Seize the day. Veryan and I certainly did when we first met on Friday 13 March last year, just a week before lockdown. By the following Friday, we had to make a choice: either Veryan moved in with me, or we didn't see each other except on Skype, for the duration. Of course, we made the braver decision and, on Saturday 19 December, we were married in a limited, tier 3 version of a ceremony, after our plans for a November wedding were postponed due to further lockdown restrictions. We are both very pleased that we not only seized that day but, since we met, all the days the weeks, months and, to date, almost the year; and long may we continue to do so.
However, whenever I see or hear the phrase carpe diem, I am reminded of a touring holiday in September 2009, when my late wife, Carole, and I, accompanied by our dog, Arty, drove down through the centre of France...
...passing places like this, le Viaduc de Garabit...
...and this hilltop town...
...and one of our overnight stops was at Nissan-lez-Enserune, to southwest of Béziers and, the next morning, we visited the Oppidum d'Ensérune, which is an ancient hilltop town that was occupied without interruption between the 6th century BC and 1st century AD. Its location being chosen presumably because it was a hill with good views over the coastal plain, being close to the Roman road Via Domitia, the Montady lake, and fertile agricultural land below.
Back in the day, below the Oppidum was the swamp of Montady, which is now these wedge shaped fields separated by irrigation ditches that converge in the centre. In the 13th century, the swamp was drained; the ditches allowed water to flow to the centre of the circular depression, from which it was conveyed through underground pipes several kilometres to the south. The drainage is still functional and remains in use today.
From there we continued south and stopped at a hotel in the foothills of the Pyrenees, around about Maureillas-las-Illas, which I think was called the Auberge du Chêne. Anyway, I seem to remember that the A9 autoroute passed close by on a huge viaduct, which was so high that no traffic can be seen at that steep an angle. The next morning...
...we wandered round the walled town of Céret, where we'd stayed many years before...
...but I remember that, as we walked past these stone particular walls, I was overcome with tiredness. We'd crossed the Channel, only a few days before, had driven over 1,000km from Dieppe and I didn't want to trek around any more sites sightseeing. I needed a holiday, one with sea, sunshine and a place to sit and read, for at least a week.
So the next morning, immediately after breakfast, saw us down in the basement of the hotel, whence came the hotel's feeble WiFi signal. Or at least it would have seen us had there been any light down there. There was no phone signal down there either, so we fumbled around, writing down by the light of our laptop, telephone numbers of interesting places that might afford us our needs, which we ourselves could afford, and which would allow a dog. Then we set off in the car, up and over the mountains and down into Spain. I drove, while Carole practised her Spanish on those that deigned to answer their phones midweek and that late into the season.
Eventually, we were offered a self- catering apartment with two balconies, both of which overlooked the pool at the Carpe Diem Club, and had views across the bay and the town of Cadaqués.
When we arrived at Reception, the friendly, young male receptionist confirmed the price as €500 for the week and insisted that the only formality was that he had to take a photocopy of one of our passports. So I passed mine over and he handed it to his female colleague who disappeared with it into the office at the back.
This gave me a few moments to study our surroundings: the large white painted room was completely empty and devoid of all furniture, except the dark brown wooden counter, which stretched right across the back of the room and acted as the reception desk; behind this was a matching dark brown door, which was open and behind which was an equally dark brown office desk and chair; there were no pictures, posters or signs on any of the walls that we could see; all of them were completely bare; and there were none of the usual leaflets extolling the virtues of all the local sights to be seen, pleasures to be had or magical excursions to be taken. The only other item in the room was a folded A4 typed and laminated menu inviting guests to have their choice of fresh baked bread and patisseries delivered, thus saving them from having to go down into the town to get breakfast themselves.
As we had brought the next morning’s breakfast with us, we declined that kind offer, my passport was returned and, armed with the keys and directions to our apartment, we set off to find our way. We soon realised that, apart from the odd cleaner, there didn’t seem to be any other guests. Our apartment was the furthest on the top floor of a large block, of which we seemed to be the only residents and, on further exploration, we noticed not only a lack of other people, but a total lack of signage anywhere. Our apartment was serviced by the cleaner who swept the corridors and the pool was kept clean by the man who swept the paths. However, there were no fire safety notices anywhere, not even on the back of our door; there were no regulations for the swimming pool whatsoever. We could take Arty around the pool and, although we didn’t let him show off his doggy paddle, there was nothing and nobody to tell us we couldn’t.
And, as the weather was consistently pleasant, we were free to sit and read on our balcony or around the pool to our hearts’ content. Or we could wander down into town, have lunch, stroll around the bay, before wending our way back up to our apartment, seen here from opposite, across the bay, one of the white buildings, somewhere at the top of the town.
And, of course, we could also have a dip in the sea, but only one of us at a time, as Arty did not like being in water that he couldn’t drink or that had even the smallest of waves. He was concerned enough when one of us ventured a few feet out from the shore, but definitely wouldn’t suffer in silence, if both of us took the plunge.
In the late afternoon of the last day of our week there, I suggested that we pay a visit to Reception to pay our bill, as we had never noticed it open in the mornings, and we didn’t want to be held up in the next day, as we had planned on a fairly long drive North. We found the same friendly and cheerful young man in Reception, although we hadn’t seen him at all since checking in the week before. He was adamant that we had not run up a bill in the bar, despite our own hand written tally, and told us that we merely owed the agreed €500 for our accommodation.
However, when Carole produced a credit card, he told us that no card payments, neither credit nor debit. could be taken, which was strange, as we could have booked online, had we had more time. We then had to explain that we didn’t have that amount cash between us and that, as we had just been down to the town on a spending spree, having a good time and buying gifts and goodies for ourselves, family and friends, we couldn’t draw enough cash from any ATMs that day. When he suggested paying directly through a bank account by Bacs payment, we had to explain that we hadn’t brought any of the necessary security devices with us, as we hadn’t envisaged any circumstances under which we would need to make such a transaction while on holiday. That was still no problem, he said, as we could pay when we got home. But, we explained, we were still touring and then visiting friends on the way home. We weren’t planning on getting home for the best part of three weeks. At that, his female colleague appeared from the office behind the desk, with a sheet of Carpe Diem Club headed notepaper on which she had typed a bank sort code and account number. He passed this over to us and cheerfully told us that payment could wait and he hoped we would enjoy the rest of our holiday. At that point, suffice it to say that Carole and I made an unspoken agreement to take him at his word and stop offering further attempts at solutions.
It was then that I noticed that the laminated menu, which offered baked goods for breakfast, was still the only item on display and it occurred to me that it would save us a detour in the morning if we could order a baguette for the morning, to take with us for the lunchtime picnic we had planned. We had everything else we needed in the fridge and all we needed was fresh bread and, no, we didn’t need it delivered to our apartment, but it was agreed that we could pick it up from Reception, which would be open from 8am, on our way out at approximately 9.30am and we could pay for it then. At least we still had more than enough cash between us to pay for that.
And so, after our last evening, enjoying our Cheerio Cadaqués Collation (Tapas), a good litre of the local wine, followed by a good night’s sleep in our comfortable holiday flat, we loaded up the car and settled Arty into his basket on the back seat. Carole drove us through the now familiarly deserted complex and up to the door of Reception, at the appointed time. By now we weren’t entirely surprised to find it locked up with no sign of life anywhere, and all I could do, having had a desperate look around, was post the keys through the door before getting back in the car.
As Carole drove us out of the gate, I looked back...
...and my last glimpse of the place was this sign. I joked that, if we ever came back to Cadaqués and we tried to find this place again, it would have disappeared along with all except our own knowledge of it ever having existed.
So we drove steadily north, enjoying many other places on the way, all of which I obviously didn’t think worthy of photographing and have therefore almost completely faded from my memory. Eventually we arrived at our friends, Mike and Lin’s place, in the country northwest of Dijon. Here they are, above, from the left, Carole with Arty, and Lin and Mike, respectively with their dogs, Coco and Candy (pronounced the French way).
A few days after we finally got home, we took out the sheet of paper we had been given weeks before. Apart from the heading, which merely had Carpe Diem Cub fuzzily printed in black, next to the typed bank account numbers, there was nothing on it, except Carole's own note of 500. There was no bill and no way of knowing whose bank account the numbers referred to. We tried to ring the telephone number that Carole had originally called but only got the blaring “unobtainable” signal. Besides, we had no way of paying euros from any of our bank accounts. We reasoned that they had taken a copy of my passport, which had our address on it and, if they sent us a bill, we would pay it. Of course, we never heard anything about it ever again.
A few short months later, everything changed forever, when I had a cardiac arrest, from which I have ever since considered myself lucky to have survived. Because of this, along with the events described above, carpe diem has taken on a greater significance in my life than before.
And, while I was seizing the day and writing this blog, trying to pin it down, I had got about three quarters of the way through my story, when I inadvertently deleted it all permanently. On and off over the last few of months, I had worked on the story for a couple or three hours at a time, gradually honing the words and phases until I was really happy with how it was going. Then, on my iPad a couple of weeks or so back, as I was scrolling back, the blue “select all” film appeared over everything. I was having difficulty In getting rid of it and must have touched a key that I shouldn’t have. Any expletives that you can imagine inserted here cannot come near to what I said, let alone was thinking.
I am convinced that the version you have just read isn’t a patch on the original but it has taught me another lesson: while you’re enjoying carpeing the diem, save a copy and keep it up to date!
Stay safe and well.