Thursday, 2 April 2020



          Her name is Lola. She is a show-off. She likes to drink a lot of wine, then she gets right out of line.
          It’s a family joke and really, I wouldn’t mind the fact that Lola drank a lot, or that when she did a torrent of foul language worthy of a Tourette’s sufferer tended to tumble from her perfect red lips. I could just about cope with the fact that she often took the Michael out of complete strangers and generally totally embarrassed me, but what really got my goat was the fact that when my sister Melanie returned to the land of the living the following morning she generally denied all knowledge of anything that Lola had done.
          Take that last night at the gîte. It was meant to be the perfect end to a perfect holiday. Two weeks of fine food, good wine and sun in elegant surroundings.
I adored almost everything about the gîte. It had been painstakingly restored by the young owners, Sisse and Simon. Its walls, sandblasted back to their original golden-ochre stone, were punctuated by shutters the colour of Cahors wine and crowned by the heavy slabs of the steeply pitched roof. Neatly trimmed vines, vigorously sending out their trellised shoots to support young grapes, stretched like an emerald sea surrounding our little Perigordian paradise. The stylish interior had everything we needed but was also kept simple, letting the beauty of the building shine through. The only jarring aspect to the whole complex was the pool, a sharp gash in the landscape, fenced off and alarmed according to new European regulations which I always thought the French took a joy in flouting.
We spent a large part of the holiday by that pool though, all except Nick, my husband and part-time eco-warrior, who had taken against the unnatural vista and spent a fortnight unsuccessfully trying to persuade us to frequent the river beaches instead. He was largely unsuccessful, mainly because it’s so much easier to contain a six year old in a fenced, gated and alarmed area.
That final morning was no exception and as the last drifts of morning mist evaporated in the heat of the sun we were to be found poolside on our loungers. Melanie and I topping up the last of our tans while we polished off the remains of the rosé, and watched Andy teaching my nephew Max to swim.
“Kick and dig. Kick and dig. Come on son, go for gold.” My brother-in-law shouted at Max over and over again.
“Where did that kick and dig idea come from Mel?” I asked. “I think I’m going to scream if I hear it much longer.”
“I dunno. It’s one of And’s things, but Max seems to get the idea. Do you fancy some lunch yet? We could use up the olives and the rillettes if you like.”

I think that’s probably when it started to go wrong. Rosé before lunch was probably not a good move, but chasing that with a bottle of red was definitely a bad idea.
I can’t even pretend that we were wine connoisseurs. We had tried to improve our knowledge of grape varieties and had trailed round vineyards with the men, doing our best to sound semi-intelligent on the subject, but it basically boiled down to it tasted red or rosé and we either liked it or we didn’t. Mostly we did like it and that was our trouble.
After lunch Peter popped over from the next door property. He was a retired diplomat who had spent most of his career in the Middle East. An interesting chap, apart from his hobby of making dye-cast American civil war soldiers, but no-one’s perfect. Peter invited Melanie and me to tour his house, and being endowed with the normal amount of curiosity for women, we accepted gladly, picking our way across the stony courtyard in our flip flops and sarongs and carrying our glasses of Chateau Nozieres.
As we were inspecting the handsomely painted General Sir William Sherman on horseback I got my first inkling that Lola was on her way.
“So Pete, what does your wife say about you spending all hours down in the cellar, fiddling with your little men? I mean, it’s all a bit anoraky isn’t it?” Melanie asked, with her usual cheeky grin plastered across her face.
“Ah, she simply despairs of me my dear.” replied Peter, totally non-plussed by her comment which was probably very tame compared to some of the things he would have heard in his long career. “Let me top up your glasses. I always have some red open down here, but keep that our little secret. She who must be obeyed would definitely disapprove.”
“You need to get out and about a bit more, Pete. I bet you’d be a right goer if you put your mind to it. Hey, do you and Sally fancy coming out with us tonight? We’re off to The Bellevue in Puy l'Evêque for a slap up meal.”
“Oh no my dear. You wouldn’t want us old fogeys tagging along.”
“Course we would. Wouldn’t we Kas? The more the merrier.” That was a definite Lola sign. Melanie never shortens my name. She knows I absolutely hate it, and now I was on the spot, forced to reply.
“You and Sally would be more than welcome, Peter. Simon and Sisse are coming too with the boys. It would be lovely to share our last night with you all.”
“Then we would love to accompany you. What time should we be ready?” Asked Peter, his eyes brightening at the prospect of company.
“We’re leaving at six. Have your glad rags on.” Melanie replied as she stepped from the cellar, blinking in the late afternoon sunshine. “Gawd, that only gives me an hour to get ready. We’d best leave you to it Pete.”

We all met up at on the restaurant’s breathtaking terrace and stood sipping our aperitifs, with their intoxicating walnut scent, as we watched the lights gradually come on over the brooding medieval town.
“Ladies you all look lovely. It’s an honour to be with you.” Peter was really a very charming gentleman. “Let me propose a toast. To warm summer evenings and good company.”
“To good company,” We all replied, chinking our glasses.
“Melanie, I love your outfit. That’s a Karen Millen if I’m not mistaken.” Sisse was something of a fashionista, and was simply drooling over the classy black silk dress, with its cut away low v-neck and hem festooned with delicately embroidered gold and silver butterflies, enhanced with sequins, beads and glittering diamantes.
Melanie laughed loudly, spluttering into her drink. “God no! It’s from Primark, but it’s a blooming good copy isn’t it?”
“Then I suppose those three inch creations in black patent are not Jimmy Choo’s either?” Sisse said and laughed as she took another sip.
“Nope. I’d never waste my money on some stupid name when I can get just the same stuff down Romford market, and it ain’t knock-off either you know.”

As we took our seats I reflected that you could take the girl out of Essex, but you would probably never quite take Essex out of the girl, never mind the fact that Melanie was now a highly successful accountant and earnt enough to buy any number of Karen Millens or Jimmy Choos.
The meal was wonderful. Pate de fois gras for starters, followed by Magret de Canard, though Nick had to be disgustingly different and go for the Tripoux, and of course, both courses were washed down by more of the delicious dark red Cahors wine. By the time we reached dessert we were all pretty lively.
“I must excuse myself folks. The little girls’ room calls.” As Melanie rose from the table she knocked Sally’s fork to the floor. “Whoops! Silly me. Never mind Sal. At least you’ve finished with it.” Melanie bent to pick it up, tottered on her stilettos and fell forwards, flipping a floppy pink silicone form into Sally’s lap.
“Bugger!” Melanie exclaimed. “Bit of a Janet Jackson moment there. Me chicken fillet has popped out. I’ll look a bit lop-sided without that.” And she proceeded to stuff the offending item back into her push-up bra.
“Are you feeling alright Melanie?” Sally asked, as she grasped her elbow firmly. “Would you like me to accompany you to the bathroom?” Sally was very no-nonsense and practical, the sort that has “True Brit” stamped on their bottom.
“No, I’ll manage.” Melanie trilled happily as she staggered across the terrace.

Five minutes later the wine was still flowing and our well heeled party was having a refined old time when suddenly we noticed that all conversation on the terrace had ceased and all eyes had turned towards the dishevelled apparition that was definitely Lola, who was slowly making what can only be termed “the walk of shame”, that agonisingly painful journey, staggering occasionally in her three inch heels, as she, completely unaware of her condition, made her way across the breadth of the terrace and back to our table with the entire back of her dress tucked into her huge, flesh coloured, suck me in knickers, instantly relegating our whole party from fine diners to riff raff.

As usual, the next morning Melanie had no recollection of the previous evening. She could not remember the restaurant and she certainly could not remember the ride home, where she proceeded to mimic Sally’s “posh” accent with a great many repetitions of,
 “Jolly hockey sticks, I’m from Essex don’t ya know.”
Needless to say we told her all about it, in great detail. Lola had her fun night out, but it was Melanie who spent the morning of our departure apologising to everyone, and the strange thing is that everyone loved her for it.