Low life

What would Oscar tell his dad first about our eventful fortnight in the south of France?

1 September 2018

9:00 AM

1 September 2018

9:00 AM

I was present in the room when Oscar encountered his father for the first time since returning from his fortnight in the south of France. Oscar doesn’t see his father often. I hoped that his father would be pleased to see his son and would kindly ask him how his holiday went. And if, as I hoped, he did ask how the holiday went, I wondered which of his holiday memories Oscar would describe to his father, and in which order.

There was plenty to choose from. For a start there had been the extraordinary weather. Would he tell his father about the terrible heat and the car always like a furnace when we first got in, and driving everywhere with the windows down, and the breeze coming in as hot as a hair dryer, but at least the air was moving. And about the torpid afternoons with the house shutters and curtains closed and lying on the bed under the big ceiling fan in the darkness. And how every afternoon the sky was blackened by clouds piling in from the north, culminating in a mad thunderstorm. And how one afternoon we swam in torrential rain in an outdoor pool with nothing but wild countryside between it and the mountains and watched the lightning bolts reach all the way down to the ground. And afterwards the bowls on display in the dripping pottery market stalls were three-quarters filled with rainwater and the smallholders looked so dejected under their rain hats and see-through ponchos.

Or would he tell his father about the wild boar we saw from the bus at Marseille airport. It was standing on a tatty patch of undergrowth between two car parks. Or would he mention the tiny grey crickets on the rocky monastery path that turned pale blue when they opened their wings and hopped ahead. Or the black and blue butterflies, the largest we’d ever seen, whose wing beats could be heard from ten yards away? Or the cha-cha-cha of the cigales and the tiny gnats that bit lumps out of us? Or grandad buying a clasp knife at the brocante and the stall holder furiously angry with the village because he had been bitten so badly? Or the lordly inch-long ants on the terrace portering the dismembered body parts of their rivals across the tiles with no visible emotion? Or the five-inch-long gekko clinging to the smooth wall by his spread toes and catching moths attracted to the outside light with his mouth? Or the hornets, which we cruelly electrocuted on the strings of the insect killing racquet, or the ludicrously aggressive wasps, who really did deserve to die while the innocuous hornets did not? Or the neighbour showing us his foot, swollen up tight as a balloon after a horse fly had bitten it, and he couldn’t even fit a sandal on it? Or Sally the mongrel, so listless for three days we thought she was definitely dying? Or the patient little donkey who pulled the Virgin Mary seated on her golden throne at the head of a procession of monks, nuns and pilgrims holding candles who sang as they walked past the restaurant terrace, while the diners acquisitively snapped away with their smart phones?

Or would he tell his father about drinking his morning coffee from a cereal bowl? Or watching Fulham vs Spurs on the bar room telly and the sad dilapidated drunks coming in and out persistently to argue with the barman and each other about goodness knows what? (For showing Tottenham on the telly, grandad thought.) Or about grandad kissing the waiter in the restaurant? Or how Remi lit the barbecue then lifted his eyes to the stars and mystically intoned the Spanish word libertad through clenched teeth? Or about our early evening games of boule on the grit of the village boulodrome, and how we weren’t scorned by the grizzled old men with their shirt tails hanging out who played there regularly, as we had imagined we might be, but were passionately welcomed. Or the two black English girls standing for an hour in the hotel pool back at Marseille airport telling each other with laughing amazement what their boyfriends had been doing to them lately while we swam languidly around them? Or how on the plane home grandad accidentally squirted water over the hitherto silent woman sitting beside him, and how she had seriously said that if it had been gin she would have licked it off herself?

Sad to relate, his father could barely bring himself to greet his son. He kept his emotional and physical distance. That is how it appeared, anyway. He didn’t enquire about our holiday in France, either. Therefore the opportunity to articulate any of these memorable things never arose.

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