AS WINTER HITS HOME, NED PINES FOR HIS SUMMERS IN FRANCE
I’m staring out of a train window at a stubble-burnt acre or two of Lincolnshire farmland, with a dusk moon set into a blue winter sky, and I have started to dream of France. These visions of ripening wheat and concrete water towers are a feature of this time of year. After 15 consecutive Julys spent in the yellow heat of the Tour de France, I am familiar with the pattern of my calendar yearnings. The months between July and Christmas are spent slowly disengaging from the experience, until, with the pendulum at the bottom of the arc, the swing upwards starts again. And it begins with a yearning for summer, and by summer I mean France.
I never travelled abroad until I was about 12. My new passport (Irish, as it happens, like my dad’s) clutched in my sweaty palms, I can still recall with absolute clarity the sense of wonder with which I disembarked at Calais, and stood at my parents’ side, queuing at Passport Control on French soil. The prosaic fact that the soil was the tarmac apron of a cross-channel Hoverport was neither here nor there. It was “abroad”. It was actual France. The light was different, the air indefinably foreign, the puffy summer clouds, fringed with morning gold, spoke a strange tongue.
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