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Let us now touch down with tyres smoking on the scorched runway in one of our beloved holiday destinat­ions: the south of France. Le Midi, hear the majesty in those syllables. Feel the sun and light and sand, the wind in our madly bleached hair as I drive our imaginary sports car to Antibes, Monte Carlo, the unbearable awe in our hearts at je-ne-sais-quoi slugging away, as I swoop round these woozy bends to Cannes.

Had it not been for years of exhibition posters, planting the idea, I would never have crossed the sea to the lands of the south. But at a moment off my many guards my thoughts filled with the blue behind the slanting pines: for years advertising boards had regaled me with print-ups of the art master­pieces of dappled nature, the many-azured Med, lavender fields, parched valleys and leafy paths I fancied walking down, laid to canvas by those gentle­men of the tricolour who laboured with their oils in boxes and paper in boxes and brushes in more boxes and easels and equipment any artist worth his weight in salt would take with him to execute chiaroscuro, hatching and pas­sage. These crackpots lumbered this about with them like golf caddies. Just so they could sit by a mountain and widge paint around until, fed up, they went back to their huts for some old cheese. Enduring their golf-caddy existence as an excuse for lying amongst the cicadas, steeping them­selves in the blues of the sea and the red roofs, all highly market­able once slapped down and left to dry. But such a struggle. Those winds shot down to the Med straight at these misfits who were forever running after the bits of equip­ment they had failed to pin down properly with rocks. Many a time they trudged home bitter that another master­piece had kited upwards, far into the azure reaches towards Africa, lost.

It was in the midst of all this south-of-France blue, it was with pines slanting all over the place, a hundred years after the inauguration of the historical context I’ve just been so sumptuously, selflessly and digressively describing, that I met Miss Robin.

And I was in love. Armin in love beside the godlike seas so blue, turquoise, doing all those things a person does when rapt in sweet deli­cious love, for example breakfasting à deux in heaven. Eating off funny glass plates which stop being funny, which are frozen by love from being funny to enter that dreamlike realm supercharging all objects handled during love.

We were breakfasting in heaven, talking to each other against the din, the pan­demonium of the cicadas, les cigales, which provide atmosphere at no cost by rubbing bits of their tummies together, incessantly, each hooked up to an invisible 1,000-watt Marshall amp. This pest, these walls of sound, floors and roofs of sound apart, however, life was effortless and perfect. I was a god. Miss Rob a goddess, sitting in the shadow of a blazing sun. It was love on the Cote d’Azur, the Riviera.

We were having late breakfast in the middle of this racket, or as they say in those books you find at airports, and I too have my airport-book side: we were having a late breakfast with golden coffee and croissants among the mimosas and cicadas. Oleander scent drifted scentily through the garden, our table was adorned with the fabled yellow blooms of cour­gette plants, the herbs we’d picked were croaking to a dry crumble de Provence. I love you Robin, I shouted. I love you Armin, she screamed. The Arminal heart heaved with happiness. Gods, we stayed our coffee bowls and kissed. Sighing, we turned to behold the panorama beyond the breakfast table, beyond the property which Robin was caretak­ing for her dreadful parents, to the military barracks annex, slanty pines, the marshy plain of Fréjus now well dry after the earthquake years before, when the Reyran river had burst through its dam and swept 400 dead, including the trainload of passengers that was tipped into it off a bridge, beyond the red roofs of Sainte Maxime, to the distant Med.

Pass the marmalade, I screamed. There isn’t any, she replied, this isn’t England. The lack of marmalade meant I failed to notice at the time that Robin was extremely particular about, enormously careful with marmalade. It was never to be left alone without its top on and had always to go back in the fridge. But there was none, and its lack caused no swerve to the effortless path of Armin’s love.

I turned casually to my goddess, who was rubbing her bronzed toes, nails silver varnished, on the terracotta tiling. Do you know something, I said in a totally uncharacter­istically smug but otherwise normal tone: No distance from this patio Pablo Picasso, Pablo, whom my guide book calls that bald Spaniard with the stripy shirt, er, sculpted. I let the sensual overtones of this idea linger: sculpted. My god­dess, her cool grey eyes huge behind her clean, clean glasses, said nothing. As I spoke I looked at the slanty pine in the garden plot and felt the last vestiges, what a word, vestiges, of the tremors of our lovemaking tremor through me. I knew I was at last a master of something, of the Mediter­ranean life, of adult­hood, love and sex, of conversation, even at breakfast. Don’t you think, darling? I said coda-ing my remarks. Only then did I note that Miss Rob, despite loving me deeply and endlessly, was ig­nor­ing me in favour of gazing at our neigh­bour François, who was constructing a kind of Greek temple on his dustheap of a property to our left.

Talk about augers. I checked the sky for ravens, the distant roads for hay carts. I endured a further minute of my angel’s open lips as she stared at shirtless François strutting about his bomb site, shaking a cypress and testing a new balustrade. As a jet appeared, silver and white over the sapphire sea, he waved to us and screamed it was a plane leaving Nice, and my darling Miss Rob stood up smiling beside the table, from where he stood she would have been all goddess, young breasts under her white T-shirt, and gaily waving back she shouted BONJOUR FRANÇOIS! At this he summoned an idling Hyundai caterpillar digger from behind a mound of rocks to stop hiding and drive full traction towards us. As it passed his commander’s post he leapt up commandingly beside the cab, shades of Stage­coach, Spartacus, Boris Yeltsin, and instructed his man to start gouging a hole by the fence just ten yards from our lovers’ table. Spurred to riposting, my angel again waved wildly, her T-shirt riding up this time. François did a mock bow. I tell you, paradise is a tough place. He turned to the digger and the digger dug. The noise drove the cicadas to hook their amps in relay and experiment in Jimi Hendrix feedbacks. Plump waist and chubby thighs, I stood up, drank up, pulled up my boxer shorts which dualled as swim­ming trunks, and returned inside in a secret huff which I am only now declaring.

This is nonetheless but a drop of water flicked on a hot stone. I was about to meet her parents.

Beam this in. It is week three of our hols. We have just returned from the holiday pool, a François-free zone on top of a hill, a pool in a domaine, as we hope­lessly gifted linguists say, among a comp­lex of houses domained on a hill. Bit like you see every­where in Spain. Mimosas line the roads. Helicopters chop over from the barracks. As I have already intimated, the cicadas and their Marshalls cover the whole of the Cote d’Azur, the amps running on solar power. At the pool, orbing madly, the sun blazed overhead. Leaving my sunspecs in my sandals and wearing my boxer shorts dualling as trunks, I swaggered round the kidney-shaped waters with their weird waterfall and flung myself in at un­expected moments, gracing rippleless waters with my elegant carousing, yet turning brightly animated when joined by my goddess, which was almost never. She sat cross-legged and topless in her baseball cap, reading. While I pretended to read A Brief History of Time and Principia Mathematica she read, she sailed through A Year in Provence, one of those blockbusters made of pastry, written by a soddenly rich non-farmer, non-builder, non-gardener, non-vintner, non-cleaner, non-cook, who could nevertheless pour drinks and answer a phone, order building work and walk from a res­taurant door to a table and back, work spoons and forks, maybe even a toothpick, all unaided. And yet, he knew how to make this experi­ence drive like a chisel into people’s funnybones. So what. So Miss Rob sat at the pool in her baseball cap, this paperback before her breasts, smiling.

She fastened her bikini and dived in once, and we returned to base.

Mr and Mrs X arrived at the ranch convoying themselves in two cars, Mrs X first, proving once again that machodom has many layers and twists and Moebius strips within it. Mr X had the key to the door, which Robin sought to open simul­tan­eously from inside but without luck. Don’t do that, said Mr X greet­ing us in his friendly way. After two weeks alone in heaven but for Robin and a gecko and our blue sheet it was a shock to suddenly face his lumberjack shirt, those blue eyes and brows thick with thatch, his healthy outdoor bravado. Petite Mrs X came in with her head down, carrying everything. Joy leaping in me, I saw she had the same grey eyes as my goddess. She beetled into the kitchen to set down her packages before beetling straight back to the front door to close it. Not stopping to stroke those eyebrows, or even twirl his mous­tache, Mr X immediately lunged into the kitchen and declared this once person-friendly site his personal territory, we would get nuked to carbide if we crossed a line which he then drew on the floor with red crayon, I’m kidding, nobody’s that crazy. He was, though. He went into the garden and Mrs X pursued him to close the door he failed to shut. She asked us what our plans for the afternoon were. Such a gentle-sounding question. We might go to the beach, said Robin. Immediately Mr X returned in a trauma from the garden, which we had failed to water according to speci­fications. Robin crossed the line into the kitchen and inside his pocket Mr X pressed a button to nuke his own daughter but she dodged back over just in time.

Mrs X, OK she wasn’t called that, Mrs Dangerfield, how’s that. Or how about the Marquise, to adopt Robin’s private word for her mum, as in de Sade? So the petite Marquise, to return to my delightful tale of everyday Gestapo life, remarked that although there were still several baby croissants which we should be sure to toast for break­fast there was no bread. On our way to the beach would we buy some pain de campagne? We should write this down, did we have a card to write on?

It was round about the time of this question that Robin got very, very edgy, although she did have a stack of cards to write on. With my antennae honed to rapiers on my own grindstone of family life, I detected immediately something was up. Many things. Of course we will buy this item, I said, sensing it was some­how a brave reply. The Marquise said I should call her Nancy. Brushing one mottled hand across his carwash eyebrows, her husband the Marquess then confirmed I should call her Nancy and himself no, not Nancy, very amusing. Carlton. Charlie, he added, and how about a beer? Not before driving to the beach, I replied at my most politest.

Well already this talk was in a blue funk, Robin said later. She herself made one of her diversionary moves, plunging into a session of in­tense questioning of her mum and dad on the thermometer on the mantelpiece, Galileo’s termometro­lento they all called it. Where had they got it and what did it cost and did it work and why had they got it and look, said my goddess, there’s another thermometer by the window, so why had they got two, the Galileo’s didn’t even work, bin it.

The replies to this onslaught varied. Robin! said the Marqu­ise running daft-chickenly about the kitchen, up and down and back, her head all over the place. Charlie went to the hi-fi system and chose a CD. I stood lonesomely, centre living room, scratching my head, trying to glean the sense of things, notic­ing my dand­ruff was lighting on one shoulder—and with that, the potion had worn off, my godful state had gone.

Now when you buy the pain de campagne, said the Marquise, get the dark flour, the long loaf with the lines that go like this, don’t go to the first bakery where they have that cheap labour and apple turnovers, go to the second one, the lady with the bow will know which loaf you mean, and do it yourself, don’t let Armin, he’s new round here and he’s sure to get it all wrong, all right, Robin darling? I’ve written it down on a card for you, here.

This is my music, said Charlie standing in front of the music system. He twist­ed his moustache and waited for the sound. I was still deaf in one ear from the cica­das. Irish harps, he said. So you’re Arm, Arn…, said the Marquise sudden­ly, we’ve heard so much about you. You’re an entertainer, of sorts. Would you like a beer now? Charlie asked, we’re out of champagne. I’ve heard about you as well, I lied to them both. Head down, the Mar­quise steamed down­stairs after her daughter, who had expressed an intention of using the bathroom. Shut that window, yelled the Marquise. OK mum, yelled back Robin, who with each minute was becoming more difficult to square with the per­son I had been knowing so carnally, so sensational­ly, so profitably when I stop and think in terms of material for my shows.

Off we motored for the beach. You have to mull things sometimes. I mulled among the mimosas and thought I might continue mulling in front of the Med so turquoise. But Robin suddenly said she didn’t fancy the beach after all. She wanted to look at some chapel we’d already set out for once, up in the hills. An unusual thing then happened. She took a sheaf of cards from somewhere and threw them out of the window so I saw them through the mirror scattering beside the road. I had never seen these cards before and now would certainly never see them, but later I would see no end of packets like them, for this was what Robin did for much of the day, write notes to herself on filing cards, anyway from there we went up in the hills and, as they say in the US of A, it was some chapel. One of those artists I was talking about designed the whole thing, from the urinal tiles on the walls to the stained glass and the altar made in some stone that reminded him of bread. This reminded us too and on the way back we saw a patisserie and I dashed in for a loaf.

I should have guessed we’d stumbled on a munitions factory from the way the baguettes stood like stacks of rifles, but I didn’t. I simply let my eye run past the shelves of grenades before setting on a nice crusty-looking timebomb which in no time I was lobbing onto the back seat as we sped on our way, straight towards the newly-laid minefields. Seriously: The air was still hot, the sky Med coloured. The orbing sun licked us with its solar flames. With the windows vvvvvermd down, there was again wind in the hair of the gods, there came a return to our pre-bread state of bliss. Robin put her hand where I knew she would, we pulled over by a lake and like god-fishes we swam and glid and bared our skins upon its shores. I forgot the de Sades. If you want to know what comes next put your money down first. Entrance money doesn’t count, that was for entering. Thank you, pass the hat, don’t look inside, pass it, thank you. Empty as usual.

Seeing us arrive through the kitchen window, the Marquise was up smartly to close the door just after we opened it. I am sure she is able to close doors before they are opened but have not actually seen this. Here is the bread, said Robin, hightailing it for the bathroom. This, said the Marquise, holding it, the bomb, the fresh shit off a corpse I must have picked up at the baker’s. She beetled away to retrieve the forensic expert from his room, from which he appeared, stupored. Care for a beer? Using her chin to gesticulate at it, the Marquise tried to pass it on to him without gag­ging but he sort of sailed past her, missing the baton. I bought the bread, I said nobly, using up the last of my fading godgiven batteries. The Mar­quise tried to pass the loaf again, then tried to lay it by the sink but was soon bent by a fit of laughter, which means maybe she thought it was play material, anyway, what with the cackling and the stupor, neither of the Marquises could quite reach the sink in an upright position, oh mon Dieu, they said, Zeut!, mirth was landsliding into the kitchen from dumper trucks next to the window, Ça alors!

Astute as I am, it was about then I made a connection between the two Mar­quises and Robin wanting to smash Galileo’s termo thing, I looked at the termo thing and looked at Mr and Mrs Marquise and at the stairs to the bathroom and the bread, which was a normal loaf yet darker, smaller, broader, everything-er, than the Marquise would have liked. Ah ha ha ha ha ha, she and Charlie were going, he’s bought the wrong bread.

We sat on the terrace eating supper.

I drank beer.

Robin was not hungry.

François appeared by a pillar and waved. Robin waved. I showed him a finger. He disap­peared.

Robin gave the world a sulky look and started eating bits of everything off the Marquise’s plate.

We talked. Ch is for Charlie, Mrq the lady Marquise.

Ch:      Armband, I nearly called you Armband.

A:                     Armin. I get called all kinds of things. Can you pass the bread?

Mrq:    You call this bread?

R:                    Mum, if you didn’t know he meant it you wouldn’t be able to ask that.

Mrq:    What?

Ch:      Ever been to America, Armbin? Call me Charlie. Another beer?

A:                    No thanks. Charlie. Can you pass the bread?

Ch (applying drunks’ logic):  All over America they look at that and they say: bread. Know what I mean?

A:                    Whatever it is, I wouldn’t mind a piece.

R:                    Today.

Mrq: Well someone will have to eat it. We never eat bread ourselves.

A (bold): Is there some butter?

Mrq:    Of course.

R:                    I can’t see it.

Mrq:    It’s in the fridge. It wouldn’t last two seconds in this heat.

Ch:      I’ll get it. Kitchen. My province.

A (uneasy, Ch’s not moving): Right.

Mrq: So how was the beach. What made you come here in June? You must be mad. (cackling) Charlie, they’re mad.

Ch:      Be right back.

A:                    Hard to say.

Mrq:    The butter. Charlie, put it straight back in the fridge.

Ch:      I’ll put my music on first.

Mrq:    On the way back. Not on the way there.

A:                    We went and looked at a chapel.

R:                    I’m tired. I’m going to bed. Bonne nuit.

Ch:    So you went with my daughter to a chapel. I’m just trying to makes sense of things, you understand. You’re religious, Armbin?

A:                    No.

Ch:      I am. You have to be. To explain all this. (epileptic gesticulations embracing a few trees and parts of army barracks)

Mrq:    Sit down, Charlie. Before you knock something over.

Ch:      I was only pointing to the view. The sea. The woods.

Mrq:    Why?

Ch:      Because there’s an idea at work. A pattern.

Mrq:    Oh that. (conspiratorial whisper) This is what he thinks about in his room.

Ch:      So you don’t get it, Armin, God?

A:                    I haven’t thought about it for a long time. No.

Ch:   Another beer? A conversation can get parching. No beer? Mon Dieu, Armbin, you’re a disappointment to me.

A (wondering if entering a lying mood might help):  I’m used to keeping sober.  For my shows. I have to keep on top of things.

Ch:    Never heard such nonsense. You’re certainly not giving a show now. Is he, Nancy?

A:      You have to keep sober. We get all kinds of louts coming in. Orangutans, let loose—

Mrq:    From their cages.

Ch  (in minute-long spiritual slump, staring at glass, then staring ahead):  What do you believe in then, Arm, Arm—

Mrq:    Armbin.

A (polite guest to the end): Ø

Ch:    What do you? Nothing. You just get up everyday and eat and that’s it.  Have sex with my daughter.

Mrq:    Charlie.

Ch:    Charlie what? You just get up everyday, go to work and eat and have sex with my daughter.

Mrq:    You said that already.

Ch:      You’re a big disappointment, Armbin.

A (sighing, daringly pouring water into empty pastis glass): Ø

Ch:   And that isn’t the way a Frenchman     pours himself water.    He’d never make a Frenchman, Nancy.

So you see. Loaf Story, for which I have the film rights, would have amounted to little had it stood as a lone incident in a happy family-type holiday marked by affec­tion, understanding and tolerance. Or even in a normal family-type holiday. But it did not stand alone, it stood lumpy and stupid, next to the butter that belonged in the fridge, the doors that weren’t to be opened, and next to their sequels, the bathing trunks issue, how to approach coffee grounds, French bees, trays of ice cubes, Arabs, South Africans. So what did we do, apart from decid­ing not to eat bread or butter, drink drinks, or spend more than two minutes in the bathroom? What would anyone with a few days of heaven still in sight do?

We phoned our banks.

Thus saving the hols. And: I gained insights, who knows that word nowa­days, into the character of my goddess. I saw what she was up against. How she had to mould herself to deal with these situations. From the earliest days I was au fait with her need to shut doors and deploy her marma­lade rescue squad, the need to knock the world in shape with index cards.

I didn’t worry about the money we so generously showered on hotels and res­t­aurants. I knew when I got back I could write Five Minutes on the Cote d’Azur and ride piggy­back, fiscally speaking, on the millionaire with the Provence book, and so reconstitute the missing millions by Christmas. Untrue. Actually we camped out two nights by some slanty pines, got bitten and sped back to the airport at Nice to get one of those silvery planes.

I almost forgot. It was days before the newspapers ran the story. But the day the Marquess never crayoned a red line before the kitchen area a missile with a big red C down its side apparently fell into the sea off Marseilles.

Just joking. Marquise and Marquess, Robin, François, take it from he who never lies, believe Armin. Although those pines did slant, none of this ever happened. Never happened, not by a half.


John Saul has had three collections of short fiction published by Salt Publishing (Cambridge, UK). The first, Call It Tender, was well received in The Times.  He lives in Suffolk in England.  His website is


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