This year things were a little different. I had always booked it through the daughter, who was the only one in the family who had an email address. But the driving force behind the house was the old man, every year proud of a new purchase he'd made for the house: some bright deckchairs, a Miele hoover that he was really pleased with. Last year he sat downstairs while his wife busied herself with the bed making when we arrived, and told me of a problem he had with his lungs. This year when I booked, his daughter told me he had an oxygen canister, but that the family would ensure the house would be ready for us. This year it was the daughter who I finally met for the first time. Monsieur Corentin Volant had died back in May and the three offspring were deliberating over what to do with the house. It was clear, although unspoken, that this was the last time we could book it.
I have happier memories of this place than I've ever had of anywhere else. The most glorious spot in all the universe. I've spoken before here of my penchant for rolling out of bed in the morning, pulling on a swimming costume and running outside to float in the sea, alone in the world (although this year for the first time I had a swimming buddy sometimes, a lady from four houses away who liked to come for a chat whilst we were bobbing up and down, a lady dismal at the thought of returning to her Paris job after four weeks of this). A spot for the best skies, the most surprising of sunsets, the clearest blue water on a fine day. Langoustines from the harbour, or a buttery beautiful something for breakfast, sitting outside, masters of our own beach. Learning to guess what the time might be in the night according to how close the sea sounds. This is a place that has inspired so much art. So I had a few days of utter sadness about this being our last trip here.
A great big daydream starts; one that goes on for days and days. A whole summer there? Easter? Even Christmas? Lettings - of course, it could pay for itself fairly quickly. In my dreams, I have enrolled the children in the sailing school round the corner by lunchtime, and there is talk of retirement. Not to mention the fact that once I'm up and running as a translator, I could think of getting work both sides of the channel.
I probably need to point out here that this house is actually a really horrible house. It looks great from the outside; it is big with four bedrooms; but it needs a complete overhaul. There was a fascination with floral wallpaper that bordered on obsession among some of the French a few years ago and here it is taken to an extreme. They papered over the walls. They papered over the ceilings. They papered over the panels in the doors. They papered over the panels in the doors of the fitted wardrobes, and inside the wardrobes. They papered over the fusebox. Every light fitting would need to be changed in the interests of good taste. The kitchen is truly awful, completely unworkable and even smells rather nasty for no visible reason. So much work to do, and would I be strong enough to deal with French workmen to get things done, quite possibly in my absence?
And of course the details... yes, we would need someone trustworthy on the spot if lettings were to be part of the dream, and yes, that would cost. Yes, it takes us a ridiculously long time to get there just once a year, and quite a bit of money. Yes, only one person in our family speaks any French at all. And yes, a few months ago we talked of needing to stretch further afield and branch out a bit with our holidays in the future.
But warts and all, love being blind and all that, the daydream envelopes us. This is a proper head versus heart job. After a week of seductive weather, I am pleased when the forecast is for a few days of torrential rain, high winds and gloom. It will be a good test, to see whether we could cope in midwinter. When the rain finally starts, we look after the house as if it is our own, rushing to pull everything inside and shut everything firmly. If it had hatches, we would have battened them down. The lovely shutters will have to do, rusty and stiff though their hinges are. The six flashing lighthouses that I've always loved counting from the bedroom window have a new significance in this weather. We check the doors for leaks. I head to bed and the sounds of the rain and the wind against the shutters, and the sea crashing, make me feel like I'm on a boat, but beautifully the house keeps firm and solid and warm. The weather stays mean, and we find places to go that are fine for rainy days, and when we are in the house, the children get adept at playing cards with us and we eat more gateau breton than is good for us.
On the third stormy night, I hear the waves, the clattering shutters, the howling wind and am back in the boat in my head. Then I realise I am being woken incessantly not by the storm but by a fidgeting, sighing, tutting husband and when I ask what's wrong, the words "TOO BLOODY LOUD" fill the room with fury as he stomps off to find earplugs. This house can never be ours.
We know all this, of course we do. I cry when we leave, and a heavy weight gathers in the top of my chest as we drive away, which is still there if I feel for it. And yet we find ourselves talking about the next time.