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Lovers lost and forgiven

All of us here have our individual rat-runs for summer guests.

They vary only in their range. By now experienced tour guides, we know the "ooh" spots and the "aah" places; the mini circuits and the grand circuits; the quintessential terrace for aperos and the linen-draped tables for dinner.

We know the morning markets, the after-dark markets, the fetes and the sights; the brocantes and the chateaux opening hours.

We know the routes where only the steam from the nuclear power station is visible, and how to avoid routes that reveal the monstrous towers in their ugly imposition.

We know how to slyly turn a bend, slow up and point to a vista of acre after acre of sunflowers or a blue sea of flax in a valley that tumbles down to a river and then onward to cypress-dotted hills.

We anticipate the gasp as our guests stroll under the clock tower entrance to Auvillar and walk on cobbles to its ancient heart and Roman stronghold.

We know the moment to arrive in Moissac as the market spills up towards the abbey and our guests come face to face with the Romanesque, world heritage, sculptured entrance.

Know to hold back as we turn the corner to the cloisters and the booked restaurant under the shade of the massive magnolia.

The pink-tinged brick and blue shutters of the buildings make them sigh in delight.

We know the treats, the tricks, the little tugs at the heart that work the magic of our hidden piece of the Tarn et Garonne.

We know it because it once beguiled us enough to leave all we knew behind to decamp and settle in its beauty.

And always, I hope, we remember that what has, almost sadly, inevitably, become tediously familiar and repetitive to us, is to them stunning, charming, and often moving. Above all, it is French and foreign.

Those friends who visit me are usually "repeats" and have done the circuit. So I feel I must think up new experiences or just let them have their head and the car keys.

Some though, like me, are sun junkies and after a night on the vin prefer to rise late, stagger to a sun-bed and gently roast until the hangover subsides and the night beckons again … and again.

They're the carousers whose nonsense and laughter, always sounding long into the next day, remind me of similar city nights when we imagined ourselves doing exactly what we're doing now come the day when everything else has lost its power and allure.

Either that or we'd simply been fired.

Husbands, wives, partners have been mislaid along the way and there always comes the point when the newish man/woman disappears tactfully to bed. (Even if not so new any more.)

Then old memories can be revisited and confidences exchanged without explanation or hurt to those here now and well loved.

So we become our younger selves again, yet look with a much kinder eye on those we've left or who've left us; look on who we were and now are and how little we've actually changed - except, perhaps, in compassion.

It's easier to review the past when the present is under a different star-pulsating sky, the skin has been fired by a daytime burning and frogs croak and other strange sounds interrupt our meanderings and the slosh of wine into glasses.

No wonder I look forward to my repeats after a winter behind the shutters, particularly those who know me well enough to take over my kitchen and cook for themselves. These days, though, they increasingly demand I come to them. They point to my ennui and remind me of old haunts and people I need to visit who don't visit me.

They no longer need to see where I am: they've seen it. Now they believe I need to see where they are; where I once was.

Online I see the changes. I read the reviews of new restaurants, new hotels and try to remember what was there before.

I find it harder to remember where streets cross over and where they actually were. West Nile Street? Across, over and up from my house - or was that West George Street? All those crescents around the park. North? South? Gone.

It is not an age thing. Every place I've left I've ultimately forgotten or chosen to forget.

I try to imagine driving from my old flat into the city centre in Glasgow but I cannot remember the names of the streets I turned into. Cannot remember the one-way system I knew instinctively.

These days, I turn via a lightning-struck tree, past a farmyard with suicidal hens, over a tiny bridge which signals a left turn and, beyond, a bewildering array of offshoot roads. By such touchstones I eventually find my destination.

It's why I've become such a good tour guide in La Lomagne and why I need my repeats to return again and again.

There's so much still to see. So much I haven't shown them.

And laughter and shared reminiscences are always, always better under a hot foreign sun.

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