As readers here know, a regular haunt of mine in Agde has been the Maison de Savoir, the library down the hill from the house, where I go to connect with the internet and write these blogs and work on the novel.
Well, I’m in there one day and get into conversation with Ann Vaudreuil, who - seeing my computer screen - asks if I’m English. She is tall, has this big smile, an elegant silver-white haircut and sports a gleaming tan that I know now is only achieved on a boat. It turns out that she’s retired and had been living on a boat on the river here for some time.
‘Have you always sailed?’ I ask.
‘Oh no,’ she says, grinning and shaking her head.. ‘Just for two years, since I found this new bloke who has this boat. It’s junk rigged.’
I look blank.
‘You know. Like a Chinese junk. One big square sail.’
Now I know.
‘So, what did you retire from?’ I say, imagining her to be a retired doctor or accountant or PE teacher.’
She shrugs, ‘Oh I’ve done a few things. My last job was a bus driver.’
‘Sounds French,’ I say.
‘One branch of the family’s French Canadian,’ she says. ‘But I’m from Hampshire. That’s why I like the sea. Always lived by it.’
‘How interesting,’ I say. ‘So, how did your family get from Canada to Hampshire?’
She shrugs. ‘Long story. But my direct many-times-great- grandfather was the French Governor of Quebec,when it was defeated by the British under General Wolfe. He had the same name. Vaudreuil.'
I'm very impressed, but unsure of what to say. Perhaps I should apologise.
‘Fantastic!’ I say.
I change tack. ‘So – what would you like to do next in your adventurous life?’ I say.
‘Well,’ she says. ‘I’d like to be a professional gambler.’ She holds up her notebook computer. ‘That’s why I’m here. To check my racing results.’
We go on to talk briefly about an attempt to sail to Algeria with her partner, which aborted in a storm where they lost some of their gear. Then we settle down to our various tasks, she to checking the racing results, me to checking commercial shipping in Roman Gaul.
As she goes out of the library I check on the spelling of her name again and tell her – if it’s OK with her – that I will write about her here on my blog..
She nods. ‘Ann,' she says. 'Ann Vaudreuil. I used to be called Olga. But that’s a different story…’