AND so I came home to Las Molieres after yet another sojourn under French medical care. In the almost four weeks of my absence, autumn has begun its takeover of the green curtain of creeper on my house and outbuildings. Ruby rich jewels of colour now replace the lush green leaves; they tumble over garage and walls, stretching out along the drive.
No artist surely could truly capture the pulsating sparks thrown off by the dieback; chestnut and pillar-box red blending in a last explosion of life.
After its parched browning in the now unbearable late summer heat, the parc has returned to the fastgrowing electric green, hungrily soaking up the heavy dews of morning and the unpredictable shortlived cloudbursts.
By the pool, four sun loungers line up – cushions returned to the barn – in defiance of what is to come. They look forlorn and underused, as indeed they were this year except during a brief visit from my son.
In the first years, when those I’d left behind came in their numbers to dream their own dreams, I often picked up a forgotten wine bottle, an overturned glass, a smeared plate, smiling at the late-night madness.
And on the rare weeks without visitors I could be found floating in my pool singing: “I’m H-A-P-P-Y, I’m H-A-P-P-Y” before climbing out to salute the dying sun with a large, frosted glass of sharp white wine.
God, what nights we had gazing at the ridiculous spread of stars and the Milky Way, all to a background of noisy cicadas, the ever-present sound of the south of France.
Coming from a land of grey skies and icy winds, the pleasure of rising from my bed and opening my shutters to an enveloping, early heat was a joyous assault on the senses.
My winter-based clothes disappeared to rarely opened cupboards and my wardrobe became a skimpy collection of linens, T-shirts and long shirts over swimming costumes.
My feet, for years perched on ludicrous heels, squeezed into boots with ever changing toe-shapes, spread into flip-flops or eased into open leather sandals.
My skin darkened rapidly with just the barest kiss of sun and the back of my neck took on that tone I always envied in those who grew up in another country.
The phone would ring often with invitations to aperos or lunches and dinners, always from the large British community, and willingly I trotted off in lost meanderings down identical country roads and up hidden drives.
My social life, to the onlooker, was rich and frequent but, as always, I brought my pen to bear on all that was happening and my cold eye and splinter of ice heart saw them shy away for fear of being in these pages.
And increasingly I showed my ennui and yes, disdain for their often shallow grasp on France and its complexities; their passive resistance to passionate discussion and conversation that swooped from books to politics in a heartbeat.
My dark humour and one-liners, appreciated in my old world, fell on ears unused to such thoughts coming from ordered, contained lives.
Therefore, as my restlessness grew in this land, I stopped accepting the few invitations that still came my way and in time even those last, dear die-hards gave me up.
As I loathed cooking, though not entertaining, I somehow never got round to setting up my own salon and even if I thought of pushing myself, my inner response was: “But who for?”
I made a few French friends who, in their inherent respect for individual privacy, often – wrongly – stayed away to give me the space I so obviously needed. But often I didn’t need it and I stared out into the nothingness my surroundings were now becoming to me.
“Be careful,” I was warned by one who has known me well for years. “Don’t isolate yourself. Play the game. Shade your eyes from your thoughts. There’s no taxi to call, no escape to others, no mix and match any more. This is it.
“You’ve never realised, have you, how your feelings show in your face, even when you’re trying hard?”
Perhaps I have, usually when I no longer want to play the game. I’ve never been fond of team sports.
And there has always been a dog at my side. Unconditional love, you say, nodding sagely. Actually no. My dogs have always been Afghans – aloof and, frankly, seemingly uncaring and disdainful of all humans, even their own. Seemingly.
They do not come to call, to slobber with joy on seeing the one who feeds them. Their gaze is always on something in the distance, in jaundiced hopes of distraction.
Though when ill or broken, they fade quickly, turning face to wall, going inward in search of help or oblivion.
It takes time and gentle, non-intrusive steps to bring them back. When they accept you won’t be pushed away they give in and at last look you straight in the eye with love – their form of love.
Last night the shutters were pulled at barely 7.30pm. And when the clocks change, the nights will be long and dark.
It’s over, isn’t it?