…we’re all hunkered down at the place of employment. Hunkered? Or should that be bunkered down? No, bunkered sounds as though we’re securely hidden away. Must be hunkered then. Although that still sounds as if we’re hiding but the only thing we’ve temporarily succeeded in hiding from is the interminable rain. And it is temporary. It might be cosy in my nice warm office, and I might’ve retrieved my winter slippers from their summer resting place in the middle drawer of the desk, but any minute now another sodden student will appear in the doorway dripping their way in for an hour’s support of some form or another. And I will, hopefully, rectify their life for 60 minutes.
I drive home via the surgery. For reasons too tedious to mention, the surgery has become my second home of late. The only reason I’m mentioning the place is because, like my students, I’ve been given an allotted time to arrive. And like my students, I will be damp and dripping all over the carpet. The similarities pretty much end there. I might have mentioned elsewhere that in France doctors’ receptionists don’t exist: you make your arrangements directly with the GP. I’m like a French GP: students make their plans with me. If they can’t keep their appointments, they generally let me know. Not some formidable intermediary.
So, it’s bucketing down. I’ve allowed myself a generous half hour for a trip that should take, at the most, twenty minutes. But, as I said, it’s raining and, this being England, where you might’ve thought they’d got used to a spot of the watery stuff, the rain means that traffic is at a standstill. My car is reasonably new, modern and sleek. Makes no difference: it’s a Ford. I’m old enough to remember the days when, if you were in possession of a Ford, you had to begin your day half an hour prematurely in winter because you knew the car wasn’t going to start. ‘Oh, just leave me alone’, the poor, cold, little engine would splutter. I’m not designed for early mornings’. The engineers finally overcame this insanity.
Trouble is, the seasons have changed. We only have two of them now: grey or bright; raining or not raining. The Ford doesn’t have to worry about fighting arctic winters any longer so now it complains about precipitation. I switch the warm air to a place where it will make my slipperless toes feel nicer. Toes are comforted but now the car’s steamed up. I can’t see a bloody thing. I open the window but that only makes things worse. Now I’m wet and chilly as well as unable to see out. I sit in the traffic and switch the air to a place where it will clear the windscreen. And I’m instantly cold again. And all the while the clock is ticking.
I’m on the phone to the surgery. Despite the fact that I’m not moving, I disguise the fact that I’m on the phone. I lean casually against the window, phone cupped surreptitiously to my right ear as though I’m momentarily relaxing, and whisper to the GP’s receptionist:
‘I’m afraid I’m caught in traffic. I might be a tad late’. I deliver this news as if I’m a beautiful, but brave, butterfly who has been momentarily trapped in a collector’s net from which, any minute now, I shall be free. ‘How late will you be’, screams the oberfuhrer? ‘Oh, I’m just in Poole’, I lie. ‘About five minutes?’
Oberfuhrer says something unintelligible. ‘Did you hear that?’ ‘Absolutely’, I lie again.
Afterwards, I collect my prescription and, as a necessary treat, purchase a bright pink lipstick. I arrive home soaked and put the kettle on. The kettle boils just as I’m pouring a glass of wine. I look out of the window and I think of the south of France.
None of the previous quotidian would have happened in the South. Chances are, at this time of year, they are experiencing a horrid Mistral that will wear them down. It will make them cold and irritated. It might even cut their electricity supply. They will have to go into Avignon for respite. And when they’re within the city walls, they might have to duck to avoid flying debris. They will have to partake of an early aperitif before hiding in the confines of the Utopia cinema where they will watch a film shown in the language in which it was made. They will exit the Utopia and go to Le Cid for a quick, people-watching expresso. They might then be blown to a restaurant for a very long dinner.
I don’t want to live in the South. Winter’s a pain. They’re rubbish at doing Christmas so there’s nothing to look forward to. I like the ever diminishing English seasons. I like pub quizzes and I like my students. I like visiting my friends & family and I miss them enormously when I’m not here. I like my cosy office and my warm house. I like seeing deer at the end of my road. Jonathan Meades says every man has two countries: their own and France. It’s October and I miss France.