It was the summer of 1999 that we first came to this area; we rented an old farmhouse in a hamlet that seemed deep in the French countryside. A triangle of towns gave us options for shopping, restaurants and markets: Sainte-Foy-la-Grande 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 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. At the end of the holiday, the arrows remained in France, but the bow was brought back with us to Ireland.
We have moved house three times since then. Everything has been packed away and unpacked three times. Countless things are now in the basement of the 18th Century house in which we live and the bow is still with us, like some legendary weapon from stories of ancient times. Its presence is a reminder that the day might come when an adventure will begin again. Its story is told here in moments of melancholy.
Standing at the top of the tower at the castle in Duras this afternoon, there was a wish to be standing there with our family members, as we had done in the happy times of the past. Perhaps in decades to come, they will indulge an old man and recall with happiness those days that must now seem to them so long ago.