Dear Mum and Dad,
Arrived here safely on the fifteenth at 6.30pm, to be greeted by your second letter. Your third letter arrived this morning. Thanks for the advice to eat plenty of fruit. My reply in three words: melons and peaches. All the time. Not that I’m complaining.
When we arrived here we found that the villa was only fitted with bare essentials, except in the kitchen and bathroom. So, Monsieur complained as they are paying twice as much for this place for two weeks as they are at Lesigny for a month. And, let’s face it, Lesigny is much nicer. The outcome is that the landlord and landlady promised to buy some more things for us and today they did (lampshades, chairs, and much else besides). Apart from that, though, the place is quite nice and alive with lizards.
As for the ‘fantastic’ Mediterranean – huh! Give me the Atlantic and Cornwall anyday. I just cannot see what everyone raves on about, though I will concede the beauty of the Pyrenees as a backdrop and that of the vineyards and villages in the surrounding countryside. The weather here goes to extremes, one day it’s scorching hot and the next it’s pouring with rain. In fact, there’s a fantastic storm going on here at the moment and the electricity keeps being cut off. I think this must be some of the worst weather they’ve had in years.
There is a bullfight on in town tomorrow, but we should steer well clear of that. On our way down from Cordes we visited Albi cathedral. It’s magnificent! There was a service taking place when we visited, to mark a local festival. Today we visited the palace of the Kings of Majorca in Perpignan. The back streets of Perpignan are depressing, they stink of sewage and are filthy. The houses are badly in need of repair inside and out.Those who live there are a ‘Spanish overflow’, their children play in the streets in ragged clothing and can hardly speak a word of French apart from the insults they hurl at passers-by.
Monsieur keeps making ‘jokes’ about the English, which don’t succeed. I force a smile, but don’t reply. So don’t worry, I’m not getting too ‘witty’. I surprised them all the other night by knocking back half a litre of the local wine (44 pence a litre) and not suffering for it. Of course, this prompted Monsieur’s ‘jokes’ about English alcoholics. The only other local irritants are the mosquitos. I have a plaster on my right arm covering a bite which is slightly infected, but, no cause for alarm as I’ve been treated extensively by Madame with supplies from one of the two first aid cases we brought with us.
The day before yesterday, we were sole witnesses to a motorbike crash. Police arrived 15 minutes after the accident, to high praise from Madame as they are trained in emergency first aid. This was just as well for the victim as the ambulance took half an hour to arrive. M’elle got back into the car crying after the police had interviewed her because she didn’t like seeing the blood. She’s still adamant that she’d like to be a nurse, though.
The clothes here are beautiful. Especially noticeable is how much better-dressed French men are than the English. Today we went into Perpignan and although most of the shops were closed (long lunch break) their windows were wonderful. Everything is very expensive, so I’m taking notes to be able to make copies when I come home.
Still speaking only in French (except when M’elle and I are up to no good and Monsieur is out of range) and still missing you.
Lots of love.
(Taken from two letters written home, on 16 and 21 August 1975, while I was travelling with a French family from Paris to Perpignan)