As I have said so many times before, the best things in life are free. Do you fancy a short break from whatever you’re doing? Come on! Let’s go for a walk together with Smelly Dog. The Tramontane wind has driven the clouds away leaving beautiful, luminous blue skies, and it would be a crime not to make the most of it. Wherever you are – Britain, Serbia, Australia, Malaysia, Canada, Indonesia, Germany, India, Croatia, Italy, Dubai or elsewhere – drag on a pair of trainers, an anorak and a warm hat, and join me in my playground: the gorges de l’Hérault in the south of France.
The vineyards are waiting solemnly for the sweltering heat of the summer. Their gnarled, knotted branches thrust out of the freshly churned earth in disciplined lines, pointing defiantly at the sun like accusing, arthritic old fingers.
Walk through the olive yard over a soft carpet of green, and turn suddenly when you hear a loud buzzing beside your ear. Apologise profusely to two bugs who – for lack of a better expression – are full of the joys of spring, and feel uncomfortably like a voyeur as you admire the petrol-like reflections on their kingfisher blue and turquoise wings. Then wonder how Mrs Bug manages to hang on to that olive leaf with Mr Bug flapping away on her back like that. She must be one tough lady, with claws that would scare the pants off Godzilla.
The fruit trees are blossoming in line near the stone cabanon. Their branches are swaying in the wind, and they look like giggling girls all dressed in pink and lined up to square dance.
Turn and walk up the uneven limestone lane, and look up to see a vivid yellow, sunny mimosa tree swaying in the wind. Close your eyes and breathe in its heady fragrance. Look closely at the blossom – the perfectly round balls of delicately perfumed colour perched along delicate stems take you back to the illustrations of your childhood Dr Seuss books. Look closer again, and wonder at the perfection of the tiny filaments that each offer up pollen to visiting insects. Then get taken by a childish desire to draw beaks on them and turn them into chicks.
Drop your camera lens cap on the ground in your hurry to change lenses. When you crouch down to pick it up, bump into Billy Idol the caterpillar making his way with difficulty through the grass as his punky hair-do gets tangled up in the greenery. Maybe he’s on his way to the hairdresser’s to ask for a short back and sides.
As you stand up, you get knocked over by Smelly Dog, who has bunny-hopped through the long grass towards you. I could swear she’s laughing….
Lie in the grass with Smelly Dog, soak up the sun and let your senses sharpen. Take in the undefinable, fabulously pure blue colour of the sky. The plaintive cry of the buzzard. The bossy chatting of the tits and finches, the rasping smoker’s cough of the crows. The far-off sound of human voices chips into the natural concert: the wine growers must be coaching up their protégés to produce the best wine for the coming season. The distant, gut-wrenching howls of hunting dogs as they move in on their prey in the forest. The wind rustling the leaves in the olive tree above you. The smell of the mimosa and of freshly-ploughed earth. The surprising chill of the gust of wind that hits your cheek as the Tramontane reminds you that winter is not over. Not yet.
Now let’s go home for a hot chocolate. Thanks for the company. And please don’t remind me that I’ve forgotten my camera lens cover: I know. It’s still in the grass with Billy Idol.