So the sun is still shining and it is time to get out my favourite Miu Miu sandals - and start worrying about cellulite. It is a fact that when you first move to France you lose weight. The stress of moving, the hard physical labour (ok, stripping wallpaper) and no kitchen for three months meant that, in my case, the kilos dropped off like the buttons on a Benetton cardigan. But as anyone who has decamped to France will tell you, as soon as you are comfortably installed with functioning oven and fridge and have found your way to the local market, the weight starts to pile back on faster than you can say foie gras.
It doesn’t help that much of the social life in rural France revolves around eating enormous meals in other people’s houses (whereas, when I lived in London dinner was often liquid and by Laurent Perrier). So I have gained a few kilos since arriving a year ago but I live in a village where most of the population is sixty-plus and comfortably upholstered. In London, where my work required occasional attendance at fashion and beauty launches, mostly populated by women in their twenties and as slim as crispbread, a few extra kilos would have spelled both career and personal disaster. Here, I could even argue that the extra insulation helped to cut down on the astronomical fuel bills over the winter.
If the extra kilos do not bother me (it helps that there is no full-length mirror in my house), they do bother my French friend Véronique. Although she is in her late forties, she is thin as a slice of cucumber and, like many Frenchwomen blessed with good ankles not to mention steely, self-abstinence. Véronique has taken it upon herself to railroad me onto a ‘régime’ - or at the very least count calories on my behalf. During the Wednesday afternoon ‘Entente Cordiale’ French-English conversation group at the local cafe, one of our number, a stout Yorkshire woman called Shirley who had been eating too many of the new baker’s macaroons announced that she was about to go on a diet. ‘Good idea,’ said Véronique suddenly animated. ‘Maybe you and Mimi could do it together. You could have a weight loss competition.’
The hints continued to flow like cold rosé on a warm summer evening. Wandering around the local supermarket with her, she stopped and pointed to a brand of mineral water. ‘This is what French women drink when they have gained some pounds,’ she said archly. [Comtrex for any readers who are interested.] ‘It is full of magnesium and minerals that help weight loss. Maybe you should try it Mimi?’
On another occasion, while spending the weekend with Véronique and her husband Arnaud, at their holiday home near Biarritz, she passed me a salad of cucumber and yoghurt over lunch. When I declined, she smiled knowingly and said: ‘Do not worry. I know you are on a régime [I wasn’t] but this is not at all fatty.’ Then later, as we all prepared to go to the beach, she eyed me up and down disparagingly and said, with more than a hint of challenge in her voice ‘so, time to wear your swimsuit then?’
Even ‘Madame Figaro’ appears to be in on the conspiracy. Every Saturday I open the magazine to find it full of bottoms as smooth as a beach pebble and the latest potions and pills to keep it that way. So I have capitulated: if I am to subscribe fully to the French lifestyle as planned, I am going to have to join ‘la lutte contre les capitons [cellulite] et les kilos.’