Those sure signs that summer is finally here – those iconic, traditional events, local and national, marking the start of the “Grandes Vacances” – two months of long, lazy summer daze, when most of France seems to shut down and we all head off for our well-deserved place in the sun.
Down here in my corner of la Douce France, summer starts with the funfair. For as long as anyone can remember, the fair hits town in mid June for a month of dodgems, hot dogs, candy floss, the House of Fun, the Ghost train and all those heart-stopping rides that you should never do after a large burger and fries. The same rides every year for years, the funfair is a never changing constant where mums and dads measure time by the reaction of their kids – at first, frozen with fear on the ghost train as a toddler; now my daughter just finds it all a bit cheesy. “The ghost train isn’t scary” she remarks with a sneering teenage indifference, but I know she’d still like a go. A fistful of Euros later, we are sitting in a car as it slowly drives round the “fright of your life” – same as last year, same as ten years ago – we know where the skeletons dangle, we know exactly where someone dressed in black robes and a “scream” mask will jump out and scare us. Cheesy but reassuring, we never want it to change.
And in those years where the years seemed to plod slowly along we waited for the fair, like Christmas, like a birthday – and now, the years are just fleeting past. “Oh the fair’s in town again” I say one morning at breakfast. “Surely not!” exclaims the wife. “Is it that time already, It only seems like it was here a few weeks ago.” So, this year, I hardly even noticed the fair setting up, the huge semi-trailers laden with gear rolling into town, the rides slowly taking form, long days of nuts and bolts as the fair workers jump around their vast metal structure like steel monkeys, getting their erections just right for our orgasmic moment.
It’s the first year, I didn’t notice the fair, the first year that I seemed truly unconcerned, even indifferent, the first year that I haven’t been – I have to go before it’s all over – a trip to the fair is a seasonal rite of passage –
And those other ritual transitions into summer? They too have passed my by. Cherry-picking, hauling the heavy ladder up against my cherry trees and then spending days on end harvesting the delicate sumptuous fruit. This year though, there are no cherries – when the trees were heavy with blossom, we had an unseasonal freeze and then weeks of rain, so that early evening ritual, when I return from work, pull on my gardening gear and climb into a cherry tree – well I’ve really missed it, climbing from branch to branch, “risking” life and limb, just to go that bit higher and stretch that bit further for one elusive juicy ripe red cherry. I like it up in my cherry trees, staring out across the gardens and exchanging greetings and cherry talk with my neighbours who are up in their trees. I also miss that inexact science of jam making – slaving away in the kitchen to concoct jams that will tickle our taste buds through the winter and bring us just a little hint of summer with every spoonful. Cherry jam with ginger, with whisky, with cognac with whatever is too hand and might go well with cherries. I’m missing all this.
Those events that mark time and summer time are just escaping me this year.
I switched on the TV the other day and watched the Tour de France, that most iconic of cycle races, where a couple of hundred men on flimsy bikes pedal their way up and down in France in pursuit of a series of coloured jersies. The departure of the Tour de France used to be an excuse to drop everything and spend the afternoon sheltering from the sun, slumped in an armchair with a cold beer, watching someone else do all the work. How could I have missed the Tour de France, that’s like waking up on December 25th and saying “I forgot it was Christmas.”
Reasons for “forgetting”
What I might call “the weather differential” – those weeks of incessant biblical deluge from spring into summer – there was no distinct weather change to say that summer was on its way .
The “age factor” – drifting along aimlessly at fifty.
The changing role of dad – I used to take my daughter to the fair and now she’s not that age where dad takes you to the fair ..
And finally, perhaps, none of these things are very important anymore.