In the summer of 1999 we rented an old farmhouse in a hamlet deep in the French countryside. A triangle of towns gave options for shopping, restaurants and markets: Sainte Foy in the department of the Gironde to the north; Duras in Lot et Garonne to the south-west; and Eymet in the Dordogne to the south-east. A meeting place for departmental boundaries, the hamlet was an odd mix of people. Our neighbour. and supplier of his own appellation controlee wine, was a true countryman of indeterminate age; across the road the lady was a sophisticated Parisienne, nearby, an elderly, reclusive English couple who spoke to no-one, not even a nod as you passed.
It was an area where many of those who had arrived from across the channel had so blended in that it would have been proper to greet them in French before continuing in English. One wet morning in a market square, I came out of a newsagents where two men were in conversation with the proprietor, on stepping out of the shop door they stood under the medieval arches that enclosed the square and watched the rain – their accents richly those of the English West Country. They could have taught British tourists lessons in how to make the most of a place.
It was a magical place for children of eight and six years old, there was a swimming pool in the garden and countryside all around. We were to return four times before demands arose for something with a little more activity for young people. Memories still linger of sitting in the late afternoon sun with a glass of kir and a pile of books.
One afternoon in August 1999, Michael and I went for a walk in the woodland that ran along the ridge of hills to the east of the hamlet. Trees centuries old, it was the sort of place where I suspected truffles would be hunted in the autumn; not that anyone would have admitted such activity could be possible.
We decided that we were on an adventure and that bows and arrows were in order. We fashioned Michael a bow from a branch that lay on the ground and arrows from various sticks. The bowstring was a piece of black nylon twine. The arrows remained in France, but the bow was brought back with us to Ireland.
We have moved house twice since then – across the road and back again as our new rectory was built. Everything has been packed away and unpacked twice. Countless things have gone up into the huge floored attic of this house (including many of my most treasured possessions), but the bow still remains in Michael’s room, hanging on the back of the chair, as if the day might come when an adventure would begin again.