A mystical foggy morning, France, October 2016.
A mystical foggy morning, France, October 2016.

Grand-père: Do you want to take…

Me (thinking): a shower

Grand-père: …an aperitif?

It’s raining. The afternoons here – at least for me – tend to be an easier affair than the mornings. It’s what comes of having wine at lunchtime (and today an aperitif as well because in Grand-mere’s words ‘TGIF’), before taking a break for a siesta. After sleeping, I read a children’s book on giant vehicles.


I’m turning the page only every half an hour because it’s in French and there are flaps to lift. I’m also learning new words in English, like ‘hopper wagon’. It’s an informative book. The author and illustrator is Stephen Biesty who also created a wonderful children’s book on Ancient Egypt which I have at home, in English.

Anyway. While I try to understand the structure of an A380, Grand-père repairs a violin. He goes about his work with an air of calm focus, occasionally whistling in tune with his classical music playing to the room with which is playing with some gusto. With his magnifying glasses, his bright desk lamp and the sound of careful sanding, he reminds me a little of Geppetto.

The house might have double glazing and electric lights, but its wooden beams, tiled floors and thick rugs make it feel like we’ve stepped back in time. A big wooden dresser stands at one end of the dining room, and decorative plates and copper pans gleam on the walls. Grand-mère insists you need a proper copper pan for making jam. A brass candle stick holder sits at either end of the long wooden table. Fresh white candles stand in place ready for dinner. A chandelier hangs above.

I write from an armchair in the living-room. The natural focal point here is the large stone fireplace and cluttered mantelpiece. People pass though on their way to the kitchen, the bedrooms, or out the side door towards the swimming pool. In an ordinary house, I would typically call such a room the main room, but this is the first time I’ve really paid it any attention. A portrait of a lady smiling demurely, a smaller picture of Jesus dying and a tapestry of a child unimpressed by a swan decorate the walls. A neglected television peers out from the corner.

I’m secretly mesmerised by the part of the room hidden behind a floor to ceiling curtain. This is Grand-père’s workshop. Pieces of cello lay on the workbench. The shelves above are stacked with violins. Beneath them is a shelf of old cake tins with peeling handwritten labels which I guess contain spare parts. My French vocabulary is not so broad as to include such technical terms. Bows rest on the windowsill, hair loose.

I think I’m learning more than just French.