|A family of bicycles.|
Postcard from Marseillan.I am noticing so many people here who ride bicycles - workers and holiday makers, boys, girls, men and women of all ages.
Whatever their age they are brown and fit and a very good advertisement for their vehicle of choice. I regret now that I can't ride a bicycle. (I can't swim, either. Put both facts down to the restricted childhood.)
But here in this sunshine on this flat coastal plain I wish I could do both. This bike riding looks free and healthy and wonderfully innocent in a way.
So I have been thinking quite a lot about bicycles - and this brings me to my Work in Progress.
Francine's window at
the Maison Bleu
While I'm staying here in this place next to Heaven I am editing the completed manuscript of 'At the Maison Bleu'
This is a novel about a group of very different writers who meet (not far from here) at the Maison Bleu, on the banks of the Canal du Midi.
Central to the novel is Francine, now a venerable and successful novelist. And here she is remembering her wartime experience in South West France. She thinks about how her teacher helped her to flee perhaps to safety.
And here, historically, the bicycle is significant. Francine aged fourteen - like other teenagers - has worked as a courier for a local Resistance group and is now in danger.
Extract from 'At The Maison Bleu'
'...At the refuge I choose a small case from my mother’s collection and in it pack my schoolbooks, two suits that I cut down from my mother’s, the shoes with rubber tyre soles that Auguste made for me, my red scarf, the little black and white photograph me and my mother at the door of this house in the Rue de la Ville. And a photograph of me on my bicycle, taken by Auguste. And the little package with my mother’s cherry red dress. On top of them I put a cardboard folder with my butcher’s paper stories on them. And there are more empty sheets where I will write of my life out there in the country. I will hold in my head the images of Auguste’s harmless kisses and loving touches behind the scenes at the Blue House. And the dangerous things that went on there.
I wedge the suitcase on my bicycle and walk it down to the harbour. Madame Griche is there outside the laundress’s door, now closed and locked. She has her heavy bicycle with her, which sports baskets back and front, not so uncommon these days.
Neither his mother nor Auguste are there. I will not be able to kiss him goodbye.
Madame smiles slightly when she sees me. Then she makes me empty my case and share the contents between her baskets and mine. ‘No point in letting people into our secret, Francine!’ she says, wrapping the books and paper in an oiled kitchen cloth and putting them at the bottom of her back basket. We throw the case itself into the broad river where it bubbles and sinks like a body.
Then, side by side on our bicycles, we make our way out of the town, keeping to the narrow lanes away from the coastal paths where the soldiers lurk. They are so afraid of the sea and just who or what might emerge from its pulsing waters. Already there have been secret American landings here.
‘The sea is our friend,’ says Madame Griche. ‘Now we know that the Americans are firm for the end-game alongside the poor old English and they may turn up anywhere. And the Boches know this.’
As we ride along she explains to me that in the beginning everyone thought the Boches would march straight into
just as they'd marched straight through ,
so why should we have any faith in the English? France
She goes on: ‘Love them or hate them, though, the English are dogged. They hang on, Francine!. Those English do hang on!'