Image by the yellowrider via Flickr
I am going to tell you a French love story.
A few years ago, a friend was spending August on the Ile de Re, that smart playground of the elite of France off the Atlantic coast.
She and her husband had bought their fisherman's cottage years before the island had become fashionable, but this was the first time she had come in August, as her husband had always preferred to take their main holiday in July, with at least one of their children.
But her husband had died the previous year and as one of her many small epiphanies of liberation she had decided to take this years' holiday in August, and on her own.
She had had a wonderful time...getting up when she felt like it, sitting up late to read, walking the beaches at twilight and eating what she wanted, when she wanted, either at home or in a restaurant.
One evening, she was annoyed to find that she did not have the beach to herself.
Ahead of her, stumping along, was a silhouette.
She resolved not to be put off by his presence and carried on walking, although her lithe pace brought her up with him faster than expected.
She was about to pass, not in the mood to exchange the normal words of polite recognition, when she caught a glimpse of his profile and called out to him, almost despite herself,
'But it is never you, Jean!'
And he, smiling, replied
'And is it you, Jeanne?'
They had not seen each other since their young romance had been blighted over forty years before but, as she said, it was not just their eyes that recognised each other on that beach on the Ile de Re.
They had been at teacher training college together in those pre-war days.
She, stepdaughter of a railwayman who had married her mother after the death of her husband in the First World War.
He, son of a bourgeois family from a small town.
They had fallen in love and wished to marry.....but there was an obstacle.
His widowed mother controlled the purse strings and she would not permit her son to marry not only 'beneath him' socially but also to a girl who brought no dowry with her.
There was a further obstacle.
Mother was devout, regular in her Church attendance and rigid in her observance of religious practices.
What used to be called a 'grenouille de benitier'....literally a frog in the holy water stoup.
The free thinking daughter of one of those atheistic railwaymen was an unthinkable wife for her son.
Jean gave up his dream of marrying Jeanne.
They danced, for the first and last time, at their graduation, and parted, as they thought, for ever.
She started teaching, married and had three children.
When I first knew her she had retired as headmistress of the Maternelle, which caters for the three to six year olds in the French school system, and by the greetings she exchanged when out in the town it was clear that most of the population had passed through her hands in their time.
Her methods were brisk, it appeared, and her response to the occasional complaint by concerned parents that 'certain things' were happening in the playground would probably traumatise modern educationalists.
She would line up the little boys against one wall, command them to drop their shorts and underpants and then line up the little girls opposite, explaining that this....lifting a small penis with a pencil...was the only difference they needed to know about at this stage of their lives and that having received this information anyone removing their knickers on school premises in future would be severely dealt with.
Years after parting from Jean, she had read in a newspaper that he had become one of the deputy maires of a large town, but that was the only thing she knew about him....until their meeting on the beach.
As they talked, sitting on the low wall behind the beach, he told her that he too, had been a teacher, had married another of the girls from the teacher training college...one who satisfied his mother's criteria...and that they too had had three children. His wife had died five years earlier.
She had inherited a house on the Ile de Re, and he had been holidaying there for years....but always in August.
Jean and Jeanne made a very happy couple. They both kept their own houses and moved from one to another.
They took foreign holidays...something she had always longed to do....and they had albums of the photographs he took of their travels and of the plants and flowers in which they both delighted.
He also started to keep a journal.
Every day he would write up their activities and the thoughts that occurred to him and every day he would also write part of the story of the years since he had been forced to part from her all those years ago, so that she could share the history she had missed.
They did not marry, so as not to change the arrangements they and their spouses had made for their childrens' inheritances.
Eventually, after some years, his health deteriorated.
He doggedly used the exercise bicycle suggested by his doctor in order to reduce weight, but it exhausted him to no avail.
Jeanne nursed him through his final weeks, in her house, until he died.
The day after his death, one of the daughters arrived with a hired van to take his possessions.
After all, he and Jeanne were not married. She had no legal claim on anything he owned.
The exercise bicycle....the clothes...the books....the photographic albums......and the journal.
His hymn to Jeanne.
After all, as his daughter said, the exercise books containing the journal been bought by her father, so they were now legally part of his estate and his family would decide what to do with them.
I told you that this was a French love story.