Once upon a chateau

A SUIT can tell its own story, not that mine are aired that often. My two spend more time communing with each other in the wardrobe than covering my back.

I wore one of them to a party last year and then used a picture of the event as my new Facebook profile. A former colleague commented that he’d never seen me looking so expensive. I replied to the effect that I’d never felt less so, sitting here on my ledge.

The picture was taken in France last year during a short break staying with my brother the professor and his French wife. He’s living in Lyon for three years, teaching at a university there. His wife’s ancestors are rather grand and we were invited to a party at the family chateau.

My brother’s wife went on ahead the day before, leaving us to meet her aunt off the train from Paris. She was to drive us there. It was a hot day and the aunt arrived as arranged. We then went to a family apartment where a small old Citroen was available for our use. It was to be quite a journey, all very French seeming. Traffic was heavy on the motorway, so we came off and tried another route, climbing by steeply banked vineyards that staggered drunkenly up the hillsides.

The aunt is very lively and as she drove, she chatted constantly to my brother in the passenger seat, turning to speak often and gesticulating madly (there must be a French law demanding such hand movements during conversation). The little car bounced about and the aunt turned and talked. She tied her hair up and untied it, pulled it up again, using both hands and leaving the steering wheel to its own devices.

From the back seat we could see her hands fiddle with her hair, both hands, and see her turning to talk animatedly to my brother. We started to wander across the lanes and cars coming the other way flashed their headlights.

We did wonder if we’d ever reach that party, but we arrived in one piece in the end, pulling up outside a lovely building perched high on a flat hill, with a view across the valley. In the distance the Massif Central rose up from the flatness, a cold rim to all the heat. The hall of the chateau was bigger than our house. Beyond the grand entrance, a series of large rooms ran along the front of the chateau, opening up to a long and wide terrace facing that view.

It was a party to celebrate a wedding. We knew neither bride nor groom, or almost anyone apart from my brother and his wife, but we had met the lively aunt once before, although she hadn’t then been doing a crazy French take on Top Gear (‘This week we race three small French cars without using the steering wheel and changing our hairstyles as we drive at 60mph’).

It was a lovely event and the champagne flowed, hence the glass in the photograph. People packed into the downstairs rooms and it all felt impossibly grand. During the evening, my brother’s wife showed us around the house. As you rose up floor by floor, it was clear the place was in a bad way, crumbling and damp, all the way to the massive attic, filled with family relics. No one lives in the chateau now and the place has been trapped in unresolved family discussions for years. If the differences aren’t settled within the next few years, the French government will step in and claim the place.

We descended through the floors, looking in bedrooms filled with sleeping bags for the night, and peeping in once-fine bathrooms with damp in the air and on the walls. Back on the ground floor the party was in full swing. Waiters handed out the champagne and it would be rude to say ‘non’. Expensive looking ham was being carved in one corner while other staff handed round tiny quiches and the like, followed by miniature patisserie, lovely mouthfuls but not quite a meal, especially when you are drinking.

The suit is a Ted Baker bought from the designer outlet in York for my brother’s wedding years ago. So the expense is a bit of an illusion.ginas phone 067

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