We left Dubai as part of the annual summer exudos last week. Dubai is awash with testosterone every summer as the mothers and kids head for more temperate climes, leaving the Dads sweaty in the searing heat and bereft of their usual civilising wifely influences. Alpha came with us for the initial jaunt - a very quick dash to London then on to France - but flew back to Dubai last night. He's now adrift in a sea of maleness with only the cats and a DVD boxset of Family Guy for company. Hopefully he will return to us at the start of August with his facilities intact.
It was odd being back in London again after a five-month absence. This is the city I adored for 18 years, a flawed angel that brought me moments of sheer joy interspersed with despair. I thrived on the sheer energy of the place, the contrast of grandeur and shabbiness, the anonyminity, the excitement of feeling that anything could happen, the wide expanse of possibility. I also sank under its difficulties; the crush of the tube and the boredom of traffic jams, the constant rush-rush-rush and panic of always being slightly late, the expense of daily living, the 'computer says no' mentality, the underlying menace lurking in dark streets on the wrong side of midnight, the pinched pale indoor faces of my children.
Making the jump from resident to visitor was a bizarre experience in a city I know so well; the shock of the taxi fare eating up the contents of my purse (where it used to be expected), being aware that an open handbag offers an invitation to any lightfingered stranger (suspicion was once second nature), the novelty of sudden rain, being able to realy look at its beauty - which before was always marred by the band of tension squeezing my temples. Strange. It was very strange.
Now we are in the middle of the French countryside. The view from where I am sitting at the heavy wooden kitchen table is green - a lush lawn spotted with the remnants of windfall apples, fragrant roses, wildflowers and a fat hedge surrounding the garden. Beyond that is a pitted lane and the farmer's house, the only residence within walking distance, and then fields as far as the eye can see. Birdsong and the happy shouts of my children cut through the silence. Sometimes you can hear the sound of a car bumping down the lane, maybe once or twice a day. Going to the boulangerie for our daily dose of warm baguette is a major excursion. I'm so relaxed I can barely bring myself to get dressed in the morning. I'm sleeping for 10 hours each night and, shamefully, also indulging in a nap in the afternoon. Kind of degenerate, huh?
The Tour de France is passing through the local village this afternoon. Watch out for me, tangle-tressed and sleepy-eyed. I'll be the one in my pyjamas, dreamily munching a pain au chocolat as Lance Armstrong shoots by.