It's that yellow time of year again, full of colour and promise. The meadows are carpeted with dandelions. I've made my first and probably last futile attempt to strim the heads off the garden variety before they go to seed and propagate still more of the infernal weeds. We keep missing the chance to pick the leaves for salads before the flowers appear. The roots are reputedly very good for the gut, but trying to dig them up is heart-breaking and in any case the concoction tastes as foul as the stuff of morbid intestines.
Easter has been and gone with the best of the fruit blossom. The exceptional record-breaking temperatures have dipped suddenly. At night, they sink below zero, cold enough surely to damage the summer harvests. Nevertheless, I've been for my spring haircut. The winter thatch has now gone, shorn in a matter of five minutes by the Tattooed Lady. She was due to attend to Tim, Steve and me outdoors last week on an afternoon when the thermometer went way up to 27 degrees or thereabouts. But she didn't turn up and I found out in her tiny salon on market morning in Meyssac that one of her 15-year old cats had died that worryingly hot afternoon. I paid my money, she stamped my card and told me that the next cut is a free one.
We've had our first asparagus of the season. On Good Friday, after spinning some records with my friend Dan and stocking up on necessities from Lidl's organic range for the April lockdown, the third one now in France (a lockdown lite, we are told), I went to Giselle's nearby barn towards the end of the afternoon for the week's vegetables. She goes in for the white variety, as the French seem to do. We all prefer the thinner green spears in this household, but Giselle sells off-cuts and misshapes cheaply enough for risottos. Tilley the Kid made an excellent one for dinner on Easter Saturday.
When I got there, Giselle was bantering with Snail Woman, who seems to be her only other regular customer at present. Not for much longer, it would appear. As soon as the current confinement is declared over and travel is legal once more, she and her husband are off in their converted camper van. She's another tattooed lady: something faded and blue winds its way around both arms. It looks a little home-made, unlike the multi-coloured sleeves of my coiffeuse. For quite a solid well-rounded woman, she speaks with an incongruously child-like voice. She told Giselle and me that the next day would be her last day of selling her prepared snails at Martel's Saturday morning market. Presumably, the snails on her farm will be released back to nature when she and her man take off in their van.
The plan is, she explained, that they will drive to Italy and Greece to test the conversion's credentials. Apparently, we discovered, the pair of them have been working on it for most of the winter months, taking a regular white van and putting in everything including the kitchen sink for a comfortable life on the road. The next stage of the plan is to travel with it by cargo ship to South America, then spend however long it takes exploring the entire continent: south, north and Canada. She suggested that she has been to Colombia before. I was tempted to ask about the music scene there, but didn't want to spend the rest of the day buying our vegetables. She's clearly a dark house, Snail Woman. Well, blonde actually. There was I, thinking of her as a pleasant enough soul who spent her days de-toxing snails, before killing them (as humanely as possible, one hopes) and preparing them for sale at her market stall with parsley, garlic, butter and whatever else is involved. But no. I see her now in quite another light. I suspect that she and her husband moved down here from Paris with other baba-cools seeking the good life, or the slow attitude as the French call it, here in the middle of nowhere. Well, I takemy hat off to her. The well travelled French citizen is rare in these parts.
She must have been out east as well. She talked about Vietnam and how the French are regarded in the Orient – as moaners and thieves. Giselle shrieked with laughter, as she tends to do rather disconcertingly. Yes, she admitted, she could understand the moaning bit. But thieves? I couldn't see it either, and suggested that people here generally seemed pretty honest in my geographically limited experience. Snail Woman looked at me and made a face behind her mask and shook her head. No, it had some substance, she offered.
Eventually, she paid her dues and wandered off with her basket to the immaculate Berlingo she parks in the same space every week, outside the mayor's bedraggled cowshed. Without further ado, I bought our veg from the limited supply currently on offer: onions, potatoes, a bag full of salad greenery, a bag full of Swiss chard, some assorted asparagus bits and a dozen of her finest eggs. The chickens are laying again.
As for my wife and I, for all my questions about the conversion of the van, we're not going anywhere. Our wayfaring days are over, particularly now that the final payment has gone out on the clinic. Le cabinet de Deborah Sampson est à nous. We drank a bottle of finest champagne on the Saturday evening to celebrate the 15 years of monthly payments and running repairs that the process of ownership has involved. No sooner did the money leave the account than we received a speculative letter from the Century 21 estate agency prospecting for property. 'It's the time to profit from a market that has never been so dynamic!' A slight case of commercial hyperbole, one wonders?
In any case, 't'is the season to be mellow and we intend to be independently yellow for a while, to sit back and bask in the glory of true proprietorship. Time will tell what we can and cannot do now that 900 euros won't appear in our debit column each month. For now, spring has well and truly sprung.