Friday 22 May 2009

The Library and The Hunter Gatherer


The Thursday Market in Agde is normally a big event. (See licked spoon‘s wonderful photo essay on the market). But today it has been enhanced by the fact that it is a Bank Holiday. We learned this when trying to make the routine writers’ visit to the library to email, research etc – perhaps even to write this blog!

Did I mention the library? This is a tall gracious building at the end DSCN0158of the square called the Jeu de Ballon. Once the town’s Lycee (grammar school), the building was transformed in the 1990s to an elegant library, charmingly called here the Maison de Savoirs  (The House of Knowledge, I call it… ) 

It reminds me of my own library in Bishop Auckland Town Hall. It was transformed about the same time as this building, from a small Victorian Town Hall into a library, theatre and art gallery. My have made many fruitful writer’s visits there in my time and it is here that my novels are usually launched.

Today we spend some minutes hovering with other hopefuls clutching book bags  and peer at notices about the somewhat esoteric opening hours, before it dawns on us all that it is definitely shut, not delayed. The news  seeps through to us that this is a Bank Holiday. Abandon work all ye who enter here.

So, we have to resort to the Bank Holiday market, which is bigger thanBattlememts 3n ever, reaching tight down from the Maison de Savoirs, stretching  along the long tree-lined promenade, right round the corner under the old battlements.

I have to tell you I’m no great shopper. In fact I’m a very reluctant shopper. But today I have a lesson from Writing Junkie in how to rake around in a market for real bargains.

Apart from the gourmet and gourmand food stalls described (and used) elsewhere so well by licked spoon, there are many wonderful stalls of baskets, bags, straw hats, lingerie, toys (many of these), shoes, sheets, towels, beautiful soap,  clothes (designer), clothes (cheap and cheerful).

But today, deprived of the Maison de Savoirs, our target is a particular extended stall  where all kinds of clothes – good size men’s, women’s and children’s  -  are heaped on the surfaces like an English jumble sale. Here I  learn to be patient,  to rake through for treasures - many of them linen,  or linen and pure cotton - jackets, waistcoats, dresses, trousers - many with modish labels like MaxMara and Laura Ashley. They are crumpled, as though they’ve just been tipped out from some container. (We do have a very good iron, of course ..,)But the these clothes  are the real thing and they cost  just a few Euros rather than the fifty or sixty (or more) pounds they would have cost in England.

Around this stall you witness visible excitement. We stand and watch two elegant Finnish women trying clothes on over their jeans - one a taupe and grey stripe dress with an apron front,the other  a raspberry linen dress. They both   look a million dollars.


‘Eight Euros Madame!’

Me? I succumb to some very nice linen jackets and waistcoats - pockets for pens and notebooks - and come away feeling like a very successful hunter-gatherer bringing home the bounty.

DSCN0125 Then we retire with our bulging bags for a breather in the crowded Cafe Plazza . People meeting, people talking.  A man is carrying a shopping bag, custom- made to transport a  tiny dog who is anxiously looking out of his window at the crowds.  Another  man makes his way out of the cafe, walking with the careful walk of an alcoholic.  A woman is weaving her cautious way through the crowds with her bicycle. Young people in orange tabards are handing out leaflets urging people to vote in European elections. Politics! There is so much engagement, involvement here.

My dear mother always used to say comparisons are odious. But I do wonder where in Britain I would find anything to compare with the Bank Holiday buzz here in this relatively small provincial town in France. Of course the sunshine helps. As do the linen waistcoats for four Euros.

The disadvantage is, of course, I’ll have to wait till tomorrow to post this blog and do my emails. I must check the opening hours at the Maison de Savoirs.


Work In Progress                               from              ‘At The Villa d’Estella’

‘…It took them six days to find the boys responsible. The younger one was finally forced, by nightmares and unwarranted vomiting, to confide in his sister, who told their mother. The family, not unused to concealing rather more petty crimes, considered the problem and decided the secret was too large, too terrible, to keep and went to the police…’


  1. Should I have taught you to bargain hunt? Maybe not - I am fearful now that our suitcases will explode on our return journey! But maybe yes, and who cares - the raking around is great, the bargains are real and we can't spend all day writing!

    A xx

  2. what a wonderful day. Nowhere like that here. Would love to get bargains like you. Wonderful descriptions from you I look forward to reading continuing adventures. Mary x



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