We left England in the very early hours as we flew on a cheap flight from Stansted to Perpignan. All went reasonably smoothly and our arrival in Perpignan was rather sweet. It was a little like landing in Westport in New Zealand. I guess it is much bigger now but we collected our bags from a tiny carousal and wandered into the sunlight where a smiley customs man welcomed us. The people who owned the house were going to help us with the car pick up and follow us to the house to get settled in. And all was as it should be as there they were to pick us up and we duly picked up my lavender lovely without any fuss or bother. The car was brand new and sometimes people will tell you you are more likely to get things stolen as thieves know you are a foreigner. However, the red number plates served us well on a number of occasions where we were waved through as the police thought we were a diplomatic vehicle.
We left Perpignan behind as I nervously negotiated the “wrong” side of the road. We stopped for a drink at a little village but I couldn’t find the reverse on the car. It was something out of a lovely French film as a real French man in a black beret with a baguette under his arm, jumped in to the car and showed me how to push the gear stick down hard and back. Even though it was winter the sun was shining and there were fields of yellow with little brick structures in the middle of them and exquisite villages in mud brick beige with tiled Mediterranean styled roofs. I couldn’t look much though as I was busy concentrating on the road.
The weather was cooling and wintry clouds were forming overhead as we came into view of the Puivert Castle. I wasn’t to know it then but the castle became our home point, our reference, our compass for our time in Campgast. You can see the castle from all around and it is a dear little structure made for wandering minstrels to play in, so unlike the other macho castles in the region like Montsegur which are intimidating, with high stone walls and steep entrance ways for defence.
Finally we were driving up a potholed, muddly farm path to our new home. Sam excitedly commented on the rabbits in the cages by the farm house but I didn’t have the heart to tell him they were dinner for the farmer in the coming months. It could have been 13 century France apart from the sign to drive carefully as children might be playing.
I had been given some photos of the barn and had looked at them a thousand times trying to imagine us living there. I had Googled everything about Campgast and its surrounds but there wasn’t much as it is such a tiny place. The main feature was the Ecoles de Pilotage or gliding school and grass runway at the bottom of the lane. The hamlet was shuttered against the cold as we pulled into the driveway of Rue De L’Ecole. Both Sam and I were shattered as we had had only a few hours sleep. We stumbled inside and were greeted by a lovely warm fire.
The owners of the house thoughtfully left information about local markets, firewood and general grocery and internet details and returned to England the following day. We were alone. By evening I broke into tears. I felt foreign, cold, and homesick. As a child and from a large and noisy family I was always being brought home form other people’s houses by late evening. a knot in my stomach and just wanting the familiarity of home. Here I was at 47 bawling. I hadn’t made much headway with the other English family next door and I felt I had done the wrong thing carting Sammy to this wintry place. Sam started to cry too and when I asked him why he was crying, he said it was because I was. I knew then that I had to pull myself together and make the most of things as he only had me to rely on.
I knew we were both very tired, so I snuggled him into bed and put Bec Runga on the CD player. I think we played it most nights after that.