What I am about to relate dates from the few months after we had completed the purchase of Les Lavandes and while I was renovating the house, spending alternate weeks in France and England. I ate at the restaurant in the village at least once each week I was in France.
Nicholas has a style completely his
own: untidy in dress, seemingly forgetful and harassed, scurrying here
and there. The problem is no so much that Nicholas has a poor
memory, it's more a case of being disorganised and having too many other
things on his mind. When he comes to the table to take the order he
has usually forgotten either the order pad or, more likely, his pen. He
then has to work out where he was when he last used the pen, but even
when it has been located at the back of the bottles of spirits behind
the bar or in a flower pot in the garden, the chances are that it won't
write. I have taken to carrying a spare pen in my pocket when we eat
One day Nicholas was almost jumping up and down in
excitement when I arrived. He couldn't wait to show me his latest
acquisition, a set of plastic flower pots complete with plastic flowers
for use as table decorations. He explained that he had bought them at a
village I had never heard of. The name sounded something like Nasal. Nicholas put me right: Noz was a new retail outlet that had recently
opened in a nearby town.
‘I'm going there tomorrow morning,' Nicholas told me. ‘Would you like to come with me? I'll pick you up at nine o'clock.'
was difficult to refuse him without appearing boorish, so I agreed,
albeit less than wholeheartedly. That said, I rather expected that the
proposal would have been forgotten by the morning so I was more than a
little surprised to see a car stop outside the house on the dot of nine
We drove to a down-at-heel industrial estate where the
most dilapidated building of all bore a sign proclaiming in letters
three feet high, "NOZ". The store was a cavernous warehouse and looked
like an enormous jumble sale or a refugee clothing centre. Just inside
was a counter loaded with socks, some in pairs, some lonely singles.
There were green socks, blue socks, flourescent pink socks, and even one
pair of red and white striped socks. Next was a section containing
hundreds, or possible even thousands, of adjustable spanners about three
inches long. They looked as though they were made of plastic, but when
I picked one up I found it was actually metal. Exactly why one would
want an adjustable spanner three inches long was beyond me. In any
case, they looked pretty fragile and I reckoned they would break the
first time they were used.
And so it went on: boxes of chocolates
of a make unknown to me, just inside their best-before date; very large
bras in canary yellow or leopard-skin-print; a rack of X-rated Spanish
videos; sprays of red, plastic delphiniums (red delphiniums?). Trash,
from front to back and from side to side. I took a chance and picked up
a box of chocolates. (I tried one when I got home and threw the rest
away.) As I joined the checkout queue, Nicholas rushed up, proudly
flourishing four small bricklayer's trowels.
‘Just what I need for serving tarts,' he exclaimed.
didn't have the heart to mock him, but I suspect Florence drew the line
at using bricklayers' tools in the restaurant as I have never seen them