Then dear old Dolly drove down from Essex to pay her respects. It was a brave effort because she hasn’t been anywhere for years and only once before to France, in the 1970s to pick grapes. She arrived at midday and immediately piled into the wine. The day was pleasantly warm enough to sit outside on the terrace.
I started her off on a Louis Latour Domaine de Valmoissine pinot noir and asked her what she thought of it. ‘It’s a nightingale by still water, Jel,’ she said, knocking it back in one. Dolly is exactly the sort of person advertisers are targeting when they add a click button peremptorily ordering you to ‘Shop now!’. She had brought down with her the perfect reactionary expat Christmas hamper: a litre of Tanqueray export gin, a double pack of Rich Tea biscuits, six bars of Green and Black’s milk chocolate, a bottle of Crabbie’s Ginger Wine, a huge pot of Marmite, a slab of smoked back bacon, a pair of kippers, a jar of cockles, a Christmas pudding and a walnut coffee sponge – which I fell on, tore open and cut immediately. From our terrace you can see for miles. ‘So how do you like Provence, Doll?’ I said. ‘Provence?’ she said, looking around her in consternation. ‘Provence? But I thought this was France!’
Her main objection to the idea that my health is wrecked by cancer is that it is not a good look. ‘It’s not like you, Jel. Not like you at all. You look like an old dodder, mate.’
Dolly’s news was mixed. For the past five years her son Gary has been growing cannabis plants under lights in the spare room of his east London flat.