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August 19, 2007

'We are in France!' text Christian and Olivier, two of my most treasured friends from London, as they emerge from the Chunnel on Saturday morning. This is followed a few hours later by: 'We are just stopping in Paris for some lunch and then we are coming straight to you.' Phew! At least four hours then to make up the bed and do something about the mountain of clothes, beauty products and work files in the spare room. It takes a good hour to ferry it all into my bedroom and hide it under the bed. Véronique phones to ask if I want any more plums from her garden [I already have five kilos in the fridge] and laughs when I tell her what I've done but I know she can relate to the 'shove-it-all-under-the-bed' school of cleaning.

I spend the rest of the afternoon indulging in some 'critical dusting' [concentrating on the places where the dust is thick enough to trigger an asthma attack] and making plum crumbles, until with absolutely perfect timing Christian, Olivier and their little dog Wooster arrive at 6.45pm, just in time for aperitifs. We drink pink champagne in the courtyard, along with my French friends Véronique and Mathilde and The Man, who has spent the afternoon at an animal fair, checking out the price of baudets - a sort of rare rastafarian donkey unique to the Poitou.

It feels like an anniversary of sorts. Two years ago this month, a few days after I arrived here myself, Christian and Olivier [who have a very fashionable shop in Notting Hill] came to visit en route to Olivier's family holiday home near Arcachon. Clutching their Louis Vuitton overnight bags, they were forced to pick their way through stacks of cardboard boxes in the sitting room, leap across the cavernous hole in the kitchen floor and climb the staircase to a dusty room and a mattress on the floor. And I won't even begin to tell you about the bathroom facilities.

The furniture had yet to arrive, so we sat on the dusty floor boards, lit the rose and jasmine Diptyque candles they had given me, and drank warm pink champagne out of tea cups. The accommodation was probably one step up from a municipal camping and I thought they might be semi-traumatised by the experience but instead they wrote me thank me, saying they were honoured to be my first guests.

At least this time there is somewhere to sit, and the mound of rubble in the courtyard has gone. The bathroom, alas, remains pretty much the same - even down to the decades-old, open-plan shower tray and seventies flower stickers on the tiles. With a bit of luck, I might just get that sorted by the time that they [hopefully] come back next year.

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