The Moulinards had inhabited the old stone hilltop house for centuries, ekeing out a hard living among the sun-baked boulders. They were peasants. In the winter of 1962 there was one Moulinard left. Henri: old, alcoholic, feeding the furniture into the fire for warmth. A delegation of relations came up the hill to persuade him to go into an old people’s home. When they’d left, old Henri took himself off to a large oak tree and hanged himself from a branch, dangling there for several days before being found. The house passed to a Marseille butcher who sold it on to an English couple who asked us to house-sit last week while they went on holiday to Austria.
We were three: Catriona, me and my ten-year-old grandson, whom I hadn’t seen since Christmas. He had lengthened considerably in seven months, his teeth were falling out, and he was addicted to watching TikTok videos on his secondhand smartphone. Otherwise he was the same good-natured, humorous chap. His catchphrases were ‘pretty decent’ and ‘ten stars’. After skinning his grandad at low-stakes pontoon, he added a new one, which was ‘bollocks’. Chef: ‘How’s your soupe au pistou, Oscar?’ ‘It’s bollocks, Grandad.’ Chef: ‘Je vous en prie, monseigneur.’
Outwardly the stone house and rocky courtyard is little changed since old M. Moulinard’s last bender in the kitchen. The interior is modernised, however, with bathrooms and lavatories, tiling and rugs, old books and English country-house furniture, excellent wifi and sliding screens to keep the insects out. One wonders what the toiling Moulinards would make of it all if they could revisit their home today.
From the house a rocky path winds through a bamboo grove to a swimming pool with a retractable cover operated by the turn of a key.