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My heart dances a jig, bouncing around my chest, and I try hard to leap beyond it. Nothing works" My heart dances a jig, bouncing around my chest, and I try hard to leap beyond it. Nothing works

My son is 30 on this day.

A momentous day. Yet here I am crying in the foothills of the Col de Tourmalet as I peer down the side of the mountain with a 2ft wall separating me from oblivion as we drive.

"Ah, mum, please don't cry on my birthday," he says, as he stares at me in utter horror and dawning recognition that I truly do have a real, desperate problem with heights.

I am no longer the mother who put him on his first pony at 18 months; on his first skis at four; and even now urge him on to his plan to bag at speed the rest of the Tour de France mountains following his Jura and Alps experience. I am someone he now finds hard to comprehend.

I understand that he can't accept this suddenly fragile creature. I also find it hard to acknowledge the pathetic person I've become.

The tears continue to trickle down. My heart dances a jig, bouncing around my chest, and I hate myself and try hard to leap beyond it. Nothing works.

I want to put my head in my lap but also need to see the route we're travelling to check he isn't flinging me around dangerous corners just for the fun of it.

A part of me, in the glimpsing, still recognises the beauty of the Pyrenees, even without the gentle blanket of deep snow that makes it all somewhat more accessible.

This tree-covered impossibility of a landscape has no escape in its summer colours. I see only the harsh jutting rock faces; the tumbling waters and the nets to catch the ever-possible avalanches of rock. I see accident and death at every corner.

I despise myself in my old age and cowardice.

We both think that from Lourdes we have taken a wrong turn and are now destined to climb the Tourmalet at 6939ft – a snaking bitch of a road on the Tour de France. One I said, having seen it on Google, I could never ascend.

His plan is to cycle it at speed up and down on this day. Mine to swim in the spa near the hotel in which we plan to spend the night, with champagne and a pre-ordered tiny chocolate and cream cake.

Thankfully we are both wrong. We come to Luz- St-Sauveur, a ski station, knowing now the hotel in Bareges is just five or 10 minutes up the road. He needs to cycle from here. No way can I drop him here and drive even 10 minutes as I twitch and twirl on the outskirts, shaking at the thought.

Fortunately my earlier reaction has finally shown him the truth and he accepts he'll have to ride down and then up again.

The hotel is on the col and as he sets off I walk down the incline to have a coffee (you know I really mean wine) to capture him on film as he comes up.

Two weeks earlier in Provence I was in temperatures of 40 degrees. Today I am, stupidly, wearing my Provencal outfit: loose white trousers, T-shirt, long linen jacket, leather sandals with holes in the soles.

It is something like 16 degrees here and I'm shivering. I look ridiculous. All around me, marching up and down, are people with leg muscles, little thin mountainy jackets, shorts and poles.

Serious people with no make-up and real walking shoes. (Have to say though, most of them are grey-haired. My hairdresser confirmed I haven't got one on my head yet. So there!)

God, they don't even huff and puff as they pass me.

I walk down to the spa. Easy. Walk up again and after 20 steps pause as if to admire to view; light up a fag; check the heart and think - bugger.

Up they go, pounding on. I do feel a slight envy. Later that night I stupidly say to Pierce: "What do you think sweetheart? You're so fit; I never feel well when I wake up. Always feel pretty merde. Is it my age?"

He looked at me and his eyebrow twitched. "Mum, you smoke too much, drink too much, don't get off your backside and do anything. You don't eat well and you don't look after yourself. That's why you never feel well."

Gosh. I feel a touch affronted. But, it's all true.

Right. Need to be healthy. Need to stop having meals which involve more than a handful of crisps and a wrap-round of ham; microwave bits.

I need to get fit. I need to get human.

I peer at my face in the mirror. Looking good kid, brown. I look again. Bit blotchy. Bit rough.

Ah well, that is life in France. We all need to find our place. The beauty of France is in its diversity. For me to go from here to the mountains was actually glorious even as I cried.

Anyone coming here should just enjoy the panoply of La France.

Unless you have vertigo. Or you have a serious problem with hills; and curves; and rushing water, or anything that involves drops.

Or drink and smoke too much. n

cookfidelma@hotmail.com

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