There is a very special quality to the light in the area round Archingeay, a hamlet in the Charente-Maritime bit of France we visited last week. We were staying with my wife’s parents in their part-modernised farmhouse, lost in a million hectares of fields. It felt like being in a Monopoly house placed in the centre of a full-size snooker table. The shower was in a partition knocked-up in the corner of an ancient, unchanged barn haunted by an owl and two wild cats. In the evenings the whole area was bathed in a soft, yellow-pink glow that made everything look like a 1970s Coke advert. At night the darkness was almost tangible. Living in London you forget just how dark a night can be, and just how silent – In the farmyard I couldn’t see past the end of my nose, and all I could hear was my tinnitus. In the early mornings the fields were alive with huge, belligerent hares.
I didn’t find a barn full of old scooters sleeping under a guano-covered tarpaulin, but I did see an elderly man in a beret carrying a baguette under his arm. He didn’t have a Gitanes dangling from his lip, but he did drive off in a rusty 2CV. Vive La France.