into the scene.
Or so I thought until the other morning. People, lots of people, were passing up and down the streets, in and out of the boulangerie.
Little groups stopped to chat, shifting full shopping bags up and over arms; kisses of course were exchanged on greeting and leaving; children on school holiday scuffed around the market and its roof batted back the sound of their laughter and yells.
In the bank, instead of just me and the machine, people were queuing to speak to the one teller. The automatic door was opening and closing as if equally excited by the numbers.
Three cars – three – passed me as I waited to pull out and I realised I’d hit rush hour.
Almost giddy with excitement I did a quick tour to marvel at the moving cars and peer at faces and shapes never seen before.
Eventually I got control of myself and carried on to our appointment and Cesar settled back down, exhausted from his relentless barking at the strange sights.
Returning at 12.30pm was disconcerting. The slate had been wiped clean of people and like Brigadoon all had vanished, players deserting the stage.
I am used to it now and used to the many medieval villages that cluster here in their silent watchful brooding as if waiting to be awakened in 1617 not 2017.
Even the cats sit motionless on their windowsills, their knowing, malevolent eyes staring unblinking. The dogs no doubt are lying in kennels or garden shade, occasionally madly scratching the fleas that proliferate in summer.
If, as is often usual, the village has no cafe or restaurant, there is not even the low-level buzz coming from the pavement tables.
If there is, then it’s rarely the tourists, who often simply sit in silence relishing the heat, the lack of movement, the lack of noise.
When I have guests I bring them to such places and we sit under tree or parasol and all I hear is sighs of utter contentment and I cease babbling to let their eyes and minds drift away.
This is the time of the daydream when they plan another life, an escape from the greyness they’ve left behind and the drudgery of jobs they no longer enjoy.
They talk of a holiday house, which eventually would become their retirement house and how marvellous it would be to stroll to a square for lunch with no time limit.
Gently I tell them to enjoy what they have now and not pin everything on a plan years away. And I remind them that the gods laugh when men make plans.
“Ah, but that’s just you,” they say, “you who wouldn’t even book a holiday in advance to tempt the fates, as you always say.
“Everything on a whim with you – always last-minute decisions.”
This is the moment when I fully admit the truth of their words knowing I never want to change and then slyly point out that I’m the one actually living here and came long before retirement age.
I’m the one with the house they love (although we know the reality of that, don’t we?) and the apparent ability to drift around and live in such daily beauty.
But then I laugh to take the sting out of my words and tell them they’re right: make a plan but expect many detours and derailments along the way.
After all, why should I tread on their dreams? There are many at-peace couples who’ve waited years but have fulfilled their retirement goal of the French life.
I used to see them regularly in the cafes and restaurants, but with their fixed income down 25 per cent as the pound-to-euro rate shies just short of parity, they now view such outings as rare treats.
I don’t say this to my guests. I let them dream and I settle into my dream: the usual – a town that never sleeps, never slumbers and people … loads and loads of people.
And noise. Good noise. That’s all.